Known as the home of legendary outlaw Robin Hood, Nottingham abounds with history and culture. While the city’s folklore, galleries and museums keep culture aficionados entertained, its mix of independent shops and trendy boutiques attracts many shopping pilgrims.
Nottingham: city layout
Old Market Square is right in the middle of Nottingham’s compact city centre. Chain stores line the square, and the eastern end is dominated by Nottingham Council House. If you continue past this stately building, you’ll come to the narrow streets of Hockley and the red-brick buildings of The Lace Market.
In order to get to the River Trent, you’ll need to head south from the central square. Nottingham Train Station is right across the river, while Nottingham Castle lies to the west of intu Broadmarsh shopping centre.
Top attractions in Nottingham
Dating back to Norman times, Nottingham Castle commands a prominent position on top of the eponymous Castle Rock cliff. Nowadays, it is used primarily as a museum and houses historical exhibitions as well as a large collection of Nottingham’s decorative and fine art pieces.
The castle is built on top of a network of manmade sandstone caves from the Middle Ages. Tour guides regularly lead visitors through this subterranean world and entertain them with intriguing tales of the city’s history.
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As Nottingham is a popular destination for city breaks, there is ample choice of hotels in its city centre. Families can be close to the sights, while young couples after a taste of the buzzy nightlife can opt to be nearer to the city’s trendy bars and swanky restaurants.
A quieter area slightly away from the city centre, Castle Boulevard is popular with families. Only a short walk from the castle, the street is conveniently located right around the corner from Castle Marina Retail Park . Many families choose to stay close to Alton Towers theme park, a 45-minute drive out of the city if you bed down at a hotel off the M1 motorway.
The northern end of the city centre is popular with couples and business travellers. The Theatre Royal Concert Hall offers music shows, dramas and comedies in its packed cultural calendar, while Alea Casino’s poker rooms and VIP lounge are fun places to end a night on the tiles. For those visiting on business, hotels in northern Nottingham offer great public transport links and are within close proximity of many offices and company HQs.
Food in Nottingham ranges from quintessential pub grub to the exotic flavours of far-off cuisines. Once the hub of the 19th-century European lace industry, many of the former Victorian factories of The Lace Market have been converted into high-end restaurants serving everything from authentic British dishes to refined tapas specialities.
Vintage tea shops and unique bistros line the narrow streets of Hockley. Nottingham’s boho area is popular with students, with a throng of independent eateries offering great value for money.
Old Market Square hosts many food fairs and seasonal farmers’ markets throughout the year. They’re a great way to sample local produce and grab a quick bite to eat in between hitting the shops.
If you’re out and about in Sherwood Forest, there are even more opportunities to try locally sourced food. The forest itself features a gourmet restaurant, while nearby villages have taverns serving locally brewed real ales.
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Nottingham city centre is full of the usual high-street clothes shops and national chains. But one thing that helps raise the city’s status as a go-to shopping destination is its mix of both independent retailers and big-name designer labels.
Located in the refined Bridlesmith Gate area, Paul Smith’s flagship store is set back from the street in a handsome building, nestled among other chic names such as Cath Kidston and Ted Baker. There are also more high-end brands just off Old Market Square in The Exchange.
If you’re more into vintage clothing and quirky knick-knacks, Hockley’s laid-back vibe is reflected in its eclectic selection of used clothes shops and retro-themed retailers.
Canning Circus and the bustling Derby Road are also two hotspots for local vintage boutiques. The latter leads towards the bulk of Nottingham’s student housing, making it the perfect place to go bargain-hunting.
Nottingham’s best vintage shops
Simple to navigate, Nottingham’s dense city centre makes it easy to hop between bars, theatres and restaurants on a night out. The city also has a thriving alternative music scene, largely driven by its student population. City-centre pubs welcome local singers, while the city’s theatres host themed music shows as part of their packed calendars of dramas and comedies.
Nottingham Castle Museum houses various exhibitions, including some on the city’s archaeology. It also has an impressive collection of art, ranging from 15th-century alabaster carvings to Nottingham lace costumes. At the bottom of Castle Rock, you’ll find the Museum of Nottingham Life and and the curious Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem tavern.
Nottingham Contemporary is at the cutting edge of the city’s art scene. In honour of its site at the entrance to The Lace Market, an impressive embossed lace design features on the building’s panels. Once inside, you’ll find an ever-changing line-up of exhibitions – the gallery has previously showcased the likes of David Hockney and Diane Arbus.
Nottingham’s best live music venues
Whether you’re an outdoorsy family or want to take the kids on an educational trip, there are lots of child-friendly options in and around Nottingham. With so many restaurants offering child-size portions – regardless of cuisine – fussy eaters won’t get much chance to complain.
Nottingham's stories of crime and punishment are entertainingly documented at the Galleries of Justice. Choose to wander round the exhibitions on your own or listen to one of the many character actors – including the Sheriff of Nottingham – who add colour to the city’s gruesome tales as they lead you around this former courthouse.
After you’ve admired the Robin Hood statue taking aim with his bow and arrow outside Nottingham Castle, you can head down the hill to the caves in the cliff below. Guided tours take you down into these medieval cellars, which have played an important part in Nottingham’s history.
Best family days out in Nottingham