Thinking about visiting Gloucester, but not too sure what’s there? Having been born and raised in Gloucestershire in nearby Cheltenham, I’m very familiar with the best things to see and do in Gloucester. In this article, I’ll help you to understand ‘is Gloucester worth visiting?’
Gloucester is a vibrant and diverse city, and the county town of Gloucestershire. It boasts some seriously impressive history, spectacular architecture, a famous Cathedral, and a much celebrated rugby team. It also hosts the quirky, world-renowned event of cheese rolling each year, and so if you’re looking for things to do in Gloucester, you certainly won’t be lacking. With a diverse community, you’ll find some great dining in the city, and you can’t visit without dropping into one of the historical pubs for a pint or two. In this guide, I’ll share why Gloucester is worth a visit, and the best things to see and do in the city. Here’s my guide to visiting Gloucester, and why you need to add it to your list of places to visit.
Where is Gloucester?
The cathedral city of Gloucester is the county town of Gloucestershire, located in the south west of England. Gloucester is located on the River Severn, and is situated between the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean. It’s 17 miles east of the Welsh border, and around an hour’s drive from Birmingham, Oxford, and slightly less from Bristol. It’s also a port city, and is linked via the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal to the Severn Estuary. Gloucester has a population of approximately 132,000.
How do you get to Gloucester?
Gloucester is really conveniently located on the M5 (Junction 11 from the north, and Junction 12 from the south). It’s just 2.5 hours from London, and 1 hour away from Birmingham, making it well placed for a day trip or weekend away. Here’s how to get to Gloucester:
- By train – Great Western Railway (GWR) operates services across the country direct to Gloucester from London Paddington, Reading, Bristol, Birmingham, and Cardiff. Gloucester train station is just a 7 minute stroll from the city centre.
- By bus – there is an extensive bus network throughout Gloucester, operating from the Cotswolds, Cheltenham, the Forest of Dean, and Oxford via Stagecoach.
- By coach – National Express runs services via the Gloucester transport hub, just a 5 minute stroll from the city centre. From here, you can take a direct route to and from London Victoria, and Heathrow and Gatwick Airports.
- By car – located on the M5, Gloucester is within easy reach at Junction 11 from the north, and Junction 12 from the south. There’s plenty of car parking around the city centre too.
What is Gloucester famous for?
There are a few reasons you may well heard of Gloucester. Here are some of the most common associations with the city:
- Cheese rolling. That’s right, one of the whackiest ‘sports’ on earth hails from Gloucester’s Coopers Hill, near Brockworth. It’s well worth visiting on the second bank holiday in May if you’ve not seen it before
- Gloucester Cathedral. I’ve seen a fair few cathedrals in my time – I even graduated in Durham Cathedral – but Gloucester Cathedral has to be my favourite. It’s super impressive, and dates back to 678 AD. It’s so impressive, in fact, that parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed there.
- The Tailor of Gloucester. You may be familiar with one of Beatrix Potter’s much loved stories, The Tailor of Gloucester, which was inspired by a visit to the city. There’s a small museum and shop near to the Cathedral that pays homage to the story and its links with the city.
- Gloucester Rugby. Gloucester has an excellent rugby team (affectionately known as the cherry and whites), with many players also supporting the national team over the years. One of my favourite things to do during the season is head to a match and enjoy a few ciders in the ‘Shed’.
- Cheese and sausages. You’ve likely heard of Double Gloucester cheese and Gloucester Old Spot sausages. Thanks to Gloucestershire’s pastures, we can enjoy excellent fresh produce which you’ll find on the many menus of the city’s restaurants and pubs.
Is Gloucester worth visiting?
If you love history, Gloucester is absolutely worth visiting! As a Cathedral city and the county capital, there’s plenty to see and do. Whether you fancy trying your hand at skiing, cheering on the cherry and whites, taking a canal boat along Gloucester Docks, or simply enjoying some delicious food, you won’t struggle to fill your time. Gloucester was originally founded by the Romans, and it was an extremely important city (Glevum). Take a step back in time and learn more about the historic roots, or simply soak up the culture of this diverse city. Enjoy a meal at one of the many fantastic restaurants, or take the kids for a day out at one of the many attractions. There’s something for everyone in Gloucester. I’d recommend tying in a visit with nearby Cheltenham – as my hometown, it’s also my favourite town in the city, and there are many more restaurants and bars to enjoy.
Is Gloucester a good place to live?
Located close to Cheltenham and also a short distance from the beautiful Cotswolds and the nearby Forest of Dean, Gloucester is considered an attractive place to live. It’s a vibrant and diverse city, with a plethora of parks and canals to explore, leading to the iconic Gloucester Quays. There’s a good range of shopping and entertainment at Gloucester Quays, and plenty of interesting things to do in this historical city. Close to the M5 motorway, and well connected to the Midlands, the southwest of England, and London, Gloucester is well positioned should you need to commute. Gloucester is much more affordable than nearby Cheltenham while within easy reach, and there is a vast range of beautiful properties up for sale and rent in the city.
Which is nicer, Gloucester or Cheltenham?
This is a complete question of preference. Personally, I’m biased as I’m from Cheltenham and love the town’s compact offering of chic coffee shops, bars, and nice restaurants. I also feel like on the whole Cheltenham hosts a lot more events – Cheltenham Races, and multiple other festivals throughout the year, for instance. That said, Gloucester has tons of historical importance, magnificent buildings like Gloucester Cathedral, and has some lovely walks and waterside restaurants along Gloucester Quays which you simply can’t get in Cheltenham. Both has something to offer, and Gloucester is arguably much more affordable. I’d recommend you visit both and make your mind up based on what you see and do.
Where is best to stay in Gloucester?
If your answer to ‘is Gloucester worth visiting?’ is ‘yes’, why not treat yourself to a nice place to stay. There’s a plethora of great, affordable accommodation in Gloucester to suit your needs. Here are a few of the places I’d choose to stay if I was visiting Gloucester:
Hatherley Manor Hotel and Spa – 4*
Here’s why I’d stay at Hatherley Manor Hotel and Spa:
- A beautiful country house hotel and spa on the edge of Gloucester
- Excellent spa facilities, and certainly one of the best spas in the area
- Superior bedrooms with luxurious styling
- Onsite restaurant, serving delicious breakfasts, a la carte meals, and afternoon tea
- Well located for visiting the Cotswolds
- Dog friendly, so you can bring your pups
Mercure Gloucester Bowden Hall Hotel – 4*
Here’s why I’d stay at Mercure Gloucester Bowden Hall Hotel:
- Hotel located in an elegant country house
- Surrounded by acres of beautiful grounds
- Contemporary bedrooms
- Onsite bar and brasserie with views across the lake
- A short drive from key attractions, including Gloucester Quays
- Conveniently located for the M5 motorway
Hatton Court Hotel – 4*
Here’s why I’d stay at Hatton Court Hotel:
- Located in a beautiful period building
- Views overlooking the beautiful Severn Vale
- A contemporary onsite restaurant, The Tara, serving a creative British menu
- Just 10 minutes from Gloucester city centre
- Some bedrooms feature countryside views
- Terrace with panoramic views
What to do in Gloucester
Still want to know ‘is Gloucester worth visiting?’ There’s so much to see and do in Gloucester, no matter your age, tastes, or preferences. Don’t miss my guide to the best things to do in Gloucester. Here’s my summary of the things not to miss, from visiting the iconic Cathedral to enjoying a delicious meal at the Quays:
- Check out Gloucester Cathedral. Considered one of the most exquisite buildings in the country, Gloucester Cathedral has beautiful architecture and a secret whispering gallery to explore. A former king is also buried here! It has also served as a filming location for the Harry Potter movies. There’s just an optional donation on entry, and it’s a short walk from the city centre.
- Cheer on the Cherry and Whites (Gloucester Rugby) at Kingsholm Stadium. The atmosphere is so much fun – I recommend standing in the Shed for the full experience. Get ready to sip cider and cheer on ‘Glawwwster’!
- Visit Gloucester Quays. A designer outlet, Gloucester Quays is a great place to shop brands including The North Face, Calvin Klein, Nike, and more if you fancy bagging a bargain or two. There’s also an abundance of chain restaurants to enjoy, plus a cinema and a new Food Dock, featuring dozens of independent businesses serving up great food. You’ll also find some great Christmas and summer markets at Gloucester Quays for all the family to enjoy.
- Check out one of the many restaurants in Gloucester. With a diverse range of people in the city, you can expect to find delicious cuisine to match, from excellent Chinese food to Thai and everything in between. There are some excellent brunch spots to visit too.
- Go skiing. You read that right – although there are no mountains to be seen in Gloucester, you can ski, snowboard, and tube at Gloucester Ski and Snowboard Centre on their dry slopes.
- Discovery gory history at Gloucester Prison. Although now defunct, Gloucester Prison dates back to 1791, and has a fascinating history. Visit and learn about its history of ghosts, executions, and violence on a guided tour. Be sure to book in advance as tours take place on selected afternoons.
- Stop off at Gloucester Services. You might be wondering why I’m recommending a service station when visiting Gloucester. Gloucester Services is actually considered one of the best service stations in the UK, thanks to its farm shop and kitchen. You’ll find excellent, fresh produce here, so make sure to add in a visit when arriving into or leaving Gloucester.
When is best to visit Gloucester?
You can’t really go wrong with whenever you visit Gloucester. Personally, I’d recommend visiting during the autumn or winter so that you can enjoy a game at Gloucester Rugby’s Kingsholm Stadium. That said, there’s always something happening in Gloucester. The summer months offer mild weather that allows you to explore the outside. Visiting spring might mean there are some chilly showers, but it will be quieter and you might even be able to head to nearby Cheltenham Races. Before you visit, check out what you’d like to see and do and coordinate your visit with key events.
How do I spend a day in Gloucester?
Here’s what I’d do if I was visiting Gloucester for the day:
- Start off with a tasty brunch at Hetty’s Kitchen. Don’t forget to take some of the delicious brownies with you for afterwards!
- Head to Gloucester Cathedral to see the city’s most iconic architecture. A beautiful medieval masterpiece, soak in the incredible building and take a look at the famous cloisters that featured in the Harry Potter films.
- Walk over to Gloucester’s historic docks, now known as Gloucester Quays. Enjoy some retail therapy, stroll along the scenic views of the waterfront, and enjoy coffee and lunch in one of the restaurants. If you’re a history buff, you might find the National Waterways Museum interesting.
- During the afternoon, I’d walk through the city centre, soaking up the history, the narrow streets, and the local shops. The Museum of Gloucester is a great place to learn more about the city’s rich heritage and importance through the years.
- Afterwards, I’d head to The Queen’s Head for a tasty dinner – they serve hearty English dishes, and you can’t miss their incredible lamb shank. Gloucester has plenty of great pubs, so enjoy a relaxing evening exploring them – The Red Lion in Wainlode is a great place to enjoy the sunset across the River Severn if you’re visiting during the summer months.
Is Gloucester a big town?
Spoiler for you – Gloucester isn’t actually a town, it’s a city. Thanks to its Cathedral, it has retained city status for thousands of years. In fact, Gloucester was incredibly important to the Romans back in 96-93 CE. Gloucester was given high status under Emperor Nerva, when it was of the highest status that any Roman town could attain. Only Colchester, Lincoln, and York boasted the same status. Although size-wise, Gloucester isn’t as big as most other cities in the UK, there’s still plenty to explore and enjoy in the city.
So, is Gloucester worth visiting? Yes, of course – it has a rich cultural and historical heritage, and there’s plenty to see and do. I recommend tying in a visit to Gloucester with a stay in nearby Cheltenham. I hope you’ve found my guide to Gloucester helpful. If you have any questions about visiting Gloucester, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to help.