Once home to the tallest building in the world in Lincoln Cathedral, witness to the signing of the revolutionary Magna Carta, and Lincoln Castle being the site of a key battle in preventing England from falling under French rule (for which we’ll be eternally grateful!)… this trip really got us wondering why is Lincoln not one of the top tourist cities in the UK?! So we had to write this blog of the Must See Lincoln attractions!
Much like the more famous York, Lincoln is a city steeped in history… built by the Romans, occupied by the Vikings, home to a huge cathedral and small cobbled streets packed with independent shops, tea rooms, bars and restaurants. And, it’s less than 3 hours from London, Manchester, and Birmingham… all of which make the medieval city of Lincoln perfect for a weekend getaway!
We made ourselves a long itinerary for our day trip to the city (regular readers of our day trips will know how much we usually try to cram in!), jumped in the car at 7am, and set off full of excitement for the day ahead…
Our day starts on The Strait… the link between the busy High Street shopping area and the famous Steep Hill and Cathedral Quarter.
Having made such an early start, it’s a very sleepy Saturday morning when we arrive, so the streets are empty and not many places are open yet.
The Strait Arch is the first thing we see and is a good welcome to Lincoln and preview of our day to come… featuring some of Lincoln’s most famous icons and sights, there is a wall sign to show what you can see on the arch with an explanation of the significance of each.
Walking through the arch and heading towards Steep Hill, our next photo stop is at Jews House, a 12th century house which is one of the oldest houses in England, and Jews Court, a 13th century Grade I listed building thought to be on the site of a Medieval Synagogue. Both buildings are still in use… the house now a fine dining restaurant, the court an historical book shop.
Along with The Strait, Steep Hill was voted the best street in Britain in 2012, being awarded the title “Britain’s Great Street“. It’s also the fourth steepest street in England, so is very aptly named!
It’s really cool walking up the cobbled street lined with the mix of independent shops and cafés set in a mix of historic buildings… some Norman, some Tudor, and everything else in-between up to the modern day!
On the way up we pass the wonky lamppost and the crooked house on the junction with Mickelgate, but as the shops are closed, they’ll have to wait until our return journey back down the hill after visiting the Cathedral Quarter (which we do, with Sneha getting some local Lincolnshire Gin and picking up a small fancy flowerpot from a unique souvenir style shop. It gives a good ink pot feel with the quill pen she got from the cathedral!)
Having left early this morning our bellies are rumbling though, so we stop at one of the tea rooms to get some breakfast and set us up for the day. Bells’ Tea Shop is our pick… a family run traditional English tea shop serving local produce. And we go for a full English breakfast complete with Lincolnshire sausages, a smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese, and a pot of tea and a coffee. The tea shop is just as cool inside as the outside is, and the breakfast is delicious… a definite TrovenTripper’s recommended stop! 😋
With breakfast finished we head to Lincoln Castle, stopping on Exchequer Gate for some photos of the Cathedral and Castle (complete with the customary scaffolding of most visitor sites!), before entering the grounds and having an explore.
We start with the castle wall walk, which would take around 30 min to 1 hour to go around the circuit trail while enjoying the views and taking some photo stops. The views of the cathedral and out over Lincolnshire and over the surrounding countryside are great, as well as the aerial views of the internal Castle buildings (more on these to follow). There is also an audio guide available to listen to while walking the wall, but due to the limited time we have on hand, we just go about reading the placards at certain places.
We’re booked on the 11am guided tour of the grounds… and if you are a person who loves to know the stories behind castles… we definitely recommend it. Our guides for today are Mal and Helen, and they’re great! Both are very knowable and know their stuff about the history of the castle, and they also make it really entertaining and are a good double act as they take us around the grounds explaining everything.
We start with a short history of how and why the Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror and the Normans, before moving on to one of the keeps, Lucy Tower, and hearing all about Countess Lucy who it’s named after. We learn how the Castle was only taken once, and not by an attack, but a “spiffing wheeze”. And we hear all about the Victorian Prison which had wings for both men and women.
One of the unusual features of the Castle is that there are two keeps, unlike most castles which only have one… the first being Lucy Tower which we learnt about earlier, the second being the Observatory Tower, including the more recent 19th century turret added by the then Prison Governor. While it was said to have been built to keep a watch out for escaping prisoners, the Governor was known to be a keen astronomer with a telescope, and also nicknamed a “dirty perv” (remember the women’s wing in the prison we mentioned). We’ll let you draw your own conclusions for why the turret was really built!
The tour finishes in front of the County Court building which is still in use as an active court today, and hear about how important the Castle was in the story of Magna Carta, and also survived a siege by the French in 1217, dealing them a crucial blow and helping end the civil war and stop England from falling under the control of France.
The tours been great but we’re freezing cold now having been wandering around outside for the last few hours (towards the end of the tour Mal even stopped and asked Sneha if she was ok as she was shivering so much!), so we’re glad the next part for us to see is the Magna Carta vault and the inside of the Prison.
If you don’t already know, Magna Carta is one of the most important documents in history… it was the first document to declare that the King is not above the law, and guarantees the rights of people, the right to justice, and the right to a fair trial. Over 800 years since it was written, as well as the principles being enshrined in laws around the World, sentences from the original document are still present in UK law today.
The Vault is really cool… the document is transcribed onto a huge wall as you enter (with the lines still in current law emboldened in gold), and there is a dark room where the document is (usually) on display, and a cinema room below with a short video telling the history and importance of the document. We say usually on display, as today it’s actually undergoing a restoration (which we knew about thanks to the info on the website), so instead we see the Charter of the Forest, a companion document limiting private property rights and establishing the rights of free men to access royal forests (essentially stopping the rich owning all land and preventing the commoners from accessing it!). The pieces of paper it’s written on are tiny, but the handwriting is perfectly scribed.
We move through history as we leave the vault and enter the prison… our first stop being in the bizarre chapel… each inmate was led to an isolation booth where all they could see was the pulpit to stop any interaction with other prisoners. Paul goes and sits in one of the booths, while Sneha climbs up onto the pulpit ready to give the service to the onlooking prisoners!
The Lincoln Castle Victorian prison was designed to enforce a ‘separate system’. It was a regime intended to isolate prisoners from the corrupting influence of fellow inmates, to help them see through their errors and bring in the moral reform! But, unfortunately crime rate increased and they couldn’t stick to the separate system and eventually had to shut it down. But it truly depicts the life of prisoners and staff…
There’s lots for us to explore in the rest of the prison too… cells are set up with activities to try which the prisoners would have done as punishment / jobs… Paul tries “Oakum Picking”, while Sneha takes the easier route and plays some games instead! We also both play prisoner in some of the cells, and Paul sits in the governor’s chair pretending that he’s in charge for once!
With the whole prison explored, now seems the perfect time for a coffee and cake stop and to try out the onsite café. The coffee is nice and the Battenburg cake very tasty… so good in fact, we eat it too fast and forget to take a photo!
At this point of the blog you may be thinking we’ve spent A LOT of time and done A LOT at the Castle when we’ve got such a long itinerary still ahead of us for the day. Well, you’d be right… but we got so engrossed in it all, that our itinerary has gone out of the window now! So much so that we re-plan during our coffee break, and our next stop at the Cathedral may well be our next and last stop for the day…
You can enter the grounds and explore for free, however you need tickets for the Wall Walk, the Magna Carta Vault, and the Victorian Prison. A day ticket which includes entry to all is £14.50 for adults and £8 for children, with discounts available if buying as a family ticket. Tickets are available online
If you listen to the audio guide and stop to read the signs then you’ll need about an hour.
It’s only a stone’s throw away from the Castle to Lincoln Cathedral, and it’s pretty dramatic walk!
Walking back along Castle Hill we pass numerous ancient looking buildings, and as we pass through Exchequer Gate, we see the Cathedral up close for the first time… and it’s huge!!!
We haven’t got much time to explore outside as we’re trying to catch the last guided tour at 3pm so we rush inside and join the queue… only to be told the last tour is actually at 2pm, so we’ve missed the start! (don’t always rely on the info on the website).
If we hurry to the east end, we’ll be able to catch up and join for the last part the lady on the welcome desk says… so we rush past the other visitors stopping to take photos, and find the group at the far end of the cathedral.
Sneha joins them and starts to listen to the history and the stories, while Paul wanders off to take some photos instead… until the conversation turns to the Lincoln Imp.
The Imp is the symbol of the city and the football team is nicknamed after it… it’s said that one day the Devil let his young demons out to play, and after having already twisted the spire on nearby Chesterfield’s All Saints Church, they headed to Lincoln to cause mischief at the Cathedral. After having smashed some windows, an angel appeared to stop the trouble and turned the Imp to stone, where it can still be found today high up on the wall, entombed forever. If you have a 20p piece you can pay at a machine to shine a light on the Imp making it easier to find.
We follow the group for the rest of tour, half listening as we admire the amazing beauty of the stained-glass windows and Gothic architecture all around us. We see some graffiti left by someone back in 1572, and we’re amazed to imagine someone sitting here in this very spot, scratching their name and message into the wall nearly 500 years ago! And we see the huge organ made up of 4,000 pipes (remember that if you do the tour as it’s a question they ask you to guess!)
Once the tour is finished, we go back and take our time admiring all of the features again and exploring the small chapels which the tour skipped, before going out to the internal courtyard and exploring the rest of the cathedral.
When we first came in we saw a huge moon floating in the air so we go back to the entrance to see what that is all about too… it’s the Museum of the Moon, an artwork made of detailed NASA satellite images creating a 7-metre-wide moon! It’s quite a strange thing to find inside a Gothic cathedral, but it looks cool all the same!
(The artwork is no longer on display in Lincoln, all upcoming tour dates and locations can be found on the website)
After our exploring and taking loads and loads of photos of the cathedral and the moon, time is really getting on now and the cathedral is closing to the public, so we best leave and head back into town. Only… how do we get out??
We follow what we thought were the instructions over the speakers and go back outside to the internal courtyard… but what we thought we saw to be the exit earlier is now all locked up! Two other people are wandering around looking as equally confused as we are, so we team up and start the hunt for the exit… where is it???
We eventually find a staff member and they say we now need to go back out of the entrance as everywhere is locked, thinking the last of the guests had left (they obviously underestimated us wanting to explore and take photos!)
Once out, we circle the whole cathedral to admire the exterior, as well as the nearby Priory Arch, a reconstructed 19th century medieval gate which acted as the entrance to the cathedral close.
Lincoln Cathedral was once the tallest building in the World, and is the home to the famous Lincoln Imp.
No, tickets are required and cost £9 for adults and £4.80 for children over 5 years old. Tours of the tower and outside are also available at an additional cost. Tickets are slightly confusing… General admission tickets can only be bought at the Cathedral, with the additional tours needing to be bought online before your visit! All info is available online
Our planned morning in the Cathedral Quarter has turned into our whole day out, and as we descend Steep Hill and head back into town, the Saturday night revellers are out in full force!
We make our way through the mix of shoppers, revellers and football fans as we head downhill to Lincoln Guildhall and Stonebow. The building has been used as council offices since the early 16th century and tours of the interior are available, but we’re happy with some photos of the outside and to move to our next stop.
High Bridge is the oldest bridge in the UK with buildings on, dating back to 1160, with the current buildings being from around 1550. And their Tudor style is clear to see with the black and white timber frames.
We chill for a while on the bridge and have a look where we can go for a drink before we head back home… the cafés are all closing, so that means going to the pub! (which Paul is obviously gutted about!)
We walked past The Cardinal’s Hat earlier which said it was the oldest pub in Lincoln and looked quite cool, so we go back there. It’s really busy inside but we manage to get a table upstairs, so our day ends relaxing with a pint of local Cardinal’s lager and cider, soaking up the last bit of history for the day in the city’s oldest pub.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect from Lincoln before we came, but we absolutely loved our day here! We had a long itinerary to try and get through and didn’t even scratch the surface, spending a lot longer than planned at both the Castle and Cathedral, but both were totally worth it!
Lincoln Castle is full of interesting history and there’s lots to explore with the Castle Walls walk, the grounds tour, the Magna Carta vault, and the Prison. And the Cathedral is stunning with its stained-glass windows, Gothic architecture, and of course trying to find the Imp!
The Strait and Steep Hill are really cool to wander with the abundance of independent shops and the quirky mix of architecture from Medieval times to modern day, and the tea rooms and pubs are great stopping places for refreshments no matter the time of day!
Unfortunately we didn’t make it to Brayford Harbour, the Arboretum Victorian Park, or to The Collection art and archelogy museum and the International Bomber Command Centre museum on our day out… but all that means is we need to plan a return visit to Lincoln in the very near future!
Add in the close-by Lincolnshire Wolds countryside we’re yet to explore, and Lincolnshire makes the perfect destination for a weekend break.
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