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Ultimate Weekend in Nottingham – 2024 Guide

When people consider cities to visit outside of London, they usually veer towards places like York, Manchester and Liverpool. Nottingham is often overlooked. It is, however, a great place to spend a few days. 

I might be a little biased as it is where I went to university so I have a lot of affection for the city, but I still rate it as a weekend destination. It’s one of the major cities in the East Midlands region of the UK and dates back to around 920 AD. 

Most people will only know Nottingham from its association with Robin Hood, but it also has great nightlife, food, shopping and culture. 

The city originally had a slightly comical name, derived from an Anglo-Saxon name indicating that it was the home of a people ruled by the chieftain Snot – Snotingaham. Thankfully, over the centuries that has transformed into the modern version!

Anyway, now that you know the history let’s move on to the present to help you plan your visit!

Statue of Robin Hood with bow and arrow drawn in front of stone castle walls

Getting There

Nottingham is well-connected by road, rail and coach. If you are driving to Nottingham, it’s only a few miles from the M1. It takes about 3 hours to drive there from London.

Trains leave from London St Pancras roughly every 30 minutes and take around 1hr 45mins. Nottingham’s train station is only a few minutes walk to the city centre. You can also get a train from Kings Cross and change at Grantham, but given that Kings Cross and St Pancras are next to each other, stick with the direct train from St Pancras and keep it simple. There are also trains between Nottingham and other major cities such as Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield and Cardiff. 

You can get cheap coach tickets for as low as £5 from London Victoria station on National Express. The coach takes around 3hrs 30minutes – but ignore the website where it says it can be as fast 2hrs 30mins. That only applies if you take an early coach, start at Golders Green in North London and only go as far as the University of Nottingham rather than into the city centre. There are a few direct coaches per day, but the train is generally a better option.

Day 1: City Centre and Historical Attractions

Nottingham Castle

Unfortunately, the original Nottingham Castle was destroyed in 1651, and aside from a few remaining medieval sections the building that now stands there is a ducal mansion from the 1870s. It is still an interesting visit, even if it is no longer technically a castle and a must-see for a weekend in Nottingham.

The ‘castle’ covers the history of Nottingham, particularly focusing on its role as a place of war and rebellion. It was from Nottingham in 1485 that Richard III marched to the final battle in the Wars of the Roses, his defeat leading to the beginning of the Tudor era. In 1642 Charles I raised the royal standard and marched to battle, marking the start of the English Civil War. 

Exhibition in Nottingham Castle, displaying lace clothing including a white lace wedding dress and a dark green knee-length dress

Moving on to Nottingham’s role in industry and manufacturing, there is also an exhibition on lace – which at one time was Nottingham’s claim to fame. During the Industrial Revolution, Nottingham became home to some of the world’s best lacemakers, using machines to produce large quantities of lace that rivalled the quality of handmade items. You can see some examples of Nottingham lace in the castle. 

Digital archery range with 5 targets of different sizes to hit.

Don’t miss the Robin Hood area, which explores some of the myths of Robin Hood. It is one of the best bits of the castle for kids and adults – there are games in which you can pick up a bow or staff and practice some virtual archery. I spent about 15 minutes playing various games, including ones in which you control a character running around a map of Nottingham trying to put out fires from one of the city’s rebellions, or steal money à la Robin Hood. 

Tickets for adults cost £12, but last for 12 months if you want to return. Kids can visit for free. 

Next to the castle you’ll find the Robin Hood statue, another nod to the folklore hero whose origins remain something of a mystery. Just a little further down the hill by the castle you can visit Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. Several UK cities have pubs and inns that claim to be the oldest in the UK – the Trip is Nottingham’s contender dating back to 1189. 

Nottingham's Old Market Square with a large open space n front of a large white stone building with columns and a golden dome.

City Centre and Lace Market

The main space in the city is Old Market Square, one of the UK’s largest city squares. The square hosts various events each year. During the summer you might find it transformed into Nottingham Beach, with food stalls, a beach bar and slides. In winter you’ll find an annual Christmas market. The square is also used as a place for demonstrations and protests, as well as simply a meeting point for social activities. 

If you are looking for a coffee after your castle visit, head to 200° Coffee Shop. I think it’s the best coffee shop in Nottingham; they even have a barista school upstairs where the aficionados among us can learn about brewing methods, latte art and more. 

Waterstones Book Shop in a corner red brick building with 4 people walking towards the entrance.

There are lots of shops in the buildings around the square, including one of my favourite bookshops just a little way up toward the Lace Market – Waterstones. 4 floors of books, games, gifts and a cafe. There is a section dedicated just to Beautiful Books, and a larger than average travel section.

A display called Beautiful Books, with several shelves of books with bright attractive covers and binding.

I also recommend checking out White Rose – a charity which has several shops around the city. It was developed by two students from Nottingham Trent University to promote sustainable fashion.

The shops sell handpicked high-quality recycled fashion in support of the Aegis Trust which works to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity through research, campaigning and education. 

Nottingham’s connection to lace is more than just an exhibition in the castle – a district of the city centre is still called the Lace Market. I lived on Lace Street during my time at university – the name is everywhere in Nottingham.

The warehouses and factories have long since been converted into shops, offices and restaurants.  It’s a lovely area to wander around on a sunny afternoon.

City of Caves and National Justice Museum

It isn’t obvious from the surface, but underneath Nottingham city centre is a network of hundreds of man-made caves. The city sits on sandstone, and people have been building caves into the sandstone for more than a thousand years.

The caves were once used as dwellings and trading places, as well as air raid shelters. These days, they are an attraction with guided and audio tours available – the City of Caves.

The caves are run as a partnership with the National Justice Museum, located a few minutes away from the caves entrance in the Lace Market.

Explore 5 floors of space dedicated to crime and justice, with original objects from events such as the Great Train Robbery to the development of forensic science. Observe a mock trial, meet occupants of a Georgian-era gaol, and discover the stories of social justice in the exhibition space.  

Day 2: Arts and Green Spaces

Grab a coffee from one of Nottingham’s other independent cafes, perhaps Effy or Fox Cafe (or make a return visit to 200°!), then head over to Nottingham Contemporary. This art gallery is free to visit, open from Tuesday-Sunday.

The building itself has won an architectural award, and that’s before you even get inside! In addition to the artwork, Nottingham Contemporary also runs events, such as candlelight concerts with music from films and celebrations of famous musicians. 

As the name suggests, the artwork is contemporary and often somewhat abstract. You won’t find classic landscape paintings, but instead a regularly changing collection of sculpture and mixed media artwork. Go with an open mind, but I’ll admit it may not be for everyone.

Nottingham City Centre buildings

If this kind of gallery isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other options for things to do in Nottingham. The city has a few room escapes you could try out, including Cave Escape which runs three rooms of varying difficulty underground in the cave system. 

Perhaps book a visit to Hatchet Harry’s to have a go at axe-throwing (advance booking is a must). Or if you are visiting with kids, check out the Robin Hood Experience. 

Another option is Warhammer World. It’s something of a niche area, but if it interests you then the site in Nottingham is known for its extensive exhibition. 

Wollaton Hall, an Elizabethan country house built from stone with many windows on the facade.
Wollaton Hall

Wollaton Hall and Deer Park

Spend the afternoon at Wollaton Hall. See if you can spot the deer, take a walk around the grounds and the lake, and explore Wollaton Hall (also known as Wayne Manor in The Dark Knight Rises). 

The hall is an Elizabethan country house, built in the 1580s. It is free to visit, open every day, and now houses the Nottingham Natural History Museum. You can see a variety of fossils, rocks and minerals, and taxidermy – with a total collection of around 750,000 items.   

Take a bus over from the city centre, there are bus routes that run along both the north and south sides of the parks, so I would recommend using Google Maps to work out which route is best, depending on how you spend your morning. 

A large lake with several boats on it and surrounded by trees. There is a white University of Nottingham building with a clock tower behind the lake.
Highfields Boating Lake, University of Nottingham

University of Nottingham, Highfields Lake

To the south of Wollaton Park is the main campus of the University of Nottingham. A university campus is normally the sort of place I would recommend on an itinerary. Still, if you feel like more of a walk after Wollaton, it’s a surprisingly green campus. 

Head down towards the Millennium Gardens and the lake. The lake walk is popular with local residents, not just students and you’ll also find the Lakeside Arts Centre, Lakeside Cafe, Djangoly Art Gallery and a play area on the east side of the campus corner of the campus. 

It’s then an easy bus ride back from the stop outside campus to get back to the city centre. 

Where to Stay

Budget – Igloo has dorm rooms for those on a strict budget in the city centre.

Mid-Range – Leonardo Hotel is a great choice for a reasonable price, next to the canal on the south side of the city centre.

Luxury – Heritage Mews offers beautifully decorated rooms and apartments in the Lace Market.

If you are planning to spend more time exploring the wider area with a car, Orchard Hotel on the University of Nottingham campus makes it easy to get out of the city and has plenty of parking.

Dining and Nightlife

Nottingham has a lot to offer in terms of nightlife. The city is home to two universities, the University of Nottingham (where I studied) and Nottingham Trent University, which helps fuel the demand for the city’s various clubs and bars. 

Nightlife Venues

The Malt Cross is a pub in a former Victorian music hall which has live music, quizzes and other events.

Peggy’s Skylight is a jazz club and bar with live music most nights.

The Pitcher and Piano is a pub and bar located in a former church, a great place to stop for a drink with its stained glass and beautiful architecture. 

The Hockley Arts Club has 3 floors of bars with different themes and decorations, focusing on cocktails.

Nottingham's Theatre Royal, a white building with several columns and a Union Jack flag on the roof.

Arts and Culture

I recommend taking a look at the calendar for the Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall. Hosting everything from Comedy to Opera, there’s always something on. Smaller arts venues include the Lakeside Arts Centre on the main University of Nottingham campus and the Squire Performing Arts Centre.

Dining

Browns is an upscale restaurant, with an extensive menu and cocktail list (try the whole lemon sole, and they also do a great crème brûlée). 

Red Dog Saloon is an American BBQ restaurant, with food that gives the BBQ I tried in Kansas City a run for its money. 

MemSaab on Maid Marian Way (another nod to Robin Hood) is always popular for Indian food. 

Annual Events

Nottingham has a few significant events each year which are worth watching out for. 

Nottingham Goose Fair – an event that dates back several hundred years, and while it was once a livestock event that involved herding geese for sale (hence the name), it is now a funfair. There are plenty of rides, attractions and food stalls at this event that brings in around 400,000 visitors each year across 10 days in late September to early October. 

Crowded Old Market Square in Nottingham with the Council House in the background with Christmas decorations and a Christmas Market.

Christmas Market – each year Old Market Square is taken over by a Christmas Market with gifts, food, drinks and games. If you are visiting Nottingham in December, it’s hard to miss. 

If You Have More Than Two Days In Nottingham

Nottingham makes a great base for visiting other parts of the region. The city is about an hour’s drive from the Peak District, and one of my favourite stately homes – Chatsworth House.

Chatsworth is beautiful, with lovely gardens and artwork. It was also used as Pemberley in the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice – the sculpture room that Keira Knightley wanders through is really there. 

Chatsworth House, a large stone estate house with many windows, surrounded by trees.
Chatsworth House

Sherwood Forest, the legendary hideout of Robin Hood, is about an hour to the north of Nottingham and makes a great family day out. 

Another lovely stately home, Hardwick Hall is around 45 minutes north of Nottingham by car. 

Conclusion: Weekend In Nottingham

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that Nottingham is a great choice for a weekend away. For more ideas on how to explore the UK, have a look at places to visit from London by train

Happy Travels!

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