City Guide: Nottingham, UK
From old-school pubs and Michelin-starred restaurants to galleries, independent book shops and record stores, a break in Nottingham provides culture and class
- By Tom Powell -
If waking up in the arty heart of the East Midlands doesn’t get you leaping out of bed in the morning, in-house roasted coffee and buttermilk and bacon muffins from the 200 Degrees coffee shop probably will. Pair your visit with a home-brewing course and a big bag of Brazilian, Colombian or Vietnamese beans so you’re never disappointed when you fancy a filter back home.
If you like whopping great patties, cups of joe and gingham tablecloths, try Annie’s Burger Shack – a US-style diner with a menu of more than 30 gut-bludgeoning burgers. Here you’ll find a patty for every palate, from classics like the bacon cheddar or pulled pork, to monthly specials like the audacious Twin Peaks – a concoction of beef, smoked pork belly and crumbly cheddar shortbread that comes complete with its very own edible coffee cup.
Meanwhile, if fish is more your thing, try one of the Cod’s Scallops restaurants in Sherwood or Wollaton for award-winning, sustainable and locally sourced fish and chips. Both sites are a bit out of town, but well worth the 15-minute tram.
Back in the centre, visit The Larder on Goosegate for perfectly executed modern British dishes and stylish regency dining rooms on the premises of the original Boots the Chemist in the heart of the Lace Market.
Even more decadent is Restaurant Sat Bains, a two-Michelin-starred eatery-with-rooms that sits on the outskirts of the city (more about that in the stay section).
Now you’ve grubbed up, you’ll probably want a pint. Well then, if you’re in the centre of town, you’re going to want to head to The Malt Cross on St James’s Street. Not only do they have a list of bottled beers longer than your forearm (assuming you don’t have seriously long forearms), this converted music hall is also just about the biggest, airiest tavern in the centre of Nottingham. Expect general quirkiness, live music and big slabs of baked goods (just in case you don’t fancy a beer).
If you’re looking for something cosier, take a ten-minute walk up Derby Road to The Hand and Heart. This simple and unpretentious boozer is a great blend of real ale, lively locals and characterful sandstone caves. Visit on a Thursday for the added bonus of watching house pianist Pete the Feet play the ivories with his well… you guessed it. Twinkletoes indeed.
While the shop-filled streets of the Lace Market look like high street and historic quarter all rolled into one easily walkable package, when it comes to bars, the quarter’s riddled with secrets.
Not many great nights start in a courtyard round the back of a budget hotel and a Tesco Express, but on the Nottingham thoroughfare of Fletcher Gate, that, my friend, is the craic. Keep your eyes peeled for an archway that leads to Junkyard, a craft beer pouring house cum wine bar that offers tipples by the schooner, bottle and 64oz flagon.
A couple of minutes away on Carlton Street you’ll probably see tons of trendy punters piling into an old boiler shop – don’t be alarmed. Behind the most boring frontage in the East Midlands you’ll find Boilermaker, a secret speakeasy that puts new spins on all the old classics (or just makes a top-notch cocktail to your own personal specifications).
Less of a secret is Das Kino, a German cinema-inspired cocktail bar that deals in ping pong contests and artisan pizza. You’ll find it pretty much next door to Junkyard on Fletcher Gate.
If you’re looking for a boozy break or just don’t fancy blowing your budget completely, try the Igloo Hybrid Hostel. Based on Japanese sleep boxes, the hostel is erratically adorned with quirky, cool and downright bizarre wall murals (hello, faux-metro car hallways and Mondrian-inspired communal areas). Here you’ll be seconds from the Market Square at the heart of the city with access to a shared kitchen and your very own comfy pod for kipping in.
At the more luxe end of things, try the rooms at Restaurant Sat Bains which is out to the southwest of the city. You’d think lodgings would come second when a restaurant has two Michelin stars, a sommelier station and a ten-course chef’s table tasting menu – thankfully all eight rooms of this boutique joint ooze elegance and opulence, because you’ll be needing somewhere to rest up after all that grub.
If you have wheels and want to escape the hectic city centre, you’ll find comfort in the country surrounding the Vale of Belvoir at Langar Near The Hall, a pretty boutique B&B located in the grounds of a Grade II-listed Georgian farmhouse. The tranquil bolthole comes complete with homemade cake and freshly laid eggs in the welcome basket, as well as the famous Melton Mowbray a short hop over the Leicestershire border (just in case you get sudden, uncontrollable – and completely understandable – urges for Britain’s best pork pies).
If you like things iconic and independent, you won’t be disappointed in what Nottingham has to offer. Starting central in Hockley, head to Mimm for in-house urban essentials, as well as other cool clobber from LA’s The Quiet Life and wacky Bristol-based T-shirt printers Turbo Island.
A few feet down Broad Street, you’ll find Rough Trade Nottingham. While the iconic record store should need no introduction, the recently opened premises comes complete with a café bar for live sessions, as well as guest retail pop-ups from the likes of Aesop and Universal Works.
Tucked down an alleyway opposite the swanky vaulted Georgian Exchange on Long Row, book lovers will delight in Five Leaves, a defiantly lefty independent bookshop and publishing house that specialises in all things radical (be it political, avant garde or just plain cool).
Meanwhile, those who like their books with pictures, the nearby Page 45 is one of the UK’s best places for picking up rare comics and niche graphic novels.
There’s Rock City, one of the only venues in the UK that’s hosted a gig basically every night for 35 years. No matter what your music taste is, you’re covered.
Also good for your culture fix are the 20+ art galleries that are scattered throughout the city (check out Nottingham Art Map for ideas) – our recommendation is the double whammy of Nottingham Contemporary and the Syson Gallery that’s situated just opposite, for a perfect balance of cutting-edge global and local art right at the heart of the city’s cobbled centre.
Beyond the numerous Robin Hood trails throughout the city centre, the castle and Sherwood Forest, you’ve also got the Peaks and the Vale of Belvoir a short car hop away. Both are perfect for a day of hiking in search of classic British villages and breathtaking valley views.