Most first time visitors to the UK will start, and possibly end, with London. They may venture out to points of interest such as Stonehenge, or even ride the train up to the Scottish Highlands, but few will make the Midlands their destination of choice. It's a shame because Nottingham and the surrounding area have much to offer travelers. There is plenty to keep history buffs, sports enthusiasts, nature fans, and families entertained for days on end.
Probably best known as the home of the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham, the city has largely rejected Robin Hood's nemesis as its symbol. Instead, they have embraced the outlaw of Sherwood Forest, and happily plaster his likeness and name across signboards and t-shirts, and incorporate it into business names. Good triumphs over evil in the end.
Nottingham can be toured in the company of Robin Hood himself, in the form of Ezekial Bone, a guide, amateur historian, and actor. Mr. Bone offers bespoke tours of Nottingham that are entertaining, informative, and highly customizable to allow for all interests and age ranges. His Robin Hood Town Tour and his Guts and Gore Tour are ranked #1 and #2, respectively, for Nottingham on TripAdvisor.
Sherwood Forest was once vast and sprawling, coming right up to the edge of the ancient town wall. These days a drive from the city to the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre takes approximately 40 minutes. Entry is free, and visitors are treated to a walk through craggy trees and a viewing of the Major Oak, alleged home of the Merry Men, as well as a walk through a series of small storytelling dioramas. The center and the forest are accessible by bus, but are probably best reached by car or a tour that includes transport.
There are a number of accommodation options, though one of the most centrally placed is the Lace Market Hotel. Convenient to the town center and bus station, it is also directly across the street from the Galleries of Justice Museum. The entrance to the City of Caves tour, which gives visitors a peek into how the unique sandstone geology of the area helped shape the economy, is a 5 minute walk away. Guests should be aware that the Church of St. Mary the Virgin is directly behind the hotel. This can be wonderful for ease of access, but occasionally an unexpected bellringing practice may leave you wishing you'd opted for something out in the woods.
Fans of fresh air and exercise will appreciate the National Water Sport Centre Nottinghamshire. White water rafting, canoeing and kayaking, swimming, and even ropes courses are available. (Hint: this is a great way to wear out the kids while on holiday!) For those looking for something a little more laid back, the Attenborough Nature Centre has birdwatching and several nature walks, as well as a host of activities both fun and educational for the young ones.
While not strictly a Nottingham-centric activity, narrowboat holidays can be launched at the nearby Trent and Mersey Canal. A great option for couples or families, hiring narrowboats (also known as canalboats) for a week or more can be a fun, economical, and unique way to spend your holiday. Be sure to read carefully about what is included in the price, as often fuel costs are not part of the package.
Perhaps the only sour note in a visit to Nottinghamshire is the food. While many restaurants are doing their best to become recognized in the UK's evolving foodie scene, there is still work to be done. Local chefs seem to have a flair for presentation rather than flavor. Even the local branch of The Living Room falls prey to this trap with gristly meat and flavorless spring rolls. Merchants Restaurant does better, but still needs to work on combining complementary flavors. Recommendation: stick with pub food.
That being said, the people of Nottinghamshire are polite, warm, and welcoming. Quite a different story from the (possibly undeserved) reputation of Londoners. The people, the activities, and the fascinating history make Nottingham a gem. You will enjoy your time in the Midlands!
Disclosure: author had accommodation, meals, and activities provided by Experience Nottinghamshire. Opinions, however, are her own.
© Katrina Stovold