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Things to do in Preston
Right about now you’re probably thinking where the f**k is Preston!? And to an extent, rightly so. So why am I writing about Preston? Well, Preston’s my home town, or should I say city. Also, the place I’ve spent most of my life. So now the question is… can I really go on writing about travelling around the world without so much as a mention of my homeland? No, no I can’t! So, here’s a little back story and a few of my favourite things to do in Preston. I’ll try my best not to be bias 😉
So what’s Preston all about?
You won’t see Preston on every other travel blog, actually I’m pretty sure you won’t find it on ANYONE’S travel blog. Even with that said, if you really look into it, Preston’s got quite a bit to offer. Fair enough, it’s certainly not a London of the North or have the wild, untamed landscape of the Lake District but there’s a fair bit of history and plenty of things to do in Preston.
Situated in the North west of England not too far from Manchester and with a population of roughly 137,000 for anyone who has come to the UK and is adventurous enough to get off the “beaten track” and venture out of London heading up north, then I’d honestly say that Preston is worth a dabble for a day, maybe two, tops!
Here’s some interesting facts…
Although you probably have never heard of Preston there’s quite a few interesting facts that surround Preston, here’s a few:
• The Preston Bypass was Britain’s first motorway opened in 1965.
• In 1816 Preston became the first British town to be lit by gas.
• The Charles Dickens novel, Hard Times was inspired by poverty in Preston.
• Moor park was the first park to gain public right of access.
• In 1964 KFC’s first store outside of North America opened in Preston.
• Market Street has the longest continuous row of red public telephone boxes in the country.
• The famous outlaw Butch Cassidy lived in Preston before he and his family emigrated to America. Apparently, he had an extremely strong Lancashire accent.
• Although Preston doesn’t have a cathedral, in 2002, on the 50th year of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, Preston was granted city status to become England’s 50th city.
By now I’m guessing you’re all searching Skyscanner for the cheapest flights to the UK….
So, what is there to do in Preston!?
As with any city, there’s an abundance of things to do in Preston. Well if you know where to look of course. Living here for the majority of my 30+ years on this planet, it’s safe to say I’ve explored most of the city and all it has to offer. Here’s a few of the main activities you should look into:
Brockholes Nature Reserve:
Located just of the M6 (England’s first motorway), this 250 acre site comes complete with a miniature floating eco village where you will find various activities including gift shop and somewhere to get “afternoon tea”. Around the edges/on solid ground you’ll find a play area for children and various walking rotes ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Since 2007, there’s been an amazing amount of effort put into turning an old quarry into nature reserve jam packed with an abundance of wildlife. Depending on what time of year you visit you can expect to see up to five species of Herron, Pallid Harriers, Otters and even starling murmurations. For the extremely lucky, maybe even a glimpse of the odd Roe Deer through the trees.
Getting to the Brockholes Nature Reserve is pretty easy by car or on public transport. If you’ve rented a car then parking on Brockholes will set you back £3 in winter and £5 in the summer months. If you’re staying in the city centre and want to use public transport, then head to the bus station and jump on the Farringdon Park bus (number 16), Roughly £2 each way. Stay on the bus until the end of the route/shell petrol station and then on foot head down the hill and about 300m you’ll be on top of it. You’ll see the signs. Check out the Brockholes Nature reserve website for more information.
Beacon Fell Country Park:
For this one, ideally, you’ll have a car, as it’s a few miles out of the city and you’ll struggle getting public transport. Beacon Fell Country Park is made up of 271 acres of woodland, moorland and nature trails. There’s better chances of spotting the ever elusive Roe Deer than on the Brockholes Nature Reserve. Rabbits and hares are in abundance here. The whole surrounding areas are typical English rural villages with plenty of character, well worth a bit of a drive and a few hours of your time. If you’ve got a car with satnav then the postcode is PR3 2NL.
Preston is full of stunning public parks. Most of which have some sort of free parking nearby or are on easy public transport routes. My favourite parks are Haslam park in the Ashton area and Avenham Park that’s situated on the edge of the city centre, not too far from Winckley Square and bordered by the River Ribble where there’s a chance of spotting otters, although every time I head down there armed with my camera, there’s none to be seen!
History and culture:
Until deciding to write this post, I never knew there was so much history in Preston. I guess it’s the case of taking everything you see everyday for granted and not appreciating the history that is surrounding you. Here’s a few places to go see some history and culture.
Named after Queen Victoria’s son, the Albert Edward Dock at the time of opening in 1892 was the largest dock in Europe. In 1948, Preston dock was the pioneer of the first roll on, roll off ferries and as a result of its success. the containerisation of world shipping as we know it today. I don’t know about you, but I’m seriously impressed by that…
Harris museum and art gallery:
Located smack bang in the middle of the city and open 7 days a week, the Harris Museum, without a doubt makes the list for things to do in Preston. As with any museum/art gallery, exhibitions change all the time. At the time of writing this the main attraction is an exhibition by 2017 turner prize winner Lubaina Himid MBE. Entry into the Harris museum and art gallery is free of charge, however, there is a shop and café to relieve you of a few quid for souvenirs and typical “English tea and scone”. To see what being exhibited go to the official Harris Museum website for the latest updates.
For all you train spotters out there, one of the many things to do in Preston is check out the Ribble Steam Railway is a must. Located on the edge of Preston Dock the Ribble Steam Railway is easily accessible is via public transport from the city centre by bus. There’s a workshop where you can see old steam and diesel locomotives being restored by volunteers also, a museum where you can board one of the old steam engines and get a feel for what it was like to be shovelling tonnes of coal into the furnace.
For £7 you get access to the steam museum, the workshop and you can have as many rides on the steam railway as you’d like. The train runs daily, on the hour from 11am to 4pm.
Guild hall and charter theatre:
Preston Guild hall is an absolute hive of entertainment, with something going on almost every day/night of the year. Entertainment varies from, live music acts, tribute bands, stand up comedy from the likes of Sarah Millican and Roy “Chubby” Brown.
Apart from being a hub of entertainment, there’s also a few trendy bars and restaurants where you can get some “afternoon tea” or a full on Italian meal and then head next door for some “porn star martinis”. The Villa Italian even offers an exclusive deal to theatre goers, where for £14.95 you can get two pre-show meals. (Pre-ordered from the box office at time of booking show tickets).
As with all theatres, the shows are regularly changed and updated so check out the official Preston Guild Hall website for the latest info.
P.S. Shows tend to sell out pretty fast so don’t leave it until last minute, especially if there’s a few of you and you’d like to sit together.
Preston’s history dates back to the Roman era and in medieval times it was a thriving market town and port. With over 300 listed buildings, where ever you go in Preston, there’s no doubt you’ll see some first-class architecture. Here’s a few of my favourite few that you should go and see.
St Walburge church:
Built between 1850 and 1854, this grade I listed building has the highest church spire in England (309 feet). Free tours are held every Saturday between 11.30am and 2.30pm. As I was taking this photo, a local chap turned up and explained that if you go between May and the end of June you can expect to see nesting Peregrine Falcons.
War Memorial Cenotaph:
Built in 1926 and standing 70 feet tall, this grade I listed monument was designed by Gilles Gilbert Scott and made from Portland stone to commemorate the fallen soldiers of WWI.
The Harris Museum:
Another grade I listed building situated smack bang in the middle of the city centre and less than 50m away from the Cenotaph mentioned above. Fund raising to build Preston a new museum and art gallery started way back in 1850 and in 1877 Edmund Robert Harris left £300,000 in his will to help fund the build. Hence why it’s called the Harris Museum. Work started in 1882 in the year of the Preston Guild and it officially opened in 1893.
I’m going to throw it out there that this has to be my favourite building in Preston.
First established in 1802, Winckley Square was the home to all the wealthy mill owners back in the day and has an abundance of amazing listed buildings surrounding the beautiful public park in the centre.
The miller arcade is also situated adjacent to the Harris Museum and Cenotaph. Constructed in 1899 it was Preston’s first indoor shopping centre. Modelled on London’s Burlington Arcade, up until 1947 it also housed a Turkish bath… Yeah, I know pretty random eh!? Another grade I listed building.
Maybe my least favourite building in the whole of Preston! What were they thinking? It’s just down-right awful! Built in the late 60’s this grade II listed building was described by the Twentieth Century Society as “one of the most significant Brutalist buildings in the UK”. There has always been speculation to say that Preston’s monstrosity of a bus station is the second biggest in Europe.
Since 2011, Preston has been awarded the purple flag for night time safety year after year. So yeah, it’s safe to go out and hit the bars and restaurants without having to worrying about getting mugged by some smackhead or beaten up by a gym going steroid enthusiast.
With one of the UK’s larger universities and an overall young population, Preston is no let down when it comes to the traditional English bar crawl. Just head down Church St in the city centre on a Saturday night and you’ll know what I mean. Bar after bar and plenty of trendy cocktail bars and restaurants down every side street, you can’t fail to find some good food and a good atmosphere.
All in all, Preston is a good night out, bit quiet on a Friday though, I’d have to recommend venturing out on a Saturday night. A bar called “12 Tellers” is pretty popular and not too expensive.
For food, head down to “Turtle Bay” for some authentic Caribbean cuisine. Book in advance as, again it is pretty popular and sometimes hard to get a table.
Transportation and accommodation.
Normally I am a massive advocate for hiring a car to sightsee but in Preston, most of the activities are located in the city centre and parking will cost quite a bit, especially if you plan on staying for a few days.
Transport links to and from Preston are some of the best in the country. For decades, Preston has been a vital link from North to South. With our rather large train and bus stations getting around the UK from Preston couldn’t be easier as many of the motorways converge at Preston and Manchester being just 30 minutes away for international flights, it really is one of the most accessible cities in the UK.
For Accommodation, you’ve got a few different choices… B&B’s may not be as plentiful as they are in Blackpool, but you can find them around the outskirts of the city centre for around £30 per night. Or if you want to be in the middle of the action/city centre, then there’s a newly built Premier inn on Fox street. Roughly £50 per night if you book early.
Well that’s it, there’s my things to do in Preston…
Reading all that back now, it really is surprising to me how much Preston really has got to offer. I suppose when you live somewhere, you just take everything for granted and don’t see your surroundings for what they really are, like you would if you was your first time there.
If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would be an advocate for tourism in Preston, I would have told you to go get yourself a straight jacket! But now…. Preston is an amazing place with many things to do and a hell of a lot to see and experience. So, don’t just follow the herd and stay in London like the rest of England doesn’t exist, I dare you, in fact I implore to “go up north”! Be a rebel, go against the grain, whatever you want to call it just DO IT!!
After all, out of all the people I have met on the road so far, the vast majority, that when asked if they’ve been to the UK, answer yes, have only ever been to London. Yeah, I know it’s the “big one” the “promised land” the “holy grail of what’s good in England” but what about Liverpool, the Lake District and so many other places that so often get overlooked!?
Disclaimer: It is advisable that you don’t spend £1000 on a flight from the USA just to see Preston because as Preston has just been ranked the 3rd wettest place in the UK. The odds are you’ll be cold, wet and miserable!!
However, saying that, in 2017 Preston was named the best place to live in North West England! Only god knows who they asked for that verdict but who am I to argue with the facts eh!?
Right I’m just waffling on now so, there you have it… My things to do in Preston!!