When Liverpool and Manchester’s high-earners seek country residences they usually look south to the county of Cheshire.
So there’s a curious diversity to the county, as earthy industrial towns can be set a few miles from gentrified rural villages with posh restaurants and boutiques.
In the west, almost on the border with Wales is Chester, a heritage city of uncommon beauty and teeming with history going back to the Romans.
And east are the moors of the Peak District, one of England’s most prized expanses of wilderness, and a hiker’s heaven.
In the countryside in between are Tudor halls and Georgian stately homes that are almost always open to the public.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Cheshire:
Cheshire’s county town is as gorgeous as it is fascinating, and has enough heritage to last for more than a weekend break.
To get a sense of Chester’s Roman castrum layout you can walk along the city walls, which, although they’ve been bolstered over time, have pretty much the same format as they did 2,000 years ago.
Within the walls are medieval streets with black and white timber-framed buildings that crane over the cobblestones from five storeys up.
You have to call in at the cathedral and see the wondrous medieval covered walkways at Chester Rows.
Even now we’ve hardly made a dent on all the intriguing things to see and do in this outstanding city.
One of the last towns before the Peak District, Congleton is a smart market town with a useful choice of pubs and restaurants.
Walkers could use the town as a jumping off point for excursions into the national park, while closer in you could ramble along the Dane River and the Biddulph Valley Way, which used to be a railway line transporting coal down to the potteries in Stoke.
But Congleton really shines for Little Moreton Hall, a large half-timbered manor house encircled by a moat and gazing out on formal gardens.
This awesome building went up in stages through the 1500s and will give students of Tudor history goosebumps for its wealth of original fittings, like leaded windows, interior wall paintings and Elizabethan fireplaces.
As you wander around Northwich, remember that much of what you see is the legacy of salt mining, which took place under the town from Roman times right up to the 20th century.
Throughout its history this granted Northwich a fair amount of wealth, but the downside (quite literally) was subsidence, diverting rivers and occasionally damaging building foundations.
The award-winning Lion Salt Works offers the ultimate inside look at the Cheshire salt industry, while Weaver Hall was a Victorian workhouse, a kind of forced labour camp where people ended up if they didn’t have the means to support themselves.
More genteel is Arley Hall, which is a 19th-century building that revived the styles of Tudor and Stuart palaces from centuries before.
Those upmarket towns we mentioned in the intro are clustered in an area known as the Golden Triangle, where several of the most expensive streets in the Northwest are located.
Knutsford is just this sort of place, brimming with fashion boutiques, delicatessens, wine bars and expensive restaurants.
The town’s 18th-century townhouses and timber framed buildings complement the high-end atmosphere.
There are also a few days out around Knutsford, like the Austen-esque Georgian estate, Tabley House.
If you’re with the whole clan, try Gauntlet Birds of Prey, which has lots of raptors, from owls to falcons, and holds flight demonstrations that little ones won’t soon forget.
A disaster for the market town of Nantwich in 1583 has turned out to be a blessing for us.
Most of the town burned down in a devastating fire, and such was the devastation that Elizabeth I helped fund the rebuild.
What that gave us is an ensemble of well-designed Tudor buildings, all constructed at roughly the same time.
Head to the high street and Hospital Street for some of the finest.
The Crown Hotel on the high street is outstanding, with continuous windows on its cantilevered top floor.
There’s also exciting modern history around Nantwich, at the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker, a subterranean Cold War relic with many unsettling details like a medical room equipped to treat radiation burns.
If you need a first port of call for your trip to Sandbach, look no further than the market square.
This location couldn’t be lovelier; the square is laid with irregular cobbles and historic architecture is all around, in the shape of rustic old pubs with timber frames.
But the big sight in the square is the pair of stone Saxon crosses.
These have been dated to the 800s and it’s exciting to see how vivid the complex carvings still are.
These have the classic Saxon interlace patterns and vine scrolls, and if you study the pillars closely you’ll spot dragons, beasts and even religious images.
A narrowboat trip is a very laid-back way of seeing the Cheshire countryside, and one of the best places to start your voyage is at Middlewich.
The town has been served by canals since it petitioned to have the Trent and Mersey Canal diverted here to transport the local chlorine and salt ash.
This waterway connects with the Shropshire Union Canal via the Wardle Canal, which, at just 30 metres in length is the shortest in the country.
If you visit in June you’ll be in time for the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival, when hundreds of boats are moored in the town and there’s busy schedule of gigs at pubs by the water.
One of the best things about Cheshire’s former industrial towns is the way their old trades are commemorated at first-rate museums.
In Macclesfield the big industry was silk-weaving, to the point where this place is still known as “The Silk Town” long after the industry disappeared in the 20th century.
The Silk Museum, in the imposing Paradise Mill, will delight both industrial historians and people who love antique fashion and textiles.
Macclesfield now is a well-heeled town, with plenty of independent shops to browse, all mingling with 19th-century architecture as the city was one of the only industrial centres to escape bombing in the Second World War.
You could also swap the shopping streets for the moors as the Peak District is just a mile outside the town.
A former coalmining town in hilly countryside, Poynton is in the lower climbs of the Pennines and within a green belt that preserve the surrounding countryside.
You won’t struggle for opportunities to escape to this scenery as the Middlewood Way courses past Poynton on the route of an old railway line from Marple down to Macclesfield.
Your gateway to the trail is the Nelson Pit Visitor Centre, over a former colliery.
There’s much more mining and general industrial history at the fantastic Anson Engine Museum, also belonging to an old mine.
Here you can see one of Europe’s largest collections of stationary engines, with all types of pumps, turbines and generators.
The town of Crewe was pivotal to the success of the Industrial Revolution in the northwest, because this is where the locomotives and railways originated.
Crewe Railway Works was founded in 1840 and in its heyday employed a small army of 20,000 to build and service the machines that held the supply chains together.
Even today Crewe is descirbed as a railway town and the local football team, Crewe Alexandra are the “Railwaymen”. Head for the Crewe Heritage Centre, built on the town’s old locomotive works and with lots of old diesel and electric locomotives to check out.
One of Cheshire’s prettiest villages has a high street with nothing but brick Victorian and Georgian houses, and is lined with wrought-iron gaslights for some extra old-time charm.
You have a choice of bakeries and boutiques to peruse, and there are four pubs in the town for lunch or a pint.
A few minutes to the south is Beeston Castle, which was constructed in the 13th century in a dominant setting on a sandstone crag 100 metres above the Cheshire Plain.
As often happened, the castle was partly destroyed at the end of the Civil War to stop it being reused in future, but the ruins are very evocative and the vistas are nothing short of majestic.
Another of those swish towns in the Golden Triangle, Wilmslow first caught the eye of the northwest’s wealthy businessmen and industrialists in Victorian times when the railways afforded swift links with Manchester and Liverpool.
There are quite a few footballers living around here, including the legendary former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.
Catering to these wealthy residents are high-end boutiques and restaurants, and if you need to know how posh Wilmslow is there’s a branch of Hoopers, a department store with only four locations around the country, including the ultra-fancy Harrogate and Tunbridge Wells.
To get your feet back on the ground, the Quarry Bank Mill in Styal is one of the region’s most complete former mills, and as good a place as any to investigate the northwest’s textiles history.
Almost equidistant to Manchester and Liverpool, Warrington is a “New Town” and so a lot of what you see now didn’t exist before the post-war period.
But before that it had been a market town, and had heavy industry in the 19th century when textile and tool-making mills were part of the townscape.
These days people travel from surrounding towns and villages for shopping trips in the town centre.
The leafy and historic suburb of Stockton Heath oozes character, and happily it’s also free of the usual English chain stores, with independent shops and restaurants instead.
See Warrington Town Hall with its golden gates, poke around the cabinet of curiosities at Warrington Museum and bring the little ones to the petting zoo at the beautiful Walton Hall and Gardens estate.
14. Alderley Edge
This well-to-do village is only a short drive from Manchester, but England’s second city will feel a world away.
Like the other settlements in the area, Alderley Edge is extremely desirable for Mancunians and so has the sort of shops and restaurants that high-earners frequent.
Yet one of the best things in the village is absolutely free: Alderley Edge is named for a broad sandstone ridge that rises above the village.
The highest point culminates at more than 200 metres and is protected by the National Trust.
At Stormy Point you’ll be met by an inspiring view east to the Pennines and Peak District.
Not far from Warrington, the little village of Daresbury would be a very satisfying place to while away a few hours, even if it hadn’t been the birthplace of the author Lewis Carroll.
As it is, there’s a fantastic visitor centre at the All Saints Church that will fill you in on Carroll’s early years in Daresbury and possible inspirations for Alice and Her Adventures in Wonderland.
Lewis Carroll’s father had actually been the vicar her when the author was born in 1832. Also take a moment to appreciate the village and its old hall, before or after a quick pint at the lovely Ring ‘O Bells pub.