A working town in South Cheshire, Crewe was just a hamlet until the railway came through in the mid-19th century.
The Grand Junction Railway chose this spot for its locomotive works in the 1830s, and a town soon cropped up at this crucial junction in England’s transport network.
The Crewe Heritage Centre is set where the old locomotive works used to be, and tells you all you need to know about Crewe’s train building days and close ties to the railway.
The largest employer in Crewe now is Bentley, and if you book early you can go on a behind the scenes at their state-of-the-art factory.
Crewe is in a useful location for days out to Tudor and Jacobean houses like Little Morton Hall and Dorfold Hall, while one England’s most prized Medieval churches is 10 minutes away in Nantwich.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Crewe:
1. Queens Park
With a perfect oval footprint, Queens Park is a resplendent Victorian park that opened in 1887 on land donated by the London and North Western Railway.
The dainty flowerbeds, lake, bandstand and clock tower have been around since Victorian times, while the new lakeside pavilion is open daily.
You can hire a rowboat during the summer holidays and on weekends, and there’s an updated children’s play area and a bug hotel for young entomologists.
Queens Park has an outdoor gym and since February 2018 has held a parkrun every Saturday at 09:00. Amid the formal shrubs and flowerbeds is a monument to the Boer War, unveiled in 1903, while the lake’s island is a memorial to those who died in the Burma Campaign in the Second World War.
2. Crewe Heritage Centre
Somewhere to tap into Crewe’s railway history, the Heritage Centre is on the site of the Victorian Old Works that were torn down in the early 1980s.
The main exhibition hall has changing displays tracking the history of locomotive and carriage construction at the Old Works, as well as its impact of the junction on life in Crewe.
Kids can drive a 47 cab simulator and board the “Columbine” steam locomotive cab, while there’s a constantly rotating assortment of model railways from around the country.
Outside you can inspect many permanent and visiting locomotives, and take a ride on a miniature railway.
There are three preserved signal boxes, two from Crewe and one shipped wholesale from Exeter.
But the outstanding exhibit is the old surviving APT (Advanced Passenger Train) a prototype built in Derby in 1979 and designed to tilt to achieve higher speeds.
3. Lyceum Theatre
A striking landmark in the centre of town, the Lyceum Theatre has an interesting back story.
The theatre evolved from a repurposed Roman Catholic church, built for the Irish community working on the railway in the middle of the 19th century.
That building burnt down 1910 and just over a year later was replaced by a new venue on the site, seating 1,250. The Lyceum is Grade II listed and has a large brick gable bearing its founding date.
When you’re in town you can check the website or visit the box office to find out if anything catches your eye.
Among the light entertainers and tribute bands there are regular dates by well-known stand-up comedians.
When we wrote this article in summer 2018 Dylan Moran was on the programme.
4. Bentley Motors Factory Tour
As the Second World War approached, Crewe was chosen as a manufacturing centre for aeroplane engines thanks to its road and railway links.
The first Rolls-Royce Merlin engines were assembled at the factory on Pyms Lane in 1938. After the war production switched to Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars.
Since the two brands split in 1998, the Volkswagen-owned factory has exclusively made Bentleys.
“General Interest” tours are available and they offer the kind of all-encompassing experience that would normally be reserved for customers.
These cost £30 per person and entail a complete two-hour visit to the production line conducted by knowledgeable hosts.
5. Little Moreton Hall
Constructed throughout the 16th century, Little Moreton Hall is a romantic half-timbered house defended by a moat.
The Hall is a National Trust property and has a strange, top-heavy aspect for the Long Gallery that spans the top floor of the south range.
The weight of the Long Gallery, added in the middle of the 16th century, has even warped the levels below.
Interpreters wearing period costume help bring the past to life, and children can also dress up like lords and ladies.
The parlour is needs to be seen for its painted wall and Elizabethan mouldings over the fireplace, and you can soak up the grandeur of the great hall and take a close look at the intricate leadwork in the windows, nearly all of which are still glazed with 16th-century glass.
Outside is a formal Tudor knot garden replanted in 1972.
6. St Mary’s Church, Nantwich
Ten minutes by car or one stop on the train, the neighbouring town of Nantwich has one of the UK’s loveliest Medieval churches.
As we see it now, St Mary’s was built in Decorated Gothic style from the 1340s in local red sandstone, and later restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 19th century.
Outside the sight that will win you over is the beautiful octagonal tower.
Take your time inside as there’s a lot of Medieval detail.
Look up to the lierne-vaulted ceiling in the chancel, embellished with nearly 70 carved bosses.
Also in the chancel are a triple sedilla and a piscina, below phenomenal Gothic carved canopies.
Behind the choir stalls are 20 misericords fashioned in the 15th century.
Each one is different, carved with images of the Virgin, a unicorn, George and the Dragon and a pelican with chicks.
7. Crewe to Nantwich Greenway
A few years in the making, the Crewe to Nantwich Greenway officially opened in 2013 and allows you to make the five-mile trip to Nantwich by bike.
The greenway is safe, completely free of traffic and has little pockets of nature on the route.
One is the Bluebell Woods, which opened for Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee in 2012. Some 5,000 bluebell bulbs were planted for this community project, and it’s a wonderful sight in spring.
The ride between the two towns takes about 30 minutes, and you may be tempted to stop at the Rising Sun Pub halfway along the route.
8. Dorfold Hall
There’s a beguiling Jacobean mansion on the other side of Nantwich.
Dorfolk Hall was built in the 1610s by the younger brother of Sir Roger Wilbraham, who held positions at court under James I. Combining brick with stone dressings, Dorfolk Hall has triangular gables, turreted chimneys and a recessed centre with massive windows considering the time.
Still a private residence, Dorfold Hall does open for guided on Tuesdays and Bank Holidays in summer.
On your visit you’ll admire interiors that were reworked by the Neoclassical architect Samuel Wyatt in 1771. The hall’s beautiful parkland is on the 29-mile Crewe and Nantwich Circular Path and in July hosts the single-day Nantwich Show, a well-attended agricultural event with trade stalls and demonstrations.
Part of the event, the Nantwich International Cheese Awards is claimed to be the largest cheese competition in Europe.
9. Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker
It’s exciting to think that this enormous underground facility was kept secret for more than 40 years, hiding outside the village of Hack Green.
On the site of a WWII radar station, this subterranean bunker was built in the 1950s.
In the last years of the Cold War the facility was chosen as a Regional Seat of Government in case of a nuclear attack and refitted at a cost of £32m.
The museum explains the role of the bunker during the Cold War, and has a Minister of State’s office, medical room, communication centre with 1980s computer terminals, telephone exchange and decontamination facilities.
You’ll even watch the chilling automatic broadcast that would have been sent out in case of attack.
On the surface there’s lots of Cold War hardware, like a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System and an big collection of decommissioned nuclear weapons.
10. Reaseheath Zoo
Reaseheath College in Nantwich provides vocational courses in agriculture and animal management, so it needs to keep a zoological collection.
In the 2000s the college became the first in the country to hold a zoo licence and recently has started opening its doors during holidays and certain weekends.
You can visit their website for a full calendar.
The advantage of the zoo’s small collection is that you can find out lots of interesting facts about each animal’s personality and diet.
There’s Bengal eagle owl named Ravi, a Brazilian tapir called Ernie, blue tegu called Diego and Yasmin, an Exmoor pony, to name a small few.
11. Crewe Market
Trading in the Town Square under the clock tower on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, Crewe’s outdoor market sells handicrafts, kitchenware, cards, clothing, fruit and vegetables, flowers and some specialty foods.
The fine market hall (1854) around the corner has been a shopping hub decades, and as of 2018 has been chosen as the anchor for an upcoming £48.5m regeneration of Crewe’s town centre.
In August 2018 there were still some traders in the hall, but by the 2020s the hall will be rebranded and host permanent independent shops and eateries.
12. Crewe Alexandra
Aptly nicknamed the Railwaymen, the town’s football team Crewe Alexandra dates all the way back to 1877 and was a founding member of the Football League Second Division in 1892. Now in League Two, the fourth tier of English football, Crewe have never played in the top division of English football.
But they do have a reputation for producing or developing top talent.
Former international stars like David Platt, Danny Murphy and Neil Lennon are some of the names to have played for the Railwaymen early in their careers.
Home games take place at the 10,000-seater Gresty Road from August to May.
And after Macclesfield Town gained promotion to the Football League in 2018 you’ll be able to catch the rare spectacle of a Cheshire Derby while the two clubs share the same division.
13. Wybunbury Tower
A Grade II* monument in the nearby village of Wynbury has been dubbed the “Leaning Tower of South Cheshire”. It’s the last surviving portion of a 15th-century church that was demolished in the 19th century.
What’s extraordinary is that at least five churches came before this one, and all were torn down or collapsed because of the shifting ground.
The sandstone ashlar tower has a distinct tilt to the north and is in the Perpendicular style, topped with four corner pinnacles and battlements.
There are niches with statues of unidentified saints flanking the doorway and 1st-storey window, while the tower still holds a ring of bells cast in 1790.
14. Bunbury Mill
If you’re wondering what to do on a Sunday afternoon in summer there’s a restored piece of rural history ten miles west of Crewe.
Bunbury Mill is a watermill built in the 1840s, though there has been a watermill at this very spot since the late 13th century.
The mill closed in the 1960s after flood damage, and was threatened with demolition before being saved by a local campaign and reconstructed as a job creation initiative.
The historic building, mill pond and neighbouring woodland all create a very picturesque scene.
There are 40-minute guided tours in which you’ll weigh the grain, remove the chaff and try making your own flour by hand.
The tearoom at the mill bakes its own cakes, and you can take a look around the grounds, which attract herons, kingfishers and lots of butterflies in summer.
For regular golfers or people who want to rediscover their swing, there are three golf courses inside ten minutes of Crewe town centre.
Casual players who want a no-frills round can try the pay and play right on the west side of Queens Park.
This nine-hole course has been here since 1985 and couldn’t be more convenient.
Experienced players have two highly regarded members clubs to pick from: Sandbach Golf Club and Crewe Golf Club both welcome visitors, though you’ll need to book a tee-off time by calling ahead.
Both courses are well-reviewed but also reasonably priced.
Green fees at Sandbach, which has satisfying tree-lined fairways and natural water hazards, are a mere £25 for 18 holes in summer.