Famed for its three-spired cathedral and profuse Georgian architecture, Lichfield is a glorious city 16 miles north of Birmingham.
The cathedral is the obligatory first port of call, for its Gothic lines, invaluable Flemish stained glass and an 8th-century carving of an angel.
Enveloping this monument is one of the UK’s most unspoilt Cathedral Closes, an enclave previously reserved for clergy and endowed with solemn houses dating mostly from Medieval times to the 18th century.
There are more Georgian townhouses to appreciate around the city, one where Samuel Johnson was born in 1709, and another chosen as a home by Erasmus Darwin.
Both are now museums to these two giants of 18th-century English culture.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lichfield:
1. Lichfield Cathedral
A spellbinding monument with a turbulent history, Lichfield Cathedral has architecture from all phases of the English Gothic, but was hit hard by a siege in the English Civil War in the 17th century.
This has been a Christian site since the 700s when a church was built to house the bones of St Chad (d.
672). Today’s building was begun at the end of the 12th century, taking the place of an earlier Romanesque cathedral.
It’s the only Medieval cathedral in the UK with three spires, and has lots of absorbing stories to tell.
The windows of the Lady Chapel for example are fitted with some of the finest Flemish Medieval stained glass found anywhere.
These 16th-century windows used to be at the Abbey of Herkenrode and were brought here in 1801, replacing stained glass lost in the Civil War.
On permanent display is a stupendous 8th-century carved panel of the Archangel Gabriel, dubbed the Lichfield Angel and discovered under the nave in 2003.
2. Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum
Samuel Johnson, one of the English language’s greatest men of letters, was born at the house on the corner of Breadmarket Street and Market Street in 1709. At that time this four-storey Palladian building was just two years old, having been ordered by Johnson’s father, Michael.
Samuel spent most of the first 27 years of his life here, and in 1901 the town established a museum in recognition of its most famous citizen.
In rooms returned to early 18th-century settings there’s a complete biography of Johnson’s life, from a difficult childhood to professional obscurity and then world-renown as the author of the first authoritative dictionary of the English language in 1755. His biography is relayed with multimedia, as well as an enormous of Johnson-related artefacts donated over the last century.
There are letters, rare editions of his works, manuscripts, pieces of furniture, prints and paintings.
Johnson’s tea set, armchair, portable writing desk and breakfast table are all here.
3. Erasmus Darwin House
Grandfather of Charles Darwin, Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) was an 18th-century doctor, intellectual and abolitionist, and a central figure of the Midlands Enlightenment that helped give birth to the Industrial Revolution.
His fine townhouse on Beacon Street, just off the Cathedral Close, has become a writer’s house museum dedicated to his life.
Darwin lived here from 1758 and 1781, and in that time leading lights of the period like inventor James Watt, Benjamin Franklin and pottery entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood were all guests.
In rooms replete with 18th-century furniture and decorative arts, the most treasured exhibit is Darwin’s Common Place Book, which contains notes on his medical cases, drawing of inventions, as well as wider musings on botany and meteorology.
Outside is a recreation of Dr Darwin’s medicinal herb garden, side by side with Mrs Darwin’s culinary herb garden.
4. St Mary’s in the Market Square
The neo-Gothic Church on Lichfield’s Market Square dates from 1870 but is the third church to stand on this spot since the 12th century.
It’s a head-turning monument, built from Derbyshire sandstone, but come the middle of the 20th century the congregation had dwindled as residents left Lichfield’s city centre for the suburbs.
In the 1970s, to save the church from demolition, an initiative was launched to turn St Mary’s into a multi-use cultural facility.
Newly updated in 2018, there’s an exhibition about the history of Lichfield, as well as a performance space for live music, dance and drama.
5. Cathedral Close
Looping around the cathedral and its green is the Cathedral Close, traced by grand old houses.
Most of the facades are from the 18th and 19th century, but generally these conceal much older buildings going back to Medieval times.
Nearly all the properties are owned by the cathedral and were previously set within a walled enclosure defended to the south by the Minster Pool.
One of the prettiest parts is the Vicars’ Close in the far western corner, which has an idyllic row of black and white half-timbered houses.
On the northeast end is the former Bishops Palace from 1687, in the William and Mary style and now occupied by the Cathedral School.
6. Letocetum Roman Baths and Museum
At the village of Wall, moments south of Lichfield there was an important Roman fort and staging post on Watling Street, a 276-mile Roman Road weaving across England from the Kentish ports to Wroxeter, via London.
Later, long-distance civilian travellers would stop here for accommodation, to change horses and bathe.
The ground floors of Letocetum’s 2nd century mansio (stopping place) and baths have been excavated and safeguarded as a National Trust site.
There are information panels, as well as a museum open on the last weekend of the month, with artefacts unearthed at the site.
7. Beacon Park
On land that used to be under the Minster Pool, the Victorian Beacon Park is 70 acres of exquisite formal gardens and parkland in the middle of the city.
On a summer’s day you could make a cheap family excursion to Beacon Park, boating on the tree-fringed lake, playing crazy golf and sipping a cup of tea on the cafe’s terrace.
The children’s play area is as good as it gets, with a climbable pirate ship and train, while donkey rides are available in good weather.
To the west the park has an 18-hole pitch and putt, great for families and serious players who want to perfect their approach shots.
The exact age of this stunning Medieval building on Bore Street is unknown, but it is thought to have been completed sometime in the late 14th century when the incorporation of Lichfield’s Guild was confirmed by Richard II. The Guildhall is mostly an events venue, but if you can get inside, take in the hammerbeam roof and rich oak panelling.
Attached to the building is a prison for “felons and debtors”, built in the middle of the 16th century.
The cells can be visited on Saturdays and have a small exhibition with antique leg stocks and manacles.
9. Stowe Pool
One of two large man-made bodies of water in the city, Stowe Pool has an extremely pretty perspective of the cathedral from its north and east shores.
The pool first took shape in the 1000s when a brook was dammed close to St Chad’s Church to power a mill.
It soon became a fishery, belonging to the Bishop of Lichfield.
Even now the pool is stocked with large numbers of bream, pike, eel, perch, tench, carp and roach, as well as a rare population of white-clawed crayfish.
Samuel Johnson would come for walks at Stowe Pool, and his father owned a parchment factory on the north shore.
Close by is Johnson’s Willow, which descends from a large willow tree that Johnson loved.
10. Minster Pool
Intersecting with the Cathedral Close, the pedestrianised Dam Street has two fronts of Georgian townhouses, interspersed with low, half-timbered cottages.
Keep your eyes peeled here for a plaque commemorating the 2nd Baron Brooke, killed at this spot in 1643 by sniper fire during an assault on the cathedral in the Civil War.
In Medieval times a stream had been dammed south of the cathedral to create the Minster Pool.
Back then the pool was twice the size it is today, extending into what is now Beacon Park across Bird Street on its southwest end.
This section silted up in the 19th century and was planted over.
The Minster Pool owes its current romantic appearance to late-18th-century landscaping, intended to make it resemble the Serpentine in Hyde Park.
Traced with lawns and mature trees, the delightful Minster Pool Walk on the east bank was plotted around that time.
11. National Memorial Arboretum
On a 150-acre site in the National Forest, the National Memorial Arboretum is the UK’s centre for Remembrance throughout the year.
There are more than 330 military and civilian memorials in the arboretum, wrapped in lush parkland and woodland planted over the last 30 years.
On this thought-provoking site are monuments to the Berlin Airlift, Royal National Lifeboat Institute, Polish Service Men and Women, Commonwealth soldiers executed for desertion in the First World War, to name a small few.
The largest is the Armed Forces Memorial, commemorating personnel killed since the end of the Second World War.
Recently opened, the Remembrance Centre hosts exhibitions and has a cafe and gift shop.
12. Chasewater Country Park
This open space to the west of Lichfield encloses a functioning canal feeder reservoir first built in 1797 for the Wyrley and Essington Canal.
By the middle of the 20th century canals were pretty much obsolete as a form of transport, and the reservoir and its banks have become a place for recreation.
Some of the activities available in summer are paddleboarding, waterskiing, zorbing and wakeboarding.
On the paths beside the water you can spot wildlife, go angling, take long bike rides and find a secluded spot for a picnic.
Powered by old steam and engines, the two-mile Chasewater Railway is entirely within the park and once served a colliery in the Cannock Chase coalfields.
13. Staffordshire Regiment Museum
Anyone inspired by military history can make the short journey to this museum at Whittington Barracks, revealing the history of the Staffordshire Regiment and the Mercian Regiment that came before it.
There are around 11,000 objects in the collection, including guns, uniforms, gas masks, canteens and other field equipment, displayed in chronological order to cover everything from the campaigns in India to Kosovo, the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan.
Eight of the fourteen Victoria Crosses (the highest British military medal for gallantry) awarded to the regiment are on display.
There’s much to see outside, like a 100-metre recreation of a First World War trench, anti-tank guns, armoured vehicles used or captured by the regiment and a reproduction of a 1940s air-raid shelter.
14. Hospital of St John the Baptist without the Barrs
If you come to town via Lichfield City train station, you’ll soon set eyes on the eight tall chimney stacks of this Grade I-listed Medieval almshouse.
Here “Barrs” means city gates, and “without” means outside.
The hospital was tied to a priory and was set up in the 12th century to accommodate travellers to the city who arrived after the gates had closed at night.
Those chimneys are Tudor, and were built in the late-15th century when the hospital became sheltered accommodation for the city’s elderly residence, a role it fills to this day.
The 12th-century chapel is open to the public, and after falling into disrepair by the 1600s was heavily restored and extended in the 1800s, with new seating and stained glass windows.
15. Drayton Manor Theme Park
Families with impatient teenagers and children could plan a day out at the Drayton Manor Theme Park, which is less than ten miles from Lichfield.
In 280 acres on a former estate, it’s one of the country’s biggest fourth-biggest theme park by size.
One of many things to love about Drayton Manor is that it only lets in 15,000 people a day to avoid excessive waiting times.
Smaller children will be thrilled with Thomas Land, with 18 different rides based on the TV show Thomas and Friends.
Older kids can test their nerve on high-speed rides like Shockwave, which is Europe’s only stand-up rollercoaster.
Away from this breathless action there’s a 15-acre zoo housing more than 100 species like rheas, red kangaroos, Sumatran tigers, meerkats, ring-tailed lemurs and tropical reptiles like Cuban boas.