On a limestone escarpment to the north of the River Witham, Lincoln is a Medieval city built over a Roman fort.
That escarpment drops sharply to the river, and to get to get from the railway station to the historic cathedral quarter you have to battle up the aptly named Steep Hill.
Once you make it prepare to be bowled over by one of the great Gothic cathedrals, which took over from the Pyramids of Giza in the Middle Ages to become the tallest building in the world.
Lincoln also has one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, on show at the castle, as well as lots of Medieval architecture going back to Norman times, and even hints of its Roman history to be hunted down with an app.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lincoln:
1. Lincoln Cathedral
Recognised by its three towers and praised as one of England’s outstanding monuments, Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the world from 1311 until 1549. The initial Norman church had to be reworked in the 12th and 13th centuries, giving the cathedral its Gothic design and astonishing rose windows.
Look for the Dean’s Eye on the north side with Early English tracery in concentric circles, and the masterful Bishop’s Eye on the south, one of the largest pieces of curvilinear tracery in any Medieval building.
Make sure you find the Lincoln Imp, a grotesque on a wall inside, swirling in legend and a mascot for the city.
The monument is celebrated for the creativity of its Medieval architects, constructing vaulting that had never been seen before, in quadripartite and sexpartite configurations, and asymmetrical in Saint Hugh’s Choir.
Also take time to cast your eyes over the west wall, which is rich with Norman stonework.
2. Lincoln Castle
William the Conqueror built Lincoln Castle in 1068 on the place where Lincoln’s Roman fortress once stood.
The castle is one of the best preserved in the country and one of only two to have two mottes (earthwork mounds). It is also home to one of only four remaining copies of the Magna Carta, a charter drawn up in 1215 and hugely influential on English, and then American politics.
You can walk the curtain of Medieval Walls with an audioguide, check out a stone sarcophagus and other artefacts unearthed during a dig in 2013, explore the Victorian prison and see the Magna Carta for yourself in its subterranean vault.
There are innumerable things going on at the castle and around its grounds in summer.
The heritage skills centre for example offers an insight into old-time crafts like stonemasonry, silversmithing and painting stained glass windows.
3. Steep Hill
Meandering north to south for 420 metres, the enchanting Steep Hill is an ancient street first created by the Romans when the fortress of Lindum Colonia spilled down the hill as it grew.
The route begins just next to the cathedral and connects at the bottom with the Strait, where it tapers to just a couple of metres across.
The central part of Steep Hill is so steep that you’ll need to make use of the iron handrail, and road traffic is prohibited.
All the way the route is traced by little galleries, tea rooms, adorable local shops, restaurants and pubs in delightful old brick, stone and half-timbered houses.
Some of these buildings are incredibly old, like Norman House and Jew’s House, both of which have Romanesque windows with a pair of semi-circular arches.
4. The Collection
On the stiff slope between Lincoln’s cliff and the Witham Valley, the Collection is a stylish archaeology museum that opened in 2005. Part of this attraction is the older Usher Gallery, across the way and dating from 1927. The main exhibition at the Collection reveals Lincoln’s history from the Stone to the English Civil War.
There are Roman remains, like mosaic flooring uncovered during the museum’s construction and preserved in situ, a votive Iron Age boat found in Fiskerton, a Viking axe-head, comb and shield and the marvellous 14th-century Luttrell Psalter manuscript.
In the Usher Gallery are works by landscape artists L. S. Lowry, J. M. W. Turner and John Piper, as well as an abundance of sculpture, decorative arts and clocks.
5. Museum of Lincolnshire Life
Bringing you up to speed on Lincolnshire’s history from 1750 to the present day, this museum deals with industrial, community, agricultural, domestic and commercial life.
There’s an enormous collection of farm machinery manufactured by firms based in the county, including a steam ploughing engine, portable engine and Field Marshall tractor by the Gainsborough company Marshall, Sons &Co.
You can also inspect a pair of Ruston-Bucyrus excavators, built in 1937. The museum also has a Victorian kitchen, working printing press, home interiors and recreated shop interiors.
Another local firm, William Foster & Co. produced the Mark IV tank that is on display, dating to 1917 and believed to have taken part in the Battle of Passchendaele.
6. Doddington Hall
Six miles outside Lincoln, Doddington Hall is a must-see if you’re in the city.
Dating to the end of the 16th century, this Elizabethan mansion is a prodigy house, a status symbol for Queen Elizabeth’s most ambitious courtiers.
It was designed by one of the star architects of the day, Robert Smythson, and because it has been in the same family since it was built, the mansion has never been cleared out.
A bounty of fine ceramics, textiles, paintings and furniture has accumulated in this time.
As a private residence, the hall welcomes visitors on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons from April to September, while the gardens have an extended opening period.
High points are the Holly Room, festooned with 17th-century Flanders tapestries, an+-d the glorious walled and wild gardens.
7. Medieval Bishop’s Palace
This partial ruin just south of the cathedral was one of the most important buildings in Medieval England.
The Bishop’s Palace was constructed in 1163 and in those days was the seat of a vast diocese that extended from the River Humber in the north, all the way down to the Thames in the south.
The palace was sacked in the English Civil War, but big pieces are still standing, like the 13th-century East Hall and undercroft, as well as the 15th-century entrance tower and chapel range.
These can be visited with an audio tour, while at the foot of a Medieval stairway is the formal Heritage Garden, laid out on what used to be the palace’s kitchen garden and next door to a small vineyard planted in 1972.
Built into the southern Stonebow city gate, the Guildhall is a glorious Tudor monument going back to 1520 and still used for City Council meetings.
Approaching along the High Street from the south there’s a coat of arms above the central portal, belonging to King James I and dating back to 1617 when he spent nine days in the city.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays there are two tours (10:30 and 14:00), taking you into the magnificent council chamber and showing you council regalia like Mayor’s posy ring, chains of office and a sword presented to Lincoln by King Richard II in 1386.
9. Roman Trail
From the middle of the 1st century Lincoln was the Roman fortress, Lindum Colonia, which eventually evolved into a city.
If you’re curious to know more you can download a smartphone app, leading you to parts of the city where Roman-era vestiges are still visible, or where there are interesting insights about what came before.
The Newport Arch in the north of the city is the only Roman arch in Britain used by road traffic and dates to the 3rd century.
What you see here is only the top half of the monument as the rest is buried under 2.4 metres of soil and debris that has built up over the centuries.
There’s another find to be made in the forecourt of the Lincoln Hotel, where you can see a big piece of the north tower of the original East Gate, while stonework from another gate has been built into shops on Steep Hill.
10. Hartsholme Country Park
Barely three miles southwest of the city centre is a 200-acre park on a former country estate.
A regular Green Flag winner, the Hartsholme Country Park first took shape around the banks of a reservoir in 1862. The park was designed by landscape Edward Milner, for Hartsholme Hall, a mansion that was demolished in 1951. That Victorian landscaping has been preserved and you can amble through woods and next large sheets of water.
Maybe the prettiest sight here is the cast iron White Bridge over the reservoir.
Your first stop could be the Visitor Centre, which has maps of the park and guides about its wildlife, while there’s also a children’s play area, a cafe and a much-loved campsite in the park.
11. RAF Scampton Heritage Centre
Minutes north of Lincoln is RAF Scampton, an operational Royal Air Force Base noteworthy for a few reasons.
It was the base for the 617 Squadron, which took part in Operation Chastise, a vaunted attack on German water infrastructure in 1943. It was also where Blue Steel, a surface-to-air nuclear missile was primed in the 1960s, and since 1996 has been the home of the Red Arrows aerobatic team.
The heritage centre is in a Second World War hangar and has all sorts of artefacts and machinery, like a Blue Steel nuclear missile (without payload!), and a small fleet of bombers , Red Arrows jets and ground vehicles.
You can also visit the office of Guy Gibson, who masterminded Operation Chastise, while in winter the Red Arrows’ facility opens up for tours to watch engineering work in progress and get some inside facts about the team.
12. International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC)
Overlooking Lincoln from Canwick Hill to the south, the International Bomber Command Centre is a memorial and interpretation centre officially opened in April 2018. The IBCC remembers the role of RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War, when it oversaw 364,514 sorties, and can be seen from afar thanks to its 31-metre memorial spire, the tallest memorial in the country.
The site also has two peace gardens, one international and one for Lincolnshire, while the interpretation centre has a high-tech exhibition about Bomber Command on the themes, Recognition, Remembrance and Reconciliation.
13. Ellis’ Mill
On Mill Road in the west of Lincoln, this 18th-century windmill was once in a row of nine west-facing mills, catching the winds that blew over the Lincoln Edge.
Ellis’ Mill was in business until the 1940s when its mechanism was removed, while a fire gutted the building in 1976. The Lincoln Civic Trust acquired the mill in 1977 and went about gathering parts from mills around Lincolnshire, until in 1981, Ellis’ Mill was good as new and able to grind its own flour for the first time since the 1940s.
When this post was written in May 2018 the mill was temporarily closed for maintenance, but you’d normally be able to visit on weekend afternoons to see this restored wonder in action and meet the volunteers who keep it running.
14. Whisby Nature Park
A seven-mile drive southwest of Lincoln will get you to a beautiful park on a former gravel quarry.
Whisby’s pits have been flooded to become a haven for a diversity of birds.
In spring and summer there are warblers, finches, terns, warblers, swallows and tits, while in winter the high water levels attract wildfowl like grey wagtails, goldcrests and redpolls.
The 6.5 miles of walking trails is on former quarrying tracks, guiding you through grassland, scrub, wet woodland, and over marshes on wooden walkways.
There are seven hides at the park for birdwatching, as well as an eco-friendly shop and cafe.
15. Lincoln Christmas Market
Lincoln is twinned with the German town of Neustadt an der Weinstraße in Rhineland-Palatinate, and every December has its own dose of German culture with a four-day Christmas Market.
The event takes place in the magic surrounds of the Cathedral Quarter, and has 280 stalls selling freshly cooked food, mulled wine and unusual handicrafts made by local artisans.
There are amusements and fairground rides, and lots of live music and entertainment to lift everyone’s spirits.
All through the four days Lincoln’s other shops have extended opening times, which brings extra life to the city centre.