Embraced by a loop on the River Severn, Shrewsbury is a market town that wins people over with its Tudor houses, Medieval castle and idyllic riverside park.
The watery barrier of the Severn has helped Shrewsbury hang onto more than 600 historic buildings, as well as its “Shuts”, which are sequestered little passageways.
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury and you can see the very church in which he was baptised.
That’s just one of many riveting stories the town has to tell, and you’ll hear more on a boat trip along the Severn in summer.
Just north of the town is where a pivotal moment in English history took place, when the rebel nobleman Sir Harry Hotspur was slain at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Shrewsbury:
1. The Quarry Park
This glorious 29-acre park is on the western bulge of Shrewsbury’s loop in the River Severn, a leisurely walk from the town centre.
For a moment of repose you could stroll along its avenues or have a picnic by the Severn.
The Quarry was landscaped in 1719 and is centred on the Dingle, which was a stone quarry from the 14th to the 16th century.
This ornamental sunken garden was first planted in the 1870s, and the statue among the flowerbed represents Sabrina, a mythological nymph who drowned in the Severn.
The summer calendar at the Quarry is dotted with events like the Shrewsbury Flower Show in mid-August, the Shrewsbury Regatta in May.
June’s Shrewsbury Food Festival and the Let’s Rock Music Festival in July.
2. Shrewsbury Castle
Guarding the head of Shrewsbury’s river peninsula, Shrewsbury Castle was raised during the Norman conquest by Roger de Montgomery in 1070. The red sandstone fortress here now is from reign of Edward I in the 13th century during his Conquest of Wales.
After a fallow period following the English Civil War in the 17th century, the monument was restored in the 1790s by the feted civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford.
The castle now holds the Shropshire Regimental Museum, which has a display of paintings, uniforms, weapons and regalia.
Thomas Telford’s Gothic Revival Laura’s Tower is set on the exact site of the original Norman motte (mound), and its terrace has a panoramic view of the townscape and countryside.
3. Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery
This historic attraction, established in 1835, has recently relocated to the Music Hall, a grand Victorian building in the centre of Shrewsbury.
Over almost 200 years the museum has put together a collection of 300,000 objects, and more are added by the year.
A recent acquisition is the Shrewsbury Hoard, from a stash of 9,315 Roman-era bronze coins discovered by a metal detectorist in 2009. This is one must-see in a very strong archaeology department that also has a Bronze Age hoard and a Roman Mirror and Hadrianic forum inscription from the nearby Roman town of Wroxeter.
There’s also a rich array of Caughley ware, porcelain produced at the Caughley China Works in the 18th century.
The “Maximo Mouse” trail through the museum will also help keep children on board.
4. Historic Town Centre
The oldest quarter of the city encircled by the Severn, is an absolute delight.
Shrewsbury has an amazing 660 listed buildings, a large proportion of which are black and white, half-timbered houses raised when the wool trade was blossoming in Tudor times.
Also from that period are Shrewsbury’s “Shuts”, cosy passageways with evocative names like “Gullet Passage”, Grope Lane” and “Peacock Passage”. You’ll spend most of a walking tour with your head craned back, inspecting the patterned and carved timbers, reliefs and historic flourishes.
On the Square, the Old Market Hall dates from the 16th century and houses an independent cinema and cafe.
5. Shrewsbury Abbey
A former Benedictine monastery, Shrewsbury Abbey dates from the 11th century and survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries when it was converted into a parish church in 1540. While the monastic buildings were torn down, the church remained, and a lot of the original Norman structure survives intact.
This can be seen in the transepts and in the piers on the eastern half of the nave.
The Abbey’s enduring image is the 14th-century Decorated Gothic west window, glazed around 1388. Wilfred Owen, perhaps the highest regarded of Britain’s First World War poets, lived in the parish from 1910 to 1918 and is remembered with a memorial tablet on the west end of the church.
6. Sabrina Boat Trips
As the Severn is integral to Shrewsbury’s past, a river trip is a must if you’re in town on a sunny day.
The Sabrina departs from the Victoria Quay every day, on the hour between 11:00 and 16:00, from the start of March to the end of October.
The trip is 45 minutes, giving you loads of photo opportunities on the outward journey, before returning with a running commentary from the captain.
There’s a bar on board serving hot and cold drinks, while you can take special dinner cruises on Tuesday evenings, lunch cruises on Sundays and a ghost cruise on Monday nights.
7. St Mary’s Church
Shrewsbury’s largest church was declared redundant in 1987 and is currently in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.
The building has Norman and Gothic architecture, and is said to have been founded by the Anglo-Saxon King Edgar in the 10th century.
St Mary’s stands as the only intact Medieval church in Shrewsbury and has much to keep visitors in its spell.
The stained glass is exceptional, most of all in the chancel’s east window, which has a 14th-century depiction of the Tree of Jesse (showing the ancestors of Christ). The tower, in varying shades of sandstone, has Norman windows on its lower floors, while the coffered ceiling in the nave was hewn from oak in the 15th century.
Among St Mary’s many curiosities is an epitaph on the tower for Robert Cadman, an 18th-century tightrope walker who died when his rope broke.
8. Dana Prison
After operating for 220 years, HM Prison Shrewsbury, at the head of the town’s loop in the Severn, closed down in 2013. Since then there have been plans to turn this dominant Georgian building into housing, shops and a gym.
But until work begins you’ll be able to go inside with a company called Jailhouse Tours.
Seven days a week you’ll be able to look around the cells, governor’s office, Hanging Room and communal areas with a guide who will paint a vivid picture of the life and routine of both inmates and prison officers.
You can also put on a hardhat with a lamp to explore the tunnels under the prison to visit historic cells where prisoners were kept in squalid conditions 200 years ago.
9. St Chad’s Church
At the top of the Quarry Park, the Grade I listed St Chad’s Church raised in 1792 to replace a 13th-century building that was destroyed when its tower collapsed.
There are a few things that make this Neoclassical Georgian masterpiece special.
One is that Charles Darwin was baptised here in 1809 and attended the church in his childhood.
St Chad’s also has the largest circular nave in the country.
This is a beautiful space, with a gallery and slender Corinthian columns.
And it could not be better suited for concerts and organ recitals.
Be here on Friday when the free lunchtime concert has become a local tradition.
10. Market Hall
Under Shrewsbury’s famous clock tower, the Market Hall is a sociable shopping attraction with stalls for meat, seafood, flowers, fruit and veg, baked goods, specialist foods and confectionery.
But to go with the fresh produce and provisions you can peruse arts and crafts, photography, vinyl and vintage clothing.
The Market Hall has a stylish and cosmopolitan vibe, and this is reflected in the choice of food served in the ball.
There’s tapas, oysters, Thai street food, a Chinese teahouse and the lovable Bird’s Nest Cafe.
11. Theatre Severn
Shrewsbury’s premier performing arts centre, Theatre Severn has a 635-seater Main Auditorium along with a more compact Walker Theatre, seating 250 and standing up to 500. The complex opened in 2009 and has a regional pull, attracting audiences from around the West Midlands and mid Wales.
In the six years up to 2015, more than a million audience members passed through these doors.
If you’re in need of some live entertainment, the variety at Theatre Severn is awesome.
Shrewsbury’s Symphony Orchestra performs here, and there’s a season of gala concerts in July.
But the venue also books famous touring comedians, dance companies, musicals, cultural figures for talks, tribute bands, and stages plenty of matinee shows for youngsters.
12. Attingham Park
This mansion was constructed for Noel Hill, an eminent politician in the late- 18th century who helped William Pitt the Younger restructure the East India Company.
On a tour you’ll get to know the Berwick family, see their furniture and painting collections and hear how the family’s fortunes fell.
The circular boudoir is a standout, but you’ll also find out how the hall was converted into an adult education college from the 1940s.
The estate sprawls across more than 4,000 acres, which if you can believe is only half its size in the 18th century.
The park was configured by the great 18th-century landscape designer Humphrey Repton, and has woodland and a deer park to ramble in.
There’s a walled garden, which has gradually been restored since 2008, and an orchard growing fruit that is used at the estate’s tearooms.
13. Battlefield Falconry Centre
The old village of Battlefield is now practically a northern suburb of Shrewsbury, and a good reason to go is for this bird of prey attraction.
The Falconry Centre has more than 30 different owls, hawks and falcons, all kept in large, humane aviaries.
The centre offers a wide range of experiences with these creatures, the most popular being Hawks on Walks.
This entails heading out into the woodland at the Albrighton Estate in Battlefield, accompanied by a falconer and Harris hawk.
During the walk the bird will fly off into the forest and return to its perch on the glove.
You can also come for bird handling sessions and can spend an entire day being taught the finer points of falconry.
14. Haughmond Hill
Drive east of Shrewsbury for a few miles and you’ll arrive at this low, broad rise, 150 metres in height.
Mostly cloaked in forest, Haughmond Hill is a sort of country park for Shrewsbury, as it’s so close to the town, and has a supreme view of the town and the Shropshire countryside.
Keen geologists may be intrigued by Haughmond Hill as it’s composed of extremely ancient Precambrian turbidite, deposited into the ocean off the edge of a continent.
There are benches to ponder the view, which is unbroken for miles to the west, and you can venture off into the woodland where you should spot some deer.
15. Hawkstone Park Follies
Further on from Battlefield, Hawkstone Park is a landscape park that used to be attached to Hawkstone Hall, close by.
In 100 acres and encompassing four steep hills, the park shines for its follies, started in the 18th century by Sir Rowland Hill, 1st Baronet Hill of Hawkstone.
This is all on the site of a decaying Norman stronghold, Red Castle.
It’s a thrill to discover on foot: There’s a Gingerbread Hall, Hermitage, Grotto, Gothic Arch, Swiss Bridge, White Tower, Urn and Greenhouse.
Part of the drama of Hawkstone Park lies in its geology, and the bare cliffs that provided the sandstone for these follies.