In a region of heavy industry, Warrington ballooned during the 1960s when it was earmarked as a “New Town”. Manufacturing is still a big local employer in Warrington, but as with much of England, services have taken over from the old factories and there’s plentiful open space ensured by a “green belt”. Warrington has some awesome pieces of old industry to keep in mind, like the hulking Warrington Transporter Bridge and the Manchester Ship Canal, once the world’s largest canal.
The town museum is a wonderful grab bag of archaeology, natural history and art, while the council owns two fine mansions.
The Palladian Bank Hall is now Warrington Town Hall, and Walton Hall is an events venue with a park at the heart of the community.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Warrington:
1. Walton Hall and Gardens
A treasured monument and attraction in Warrington, Walton Hall is a Jacobean Revival mansion, built in the 1830s for Sir Gilbert Greenall, an MP who had a 45-year career at the House of Commons.
The house has been owned by the council since 1941 and hosts chamber music concerts and can be hired out for weddings and other events.
Immediately outside the house is a formal garden, while there are ample facilities for families in the park.
These include crazy golf, a pitch & putt course and a small but well looked after zoo with donkeys, alpacas, sheep, peacocks and pygmy goats.
2. Warrington Museum & Art Gallery
The municipal museum was founded in 1848 and moved into its purpose-built Neoclassical home in 1857. This is one of the UK’s oldest town museums and the building has kept its original character.
As with the best municipal museums, the collection is a big jumble of local industrial artefacts, Egyptology, Roman archaeology, coins, ethnographic displays, items from the Civil War and zoological and botanical specimens.
Some must-sees are a Roman actor’s mask, a Medieval manuscript from the defunct Warrington Friary, bronzes from Benin, an Egyptian sarcophagus and art by John Warrington Woods, L. S. Lowry and Jan van Os.
3. Grappenhall Heys Walled Garden
This adorable Green Flag garden is the vestige of an estate founded in South Warrington in the 1830s.
The house was occupied by three generations of the Parr family, but was demolished in 1970 after years of neglect.
In spite of the disuse, the walled garden survived and is now as beautiful as ever, with three ponds, herbaceous borders, fruit espaliers and vegetable plots.
The Parrs’ glasshouse has also recently been restored with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The garden has a cafe, and hosts workshops for gardening, bushcraft and breadmaking.
4. Manchester Ship Canal
You can’t help but be impressed by the ambition and scale of this waterway connecting Manchester with the Irish Sea, passing through Warrington.
Still in use, even if there’s much less traffic than during its heyday, the Manchester Ship Canal opened in January 1894 after 6 and a half years of construction.
At that time it was the largest canal in the world.
The canal allowed ocean-going vessels to sail 36 miles inland, to Manchester, bypassing Liverpool’s docks, which had imposed hefty charges on freight.
Immediately after the canal’s completion, Manchester became Britain’s third busiest port.
In Warrington the canal is crossed by a high-level cantilever bridge and three swing bridges, and if you’re fortunate you may see a container ship going past.
5. St Elphin’s Church
Warrington’s parish church is an atmospheric sandstone building with a spire 86 metres high.
This is the eighth highest spire in the country, and the fifth highest among parish churches.
Most of St Elphin’s dates from a restoration that took place in the 1860s, but there are fragments of earlier buildings.
These are most obvious in the chancel, where the stonework is from the mid-14th century.
St Ann’s Chapel is from the middle of the 15th century and holds a vault for the wealthy Massey family, who used to live in Warrington’s Town Hall.
Here, look for the effigy for Lady Alicia Boteler from the early 1300s, and the carved alabaster monument for Sir John Boteler and his wife, dating to 1463.
6. Bridge Street
North to south through Warrington’s centre, Bridge Street is moments on foot from the Golden Square Shopping Centre, which is loaded with UK and International retailers, from Primark to H&M. Bridge Street leads up from the Mersey and has a few shops and fast food chains of its own, but its interest lies in the elevations above the stores.
This part of town is a conservation area, preserving the decorative late Victorian and Edwardian Historicist facades, mostly found at the upper end before it joins with Horsemarket Street.
7. Warrington Town Hall
Constructed in 1750, Warrington’s graceful Town Hall was originally a mansion known as Bank Hall.
This Palladian residence, with a pediment sporting the coat of arms of the Pattens, was built for Thomas Patten, whose family was in the copper smelting business.
Bank Hall was sold to Warrington Borough Council by John Wilson-Patten 1870 and its grounds became Warrington’s first public park.
Bank Park has a play area, cafe and bowling greens, while standing in front of the Town Hall are the Golden Gates.
These are a listed monument in their own right and were cast in 1862 by the Cookdale Company in Ironbridge, Shropshire, and put on display at the International Exhibition in London that same year.
8. Warrington Transporter Bridge
A striking relic of the Industrial Age, the Warrington Transporter Bridge crosses the River Mersey in the town and dates back to 1915. This Grade II-listed monument is the last of three transporter bridges over the River Mersey in Cheshire and was constructed to link two parts of Joseph Crosfield and Sons’ chemical and soap factories.
Made of steel beams, the bridge has a span of 61 metres and stands 23 metres above the river’s high water level.
Even though it’s a listed monument, the bridge is in poor condition, but the interest group, Friends of Warrington Transporter Bridge was set up in 2015 to help ensure its preservation.
9. Norton Priory
A 15-minute drive to the southwest, Norton Priory is an absorbing historical site.
Here you’ll discover the vestiges of a Medieval Augustinian abbey.
After the abbey was dissolved under Henry VIII the Brooke family moved in, and would remain for almost 400 years.
Their 18th-century walled garden has been restored, and you can take in the garden’s fruit trees, rose walk, sculpture trail and colour borders.
The monastery ruins are the most important in Cheshire, made up of a spellbinding undercroft, while the Georgian house next door is a museum showing off artefacts from the site.
You can peruse Gothic and Romanesque architectural elements and tiles, as well as the 3.6-metre St Christopher statue, carved in the late 14th century.
10. Warrington Wolves
In the North of England Rugby League (as opposed to Rugby Union) is one of the most watched sports.
Warrington Wolves are traditionally among the contenders, having won the league championship three times, and the Challenge Cup (the knockout competition) on eight occasions.
The Wolves’ most recent cup victory was in 2012, while the team finished second in the league in 2016. For people unfamiliar with the sport, Rugby League is a little more approachable than Rugby Union, with simpler rules and fewer set pieces.
If you’re keen to know more, the Super League season takes place in summer, with play-offs in autumn.
Wolves play at the 15,200-capacity Halliwell Jones Stadium, which was enlarged in 2011.
11. Barley Mow Pub
There’s a fine old pub worth a closer look on Warrington’s Old Market Place.
The Barley Mow is the oldest establishment in the town, going back to 1561. This half-timbered building has densely patterned black studwork on base of local red sandstone and is Grade II-listed.
To the left is a passage with exposed timber beams, while the facade has two unbroken rows of windows under triangular gables.
The pub is still everyday life in Warrington, hosting a quiz night on Thursdays and board games night on Wednesdays.
12. Bluebell Cottage Gardens
In Warrington Borough, about eight miles south of the town, Bluebell Cottage Gardens is an ideal excursion for keen horticulturalists.
On a quiet country lane by the Trent and Mersey Canal, the garden is maintained by Sue Beesley, a former BBC Gardener of the Year, and is open Wednesday to Sunday in spring and summer.
There’s a wildflower meadow, woods with bluebells in spring and a quaint tearoom serving tea and cakes.
You enter the garden via a lush orchard, and will be greeted by modern perennials, a dry garden in gravel beds, a pond and a kitchen garden framed by box hedges and home to a pen with chickens.
13. Gulliver’s World
Aimed at families with toddlers and children up to the age of 13, Gulliver’s World has more than 80 rides, shows and attractions.
The park is very loosely inspired by Jonathan Swift’s famous 18th-century satire, and has a variety of themed areas with names like Lilliput Land, Safari Kingdom and Gully Town.
Added to this roll-call of trains, dodgems, rollercoasters and splash rides there are two indoor attractions, at the Splash Zone, a waterpark with a range of slides and the branded Nerf Zone, which has soft shooting games and more for children aged six and up.
14. Birchwood Forest Park
While you’re out in the fresh air at this expansive park, you may be interested to know what was here before.
Birchwood Forest Park is on the site of the WWII munitions factory, ROF Risley, and bunkers from that facility remain a part of the terrain.
The park abounds with foliage, on the borders of big swathes of flat grassland for sports and events around the calendar like the Birchwood Carnival and Birchwood Fireworks Display for Guy Fawkes.
Birchwood Forest Park has picnic benches, play areas for youngsters and a small skate park.
By the cafe, look out for the statue of Little Bo Peep and her sheep, which has been here since 1985.
15. Risley Moss
In the same neck of the woods, Risley Moss gives you an idea of how much of the North Cheshire and South Lancashire countryside looked hundreds of years ago.
This 210-acre reserve is taken up by large raised bog flats.
Risley Moss is named for the moss that forms around bogs that have filled depressions in the landscape since the Last Ice Age.
Risley Moss is the upshot of a bog regeneration scheme that was completed in 2002 after 24 years.
There’s a tall watchtower where you can get your bearings and look out for birdlife (60 breeding birds and more than 50 visiting species).