There are a few things that spring to mind when you hear the name “Worcester”. It might be the sumptuous Gothic cathedral tower, the tangy sauce that goes into Bloody Marys or the fine brand of soft paste porcelain.
You can pull on all these threads in Worcester and dive into with the city’s storied past.
The Battle of Worcester of 1651 was the final battle in the English Civil War, and the future King Charles II barely escaped the city with his life before fleeing for France, to ascend the throne ten years later.
Engaging fragments of old Worcester remain in the half-timbered houses on Friar Street, the historic architecture around College Green and the traces of the city walls.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Worcester:
1. Worcester Cathedral
Counted with England’s most beautiful cathedrals, Worcester Cathedral was rebuilt in the 11th century and work would last until the start of the 16th century.
This has left the building with every English Medieval architectural style from Norman Romanesque to the sublime Perpendicular Gothic tower.
The oldest portion is the Norman crypt, from the end of the 11th century, made up of rows of columns topped with cushion capitals, while the circular chapter house is from a few decades after.
Don’t leave without seeing the 39 misericords in the choir, dating to 1379 and carved with the Labours of the Months, as well as images from the bible, folklore and mythology.
No. 7 “The Clever Daughter” shows a nude woman riding a goat, draped a net and holding a rabbit.
In the Decorated Gothic cloisters take time to inspect the tracery and lovely keystones in the vaults.
2. Gheluvelt Park
Straddling the Barbourne Brook, which feeds the River Severn on the parks western cusp, Gheluvelt Park is a memorial park in honour of Worcester’s First World War dead.
The name comes from the Battle of Gheluvelt in 1914, in which the Worcestershire Regiment’s 2nd Battalion was deployed.
On the duck pond, surrounded by willows and firs is the bandstand, which has concerts on Sunday afternoons from May to August.
In the same season, the Splashpad is a water play area swarming with kids on hot days.
Gheluvelt Park also has tennis courts, outdoor tennis tables and a cafe and environment centre in the old Victorian pump house.
3. Greyfriars’ House and Gardens
A National Trust property since 1966, the Grade I Greyfriars’ House is named for a defunct Franciscan priory that used to be nearby.
This cantilevered half-timbered house went up in 1485 and, rather than being attached to the priory as had once been thought, it was built for the High Bailiff of Worcester and incorporated a brewhouse.
The height of the archway and the delicate carvings on the gables are both signs of affluence in early Tudor times.
You can sign up for a guided tour to hear about the various families that lived here, and see rooms decorated with furniture from various periods and still heated only by fire.
The house backs onto Worcester’s city walls and has a walled garden with magnolia, fruit trees and kingsblood tulips.
4. Tudor House Museum
You can set foot in another enthralling half-timbered house on Friar Street, at the free Tudor House Museum.
This 16th century dwelling started out as a compound of weaver’s cottages.
In the 1700s the building hosted the disreputable Cross Key tavern, and then was a Victorian coffee house owned by Richard Cadbury, founder of the world-renowned chocolate brand.
Then, in the Second World War the house was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden’s office.
Each chapter from the building’s past is remembered with museum displays and characters in period costume.
Some of the timbers still bear their 500-year-old carpenters’ marks, and the original wattle and daub (wall materials) can be seen.
The museum has a dressing up box for youngsters to rummage through, a themed Tudor Rat Trail and a coffee shop in the late-Victorian style.
5. Museum of Royal Worcester
The largest collection of Royal Worcester porcelain in the world is on show at the factory’s former building on Severn Street.
The soft paste porcelain brand was born in 1751 when William Davis the elder, an apothecary, first devised his recipe.
In Georgian times there was a lot of money to be made reproducing shapes and patterns from Chinese porcelain, which were in style among the richest households of the day.
In the Georgian Gallery you can admire a table laid out for dessert with 18th-century porcelain, along with a set of hexagonal vases and a long case clock.
The Victorian Gallery shows how worldwide travel had an influence on design, while the 20th-century Gallery has an array of sets custom-made for wealthy customers.
6. Worcester Guildhall
The city hall is withdrawn from the High Street’s western frontage, which gives you a chance to stand back and admire its facade.
The building dates to 1721 and is in the Classical Queen Anne style, with a curved pediment and Corinthian pilasters framing a grand, pedimented doorway and a statue of Queen Anne in a niche.
You may find yourself pausing on the High Street to study the reliefs and little ornamental details, like an image of Charles I with a church in his hand, and Charles II with an orb, both flanking the doorway.
At the top of the way you’ll spot a head pinned by its ears, believed to belong to the Kings’ rival, Oliver Cromwell.
You can go in for free six days a week to marvel at the stupendous Italianate Assembly Room.
There’s a chance to enter the cells, vestiges from when the Guildhall was a courthouse.
7. Worcester Woods Country Park
East of the city centre is a 110-acre park mostly taken up by ancient woodland.
The country park is very popular in summer as a low-cost day out just off the M5 motorway.
There are two circular waymarked trails through the woods and out into a large meadow embroidered with wildflowers in early summer.
The Countryside Centre here has a great adventure playground for little ones, as well as a cafe with free Wi-Fi, a mini golf course and a bouncy castle during the school holidays.
See if you can visit at the end of April or start of May when the bluebells are in bloom.
8. Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum
Worcester’s city museum is an Elizabethan revival building from 1896, and mixes 19th and 20th-century art with exhibits shedding light on local human and natural history.
Two artists well-represented in the permanent displays are Worcester-born landscape painters Henry Harris Lines and Benjamin Williams Leader.
The museum’s galleries are very eclectic and have a Roman mosaic, a totem pole from North America, dinosaur footprints and the interior of a Victorian pharmacy.
There’s also military regalia for the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry and the Worcestershire Regiment, a recreated glover’s workshop and the ignite jug used to make the first batch of Worcestershire sauce by John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins.
Dating back around 800 years, the half-timbered Commandery is a Grade I listed monument built as an almshouse by the Knights Hospitaller or Order of St John of Jerusalem.
The almshouse granted “corrodies” (shelter and sustenance in exchange for property), and the Commandery’s masters became rich through these one-sided agreements.
Later, in the English Civil War, the building was used by Charles I forces before the Battle of Worcester.
Within is a museum dedicated to each phase of the building’s past, from Medieval times through the Tudor Period and the Civil War into the 20th century when the Commandery had become a printworks.
In the Civil War exhibition you’ll get to dress like a Royalist or Parliamentarian and learn about battle tactics on an interactive display.
10. Infirmary Museum
This beautiful Georgian building a few steps from the City Art Gallery and Museum was the Worcester Royal Infirmary from 1771 to 2002. Some landmarks in British medical history took place here, like in 1832, when the future British Medical Association met at the building for the first time.
In 2012 the Infirmary reopened as a museum run by Worcester University, which exhibitions of instruments showing advances in medical technology, historic training material and specimens like skulls, diagrams and models.
There are also modern installations showing the future of medicine and challenging conceptions about medical health.
11. College Green
This little park just south of the cathedral has been a public green since the Reformation when Worcester Priory was suppressed.
There used to be an elaborate formal garden here until the Second World War when the green was turned into a potato patch.
The joy of College Green is in the view of the cathedral, priory ruins and historic buildings of King’s School, founded by Henry VIII in 1541. A memorabl way to get here is from the Watergate by the River Severn, dating to the 14th century and with carvings in the stonework recording the high watermark from historic floods.
12. Worcestershire County Cricket Club
In spring and summer you can do something quintessentially English and watch a cricket match.
New Road, with a capacity of 5,500, is the home of Worcestershire.
They are one of 18 first-class clubs in England and Wales’ domestic competition, and bounce between the Division One and Division Two, almost on an annual basis.
If you’re a newcomer to the sport you can be sure that the standard is high: One of the stars of the England team, Moeen Ali plays for Worcestershire, and the squad is peppered with Australians who play in the English leagues during their winter season.
One, Callum Ferguson has 30 caps for their One Day International Team.
Matches last most of the day and take place roughly every other weekend.
13. Fort Royal Park
A photogenic view of the cathedral can be had from the hill in this park on the southeast side of the city.
Fort Royal Park was also the scene of the final battle of the English Civil War, in 1651. Fort Royal was a sconce (small artillery fortification) constructed by Royalists and razed during the decisive Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester.
The significance of the place was not lost on the Second and Third Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who considered it a birthplace of democracy and stopped here in 1786.
14. Edward Elgar Statue
Arguably England’s greatest composer, Edward Elgar was born close to Worcester and grew up in the city in the 1860s.
Elgar’s compositions, like the Pomp and Circumstance Marches and the Enigma Variations are part of the international classical concert repertoire.
His statue stands close to where his father had a music shop, facing the cathedral at the end of Worcester High Street.
The monument was sculpted by Kenneth Potts and unveiled in 1981 by Prince Charles.
15. The Firs: Elgar’s Birthplace Museum
Three miles into the Worcestershire countryside, The Firs is the humble cottage where Elgar was born in 1857. Elgar’s father was a piano tuner and amateur musician, and his mother was the daughter of a farmer.
His family lived here in the village of Lower Broadheath for two more years before moving to Worcester.
Elgar returned many times as an adult, and when a Baronet was created for him in 1931 he chose the title “Baron Elgar of Broadheath”. You can enter the cottage and its garden, and peruse the National Trust visitor centre, which opened in 2000. This delves into Elgar’s story, and has music manuscripts, some 11,000 letters, awards, personal possessions gathered during Elgar’s travels and programmes from concerts.