Last Updated on November 4, 2018 by Fiona Maclean
Lincoln – Top Sights for a Short Visit
One of England’s hidden treasures, Lincoln is a stunning city in the East Midlands. There have been people living here since the Iron Age and the city has the remains of a Roman settlement, Lindum Colonia, which was originally a Garrison and then the highest kind of Roman settlement – a Colonia populated by Roman military veterans. It’s a city packed with history and well worth the two-hour train journey from London King’s Cross. So what are the top things to do in Lincoln?
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Lincoln Cathedral dominates the city and is an obvious first stop. Originally built in 1092, it was destroyed by a freak earthquake and rebuilt some 100 years later, complete with what was, at the time, the highest spire in Europe. Indeed for 238 years, it was the tallest man-made building in the world (the first to overtake the Great Pyramids of Egypt) until the spire collapsed in 1549 and was not rebuilt. With or without a Spire the Cathedral dominates the surrounding countryside.
The interior of Lincoln Cathedral is breathtaking.
You’ll find stunning stained glass windows, including the ‘Dean’s Eye’ which was first installed in 1220 and tells of the last judgement and the Bishop’s Eye, which watches over the city and still contains fragments of medieval glass
I’ve had the privilege of singing at Lincoln Cathedral from the intricately carved choir stalls. The stone screen which separates the choir from the congregation was build in the 1330s originally painted in bright colours – the remains of which can still be seen.
There’s a Chapter House which was built in the early 13th century and which may have hosted Parliament three times. And, two libraries – the 15th-century Medieval Library, originally a ‘chained library’ where books and manuscripts would have been literally chained to their shelves and the Wren library, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and commissioned by Michael Honywood, the Dean of Lincoln Cathedral from 1660. Michael Honywood spent a small fortune, £780, of his own money on the library, where he placed around 5,000 of his own books, around half of which are still on display.
John Ruskin called Lincoln Cathedral ‘the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles’. It is truly splendid and whatever your faith or spiritual belief, well worth a visit.
A stone’s throw from the Cathedral is Lincoln Castle, which dates, in part, back to the late 11th Century when it was constructed by William the Conqueror.
Visiting Lincoln Castle must be one of the top things to do in Lincoln whatever your interest. Walk around the ramparts for stunning views of the Cathedral, the city and the surrounding countryside.
And, be sure to take time to visit the prison. Originally built in 1787 and then extended in 1847, both the 1787 Governor’s House and the Victorian prison are Grade II* listed buildings.
The prison was designed to be predominately one of isolation, with prisoners kept in solitary confinement according to the ‘separate system’. So the prison chapel has individual cubicles for each prisoner – so the preacher could see everyone but they could only see him.
There’s a museum and you can walk around some of the cells. The prison has been used for filming and you may already have seen it, in Downton Abbey or Call the Midwife!
Lincoln Castle is also home to one of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta (1215) and is the only place where you can see that and the Charter of the Forest (1217) in one place. For me, visiting Lincoln to learn more about connections to the Mayflower, the Magna Carta seemed a particularly significant document. It was the first charter to limit the power of the monarchy and to uphold the rights of the individual. As such, it helped to form the foundations of democracy as we know it today.
Officially sealed by King John in 1215, it was pressure from some of his barons which led to the creation of the charter. The Magna Carta is on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, which recognises important documentary heritage worldwide.
The 1217 Charter of the Forest continued the work of the Magna Carta, re-establishing the rights of the people using the forests of the land. It was sealed by King Henry III who took the throne after the death of King John. Only two copies survive, one of which is displayed alongside the Magna Carta in the David P J Ross Magna Carta Vault, a specially constructed building designed to help preserve these ancient documents which opened in April 2015 as part of a major restoration of the Castle.
Feeling fit? If you do decide to walk from the station to the Cathedral and Castle, you’ll make your way through the modern part of Lincoln and up Steep Hill.
It’s a steep pedestrian-only cobbled street lined with quirky shops, tea-rooms and vintage boutiques. Steep Hill was voted Britain’s Great Street in 2012 by the Academy of Urbanism and has two Norman townhouses – Jew’s House and Norman House (previously known as Aaron the Jew’s House, although it is now believed that this Jewish financier who died in 1186 and was at one time the wealthiest man in England, actually didn’t live there).
The central (and steepest) part of the route is part of the Roman route from the ford over the River Witham to the Forum in what is now modern Bailgate. You can see part of the Roman walls in one of the shops on way – just look out for the plaque on the wall.
I found the steep incline just gave me the perfect excuse to stop off for some homemade fudge and browse some of the shops along the way to the top. This may not be everyone’s idea of a top thing to do – but for me, Steep Hill in Lincoln is something not to miss.
The International Bomber Command Centre:
Just outside the city centre is the newly opened International Bomber Command Centre.
The project commemorates the contribution of men and women from over 60 nations during the Second World War and Lincoln was chosen as the site for the centre as it provided a landmark for crews leaving and returning from missions. Lincoln county housed over a third of the WWII Bomber Command Stations.
It’s a poignant place to visit and has been established to ensure that memories from those who were part of Bomber Command are not lost. There’s an online database with over 2.5 million pieces of information, detailing the fate of those lost during the war. And, there’s a digital archive, an oral history programme, designed to record and preserve the memories of aircrew, ground staff, WAAFs and other support personnel.
The memorial spire, the tallest wall memorial in the UK, was designed based on the dimensions of the Avro Lancaster bomber – it’s 102ft high and 16ft wide at the base. You can walk inside for a stunning effect as you look up to the skies.
The walls around it hold the names of nearly 58,000 men and women who perished during World War II and is the only place in the world that memorialises every loss in Bomber Command. Leading to the spire is a ‘ribbon of remembrance’ – a path made from Yorkstone honouring members of the Bomber Command.
Two peace gardens lead to the spire – the Lincolnshire Peace Garden with 27 native trees, marking each of the Bomber Command stations in the county during the war and the International Peace garden, for the 62 nations who served and supported the command, with plantings native to each of the 5 continents covered.
Indoors, the Chadwick Centre provides an interactive exhibition where you can literally step back in time and discover what it was like to take part in a mission, what the impact of the raids was and how the issues were debated by the War Cabinet at the time.
The whole complex is quite new but should definitely be included if you are looking for top things to do in Lincoln.
Where to Stay in Lincoln – the White Hart Hotel:
Lincoln has a range of modern and traditional hotels to pick from. I stayed at the White Hart Hotel, right by the Cathedral and with stunning views across the rooftops of the city. Apart from some excellent facilities, The White Hart Inn has its own place in the history of Lincoln.
In 1915, Winston Churchill set up a committee to tackle the challenges of trench warfare during the First World War. A Lincoln company, William Foster & Co, was commissioned to convert an American-made Holt Tractor into a ‘mechanically propelled landship’, the brainchild of Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton who had been serving in northern France. A room in the White Hart Hotel was set aside as a drawing office and William Ashby Tritton, then chairman of William Foster & Co, together with a Naval Lieutenant, Walter G Wilson, worked to convert the tractor, an oil-driven creation with caterpillar wheels.
To keep the project secret, the staff at William Foster & Co were told that they were to manufacture a ‘mobile water carrier’. So, the vehicle was known as the ‘Tank’. By 1916 William Foster & Co went into full production of the Tank.
The room still exists at the White Hart Hotel, complete with brass plaque on the door and original sketches lining the walls and is used as a meeting room.
I stayed in a luxurious suite with Cathedral view. A four poster bed and not one, but two areas to sit – in a separate room and in a cosy nook just off the main bedroom. I was impressed by the turn-down service, the comfy bed and the lovely fluffy robe.
Dinner in The Grille started with a glass of champagne. I enjoyed a light, seasonal dish of textures of beetroot with a soft whipped goats cheese, pickled walnuts and honey.
That was followed by a generous portion of halibut steak served with a smoked bacon and cockle risotto sauteed girolle mushrooms and sea purslane. I found the risotto a little overpowering for the delicate but perfectly cooked halibut and was slightly overwhelmed by the portion size.
Finally, a picture perfect apple tart served with blackcurrant sorbet, granola, butterfly sorrel and vanilla cream.
The Grille as its name suggests specialised in steaks and in retrospect I should have tried their house speciality. But I was not in the least disappointed by the food, just slightly overwhelmed that, having attempted to pick a lighter option from the menu for my main I was provided with such a generous quantity!
I slept soundly and enjoyed checking the breakfast menu and pretty buffet. In the end, I was tempted by a bacon bap – Lincoln is famous for pork farming and local bacon is always special!
I’d recommend the White Hart Hotel for business or leisure stays in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter. It’s charming and original yet entirely functional. And, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner and breakfast at The Grille.
Travelling to Lincoln from London:
Regular trains connect London King’s Cross to Lincoln in just over 2 and a half hours. I travelled with Virgin East Coast and enjoyed their first class service with at-seat refreshments and use of the lounge at King’s Cross.
The new Virgin Azuma trains will offer a direct service between London and Lincoln, launching later in 2018.
I travelled to Lincoln to explore more about The Mayflower and the separatists who travelled to the USA in 1620, the Mayflower Pilgrims. More about that in a later post.
For more information about Lincoln, please check the Visit Lincoln website.
Thinking of visiting yourself? Why not pin this post for later
Here are a few more Cathedral Cities you may enjoy reading more about.
- We loved travelling to York by train for a short break – you can find out more about the City and what makes it so special in our feature
- Salisbury is a Cathedral City with an amazing history and Salisbury Cathedral itself has a very special tower tour