It may not feature on top of everyone’s British city bucket list, but it’s time to see this East Midlands city in a new light. Nottingham boasts a slew of new attractions for 2016, a recently expanded tram network and a burgeoning independent arts scene.
Plus, in the year when the stalwart British fashion designer Sir Paul Smith turns seventy, the city’s en-vogue Creative Quarter is home to an increasing array of interesting galleries and boutiques.
On Friday February 5, Nottingham also hosts its annual Light Night, drawing inspiration from Paris’ Nuit Blanche to open up the nighttime city to people of all ages with free events and light installations.
“Light Night aims to build a more culturally enlightened community by reclaiming the streets for all,” says Sharon Scaniglia, Arts Officer for Nottingham City Council.
With that in mind, here’s how best to spend a weekend in Nottingham.
Why go now?
Nottingham has just been named as a UNESCO City of Literature and is planning a book festival for autumn reflecting the literary legacy of Lord Bryon, D. H. Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe (who all lived in or near Nottingham at some point during their lives) amongst others.
The wider region hosts the second season of the Grand Tour art trail from March, reimagining the aristocratic grand tours of the eighteenth century, including work by Sir Peter Blake at The Harley Gallery, Welbeck. The flagship exhibition features large-scale pieces by Turner Prize-winning artist Simon Starling at Nottingham Contemporary.
“The rise of new galleries, such as Backlit and One Thoresby Street, reflect the evolution of the modern city as a hub for the lace industry to culture,” says Irene Aristizabal, Head of Exhibitions, Nottingham Contemporary.
Okay, so where should I hang out?
The Creative Quarter is the place to find independent shops, street art and lustrous facial hair. Based around the former lace factories of the Victorian-architecture Hockley district, it has come of age in recent years.
Look out for cool shops in the colourful courtyard of Cobden Chambers, affordable vintage clothes at Cow and sourdough bread treats at the Ugly Bread Bakery amongst others.
The new National Videogame Arcade, which is the world’s first permanent space to celebrate video games culture, hosts the annual GameCity Festival in October. With galleries and exhibitions to document the history of British gaming from 1951 onwards, it highlights how gaming has outgrown the music and film industries, and attracted more female gamers.
“The revolution happened a long time ago,” says Development Manager Laura Browne, “but we’re only just shaking off the preconceptions.”
How about the hidden highlights?
The Malt Cross is one of Nottingham’s famous old music halls and, thanks to a £1.38m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, has been restored to its nineteenth-century glory as a glass-domed café-bar. This has also opened up the space below the building, tapping into the honeycomb-like labyrinth of caves built into the sandstone. Other caves form part of the wider Nottingham Cave Trail, a three-mile walk through some 500-plus medieval caverns under the city. You can download the app here.
Finally, if you can’t leave Nottingham without a lace-themed souvenir, then Debbie Bryan is a gift shop and tearooms with regular craft events.
I’m getting peckish. Where to eat?
Baresca is a new tapas joint with tasty small plates and Oaks is the best place for a wood-fired brunch of giant sausages, served with chunky chips and homemade coleslaw. For dinner, try The Loom. It extends back to a cool bar and dining area with a stage for an American jazz-bar vibe. We tucked into a sharing plate of cold cuts followed by braised beef with mashed potato while the barman mixed whisky cocktails.
For a few drinks, the Kean’s Head, located near the Galleries of Justice, is a popular meeting spot to start the evening over local ales from the Castle Rock Brewery, while Bodega is a stalwart for live music. The Hockley Arts Club is the latest cool opening with three floors of cocktails, food and music. Ask the staff to shine ultra-violet light on the hidden menu page to reveal secret cocktails in season.
I’m sold. Where am I staying?
The newly refurbished Lace Market Hotel is a stylishly property with comfy beds and artwork-strewn walls. Eggs Benedict for breakfast will set you up for a day of exploring.
Explore more of Nottingham with the Rough Guide to England or The East Midlands Rough Guides Snapshot. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.