Preston is a city in the north-west of England, in Lancashire. At first glance, it may seem like a normal, run-down, moderately sized town, but if you look under the surface you’ll see one of the most historically rich cities in the whole country. Preston was founded as a town in 1179, and its central location made it a coveted location as a centre for both trade and travel, pretty much up until the construction of the second motorway in the UK (since the first motorway led to Preston). Preston isn’t just all about history though, if you’re looking to visit, or just looking for some things to do in Preston, then you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re interested in sports, history, visiting with the family, or you’re a nightlife person, Preston offers plenty of activities for everyone.
Preston was made a city in 2002, despite the fact that there was no cathedral in the town. This changed, however, in 2015, when Pope Francis raised the St Ignatius church to cathedral status, making it one of only 3 Indian Catholic Churches in the world to become a cathedral.
So what's so special about Preston
Well, you’d be hard-pressed to find a city so small, with a history so rich elsewhere. Preston was originally founded around a Roman fort, in Walton-Le-Dale (a small town that’s a part of Preston). The Roman fort today is known as the Capitol Centre, and most Prestonians drive past it every day on their commute. It’s one of the hardest locations in Preston to miss. The Capitol Centre is a shopping district on London Road and is right in front of the River Ribble. The first of the sites on the Roman fort was what is now a Virgin gym, but the fort expanded far beyond that to include many more buildings and warehouses, housing workshops for all sorts of crafts. It was originally a centre for UK trade and had stock going through it every day, going all over the country.
Preston was given its first charter long after this, though, as it didn’t become an official town until 1179, over a hundred years after the Anglo-Saxons won the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Preston was also a vital site in the English Civil war in the 1600s, being a major Royalist Headquarters until it was besieged by and eventually fell to the Parliamentary forces, led by Oliver Cromwell. This battle was known as the Battle of Preston and was won in 1648 on Walton Bridge, where King James II was captured. This site today is known as Cinnamon Hill. Lying at the bottom of Cinnamon Hill is a normal looking restaurant called Pinnochio’s, but actually, this restaurant used to be an inn, known as the Unicorn, and Oliver Cromwell himself stayed there while he was in Preston.
Later, the Jacobite rebellions also came to a close at this site and the rebel faction who was campaigning to return King James’ bloodline to the throne after the tyrannical reign of Oliver Cromwell (Cromwell, while he was in power, outlawed playing football! And some laws which were enforced by him then still stand, even though they aren’t enforced today, such as it being illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas. Cromwell created and enforced a plethora of ridiculous laws like these ones) in which the Jacobites (the rebel faction) were forced to surrender in 1715. This battle is often hailed as the last battle fought on English soil.
What's Preston like today?
Until recently, Preston was a very old-looking city. You’d have thought they were living in the past, but in the last 10 years, that has all changed. While the history is still there if you look, Preston is being refurbished as we speak. They’ve modernised the bus station, completely redone the flag market, and rebuild car parks and buildings alike. A Lot of historical buildings have been converted to suit the needs of modern society. Preston feels a lot today like a mesh of modern and classical feels, and as a city that is never really bustling or busy, it’s refreshing when compared to the big modern cities.
Preston is also home to the largest bus station in the country, and the second-largest in Europe. The bus station has 80 docks, and the building itself is so large, that you could fit 3 standardised passenger aircraft inside of it! The bus station is also one example of how Preston is one of the most architecturally diverse cities out there, being a building in the new brutalist style, a style of architecture that was coined in England in the 1950s. You can see examples of other types of architecture all over the city, from all different time periods, and walking through Preston today is like a journey through time, it is one of my favourite things to do in Preston.
Accommodation in Preston
There are many hotel, guest houses and B&B's in Preston, whatever your budget. Number 10 Preston are luxury 5 star apartments in the heart of the city centre and has Hypnos beds, Egyptian cotton sheets and a small kitchen with hob and microwave. Winckley Square Hotel is again in the centre of town and has beautifully decorated rooms with private bathroom and luxurious touches.
The Claremont Preston is 1 mile from the city centre and is a stunning, family run B&B with a large garden, 2 lovely restaurants and extremely comfortable beds. If you would prefer an apartment the Marine Princes Reach has amazing views over the historic Albert Edward Docks and is spacious and sleeps 3.
Places to go and things to do in Preston
Despite all of that historical background, there is actually very little historical sightseeing or spots to visit. While you may go to Preston because of the rich historical background, you may need to fill your time there with other things. With that said, here’s a few things you can do if you visit Preston.
The Harris Museum and Art Gallery
As I mentioned earlier, the Harris Museum is a museum which commemorates the history of Preston, but it also has a few other historical segments to captivate you if that’s something that interests you. The museum also doubles as an art gallery, and will definitely make for a nice part of your day out in the city centre and is one of the most popular things to do in Preston. In the 1800s, when it was made legal to raise funds for libraries and public buildings, the citizens of Preston decided that they wanted to build a library/museum to commemorate the city’s already rich history, and when they couldn’t get the funds together, they were saved by E. Harris. In 1877, Harris died and left £300,000 of his own money (which would be about £34,000,000 today, with inflation), and so the citizens decided to name the museum after him, and this became the Harris Museum and Art Gallery that stands in Preston today.
The Energi Trampoline Park
If something more carefree and fun is what interests you, then you could always pay a visit to Energi Trampoline Park. The whole family can have a nice day here, or they also offer trampoline workout courses in the evening. This is one of the most popular things to do in Preston with children.
There isn’t actually much to do in Winckley Square, but it is a very historical spot, and the garden in the centre looks beautiful when lit up at night. Winckley Square was also home to Edith Rigby. Rigby was a figure in English suffrage, was also born in Preston, in October 1872, and she lived there until 1926 in Winckley Square. Today there is a plaque in Winckley Square commemorating her living there, however, the plaque does not denote the correct year of death. The correct year of Edith’s death is 1950. It is also another example of Preston’s diverse architecture, displaying the Georgian architecture that you’ll probably see in quite a few places around Preston, if that interests you.
The Guild Wheel
If you’re interested in Avenham Park, then the Guild Wheel might also interest you. When you walk through Avenham Park, you’ll undoubtedly pass a lot of cyclists. These cyclists are cycling the Guild wheel, a 21 Mile cycling and walking route that goes around the centre of Preston, and is mostly off-road. It is called the Guild Wheel in celebration of Preston’s Guild. The guild was a prolific merchant trading organisation when it was founded in 1179, at the same time as the city. Nowadays, though, the Guild is more of a decoration than anything else and doesn’t operate anymore.
The Guild Hall
There are almost always events happening at the Guild Hall, and you should definitely check them before you come. These events can vary from small local play and musical productions and concerts, to Comic-Con events at certain times of the year.
The Fishergate Shopping Centre
Although it isn’t necessarily “something to do”, you’ll no doubt pass by the Fishergate Centre during your time in Preston, and although today there are a few stores and restaurants inside of the Fishergate, its real significance lies in the past. During the Industrial Revolution, Charles Dickens visited Preston frequently, and much of what he wrote was inspired by his experience in Preston. Particularly his novel “Hard Times” (1854) was inspired by his experience in Preston, and what he witnessed of the lockout and strike of the cotton industry, a strike which froze the industry for 7 months from 1853-1854. He also visited in April 1867, where he was met with great expectation at the Theatre Royal, which today is the Fishergate shopping centre, where he performed some of his works and was met with praise.
Deepdale Stadium is the home of Preston North End Football Club. If the rest of the history isn’t something that interests you, then perhaps the Football Club will.
Preston North End is not just another part of the history of Preston. PNE stands as a part of history in its own right. One of the most historically relevant Football Teams in English football today, PNE was the very first team to not only win the English League (before the Premier League was established, this was the highest league in football), but they were one of the founding teams of the league and in the very first season that the league was present, they won without a single loss, going down in history as “The Old Invincibles”, and in that same year they also won the FA Cup, being the first team in history to win “The Double”. They then also went on to win the league in 1890, but after this, they didn’t win another title until the FA cup in 1938, and they haven’t won a major trophy since then.
The most iconic and memorable player, as well as the greatest, to ever play for PNE was by far Tom Finney, who moved to the club in 1938, though he didn’t get a game on the first-team until 1946, with his debut being delayed because of World War 2.
The British Commercial Vehicle Museum
The British Commercial Vehicle Museum is in Leyland, which while still a part of Preston, is a little bit further out. It’s worth the journey though, as the museum offers a fascinating look at the vehicles which have been used in trading and transporting good throughout history, which Preston has been a major part of since it was founded, due to its central location within the country.
Turbary Woods Owl and Birds of Prey Sanctuary
You can’t really beat the simple pleasure of observing and getting close to the some of the most majestic creatures you’ll see. The volunteers here really know their stuff, and you can tell that they really love the creatures that they’re caring for. It’s a lovely experience, and if you don’t think its for you, I’d say check it out anyway, because I didn’t think I would enjoy it, and I was pleasantly surprised.
Avenham and Miller Park
Avenham Park is the closest large park to the city centre and offers plenty to do whether alone or with the whole family. There’s a play area near one of the entrances to the park, but if you step just a bit further into the park you’ll be met with beautiful surroundings, as well as a café. For me, though, the main attraction of Avenham Park is the Japanese garden in the centre. It’s a beautiful grove with a pond, surrounded by a bamboo fence, which contains blossom trees as well as many other types of Japanese plants. Truly a sight to behold, and a must-see for anyone visiting Preston.
Cuerden Valley Country Park
Beacon Fell Country Park is another location that is very wildlife and nature heavy, but it is a little bit further out and is maybe a little rougher and more suited to walks without children. With that said, you can bring the kids if you’d like. It’s another location with beautiful surroundings and if you’re interested in the outdoors, you’ll definitely enjoy either of these last two parks.
Preston is a city that is thriving, has good nightlife, top restaurants and an amazing range of shops. Have you visited Preston? What did you like about the city?