With its quaint stone villages and historic country estates, you could easily spend an entire weekend exploring the rural expanses of the East Midlands. However, there’s plenty to take in throughout the region’s urban areas too. Bustling cities like Nottingham are jam-packed full of contemporary art events and renowned eateries – you just need to know where to look. Here’s our guide to making the most out of your short trip to England’s geographical heartland.
Best for: culture
In looking at the corrugated facade and modest size of the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery from the outside, you’d never guess this cultural space held four galleries, a learning room, as well as both performance and film spaces. Situated in the historic Lace Market area of the city, the gallery puts on small independent and classic film showings alongside talks relating to their current shows and children’s art workshops on weekends. Previous exhibitions have included work by the likes of art luminaries David Hockney, Wolfgang Tillmans and Steve McQueen.
Best for: coffee
In a medieval inn opposite the Neo-Baroque grandeur of Nottingham City Hall, the award-winning 200 Degrees Coffee is an enticing place to enjoy a good brew. The long, low-ceilinged main room, ensconced with wood-panelled walls and exposed brickwork, is as cosy as it is charming. For a good spot of people-watching, take a seat at one of the industrial-chic up-turned crates posing as tables outside. The many coffees on offer – roasted in-house – include 200’s own Brazilian Love Affair house blend as well as a guest single origin or seasonal arabica blend. If you’re in a rush, you can even buy a bag of beans to take home with you.
Best for: the great outdoors
Set in Matlock Bath (a former spa town 25 miles northwest of Nottingham), The Heights of Abraham is a country park that spreads across 60 acres of pristine woodland. One of the only ways to reach it is by cable car across a dramatic limestone gorge, although there’s a (rather steep) zig-zag path between the town and the park if you don’t fancy the ride. In addition to jaw-dropping views across the Peak District, the park offers underground cavern and mine tours, play areas, exhibitions and picnic spots.
Best for: a good meal
On Byard Lane – one of Nottingham’s oldest streets – sits the bustling tapas bar and market café Baresca, where simple Catalan-themed meals are dished up in convivial surroundings. Inspired by the sights and sounds of Barcelona’s Old Town, Baresca knocks out flatbread breakfasts, Menu Del Dias, and tapas favourites like Moroccan lamb stew and seared king scallops. The cool bodega-like cellar hosts an eclectic array of live bands at the weekend too, featuring jazz, soul, and Motown artists as well as up-beat DJ sets.
Best for: a night out
Tucked behind a fake boiler showroom in Nottingham’s trendy Hockley neighbourhood, Boilermaker is a quirky speakeasy-style bar. Beyond the looming figure of the boiler salesman-cum-bouncer stationed at the door, a dimly lit world of boho décor unfurls, complete with vintage sofas and high-quality hooch. While traditional cocktails are available, the onus lies on trying some of the more outrageous concoctions like ‘Ponstar Mankini’ and ‘Strong Gindependent Woman.’ In particular, ‘Maggie T’s Snatch of the Day’ (bourbon and butterscotch Angel Delight served in a milk bottle) offers a little sweet taste and a dash of humour to go with its unique kick.