The weeks before Christmas are a special time to visit Lincoln. From miles away, your eyes are drawn to the extraordinary cathedral, soaring against the skyline, where Christians have celebrated the birth of Jesus for nearly 1,000 years. John Ruskin, the eminent Victorian art critic, called Lincoln Cathedral ‘out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles’.
Walking around the cobbled streets that surround the cathedral feels like stepping into a fairy tale. On aptly-named Steep Hill, with its knee-aching gradient, Christmas trees twinkle outside the ancient buildings, and the shop windows are bedecked in traditional style.
Stock up on Christmas goodies at the numerous gastronomic outlets in the historic quarter, including a prize-winning butcher, cheesemonger, pie shop, whisky and wine merchants, and chocolatier. Or pop into Lincoln’s quirky antiques shops for unusual and thought-provoking presents.
In early December, thousands of visitors usually crowd into the lively German-style Christmas market, which centres on the magnificent Castle Square. During the market, illuminated after-dark walks around the castle walls give spectacular views over the stalls and to the cathedral beyond, which is lit up in bright colours to celebrate the festive season.
Places to visit in Lincoln
Step back from pre-Christmas stress and immerse yourself in the hushed majesty of this truly awe-inspiring building. The foundations of the cathedral were laid in 1072, although most of the original structure was destroyed by a great fire and, later on, an earthquake. Rebuilt from the 12th century and considered a masterpiece of Gothic style, for a time the cathedral was the tallest building in the world, beating even the Pyramids at Giza.
After winning the Battle of Hastings, faced with a nation of angry Anglo-Saxons (and with just a few thousand Norman knights), William the Conqueror needed to consolidate power. He quickly built nearly 700 castles, including one here in Lincoln in 1068.
This important Lincoln landmark was subsequently the site of two of the most decisive battles in English medieval history. As well as learning about Lincoln Castle’s historical significance, you can see one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta and tour an eerily intact Victorian prison.
Places to shop in Lincoln
Lincoln Antiques and Collectables
Keith’s small antiques centre has become a destination for collectors. The exceptionally well-stocked, specialist cabinets are brimming with all sorts: Victorian glass bottles, early 20th-century advertising and packaging, die-cast toys, coins and vintage car memorabilia. We were very taken with the Nuttall’s Mintoes ‘Made in Doncaster’ tin (£28) and picked up a pack of 20 pre-First World War postcards for just £2.50.
Jews’ Court Bookshop
Run by enthusiastic volunteers, this tiny bookshop is reputedly on the site of the city’s medieval synagogue – in the Middle Ages, Lincoln was home to England’s second largest Jewish community, who played a key role in the city’s rich history.
The shop champions specialist and hard-to-find local history titles, so put away your phone and pick up a guide, or if you’re looking for a present for the person who has everything, how about a history of potato-growing in Lincolnshire?
This family-run shop stocks a range of ethically sourced fossils, crystals and minerals. For a unique stocking filler, you could choose a 150-million-year-old ammonite (£2 and up), or the ultimate talking point – a wall-sized stone slab swimming with fossilised fish (£2,000).
My Secret Antiques
Friendly Ben’s kaleidoscopic stock features entertaining one-of-a-kind oddities. Where else would you buy a vintage neon takeaway sign, fairground swing boat, or a pair of clown’s shoes? Off the tourist trail, it’s well worth hunting out this hidden gem. Ben only opens at weekends and his things sell quickly, so if you love it, buy it. @mysecretantiques
Just outside Lincoln, father and son John and David’s elegant premises showcase exceptional furniture, clocks and works of art. Highlights include the museum-quality scientific instruments and globes, including an 18th-century telescope taken on a daring voyage to the North Pole in 1773 (on which a young Horatio Nelson served as midshipman). Open by appointment.
Lincoln Antiques & Home Show
The scale of this event has to be seen to be believed. All being well, on 1st December (the last fair of the year) hundreds of dealers will brave the winter weather on the Lincolnshire Showground’s 200 acres, offering antiques, salvage and collectables in
every conceivable style.
Places to stay in Lincoln
The Old Palace
Moments from the cathedral, the neo-Gothic splendour of this converted Victorian chapel is reflected in the opulent decor of the 16 bedrooms. Most sumptuous of all is the double- height Grand Suite, with an elaborately carved half-canopy bed and tall leaded windows.
6 and 7 Castle Hill
Occupying a plum position on Castle Square, these recently renovated Georgian townhouses – once two of Lincoln’s most fashionable addresses – are now handsome holiday rentals sleeping four and six.
Places to eat in Lincoln
Surprisingly authentic Spanish tapas, served in an enviable spot in the heart of historic Lincoln. On a bright day, choose an outside table and you’ll enjoy views of both the castle and the cathedral, while sizzling prawns in garlic oil and a plate of spicy pimentos transport you to warmer climes.
The Jews House Restaurant
Serving remarkable food in a remarkable setting, this Michelin-starred restaurant is atmospherically located in one of the oldest surviving houses in Europe, built in the mid 12th century and with an impressive Norman entry. The five-course tasting menu makes an indulgent Christmas treat.
Bloomsbury Group fans won’t want to miss Duncan Grant’s little-known murals in Lincoln Cathedral’s St Blaise side chapel.
As St Blaise is the patron saint of wool, the brief was to portray Lincoln as a thriving inland port, illustrating its historic importance to the wool trade.
Unveiled in 1956, the murals were locked away in the 1960s and omitted from the cathedral’s guidebook for decades.
It’s hard to say whether the authorities were more appalled by Grant’s highly eroticised depiction of muscular, semi-clad dockworkers, or by the holy figures modelled on the polyamorous Bloomsbury Set.