17 Cool Things to do in Lincoln

Lincoln England is a cathedral city and the county town of Lincolnshire in the East Midlands region.  Its origins can be traced back to the Iron Age, but it first came to prominence when it was settled by the Romans who built a fortress here. 

A view of the Lincoln Cathedral taken from the walls around the city. One of the best things to do in Lincoln

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Today, Lincoln’s rich history and architectural landmarks are just one reason to visit.  There are two universities, several theatres, countless shops, bars and restaurants to suit every taste and budget, great places to stay, a football club that has enjoyed reasonable success in recent years, lots of opportunities for interesting day trips into the Lincolnshire countryside, and a full programme of dynamic cultural events throughout the year. 

The city has far too much to cover in just a day or two.  In this article, I will introduce you to the main reasons to come to Lincoln, Lincolnshire and give you several more reasons to return!

If you just love a historic town and are visiting the UK don’t forget to go and see Bath it is phenomenal.

Things to do Lincolnshire

Lincoln Cathedral

Undoubtedly, Lincoln’s main attraction is its cathedral, built in the 11th century in the English Gothic style.  It stands on a hill, the highest point for miles around (Lincolnshire is famous for being flat!), giving locals and visitors alike a landmark to draw them into the city.  When it was completed, Lincoln Cathedral surpassed the Pyramids of Giza as the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for over 200 years.  Today, it is the third-largest cathedral in the UK after St. Paul’s in London and York Minster.

The beautiful gothic Lincoln Cathedral, with it spires and delicate lacework architecture.

It is a beautiful, awe-inspiring building, both inside and out.  When you visit, don’t miss the Lincoln Imp, the mascot of the city.  Legend has it that in the 14th century, two mischievous imps were sent by the devil to do evil work on Earth.  They came to Lincoln Cathedral where they smashed tables and chairs and tripped up the bishop! 

A close up of the central support between two arches of Lincoln Cathedral with the imp placed right at the bottom of the V.

An angel appeared and ordered them to stop.  One of the imps climbed to the top of a stone pillar and began throwing rocks at the angel.  The angel punished the imp by turning him to stone.  You can still see him sitting there today, right on the bottom where the V starts.  The other imp escaped.  Locals believe that he is responsible for the strange phenomena whereby, even on a still day, a wind blows through Lincoln Cathedral!

Lincoln Cathedral the interior and stained glass windows and arches. The organ sits at the very end of the cathedral above the pulpit.

See an original copy of Magna Carta

Probably one of the most famous documents in the world the Magna Carta can be seen in Lincoln. There are only four of these documents in existence today and an original copy can be found at the Castle. This copy hasn’t left Lincoln since it was brought to the Cathedral in 1215.

The Magna Carta document is kept at Lincoln Castle on permanent loan from the Cathedral. It is displayed in a glass case with Lincoln’s copy of the Charter of the Forest (which is a 1225 re-issue of the original document from 1217).

An image of the Magna Carta with decorative flowers and leaves running down the side of the text.

Lincoln Castle

Lincoln’s next huge attraction is its castle, just a short stroll from the cathedral.  Lincoln Castle was built by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century on the site of the old Roman fortress.  It is one of the best-preserved castles in England and one of only two with two mottes; the other is Lewes Castle in East Sussex.

Lincoln Castle a rather grim looking red brick building with a wall around it. It was converted into a prison so the windows are very small with bars and it looks like you would imagine a prison.

Take the time to walk the whole way around the recently refurbished castle walls.  You will get great views of the castle complex, the cathedral, the city, and the surrounding countryside.

Inside the castle grounds, you will find law courts which are still in use today, and a three-storey stone prison built in 1787 and used until 1868.  The prison is home to a 19th century chapel with individual enclosed seats, the only one of its kind remaining in the world.  As you walk around the prison, it might start to feel a little familiar.  It has been used several times as a film location, most recently for Downton Abbey.

The courtyard of Lincoln Castle looks like a prison. The brick is a blood-red and looks stained with age

A new addition to Lincoln Castle is a purpose-built exhibition centre that houses one of only four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta (two are in the British Museum and the fourth is in Salisbury Cathedral).  It opened to huge fanfare in 2015, the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede.

Today, the castle hosts a number of events, including summer concerts, open days, outdoor film screenings, and, of course, Lincoln’s amazing Christmas market.

Bishop’s Palace and Vineyard

When it was built in the 12th century, the palace, located next to the cathedral with sweeping views over the city and surrounding countryside, was one of the most impressive buildings in medieval England reflecting the power and wealth of Lincoln’s bishops.  Over the centuries, it has been abandoned and subsequently restored, rebuilt and adapted several times.  Today, the ruined parts are managed by English Heritage. 

New gardens have been laid out. It is also the only English Heritage building that features a vineyard on the grounds. The vineyard was given as a gift to the palace by Lincoln’s twin town Neustadt an der Weinstrasse in 1972. A group of volunteers is working to bring the vineyard back to life and produce local wine here. It is a lovely place just to have a breather on a hectic day of sightseeing in the city.

The Bishops Palace in Lincoln, Lincolnshire. A grey brick building with arched doorways and a tall tower to the right with crenellations along the top of the tower.

Bailgate

Known by everyone locally as ‘The Bail’, Bailgate is a cobbled shopping street with restaurants and smart boutiques which runs from the Cathedral Quarter to Newport Arch.  Its roots go back to Roman times and, indeed, it features on Lincoln’s Roman Trail, an app that you can follow for free.  Along the way, you will see the Assembly Rooms (generally not open to the public, but worth a peek inside if there’s an event going on), the Roman East Gate, remains of the Roman walls, and Newport Arch itself.  The arch dates from the 3rd century and is one of the surviving jewels of Roman Britain.  It is the oldest arch in the UK still used by traffic.

The Bailgate in Lincoln which is a row of shops dating back several periods.

In the summer, Bailgate hosts several lively events, including a busker’s festival, a steampunk festival and a 1940s weekend.

Roman Ruins

Lincoln’s legacy dates back to the Roman era when the city was one of Britain’s largest settlements. You will find Roman ruins all around the city, with several of the original walls still intact.

Newport Arch in Lincoln, the only Roman archway in the UK that still has traffic passing through it. You can see the arch and the ancient stones that built this remainder of Roman times in England.

Newport Arch is the only Roman archway to still be used with traffic passing through. It can be found at the north end of Bailgate. You will find the east gate outside the Lincoln Hotel and the lower west gate inside City Hall. There’s a shop called Lottie’s Shoeroom on Steep Hill where you can see the remnants of the upper south gate.

Steep Hill

The clue is in the name!  This is the steepest street in Lincoln (a 1 in 7 gradients!) which links the High Street at the bottom with the Cathedral quarter at the top.  The central part is the steepest, accessible only on foot, but there is a useful handrail to haul yourself up (or to stop yourself careering all the way down!).

Steep Hill in Lincoln with its half-timbered medieval buildings running downhill. The buildings include a pub called the Wig & Mitre and a coffee shop with other various cafes and shops on the street.

It is possible to visit both parts of the city of Lincoln by car or public transport and avoid Steep Hill altogether, but that would be a shame!  There are lots of small independent shops and gorgeous tea rooms where you can pause to catch your breath or have some refreshment. 

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Jew’s House

There is also some amazing architecture on show including Jew’s House, built in the 12th century and one of the earliest townhouses still existing in England.  This, together with Jew’s Court next door, is evidence of Lincoln’s thriving Jewish community, one of the largest in England in medieval times.

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire

The main reason for walking up Steep Hill, though, is that when you get to the top, you can treat yourself to an ‘I Conquered Steep Hill’ cap or T-shirt or mug or keyring or fridge magnet or … ☺.

Lincoln High Street

Lincoln’s High Street not only offers great shopping opportunities but also some architectural gems not to be missed.  These include High Bridge, half-timbered housing with the upper storeys jutting out over the River Witham.  Built in about 1160, it is the oldest bridge in the UK that still has buildings on it.  The High Street also hosts a monthly farmer’s market as well as regular craft markets and other events.

Lincoln’s street market

Markets abound in Lincoln and you can see a variety of stalls open on Sincil Street from Monday through to Saturday. These stalls are typically fresh fruit and veg, along with meat and the occasional odd stall selling gifts, home goods and so on.

Lincoln traders also present several theme markets around the city. On Castle Hill for example on the first two Saturdays of the month, local handicrafts can be found at the Maker’s Market. On the third Saturday, the Lincoln Farmer’s Market is held showcasing locally grown and produced foods. There is also an antique market held on Sundays.

Guildhall and Stonebow

Lincoln City Council has met here at the Guildhall and Stonebow for centuries. There are three archways, stunning limestone parapets and a beautiful clock. This is where Lincoln City Council has been meeting for centuries.

You can take free guided tours inside the building where you can see some incredibly rare artefacts including the Sword of King Richard II.

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Brayford Waterfront

At the bottom end of town is the new shopping and entertainment area built around Brayford Pool, the oldest inland harbour in the UK.  It was here in the first century BC that the first known settlement in Lincoln was sited.  In recent years, since the building and expansion of Lincoln University, the area has been redeveloped and is now full of hotels, bars, restaurants and a multiplex cinema.  In the summer months, you can also take a boat trip on the Brayford Belle!

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Have afternoon tea at Stokes High Bridge Café

The High Bridge, built over the River Witham in around 1160, is the only Medieval bridge in England with houses still on it. This totally unique building – Stokes High Bridge Cafe Lincoln is steeped in history and has been standing tall since 1540. Visiting this place is a real experience and it’s just like stepping back in time. Soak up the atmosphere as you sample a delicious brew, a mouthwatering afternoon tea or a lovingly prepared meal all served by friendly staff in their authentic workwear and period dress.

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Museum of Lincolnshire Life

Housed in Lincoln’s old military barracks, the Museum of Lincolnshire Life is well worth a visit.  It has a varied collection that celebrates the social history and culture of Lincolnshire and its people from 1750 to the present day.

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire

There are fascinating recreations of old shops and house interiors as well as an extensive collection of farm machinery and military hardware, including several tanks.

The Collection – The Usher Gallery

The Collection is the name for the newly amalgamated City and County Museum and the Usher Gallery. 

The latter is a Grade II listed building opened by the Prince of Wales in 1927.  It was built using money left to the city by James Ward Usher to house his art collection.  Today, as well as the permanent displays of furniture, clocks, decorative art and fine art, temporary exhibitions are frequently held here, particularly of modern art.

Lincoln City and County Museum is in a new building erected close to the Usher Gallery.  Its exhibits are mainly archaeological.

Bomber Command

The International Bomber Command Centre is a World-Class facility acknowledging the efforts of Bomber Command during WWII. The project also covers the stories of those who suffered as a result of the bombing campaigns and those whose survival was guaranteed by the humanitarian operations of Bomber Command. During WWII over a million men and women served or supported Bomber Command.

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire
©Visit Lincoln

They came from 62 nations across the world and were united in their efforts to protect the freedom we enjoy today. The service included Aircrew, Ground Crew, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Auxiliary Air Transport, Auxiliary Transport Services, NAAFI and many others.

Hartsholme Country Park

Located a few miles outside of Lincoln the site has Victorian landscaped gardens, a large reservoir, woodlands and grasslands. Many features, both natural and built, survive from the original landscaping of the 1860s.

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Where to stay in Lincoln

Old Palace Lodge

The Old Palace Lodge is a stunning converted church that sits in the shadow of Lincoln Cathedral. It blends traditional features with modern amenities like flat-screen TVs.

The Old Palace Lodge is a 5-minute walk from Bailgate, where guests will find a plethora of restaurants and bars. Lincoln Castle, which houses one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta, is a 4-minute walk from The Old Palace Lodge.

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire
©Booking

Grayz’s townhouse

Grayz’s is in the cathedral quarter and is just 0.8 km and a 10 minutes walk to both Lincoln Castle and Cathedral. Historic Bailgate is a 5 minutes’ walk from the property. During the Christmas season, Lincoln Christmas Market is 400 m from Grayz Townhouse. This is a beautifully renovated 2 bedroom townhouse in a lovely quiet area.

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Washingborough Hall Hotel

Washingborough is a family-run Georgian manor is set in secluded grounds only 4.8 km from Lincoln and has an AA rosette award for its food. Free WiFi and free private parking are available. Washingborough Hall Hotel is a beautiful Grade II listed manor. It is over 300 years old but has many modern comforts.

There are 20 individually styled bedrooms, some offering four-poster beds. All rooms have free homemade biscuits. The Dining Room serves modern European cuisine in tranquil surroundings, using local seasonal produce.

Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire

If you have more time…

This article discusses Lincoln’s highlights.  If you have more time to explore this incredible city, make sure you go to Hartsholme Country Park and, also, learn about Lincoln’s association with the RAF by taking a trip to the newly-opened International Bomber Command Centre.  If you can fit in a visit to Lincolnshire’s unspoilt coast, that would be even better!

This fabulous guest post is from Andrea from Happy Days Travel Blog a former English teacher from the UK who has been travelling full-time with her husband, Mark, for the past fifteen years.  They are currently in Ghana, having recently completed a West Africa tour.  They don’t spend much time in the UK, but when they are there, you will find them on the Lincolnshire coast, walking or cycling on the prom and stopping to eat bacon sandwiches!

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Things to do in Lincoln, Lincolnshire

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