Nottingham is a pretty, petite and leafy city in the East Midlands, perhaps best known for its prominent role in the legend of Robin Hood. It’s popular for a weekend getaway, whether you’re visiting for the food, shopping, the history or its proximity to the Peak District for walking.
There’s plenty to do here throughout the year, for families and friends alike. So, we’ve gathered the best things to do in Nottingham for every type of visitor. From summer walks to all-year sports and wintry events, explore the city with us.
You may recognise the imposing front of Wollaton Hall from its appearance in Batman, the Dark Knight Rises. A visit here is one of the best things to do in Nottingham on a sunny day. It’s set in undulating parkland, with an almost over-friendly herd of deer roving, a wooded lake, sculpted flower gardens and a picturesque orangery. You can easily spend a whole day, especially if you pop into the house, either for a guided tour or visit the Natural History Museum. Inside, you’ll find a quaint collection of taxidermy, fossils and a herbarium sure to fascinate kids and adults alike. The hall holds various events, including Christmas illuminations.
Art lovers must visit Nottingham Contemporary on a trip to the city. This modern gallery hosts a range of changing, contemporary exhibitions, displaying paintings, textiles, sculpture, photography, mixed media and interactive installations. This small but beautifully curated space is totally free – the perfect way to spend a few hours. Inside you’ll also find Blend café, serving brunch, grilled cheese, cake and more.
Families and nature lovers will enjoy bird-spotting at Attenborough Nature Reserve, owned by the Nottingham Wildlife Trust. The wetlands bird reserve is home to lesser-spotted beauties like otters, kingfishers, bittern and sand martins, but you’re also likely to see dozens of species of water bird, finches, ducks and herons, and possible a bird of prey or two too. Even if you’re not an avid bird-watcher, it’s a lovely place for a walk with extensive trails, many of which are flat and accessible for buggies and wheelchairs. There are activities for kids and a cafe with indoor seating.
The River Trent is an ever-present feature in Nottingham, dividing the centre from the south. As it runs through the city it’s a wide, gently meandering course with pleasant banks designed to be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. If the sun is shining, definitely take a stroll, cycle or run along the riverside and watch the world go by. On one side you have Victoria Embankment with Meadows park, and you could walk all the way to Attenborough Nature Reserve if you’re feeling energetic. Walking the other way from Trent Bridge, you soon feel like you’re out in the countryside, heading for Holme Pierrepoint.
Nottingham is a water-focused city, and Holme Pierrepoint country park is the perfect place to get on the water yourself. It’s home to the National Watersports Centre with tonnes of opportunities for amateurs to get involved, including white-water rafting, tubing, kayaking, paddleboarding and an inflatable obstacle course. There are also fun kids’ activities like climbing, mini golf and a sky trail. If you don’t fancy getting wet, this large country park is gorgeous just for a walk, picnic or run in the sunshine.
Ice-skating is often a winter activity in the UK, but in Nottingham you’re all set for year-round icy fun. The National Ice Centre is one of the best venues in the country for pros and amateurs alike. Here, you can book into a fun skating session or take lessons and courses, including for ice hockey, speed skating and figure skating. There are plenty of tots skating lessons for kids too. If you happen to be visiting at Christmas, they hold extra public skating hours.
One of Nottingham’s hidden-gem activities for families is adventure golf. There are two spots in the city where you can play for fun, one of which is conveniently inside for rainy days. In the town centre, in the main cinema complex, The Lost City adventure golf houses two incredible 18-hole indoor courses, featuring themed, Indianna-Jones-inspired temples and jungles. If the sun is shining, head to Riverside Golf Centre to play 18 holes of Crazy Putt outdoor adventure golf, with a Lost World Dinosaur theme or try your hand (or foot) at Foot Golf. The Crazy Putt course is flood-lit too, for date nights and evening adventures.
If you’re looking for an afternoon’s walk near the centre of town, especially in summer or autumn, visiting the arboretum is one of the top things to do in Nottingham. This lush, forested park is home to more than 850 trees, with sculpted beds of flowers and wide, winding paths that are buggy and wheelchair-friendly. They have a printable Tree Trail, which is fun for children, as well as holding numerous events throughout the year.
Green’s Windmill is an unusual relic to Nottingham’s past, still standing just a stone’s throw from the main city centre and right on some residents’ doorsteps. The windmill is one of the best free things to do in Nottingham with kids. It still works, milling its own flour, but now also houses a small, hands-on science museum, the perfect size for children for a few hours, as well as a playground, a small park and community garden. You also can climb the windmill and check out the view.
Whatever the season, you won’t be short of sporting events to watch in Nottingham. One of its most famous sports is cricket, with regular national and international matches held at the hallowed Trent Bridge grounds. If you’ve never watched cricket before, their summer T20 events are a great chance to see if you like it. Nottingham is also home to two football clubs (Forest and County), both of which have stadiums in the centre, and the National Ice Centre hosts hockey matches between the Nottingham Panthers and rival clubs. The Nottingham Tennis centre is also a fixture on the grass-court circuit, hosting the Wimbledon warm-up Rothesay Open in June each year, as well as wheelchair championship events. Nottingham Race Course also hosts flat races through the season, and you can catch your fair share of water sports at the Holme Pierrepoint lake, or pop down to the Trent and watch the dragon-boat racing in summer (usually July).
Nottingham’s foodie and shopping scene is not to be underestimated. Alongside the large, chic shopping centre, you’ll find an eclectic core of independent shops and sellers clustered around the Lace Market, Hockley and Cobden Chambers. In December, you can also fill your boots at the food-focused Christmas market in Market Square, home to an ice-rink, plenty of hot-food stalls and a large, chalet-style bar. You can have your pick of cuisines in the city, with firm-favourite restaurants including Annie’s Burger Shack, Anoki for Indian, Iberico for tapas and ramen-king Everyday People. For post-dinner drinks choose from cocktails (at Coco Tang or Hockley Arts Club), craft beer (Junkyard, The Angel Microbrewery or Neon Raptor Brewing Company), or traditional ale in Nottingham’s oldest pubs. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem extends into the caves under the castle walls and The Bell Inn is an understated, traditional ale pub with a classic British vibe and wooden beams.
Once you’ve completed your list of things to do in Nottingham, you’re spoilt for choice for nearby daytrips, especially if you like the great outdoors. All within an hour’s drive from the city centre you can find sprawling Clumber Park and impressive Hardwick Hall, both owned by the National Trust, as well as Major Oak and Sherwood Forest (a must-walk for Robin Hood fans) and English-Heritage Rufford Abbey. Just forty minutes from the centre, Newstead Abbey is a beautifully photogenic 12th century abbey and former home of Romantic poet Lord Byron, set in gorgeous grounds. Head east to Belvoir Castle (near Grantham) for more lusciously decorated interiors, intricate follies and manicured gardens, or drive west towards the Peak District for something more wild and rugged.