The big idea

What is it they say about style never going out of fashion? Well, Nottingham’s a stylish place and that’s pretty much what this very attractive city is about. And we’re not talking a brash, fake-tan, bling kind of style, but an effortless, classic, timeless kind of style. And what more would you expect from a city built on lace making and the home to a certain Paul Smith?

But it’s not just style in the fashion sense; Nottingham is home to some fine sporting establishments, some great cultural events and Goose Fair, one of Europe’s largest travelling fairs.   

Style and design

Well of course there’s lace and knitting; Nottingham is seen as the birthplace of the knitting and lace making industries, and while the industry is all but gone, it left a fabulous legacy, both in the number of independent wedding dress makers and in the fabulous Lace Market area, whose narrow streets lined with the old factories and warehouses, is one of the most fashionable areas of the city (those warehouses are now loft-style apartments, achingly cool bars and restaurants, the university’s School of Art and Design and some lovely little boutiques).
And then there’s Paul Smith, who hails from the city and also designed the seats- in his trademark stripes, for an auditoria at the independent Broadway Cinema (beats your soulless local multiplex every time, I should imagine); his first boutique was, and sill is, in the city. Vivienne Westwood has just opened a stand-alone boutique in the exclusive FH Mall; and there are many other fabulous fashion shops here, from high street giants and exclusive designer boutiques to independent designers and specialist outlets (from goths to vintage). And while we’re talking of looking good, we ought to mention Boots- surely the biggest store group dedicated to making you look good?
Need further proof? Nottingham also houses the largest number of artists per capita in Europe and has long inspired creative types such as Lord Byron and DH Lawrence.


Nottingham has long had a reputation as one of the country’s best shopping cities, and it’s not hard to see why: there’s the Victoria Centre, a vast mall full of high street giants, and the Westfield Broadmarsh centre, but that’s not the real draw: it’s the quaint, quirky and, well, stylish little areas of the city that are home some of those little shops mentioned above. Head to The Exchange (stunning inside) for upmarket fashion and jewellery; Low Pavement for Paul Smith; Bridlesmith Gate, the place for fashion-forward brands; Hockley for the alternative scene; Derby Road for specialised shops; and Mansfield Road for glorious independents (and quirky restaurants).
And with that emphasis on style and design it’s little wonder there’s such a vibrant fashion scene in the city.

Myth and legend

Wow, we’ve managed nearly 400 words before we’ve mentioned the man in green. And it’s not because we want to belittle Robin Hood’s importance to the city, it’s because we feel it shouldn’t be the only thing that defines the city. And while the legend is of great importance to Nottingham, it’s refreshing to see a city with such a strong legend that doesn’t crowbar it into every pub or shop name and is careful not to sell a lot of tourist tat (if you’ll excuse the expression) all over the place. The legend lives on, though, in the castle , the Galleries of Justice Museum-previously the home of the Sheriff of Nottingham- and in Sherwood Forest,  and it’s well worth doing the complete Robin Hood trail.
Another fascinating part of Nottingham’s history is the network of caves running under the city and castle. It was nearly lost forever when the Broadmarsh shopping centre was built, but it’s been preserved over time and is now a quirky little visitor attraction (due to re-open in 2012).

Sporting prowess

Of course, there are another couple of (more recent) legends that come from Nottingham: Torville and Dean! The original skating rink they used has been replaced by the rather grander National Ice Centre, but it’s still home to the world-class Nottingham Panthers ice hockey team, and it also holds plenty of concerts and events. And there’s Trent Bridge, two football grounds, the Nottingham Tennis Centre (which is the largest in Europe) and, of course, the National Water Sports Centre.


The city of Style

The interesting bits in the history:

Originally known as ‘the place of caves’ when in Saxon times the village came under the control of a man names Snotta it was given the name ’Snottingham’ (‘inga’ meant ‘belongs to’ and ‘ham’ was ‘village’). In the 9th century the Danes invaded and turned it into a hill settlement, and one of the 5 towns in the area known as the Danelaw. By the 10th century it was a small but busy town, with the main source of trade wool. It grew after the Norman Conquest as many French moved in (in fact there were two parts to Nottingham, the French near the castle and the English in the old town).

By the 15th century the town had both a mayor and a sheriff, had become a county corporate (effectively self-governing), and held a weekly market and two annual fairs where traders would come from afar- one of these was the now legendary Goose Fair, named after the geese that were driven from Lincolnshire to be sold at the fair).
The 16th and 17th centuries saw steady growth in the town, although by now the wool industry was in decline, being replaced by manufacturing silk and wool hosiery (a sign of things to come?), and many parts of the city were being rebuilt in brick. Indeed, Celia Fiennes, the travel writer of her day, at the end of the 17th century, remarked that the town was “the neatest town I have seen”. And not long after that the roaming English writer Daniel Defoe went so far as to exclaim that Nottingham was “one of the most pleasant and beautiful towns in England”.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the town grew rapidly; the hosiery industry boomed and the city became famous for making lace. Improvements such as gas street lighting, new parks, and water supply further smartened the town, and the first Test match was played at the city’s cricket ground, Trent Bridge. Although not all were happy in the city; the rejection by the House of Lords of the Great Reform Bill in 1831 so incensed some within the town that they ransacked and burnt down Nottingham castle as a protest (it was rebuilt as a Ducal Mansion, now housing a museum and art gallery). A few other household names started in the city around this time: John Boot set up a herbal medicine shop in the city in 1849 (rather a famous High Street name now); another John, Player, started making Players cigarettes in 1877; and a decade later a chap called Frank Bowden started making bicycles in the city in Raleigh Street- now one of the oldest bike manufacturers in the world.
These four industries- textiles, pharmaceuticals, tobacco and bicycles- would be the mainstay of the growth of the city throughout the 20th century. The council built much new housing as the city- it was granted the status in 1897- expanded its boundaries north and south. New shopping centres were built towards the end of the century, and by now Nottingham was buzzing. The now famous Queens Medical Centre, the largest hospital in England, and the largest teaching hospital in Europe, was built in 1970; the National Water Sports Centre opened in 1973; two European Cups found their way to Nottingham Forest in 1979 and 1980; and in 2004 a shiny new tram network was opened in the city.

Who’s it ideal for/ how it can make you feel:

Anyone with an individual sense of style will love this place, as will shoppers, lovers, culture-seekers, designers and those that appreciate aesthetics. 

It’s a relaxing city, but also one that can make you feel positive about yourself; and the emphasis on style and looks make it a lovely city for pampering, and dressing up.

How to experience what’s different/ get under the skin of the city

For the rather obvious way to get under the skin of Nottingham probably best to start north of the city in the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve; once a royal hunting ground and home to the famous Major Oak tree; linked to Robin Hood, this 450-acre forest is both a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Nottinghamshire’s first National Nature Reserve (and if that gets you in the Merry Men mood, nearby is Creswell Crags, home to Britain’s only known Ice Age cave art, the man himselfs’ hideout cave).

OK, so now into the city itself. Let’s start in the Royal Centre, right in the heart of Nottingham. Here you’ve got the attractive Theatre Royal, built for a local lace businessmen in 1865, and famous for showing the world premiere (pre-West End) of The Mousetrap, the longest-running theatrical production in the world; the strikingly modern Royal Concert Hall; and the Cornerhouse complex of restaurants, bars and cinemas. Head along Lower Parliament Street and you’ve got the Victoria Centre, one of Nottingham’s undercover shopping centre with 120 stores, including John Lewis.

Opposite the main entrance cut down Clumber Street, where you’ll find more of the big name stores. To the left is Pelham Street, home to a variety of fashion and accessory retailers; but to the right you’ll see the fine building called The Exchange. Housed within the city’s historic Council House, with an elegant glass- vaulted roof, you’ll find designer boutiques, an art gallery and several of the bigger fashion names. And just to the left of the Exchange is another pretty shopping arcade,The FH Mall, with some independent fashion stores, more art and furnishings, as well as the Vivienne Westwood store.

Around the front of the Exchange you’ll come out onto the wide Old Market Square, the biggest such square surviving in the country. This was the centre-point between the two original settlements that made up Nottingham and subsequently became the focal point for trade, and where the Goose Fair would be held every year. Now it’s an attractive meeting place with two fountains, large statues of lions, a memorial to Brian Clough and the very first Speaker’s Corner outside of London.
From here pop along Friar Lane and look for Nottingham Castle. Located on a prominent headland this was previously a significant royal fortress and in the legends of Robin Hood, the scene of the final showdown between him and the Sheriff.

Rebuilt in the 17th century as a Ducal mansion, it’s now a vibrant museum and art gallery with a vast collection of the city’s fine and decorative arts collections, including glass, silver, lace and Nottingham alabaster carvings. There’s also a rather fine Robin Hood statue, showing what a stylish dude he was (which other professional robber wore green stockings -on his legs, not his face- had a manicured goatee before they became fashionable, and had such intricate finishes on his skirts?). While in the area, also look out for Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem- claimed as the oldest pub in England this was named after Richard the Lionheart’s Crusaders, where they’d stop by for a drink before trips to the Holy Land.

Next, walk along Castle Gate, and into the Low Pavement, Bridlesmith Gate and the Lace Market area. Now this is a great place for shopping and exploring. Cobbled streets, stacks of designer fashions, including a flagship Paul Smith designer store, and a strong food and drink offer make this a rightly popular area. And just along High Pavement make sure to visit both Nottingham Contemporary and the Galleries of Justice Museum, the only museum of its kind in Europe. The Contemporary is a strikingly designed structure and now one of the largest contemporary art spaces in the country, built on the original site of the old Saxon fort. And the museum, based in Nottinghamshire’s old courthouse and jail, is a visitor attraction that really brings to life the story of crime and punishment well over the last three hundred years

From here head along Hollow Stone and you’ll see the National Ice Centre, the first twin-Olympic sized ice skating rink in the country and training ground for the GB speed-skating squad; then take a right, head over the roundabout and straight along the London Road, and within a stones throw from each other you can find the homes of Notts County, Nottingham Forest and the impressive Trent Bridge. Finally, carry on a few miles heading out the city and there’s the National Water Sports Centre, a beautiful place to learn water-skiing, white water rafting, kayaking- anything you want to do on water really.

When to visit

City pics