In January 2021, Peterborough was named the ‘worst place to live in England’ for the third year running in a survey run by ilivehere.co.uk with over 125,000 voters. Apparently there were so many votes for the city, the site crashed. Peterborough is often talked about negatively and ignored from people’s radars for a visit.
I don’t often share my personal opinions on this blog as its purpose is to share travel, not to put my views on to anyone else – everyone experiences travel and places differently and uniquely to them. However, seeing the results of that survey made me feel that it’s important to shine a light on this city which is a major part of Cambridgeshire, and which in my opinion is worth a visit.
History of Peterborough
Peterborough sits on the River Nene, and there has been a settlement of some sort here since the Roman times. Its oldest and most beautiful remaining building is the stunning Cathedral, which was built between 1118 and 1375, and is one of the most important Norman buildings in the country.
In more recent history, Peterborough found itself a transport hub, being a main station on the Great Northern Line running between London, Doncaster and York. Coupled with a wealth of local clay deposits, Peterborough became famous for its brick production in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Since then, Peterborough has been known for its strong manufacturing industry, although more recently many service industries have located here. There has been significant investment in the city in recent years, and in 2020 planning was granted for a University to be built here.
10 Things to do in Peterborough
1. Visit a Queen in the incredible Cathedral
Right in the city centre lies the Cathedral. The building on this site dates all the way back to Norman times in the 1100s. It served as a church, and as an abbey. In 1541, following Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the relics of the church were lost but it survived by being selected as the Cathedral of the Peterborough Anglican Diocese.
Henry’s VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was buried here in 1536. Her grave can still be seen and is still honoured by visitors who decorate it with flowers and pomegranates (her symbol). It carries the legend Katharine Queen of England, a title she was denied at the time of her death, due to Henry having married his new wife Anne Boleyn. It’s such a special place for such a special woman – a visit to Peterborough is worth it just for this!
Also in the cathedral you can visit the previous burial spot of Mary Queen of Scots before she was moved, as well as enjoy the incredible pews and ceiling art. The mural on the ceiling dates back to 1260 (with some restoration of course) and is a one of a kind in England. The Cathedral also offers tower tours so you can see out over the city – though on the day I visited it was too windy so they weren’t running.
Please do also consider donating if you visit – no entry fee is charged but the Cathedral costs £4,000 a day to maintain and run so money from visitors is vital to its survival.
2. Take a walk in Ferry Meadows
Just on the outskirts of the city centre is the beautiful Ferry Meadows. It’s a large country park with pretty lakes, nice walking trails and lots of nature. There are bluebell woods, open meadows and amazing play areas, plus a water centre if you want to take a trip out on the lakes by kayak or paddleboard, and you can also hire bikes to cycle the trails.
3. Go for afternoon tea at Alwalton Hall
One of the major businesses to come out of Peterborough is Perkins Engines, founded in the early 1900s and now one of the world’s leading suppliers of off-highway diesel and gas engines. Alwalton Hall was once home to Frank Perkins (the founder of the engine company), and is a gorgeous Georgian country house tucked away in the village of Alwalton, just a 5 minute drive out of the city. It now houses a beauty and wellness sanctuary, as well as serving lunches and afternoon teas – treat yourself and visit a lovely house. Win win.
Alwalton village is also a wonderful place for a walk, full of lovely houses with a nice pub and a cosy post office – which also has a tearoom!
4. Play a round of Glo Golf (or another fun activity)
Glo Golf is a brand new attraction in Peterborough city centre and it’s so much fun. The course is a huge glow in the dark, space themed mini golf course, which serves cocktails as you play. I was lucky enough to visit in the week it opened and really enjoyed it. It’s the perfect way to spend a sociable evening.
If mini golf isn’t your thing, then you could also choose to do one of the many other activities on offer in the city – you could do an Escape Room at Trapp’d, or a cocktail making evening at Forty Two Bar, or even go Ice Skating at the Planet Ice Arena. Whatever you choose to do activity wise, Peterborough has lots of variety on offer.
5. Explore Burghley House and its grounds
Around a 30 minute drive from the city centre is a wonderful stately home that is a great destination for a half day trip. Burghley House is a prime example of Elizabethan architecture and is still lived in by the Cecil family to this day. The house is open on a seasonal basis, and the grounds and park are open year round. You can often find deer roaming the park and the gardens bright with flowers.
6. See the thatched cottages in Werrington village
Werrington Village is a short 5 minute drive from the centre of Peterborough. The village green is surrounded by thatched cottages and there is a nice pub and lovely restaurant called The Cherry House which can be found in a 400 year old cottage and makes for a special lunch or dinner destination.
7. Cheer on The Posh
Posh is the term for Peterborough United, the local football team. Here in England, football is a bit of a way of life for a lot of people. You may only have seen the negative coverage recently around the terrible minority reaction after England lost the Euro 2020 final. But for most football fans, every weekend they will go to the game, cheer on their team – and it’s more than football, it’s sociable, it’s uniting, and it’s important. If you want to sample some of this, then Peterborough have just been promoted to the English championship (the second highest league) and going to a game will be an experience.
If you’re not in to football, then the Peterborough United stadium is still worth a visit as it hosts events like concerts – pre-COVID it welcomed Craig David and even Elton John!
8. Take a walk in the countryside around Elton
A short 10 minute drive from the centre of Peterborough and you’ll find yourself in picture perfect Elton, right on the northern border of Cambridgeshire. It’s the perfect place for a walk to enjoy the English countryside. One lovely walk is a round loop to the nearby village of Nassington; and why not stop off afterwards for some food at one of Elton’s pubs – either The Crown or The Black Horse.
9. Ride the Nene Valley Railway
Peterborough is home to the Nene Valley Railway, the UK’s leading steam railway attraction. It is both a living heritage railway, which is tended to by its loyal volunteers, and an attraction for the public to enjoy all year round. Nene Valley Railway offers the chance to experience riding a traditional steam engine, learn about the railway’s history and explore the picturesque surroundings of the Nene Valley area. You can book just to take a ride on the train, a special event like Santa Steam at Christmas, or even book a special afternoon tea on board.
10. Indulge in a tasty dinner at one of Peterborough’s best restaurants
The city centre has an abundance of restaurants to choose from. You could play it safe and book a chain – like Cote Brasserie or Wagamama. Or you could support local businesses and eat local at some of the nicest restaurants in the city. Why not try Nepalese at Gurkha Durbaar, or Greek at Salamis (complete with belly dancing and plate smashing), or Turkish at Turkish Kitchen, or tasty Tandoor at Tap and Tandoor. You could even visit Resist! Vegan Kitchen, who are Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist, Pro-Feminist, LGBTQIA positive, Vegan Pioneers.
Yummy food at Turkish Kitchen (L) and Tap and Tandoor (R)
If people honestly think this is the worst place to live in England, then that’s their choice. But I really don’t agree. OK, the city centre isn’t as beautiful or aesthetically pleasing when compared to its neighbour Cambridge for example – but it’s still had a lot of investment, and has nice shopping centres and restaurants. Yes there are some ‘not so nice’ areas, but there are also so many beautiful spots in and around the city to explore, as well as lots of history to enjoy, which you don’t have to go far to find.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post and learnt something about Peterborough! Stay safe and happy travelling everyone.