Stealing a march in Robin Hood’s Nottingham

My kind of place: The city synonymous with Robin Hood offers more than archery and banditry.

Wollaton Hall in Nottingham was used as a movie location for The Dark Knight Rises. Gerry Molumby / ExprienceNottinghamshire / VisitEngland
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Why Nottingham?

Nottingham is indelibly associated with the Robin Hood legend, and it could be forgiven for milking that connection. To its credit, however, the appeal of this Midlands city goes much further than archery and medieval costumes. For a city of its size, Nottingham has an excellent selection of attractions, most of which would be worth taking the detour for anywhere in the world.

Looks-wise, there’s a bizarre mix of well-preserved heritage buildings and phenomenally ugly concrete monstrosities. But Nottingham is delightfully walkable, and has just enough of an independent streak to make it stand out above a host of similarly sized British cities.

A comfortable bed

Nottingham's hotel stock is humdrum, but the St James Hotel (www.stjames-hotel.com; 0044 115 941 1114) stands out. An old, somewhat shabby hotel has been taken over and had the bling gun fired at it. The lobby is all silver, chandeliers and bizarre sausage-dog-sculpture artworks. The rooms aren't quite as lavish, but they're boldly decorated and good value, from £68 (Dh391) per night.

The hillside Hart's (www.hartsnottingham.co.uk; 0044 115 988 1900) offers good city views, sizeable outdoor areas and clean, line-focused design. The restaurant is rated as one of the best in town too. Doubles cost from £125 (Dh719).

The handsome redbrick Hilton (www.placeshilton.com/nottingham; 0044 115 934 9700) is arguably the top address in town, and the fitness club, with a 20-metre pool, is the key asset. Rooms cost from £86 (Dh495).

Find your feet

Kick off at Nottingham Castle (www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/castle; 0044 115 915 5555), which after 17th-century changes and near ruin in the 19th century, isn't half as grand as it once was. There's a museum focusing mainly on art and archaeology inside, but it's the network of caves within the rock the castle stands on that are most fascinating. Tours through them cost £4 (Dh23), and delve into an attempted 14th-century coup that was thwarted here by a teenaged King Edward III. Entrance costs £5.50 (Dh32).

Caves are a bit of a theme in Nottingham, and the City of Caves (www.cityofcaves.com; 0044 115 988 1955) in the otherwise bleak Broadmarsh shopping centre takes visitors down into them. Over the years, they've been used as slum housing, leather tanneries and air-raid shelters. Tours cost £7.50 (Dh43).

Nottingham's best attraction, however, is the Galleries of Justice (www.galleriesofjustice.org.uk; 0044 115 952 0555). This is all about the legal system and horrendous treatment minor crooks received in the past. Actor-led trials, dungeon visits and grim tales of the poor being banished to Australia for petty theft are part of an engaging mix. Tickets cost £9.95 (Dh55).

Meet the locals

You might recognise Wollaton Hall (www.wollatonhall.org.uk; 0044 115 876 3100) as Wayne Manor from The Dark Knight Rises. The sprawling park around it is the real star, though. Expect to find roaming deer and hordes of dog-walkers.

Book a table

On a sunny afternoon or evening, the garden terrace of World Service (www.worldservicerestaurant.com; 0044 115 847 5587) is a superb choice. There's a private members' club feel to the place, and the Derbyshire fillet of beef with potato rösti for £26 (Dh150) is the big splurge on the menu.

The vaulted-roof setting for Iberico (www.ibericotapas.com; 0044 115 941 0410) is sensational, and the globe-trotting tapas menu is highly inventive. Expect options such as pheasant Wellington with pickled mushrooms and sourdough or spicy miso salmon. Most dishes cost between £5 and £7 (Dh29 to Dh40).

Shopper’s paradise

Nottingham's greatest contribution to fashion is the designer Paul Smith, and his flagship store (www.paulsmith.co.uk; 0044 115 968 5990) can be found at Willoughby House.

Plenty of indie shops can be found in the east end of the city centre. Dezigne (www.dezigne.co.uk; 0044 115 837 0240) is among the most fun – it sells one-off, locally made and often recycled shirts, bags, purses and other trinkets.

What to avoid

Sherwood Forest, which Robin Hood and his merry men supposedly called home, is to the north of Nottingham. But it’s nothing too exciting – just woodland with an incredibly tacky Robin Hood-themed attraction near the entrance.

Don’t miss

The newly opened National Videogame Arcade (www.gamecity.org; 0044 115 881 3092) is devoted to all things computer-game-related. There's a museum-like section, but it's mostly about inventive ways of discovering games – both in terms of playing and making them. There are plenty of old machines to play, but the most fun exhibits are the ones where you can flick switches, introduce obstacles and generally cause mayhem. Entrance costs £8.50 (Dh49).

Getting there

Emirates (www.emirates.com; 600 555555) flies direct from Dubai to Birmingham, with returns costing from Dh4,945. Trains (www.nationalrail.co.uk) from Birmingham Airport to Nottingham take about one hour and 45 minutes, and cost from £23 (Dh132).

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