This is a guest post from Billy Read.
Stoke-on-Trent is an underrated English city with a fascinating industrial history. Many tourists visiting nearby destinations like Manchester or Birmingham skip past Stoke without realising the city’s charms. But with its renowned pottery industry, canal network, and distinctive bottle kilns punctuating the landscape, Stoke-on-Trent makes for an offbeat weekend break.
I have made frequent visits to Stoke and can attest to the top things to see and experience here. In this 3 day Stoke-on-Trent itinerary, I’ll highlight the most important aspects of your trip, including the must-see pottery attractions, and best places to eat and stay. I’ll also offer tips to make the most out of your Stoke city break.
The Potteries: Six Towns In One
But first, what are the Potteries, or the “six towns”? The short explanation is that present day Stoke-on-Trent is in fact an amalgamation of six industrial towns: Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall. Collectively they were a centre of ceramic production in the 17th century, and are now regarded as one city.
This itinerary covers different areas of the Potteries.
Morning: Discover The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
No trip to Stoke is complete without learning about its pottery heritage, so head off to the excellent Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, one of the more popular things to do in the West Midlands for families. Here you’ll find extensive displays tracing the history of Staffordshire pottery and explaining why Stoke became the global centre for ceramic production.
Interactive exhibits let you get hands-on with pottery making, like attempting to throw a pot on a wheel. Don’t miss the “Bone China” section highlighting prized Stoke ware such as Minton and Royal Doulton. And be sure to see the art gallery with its collection of 20th century British art.
Afternoon: Walk The Caldon Canal At Trentham Gardens
Work off your big English breakfast with a post-museum canal walk at the delightful Trentham Gardens, a 10-minute drive from the centre of Stoke. The 700-acre estate contains formal Italianate gardens, surrounding Trentham Lake and fringed by woodlands. I recommend starting by exploring the tranquil Caldon Canal that bisects the gardens. This scenic waterway has a tree-lined towpath perfect for walking or cycling. Walking along the canal you pass pretty locks and old railway bridges, spots prized by local photographers.
Make time to visit the Trentham Monkey Forest too! One of the best places to visit in Stoke, this unique attraction contains 140 free-roaming Barbary macaques living in a protected forest habitat. Watching the monkeys play while hearing birdcalls makes you feel worlds away from Stoke’s urban centre.
Don’t miss the excellent food options at Trentham Gardens. The Riverside Cafe offers prime views across the grassy banks of the Trent, while the Pig Farm dining room situated in the gardens serves tasty grilled meats and Staffordshire specialties.
Evening: Upscale Dining Or Canalside Setting
Upscale dining comes courtesy of The Quarter at Potbank. Occupying a former Victorian pottery, this polished gastropub focuses on locally sourced produce, with a menu specializing in grills and Mexican dishes.
A little further afield, for classic pub grub in a heritage setting, head to The Boat Inn in Cheddleton. Dating from 1849, this traditional canal-side inn serves well-kept cask ales and hearty British fare. Staff are welcoming and you can eat either inside the multi-roomed interior or outside at waterside picnic tables.
Morning: Marvel At The Gladstone Pottery Museum
Dedicate the morning of Day 2 to one of the UK’s leading industrial heritage centres – the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton. This preserved Victorian pottery factory now contains a warren of craft workshops, original bottle kilns and antique ceramic displays. Look out for the atmospheric workers’ canteen and the Victorian-era decor. And the bottle kiln experience, which uses projections and audio to recreate the intense heat, dangerous conditions and teamwork required inside these iconic Stoke chimneys.
The museum also runs regular pottery-throwing demonstrations. It’s fascinating watching skilled potters using traditional techniques like those Stoke families employed for generations. Naturally, the gift shop sells locally made ceramics to take home as the ultimate Potteries memento.
When you leave the museum look out for the historic “bread ovens” dotted around Longton town. These domed structures were used by housewives for baking before ovens existed in homes.
Afternoon: Explore Stoke’s Central Spine Of Art
Recently regenerated cultural sites are drawing visitors back to Stoke-on-Trent, especially along the central spine from Hanley to Burslem. This area now contains modern art galleries, vintage shops, independent cafés and street art celebrating Stoke’s heritage.
Start at the Grade II listed Bethesda Chapel, its ornate interior known locally as “The Grand Designs Church”. Then, now that you have experienced the city’s sometimes gloomy industrial past, discover 21st century optimism at the Middleport Pottery. The home of famous Burleigh ware ceramics has a Victorian factory floor preserved as a living museum. Visit the tea room for tasty oatcakes and watch contemporary potters applying classic designs.
Evening: Sample Staffordshire Oatcakes For Supper
You can’t leave The Potteries without trying its signature savoury snack – Staffordshire oatcakes. Halfway between a pancake and pizza bread, these griddle cakes are served with assorted tasty toppings. Locals traditionally eat them for breakfast but oatcakes now show up on dinner menus too, with fillings like sausage, bacon, melted cheese or spicy chilli. For afters, grab dessert oatcakes with sweet options like lemon drizzle or cinnamon apple crumble.
End your day with a trip with a spot of stargazing down at nearby Cannock Chase Forest for the most breathtaking views across clear skies at the famed Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Be sure to toast marshmallows over a fire. Nature-lovers could also set up camp for the night.
Morning: Explore Historic Burslem
Dedicate your last morning to Burslem, historically dubbed the “Mother Town” as the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent sprung up around this ancient settlement. The must-see sights cluster around Queen Street and the Wedgwood Institute (the institute is not open to the public but it is worth stopping to look at the ornate exterior with its decorative friezes).
Take time to ponder the doomed ocean liner Titanic at the Titanic Memorial, which pays tribute to heroic Burslem-born pottery factory workers who perished onboard.
Afternoon: Discover Arnold Bennett
In the afternoon, follow the Arnold Bennett Trail around Burslem. The locally born writer’s work, including the novel Anna of the Five Towns, evokes the smoke-filled city at the turn of the 20th century, and gives a glimpse of a sometimes depressing past.
Then come back to the present and finish your city break in one of Burselm’s historic pubs. Enjoy an oatcake washed down by locally brewed ales, toast your Stoke stay and promise not to leave it so long until the next visit!
If you have more time, take the short trip down the road to Alton Towers and spend a day at the UK’s best theme park, for a truly exhilarating experience.
Stoke-on-Trent Travel Tips
To make the most of your Stoke-on-Trent itinerary, keep these travel tips in mind:
- Use public transport: Stoke has frequent, reliable buses between its six towns. In particular, avoid driving between the Six Towns during rush hour as the roads get extremely congested.
- Visit midweek. Many Stoke attractions are closed or have fewer activities on weekends. Visiting Tuesday to Thursday means fewer crowds.
- Pack comfy shoes. With all those walking routes, canal towpaths, and cobbled streets, you’ll be doing tons of walking. Leave the heels at home!
Where To Stay In Stoke-on-Trent
Here are my recommendations for where to stay in Stoke for all budget types.
- Luxury: DoubleTree By Hilton is a Victorian country house hotel located centrally near the train station. Expect spacious rooms, indoor pool and fine dining.
- Mid-Range: quality chain hotels like Hilton Garden Inn offer reliable comfort at affordable rates.
- Budget: Stoke has wonderful B&Bs at affordable rates. Choose characterful spots like the Sutherland Arms or The Crown Hotel.
What are the must-see attractions in Stoke-on-Trent? The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Gladstone Pottery Museum, and Josiah Wedgwood sites to discover Stoke’s ceramic heritage, plus Trentham Gardens and Middleport Pottery for scenic canal-side walks.
What’s the best way to get around Stoke without a car? Stoke has reliable FirstBus services connecting the six towns. Many hotels also offer station pickups.
Is Stoke expensive for a weekend break? No, Stoke offers budget city break options with free museum entry, affordable buses, and value B&Bs from just £65 per night.
Does Stoke have interesting architecture? Yes! Don’t miss the World Heritage-listed industrial sites and iconic bottle kilns plus gorgeous Victorian buildings such as Bethesda Chapel.
What is there to do in Stoke at night? Visit atmospheric heritage pubs around the old canal, have dinner at trendy new eateries, or take in live bands at The Sugarmill.
Is Stoke good for families? Definitely. Top family-friendly sites include hands-on museums like the Gladstone Pottery and fun events at Trentham Gardens and Animal Kingdom.
With a fascinating industrial heritage, a pretty canal network, unique architecture, and a wealth of cultural attractions, Stoke-on-Trent makes for an offbeat English weekend escape that belies its understated reputation. Follow this 3-day Stoke itinerary by a local with insider knowledge to discover the Potteries’ charms without breaking the bank.
Author bio: Billy is a deaf travel blogger from Birmingham, UK. Through his blog BRB Gone Somewhere Epic, Billy dismantles the myth that travel is too expensive and shows that you can enjoy hidden gems even in popular tourist destinations.