Home to the humble pasty, Peter Kay and the mighty Wanderers, Bolton has so much to offer – in fact, more than meets the eye. Locals are friendly and always well up for a laugh, so you can be sure you’ll be welcomed in as a visitor, whether visiting a local boozer or soaking up the wealth of nature we have here.
A boomtown in the 19th Century, Bolton had 216 cotton mills in operation at its peak, with 26 bleaching and dyeing works, making it one of the largest and most productive centres of cotton spinning in the world. That industrial history is still visible and celebrated in the town today, with many mills being repurposed into housing, offices and other new businesses. The town’s history also lends inspiration to many TV and film productions that have been filmed here recently, making use of the cobbled streets and historical buildings.
From the best places for a pasty, to local history and tucked-away cafes, here’s our local’s guide to the best things to see and do in Bolton.
1. Get a Bolton pasty
The first thing we recommend to do in Bolton is get a pasty, because it’s the single most important thing to do. Whether you pop into Bolton-beloved Carrs or have a gander at Greenalgh’s, there’s a unique and expertly crafted parcel of goodness around every corner. It’s the closest thing Boltonians have to a regional delicacy, and although the Cornish pasty is often the more famous sister, Bolton’s underdog is so much more versatile and is perfect for nibbling whilst mooching around town.
2. Chill out with a cup of coffee
Bolton isn’t short of excellent cafes and coffee shops, but there’s a couple that deserve a special mention. Self in Westhoughton, around 15 minutes out of the town centre, holds wellbeing at its core, with the usual coffee shop finds on the menu alongside intriguing lunch options including Buddha bowls and focaccia sandwiches. The cafe also offers a huge variety of gift items, candles, body care, wall art and more to buy, all within a small but light and perfectly formed space. Self also offers classes and meetings such as yoga, their menopause meet-ups and regular walk and chat sessions, all geared towards good mental health.
Another spot to try is Amico Cafe in the town centre, which many will remember from a prominent scene in the final series of Happy Valley. Apart from obviously having the star appeal which draws visitors from far and wide, Amico has proved to be a great place to sit back and relax or pop in for lunch, of its own accord. It’s also in a very convenient location for the Market Place shopping centre as well as for parking for a few hours as there are multiple multi-storey carparks nearby.
Self, 82 Market St, Westhoughton, Bolton, BL5 3BB | Amico Cafe, 28 Corporation St, Bolton, BL1 2AN.
3. Get a dose of the great outdoors with a walk around Rivington
We’ve expressed our love for Rivington many times here at Secret Manchester, and of course it had to be included in our Bolton guide. From flat but beautiful reservoir walks, to challenging walks up Winter Hill or the Pike, Rivington has options for people from all walks of life. You’ll find forests, grand mansions, hills and waterfalls, but if you’re not much of a walker you can still get your dose of nature – just sat outdoors at one of the many restaurants and cafes, or Rivington’s very own brewery. When you’re all worn out there’s a huge variety of food to be found at the many establishments dotted around to Bolton/Chorley leg of the West Pennine Moors, so you’re sure to have a wholesome day out and leave feeling reinvigorated.
4. Indulge in animal therapy at Smithills Farm
A fixture for families across Bolton and surrounding areas for decades now, Smithills Open Farm has grown over the years and now offers more than ever before. Animal visits include everything from horses and sheep, to reptiles and alpacas, with a dedicated pets corner where visitors can stroke rabbits, guinea pigs and chicks to their heart’s content. Not only does this provide a form of animal therapy, proven to surpress anxiety and improve low mood, but the farm is full of education and things to learn for kids and adults alike. Once the animal part is over, Smithills has its very own ice cream parlour, cafe and gift shop, as well as a play area to ensure the kids sleep all the way home.
Smithills Open Farm, Smithills Dean Rd, Bolton, BL1 7NS.
5. Have a slap-up meal at Luciano’s
Equally a treat for coffee and a sit down, or a full Italian meal, Luciano’s is a firm favourite amongst Boltonians. Located on Middlebrook retail park, the largest outdoor retail park in the UK (don’t you know), across from the home ground of Bolton Wanderers, Luciano’s is a properly classic Italian spot with class in bucket loads. Whether it’s shellfish linguine washed down with a Pinot Grigio, or a selection of antipasti paired with one of their many cocktails, we’d go for a Bramble Italiano, you’re sure to leave full to the brim and probably quite merry. Luciano’s also has a restaurant just within Chorley, so if you’re venturing outside of the Bolton boundary do check out Luciano’s at the Millstone.
Luciano’s at Middlebrook, 23 The Linkway, Horwich, Bolton, BL6 6JA.
6. Soak up some culture and history at Bolton Museum
Ranging from Egyptian mummies to local history and wildlife, Bolton Museum has so much to offer in terms of history and education. Not only does the museum hold essential artefacts, it also houses an aquarium, art gallery (which houses L.S. Lowry’s infamous Going to the Match painting until 25th June) and library, all of which are free to enjoy. There is also a huge collection of local history, including the current Bolton Wanderers exhibition, which is the reason for the loan of the Lowry painting. You could truly spend a whole day at the museum with the amount of fascinating information available to view, and immersive bits for the kids to enjoy, and is definitely recommended for a rainy day!
Bolton Museum, Le Mans Crescent, Bolton, BL1 1SE.
7. Visit Moss Bank Park with all the family
Another classic Bolton day out, Moss Bank Park is a huge green space and has an area for everyone. Whether it’s the football pitch, gardens or play area, there’s so much to do, and with events such as the fun fair and outdoor productions returning year on year, the summer months provide even more entertainment. Unfortunately, the animal park and butterfly house, once the draw for many families, no longer exist, but with the park boasting some beautiful flora and foliage, it naturally attracts many types of wildlife which is of course great for kids and adults alike. Facilities include a cafe, a bowling green and a tennis court, so can be used for all sorts of days out, and the park is definitely a beauty spot in Bolton.
Moss Bank Park, 27 Capitol Cl, Bolton, BL1 6LU.
8. Watch a Bolton Wanderers FC game
Until fairly recently, Bolton Wanderers were very much known as a pretty awful team, but recently they triumphed in the Papa John’s Trophy, winning at Wembley against Plymouth Argyle… woo! So why not drop into a home game at the University of Bolton Stadium, soon to be renamed the Toughsheet Community Stadium, located within Middlebrook retail park? As it stands, BWFC are sitting pretty at the top of League 1, so this is really the time to grab a cheap ticket before they climb the up and up. Wishful thinking? Maybe… but it’s a good few hours of entertainment, whether the home team win or not, and you could be witnessing the beginnings of some world-class players – you never know! If football really isn’t your thing, the stadium has been known to host some huge live gigs, with P!nk already on the roster to play there this year, so there are definitely other events to be enjoyed at the home of Bolton Wanderers.
University of Bolton Stadium, Burnden Way, Horwich, Bolton, BL6 6JW.
9. Pay a visit to Fred Dibnah’s house
Steeplejack and TV personality Fred Dibnah is still a household name in Bolton, even over 15 years after his death, with the town treasuring a bronze statue of him in the town centre. He became a television celebrity in 1979, a year after appearing on local television news, repairing Bolton’s town hall clock, at a height of nearly 250ft, which still stands now. He was generally synonymous with northern industry, chimneys and steam trains, all of which were particularly important in Bolton whilst he was growing up.
However, Dibnah’s estate in Bolton is what fans are most interested in, and makes a great day out for visitors who are keen on getting a bit of the history of the town. The famous home, workshops and amazing workyard as well as Dibnah’s 50ft chimney and mineshaft in his garden, are all available to visit at one off open days, but organised tours ceased to continue following the pandemic, so hopefully there will be positive news here soon! In the meantime, the house is beautiful to catch a glimpse of from the outside.
Fred Dibnah Heritage Centre, 121 Radcliffe Road, Bolton, BL2 1NU.
10. Tour the filming locations used in the town centre
Bolton seems to have become the Hollywood of the North in the past few years, with the town’s Georgian and Victorian buildings and streets echoing those of London or Birmingham, but offering a more low-key environment. We’ve already mentioned the star Amico Cafe in Happy Valley, in which Boltonians were thrilled to have a local business included, but a long list of others have used Bolton’s streets as a convincing setting. Visit the cobbled Le Mans Crescent, on which the likes of Peaky Blinders and It’s A Sin were filmed, or Bolton’s Town Hall steps which starred in a Warburton’s advert alongside Sylvester Stallone. The list is truly endless and with Bolton being recognised for its on-location perks, it’s sure to welcome even more productions in the coming years, so see if you recognise anywhere in the town centre whilst you wander round.
11. Have a pint at Bank Top Brewery
A real Bolton gem, Bank Top Brewery is the best place for a proper pint, brewed in their location in the north of the town. Bolton’s oldest and most acclaimed brewery, Bank Top takes pride in making fine ale in a traditional manner with great customer service, with the option to enjoy a pint on site, or take a crate of 12 bottles home with you to drink at your leisure. Core beers include Golden Ale Flat Cap, Best Bitter Bad to the Bone and Pavilion Pale Ale, with seasonal, heritage, charitable and lunar beers all available at different times of year. The Tap and Ale House both boast background music and beer gardens with heated areas for beer enthusiasts, providing a modern take on the classic pub. In addition to cask ale, each pub offers traditional ciders, draught continental lagers, an extensive wine list, a large selection of international bottled beers and numerous gins and spirits, making it a wonderful end to the day.
Bank Top Tap, 68-70 Belmont Road, Astley Bridge, Bolton, BL1 7AN. | The Ale House, 36 Church Street, Horwich, Bolton, BL6 6AD.