Just one hour from London, Tunbridge Wells is a mini-break fit for Royals and has been for over 400 years! The buzz of the town and surrounding undulating countryside are a welcome, and luxury, break whatever the size of your purse.
“It’s like being abroad”; “Can we stay another night?” – real comments from visitors.
This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) epitomises a perfectly complemented town and country holiday to get away from the every day.
Day one – Tour of a Royal Town
After a delicious, leisurely English breakfast at your hotel or B&B, stroll to the famous Pantiles and visit the Tourist Information Centre to pick up your copy of the Heritage Walking Trail guide. The guide provides details of two trails around the historic heart of the town, a long route of approximately two hours and a shorter route that takes one hour.
The leaflet will guide you around the town, providing some history about important buildings, locations and information about the endeavours and achievements of some of the former residents whose lives are celebrated on the maroon plaques that are dispersed throughout the town.
One of the must-sees is the Church of King Charles the Martyr. This Grade I listed building is one of the finest examples of early English Baroque architecture (open Monday – Saturday 11.00am to 3.00pm). The Church is a rare example of English 17th-century church building as most churches of this era in England were destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Admire the magnificent ceiling that is garlanded with cherubs’ heads, palms and fruit. This outstanding work of art was created by craftsmen who worked for Sir Christopher Wren. Don’t miss the stained glass East Window by Heaton, Butler & Bayne and the north gallery where a young Princess Victoria sat when visiting the Church.
If you are in the town on a Thursday or Saturday morning you must join one of our friendly Blue Badge Guides on a tour who will regale you with the history, architecture and colourful characters who played a prominent part in the story of the development of this famous Spa Town. This circular walk concludes with your chance to sample the town’s famous natural spa waters.
Lunch in Royal Tunbridge Wells
Time for further rejuvenation with lunch. Tunbridge Wells is a foodie heaven, with plenty of independent cafés. There is a strong emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, catering to every taste and budget. Here are a few suggestions to tempt the taste buds:
– Juliets on the High Street – a “delicious selection of sandwiches, hot dishes and cakes”, including gluten free options;
– Javabean Café is also on the High Street – a “great offering of light lunches with excellent coffee”;
– Casa Da Claudia in Castle Street, – “very tasty freshly prepared food, lovely menu. Daily specials offer good variety”;
Now fully replenished off we go!
Take the Train for a Steamy Romance
Head down the High Street and through the Pantiles to the Spa Valley Railway, the heritage railway with “A Destination at Every Station!”
Take a vintage diesel or steam train through the glorious Wealden countryside to Groombridge Place. The High Rocks National Monument is en-route and has its own station. Alight at High Rocks station for a wonderful country walk.
Otherwise, remain aboard to continue to the tiny historic village of Groombridge and the award winning gardens at Groombridge Place. The Enchanted Forest there will keep the kids, big and small, entertained during any season of the year.
Another post-lunch option is to shop the unique boutiques in the town. From the Pantiles to Camden Road there are plenty of browsable shops here, including Mink Interiors on the Pantiles and Catherine Hills Jewellery, maker of the jewellery for the Harry Potter films. While browsing you can observe Catherine at work crafting her distinctive pieces.
Trevor Mottram will cater to all your cookware requirements. For more sparkle head to Thurlwells and Peter Jenner, in the original beautiful Musik Gallery building.
In Chapel Place and on the High Street you are spoilt for choice with a host of independent shops selling everything from original clothes, gorgeous jewellery and stunning art work.
Shopping opportunities include G Collins and Sons, personal jeweller to the Queen of England, dress designer Caroline Charles OBE whose clients include a host of celebrities, royalty among them (Lady Diana), as well as music kings and queens such as Mick Jagger and Lulu. Bod & Ted specialise in ladies designer collections to suit women for any occasion, with a personal service.
There are more gorgeous stores on Mount Pleasant including Biggie Best (interiors), Jigsaw (ladies clothes), Russell and Bromley (shoes) and Hoopers department store – home to high end fashion designers including Michael Kors, Kurt Geiger, Jaeger, Armani and Ralph Lauren to name a few.
Along the balconied Monson Road, Saltmarsh is available for all your artistic needs including oils, watercolours, pencils and so much more, Jeremy’s Home Store, an “Aladdin’s Cave” of cute and practical products for the home and kids parties.
If you are after something more unusual head for Camden Road with its eclectic array of quirky shops. You will find herbal remedies, the latest high speed bikes at Wildside and the World of Sewing has the largest range of sewing accoutrements in the South East. If they haven’t got it you don’t need it!
Royal Victoria Place, the undercover town centre shopping mall, is home to Fenwick department store, Marks and Spencer, French Connection, Top Shop, Monsoon, Superdry and many other favourites.
Time for an aperitif?
Nestling between the Pantiles and the High Street, Chapel Place is the location of the Chapel Place Bar, home of the perfect gin and tonic. This small but stylish gin bar is a great place to chill, relax and unwind. Choose from over 40 different gins including two that are made locally. ‘Bathtub’ is bursting with the flavours of juniper, cardamom and fresh citrus and ‘1606’ which is distilled using Chalybeate Spring water.
Dine with the locals
There is a vibrant gastronomic scene in Tunbridge Wells; the culinary range on offer is second to none including French, Italian, Spanish, vegetarian, Turkish, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Asian and Nepalese cuisine to choose from:
– The Warren is situated at the top of the High Street. The friendly team have created a restaurant focussed on game and an atmosphere that’s conducive to a more leisurely and family orientated experience;
– Mount Edgcumbe on the Common – where the heart of the town meets the heart of the country. This stylish gastro pub comes complete with its own cave and roaring log fire for those cooler evenings. The menu changes seasonally from fresh summer dishes to wholesome, comfort food in the Winter;
– The Ivy on the High Street – the decor is in keeping with The Ivy in London and there is a bar area to enjoy a cocktail as your peruse the menu. With impeccable service the classic British dishes are served in a laid-back atmosphere.
Day Two – Get Outta Town!
Royal Tunbridge Wells is a fascinating town to explore at any time of the year, whether on a warm spring day or a crisp autumnal day walking through the leaves.
There are a large number of parks scattered around the town, Calverley Grounds is located in the town centre. The park is tranquil and peaceful, a great place to relax with lawns and ornamental flower gardens, a natural play area for children, tennis and basketball courts and café. There are various events in the summer and an ice rink in winter. The park is popular with visitors and locals looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of the town.
A true haven for local wildlife, the nearby Grosvenor and Hilbert Park is a great place for nature lovers. The nature reserve provides a habitat to an abundance of wildlife and a pond which is home to ducks, moorhens and a kingfisher. Children will enjoy spending time at the large children’s play area.
A short distance from the town centre is the historic Dunorlan Park, originally the gardens of a grand mansion. The seventy-eight acres of landscaped grounds were created by the renowned Victorian gardener, Robert Marnock. Original 19th century features include the lake where boat hire is available in the summer, the Water Fountain, the Cascade (a mini waterfall) and Grecian temple. The playground will provide plenty of entertainment for younger kids, while there’s more than enough space to kick a ball around.
Centrally located Tunbridge Wells Common is the green heart of the town, with 104 hectares of free, open, green space to walk, play, picnic or simply watch the world go by. To help you explore pick up a walking trail leaflet from the Tourist Information Centre. All the main paths are marked on the map so it is easy to combine routes or create your own.
After all that fresh air and exercise, you’ll have worked up an appetite so here are a few more ideas for a light lunch in Royal Tunbridge Wells:
– Rustic Café, Crescent Road – “a real little gem just off the main shopping area. The food is delicious, freshly made”;
– Basil in Lime Hill Road – “their delicious salads, quiches and frittatas just hit the spot every time”;
– Black Dog, Camden Road – “the food was absolutely delicious and the portion sizes were ideal, not too big, not too small”;
– Plant Base, Camden Road – a vegan’s delight including delicious cheese–cake (yes cake with cheese for vegans!). “We are not Vegan or veggie but we love the food here. It’s so interesting and fresh.”
Having recharged the batteries, take an easy drive by car or take the bus to Penshurst Place and Gardens.
Out and About in the Country
Penshurst Place is one of England’s oldest family homes, the medieval manor house and estate has been owned by the Sidney family since 1552. It passed through the hands of two of Henry IV’s sons before it became the property of Henry VIII who used it as a hunting lodge.
Henry VIII gave it to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement. Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, gave the estate to his steward and tutor, Sir William Sidney.
In 1599, Queen Elizabeth I visited Penshurst Place for the first time.
The current owner Philip Sidney, 2nd Viscount De L’Isle MBE, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Kent, inherited the estate in 1991.
The Gardens at Penshurst Place are among the oldest in private ownership. They were first laid out in the 14th century and cover eleven acres of individual rooms to provide a succession of colour and interest throughout the seasons.
Venture into the historic parkland and you will be rewarded with a landscape that has hardly changed for hundreds of years flaunting manicured trees, topiary hedges and neat as a button flowerbeds as well as a mix of wildlife and habitats. There are two walking trails across the estate, call into the gift shop to purchase details of the Parkland and the Riverside Walks.
You can enjoy a light lunch or afternoon tea in the Garden Restaurant or The Porcupine Pantry.
On your return to Royal Tunbridge Wells enjoy a glass of some the very best wines from around the world, quality beers and spirits, or a cocktail at the Townhouse Wine and Tapas Bar on Calverley Road.
For dinner, try one of these restaurants:
– Thackeray’s in London Road – this fine dining restaurant offers modern French cuisine accompanied by meticulous presentation and service. Spend a little more for a five star memorable meal;
– Vittle and Swig, Camden Road – this restaurant and bar is perfect for relaxed drinking and dining from a menu offering contemporary British Cuisine;
– The Barn, Lonsdale Gardens, just off Mount Pleasant – excellent food and drink at great value prices, combined with ‘the barn’ character and informal atmosphere, it’s a place to chill out with friends and family. This venue has been run by the same family for more than 25 years and hosts weddings too.
Alternatively go out, be adventurous and find your own special place. There is a vast array to choose from!
Where to stay
There is no need to rush home as Royal Tunbridge Wells has a good choice of stylish and comfortable hotels and bed and breakfast options. Whether you are splashing out for a special treat or travelling on a tight budget there’s a cosy bed waiting for you!
Check out our accommodation to decide which one is the right one.
For all your holiday requirements and further details please contact the staff at the Tourist Information Centre who is only too happy to help. For a quick preview of the area have a look at the maps and guides.
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