Since moving from Dublin to Tunbridge Wells in 2007, I have grown to love the place I live in and count my lucky stars that I am bringing up my little family in such a beautiful part of the UK. Here are five reasons why I think Tunbridge Wells is such a terrific place to live in:
#1 The Pantiles
For me, The Pantiles is the heart of the town. It was one of the first places I visited when we were thinking about moving here and it’s somewhere I always take my friends and family to when they come to stay.
There is a distinctly European feel to The Pantiles and there’s no better place to be when the sun is shining, than relaxing on the terrace of one of the cheerful cafes, glass of Prosecco (!!) in hand, catching up with friends.
For a decadent evening, The Eating House at the Tunbridge Wells Hotel is a real treat along with Sankey’s Champagne & Seafood Bar. Zapatas Mexican Restaurant (now closed) is a fun place to go – I have been there for a 30th birthday party, hen party and a get-together with my friends. As a couple, we used to wander down to The Pantiles from our little flat for a drink or a meal in many of the places there – the Ragged Trousers was one of our favourites for its chilled out atmosphere, though I haven’t been there for a while…
A visit to Trevor Mottram is essential for any first-time visit too. It’s a treasure trove with everything anyone could need for their kitchen. Whenever I take friends or family there, they almost always leave with something to remind them of their visit to Royal Tunbridge Wells!
#2 The Cafe Culture
There are some real gems spread across the town, whether you have a free afternoon, need somewhere with wi-fi to work or are venturing into town with the kids.
Juliets is hands-down my favourite café when I am dining without the children. With it’s mismatched china, delicious selection of wholesome food and cakes and a distinctly vintage vibe, Juliets ticks all of the boxes for me. I had a lunch with my sister-in-laws there and had an important ‘wedding planning session’ with my bridesmaid more recently where she treated us to a couple of much needed raspberry bellinis!
Sometimes I like to work remotely and find Fenwick Café really good for this. There’s plenty of space, a steady stream of customers (but not overly busy) and good wi-fi there. Other favourites include Black Dog Café (on Camden Road) for its flat whites and Basil Café for its amazing cakes and super selection of salads.
#3 Parks & Walks
Tunbridge Wells has such a great choice of parks, many of which have playgrounds and cafes. We often visit Dunorlan Park which is relaxing as it’s a ‘shortish’ walk with plenty to keep us all occupied. Harry learned how to use his scooter there, though there were a few near misses with the lake! In summer, you can hire a boat and enjoy the natural playground, though it does get a bit muddy in winter! The café there isn’t particularly fancy but it’s really good value and has a pretty view over the park.
Calverley Grounds in the centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells is the perfect place to visit on a sunny afternoon. There isn’t a playground there at the moment, but the Calverley Adventure Grounds team is fundraising to build one which should, fingers crossed, happen soon. The Tunbridge Wells Ice Rink is a must-do activity here in Winter – there are special toddler sessions in the mornings which we really enjoyed taking Harry to in the lead up to Christmas.
The recently renovated Grosvenor & Hilbert Park has some fantastic facilities including a new playground, cafe (The Hub) and a skate park for the older kids. They host regular events there too, many of which are free and there is free parking around there too, which is always a bonus in my opinion.
On a Sunday, we often like going on a family walk – Birchen Wood is immersed in woodland and an interesting place to go in both Summer and Winter as the path is pretty smooth. The Ashdown Forest is just a short drive away and I think it’s fantastic to have the heart of Winnie-the-Pooh land almost on our doorstep. Last year we visited Pooh Corner Shop and Tearooms (where A.A Milne used to visit as a child) before going on a stroll to find Pooh Sticks Bridge. It’s somewhere I know we will visit over the years and take family to when they come to stay.
#4 Country Houses and Estates
Tunbridge Wells and surrounding areas have an abundance of beautiful country estates and houses. It’s so difficult to choose which ones I like the best! We have a season ticket for Penshurst Place – this entitles us (two adults) and two children under 5 years old to unlimited entry to the gardens and playground for just £48 for the year. The adventure playground there is awesome and when the weather is good, we go there at least once a week. They also have a toddler friendly woodland trail and a maze maize in summer which normally follows a different theme each year. The boys like feeding the chickens while there and during school holidays there are often craft-related events taking place which are definitely worth going to as well.
Hever Castle is an absolute favourite too – known for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, it is steeped in history and has so many things for visitors to do – including a tour of the castle (has to be done!), a trip to the adventure playground, a splash-about in the water maize or getting lost in the yew maize – been there, done that! There is a packed schedule of activities taking place at Hever Castle throughout the year – I have really fond memories of visiting Hever at both Christmas and Easter and it’s something we will do for many years to come.
There is a huge number of National Trust properties nearby and I have taken my Mum to Ightham Mote, Chartwell, Emmett’s Garden, Bodiam Castle and Knole Park so far. They are so beautifully maintained and full of history and they do often host activities for families in the holidays.
#5 Family friendly activities
Now where do I start with this? I think Tunbridge Wells and the sunny South-East has an amazing amount of activities to keep a growing family entertained. Not only is there an excellent choice of parks and playgrounds, there are super sports facilities and lots of free family events at places including The Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery, Grosvenor & Hilbert Park, The Tunbridge Wells Library and Royal Victoria Place.
Family days out which we have loved include a Day out with Thomas on the Spa Valley Railway, Diggerland near Maidstone, Pepenbury, Wilderness Woods, the Stick Man trail at Bedgebury, Bewl Water and a trip to Godstone Farm. Slightly further afield, we have Port Lympne, Drusillas and The Rare Breeds Centre to name a few.
Family days out to Brighton and other coastal towns including Hastings and Margate are easily done and if you fancy a country pub lunch, there are plenty of pubs with play areas too. One of our favourites is The Vineyard in Lamberhurst where they have an outdoor bar and grill and seating in the summer and an enclosed play area for the kids.
There are some good indoor options as well including Odeon Tunbridge Wells and of course Hollywood Bowl. We also have annual membership for Minor Mania which has been a life-saver on cold and rainy afternoons!
With thanks to Clare Lush for our first Visit Tunbridge Wells Blog! Look out for the next one in 2 weeks time.