Just 30 miles south of London, Royal Tunbridge Wells stands in the heart of the picturesque landscapes of the High Weald and offers the perfect UK weekend break for anyone looking to explore a charming corner of the country and feel the restorative powers of some glorious countryside. Well connected by road, and by train from the capital, it’s easy, convenient and really rather nice.
Royal thanks to a decree by Edward VII in 1909, for being a favourite haunt of his dear mama Queen Victoria, this Georgian spa town was once the destination for all the well-to-dos of the upper echelons of English society. Today, instead of straw bonnets and lace cravets, you’ll find a vibrant town, stuffed with cafes, bars and restaurants, plus a fine range of hotels, that is well-placed to explore the many treasures of the UK’s most south-easterly corner.
If you’re wondering how to spend your well earned weekend away in Royal Tunbridge Wells, how does this sound?
Morning: Whether you arrived in town last night, or you’ve just rolled in this morning, the first thing to do is have a stroll through the town and get your bearings. Leaving your hotel (the Tunbridge Wells Hotel on The Pantiles is a charming Georgian gem well-placed in the historic part of town) wander to the High Street, home to a range of both boutique and higher-end chain shops; have a poke around any that take your fancy, and have a linger around the windows of G.Collins and Sons jewellers to admire the sparkly treasures within. Make a stop at the fabulous Juliet’s for a coffee fix and, to save you some time arguing with yourself, yes, the slices of cake are very big, yes you should definitely have one, and no you won’t regret it.
Continue through Chapel Place (noting the gin bar for later) and down onto the Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells’ best known sight. A picturesque colonnade, this is the original part of the town which grew up around the chalybeate spring, the ‘well’ for which the town is named. This is where the hoi polloi of Georgian society came to ‘take the waters’ and promenade up and down ‘The Walks’ socialising and gossiping freely, a la Bridgerton. While you are still free to promenade and gossip, the Pantiles now is home to little local shops, cafes and restaurants, and on the first and third weekend of the month, a market that hosts lots of local businesses.
Lunch: Just across the road from the Pantiles you’ll find the common, a green and leafy expanse crisscrossed with paths to wander; make your way to Wellington Rocks, one of Tunbridge Wells’ many sandstone outcrops, which offers a nice place to sit or is fun to climb about on if you’re feeling energetic. Surprisingly peaceful, even though it’s in the centre of town, the common hides a treasure at its heart, the Mount Edgcumbe Bar and Brasserie. Sat prettily amongst the trees, inside there is a ‘cave’ and a roaring fire for winter sojourns, and plenty of outdoor seating for those warm, sunny days. Dine on delicious gastro-pub fare and enjoy a glass or pint of something local – Kent is well-known for both its beer and wine after all.
Afternoon: You could while the afternoon away in the Mount Edgcumbe, but if the Spa Valley Railway happens to be running this weekend then there are far worse ways to spend an afternoon than chugging through the countryside on a vintage train. Travelling from Tunbridge Wells West station, take the train out to gorgeous Groombridge and explore Groombridge Place with it’s 17th-century moated manor house and enchanted forest. There’s also a station at High Rocks, a national monument, which combines sandstone cliffs and woodland into a beautiful setting for a walk. Happily, there is also a pub with lovely views of said nature if you don’t fancy tramping through it.
Evening: After an active day, an aperitif is always in order, and Tunbridge Wells provides plenty of options. In The Wine Rooms on the Pantiles, even the snobbiest of wine snobs will have their palate satisfied by at least one of 350 wines from around the world, or if a refreshing g&t is more your style, the bijoux Chapel Place gin bar has over 120 varieties of the good stuff ready and waiting.
With your thirst quenched, it’s time to think about food, another area that Tunbridge Wells has well and truly covered. Sopranos on the High Street does delicious tapas if you’re still feeling full from your pub lunch, or for something thoroughly
local, The Warren, also on the High Street, uses produce from a nearby estate to create tasty plates served in its beautiful orangery dining room.
Post-feed, the town is your oyster. There’s the Wetherspoons housed in the magnificent old Opera House or Fuggles Beer Cafe, pubs with urban gardens for warm summer nights, cocktail bars and wine cellars.
There’s also fantastic music venues, like the Grey Lady or The Forum, once a public toilet, now a NME ‘Britain’s best small venue’. Enjoy!
Morning: If you can cope with a big hill, head up to the top of town to breakfast in Basil, where reviving coffee, refreshing smoothies and all sorts of delicious eats make it worth the walk. Around Tunbridge Wells is a wealth of beautiful countryside (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty actually) which is just crying out to be discovered. Hop in the car and go out for a scenic drive, heading 35 minutes east to Sissinghurst Castle Garden, a National Trust property (alternatively, take a Southeastern train to Staplehurst via Tonbridge and a taxi from there). The gardens here are world-renowned and a wonderful way to pass a few hours; the tower at its centre is utterly Instagrammable.
Lunch: Sissinghurst village is just a half mile stroll, or seconds in the car, and is home to the delightfully kitsch The Milk House, where you can sink your teeth into an array of pub classic dishes prepared with local produce.
Also close by is the charming town of Cranbrook. Take a walk down the lovely High Street where there are plenty of little shops to browse for souvenirs, pop into the little local museum and make a stop at the town’s iconic windmill. Keep an eye out for a cafe that appeals to your taste buds – there are many – and grab a bite to eat as you explore.
If a traditional rural pub is more your scene (think fireplaces and cosy nooks for the winter, refreshing local booze and outdoor seating for the summer) then you can’t go wrong with the Knoxbridge Inn and the Bell & Jorrocks. Both are located in the quaint and quintessentially English village of Frittenden; what better break from big city living? Just 10 minutes drive from Sissinghurst both have delicious dining options and local beer on tap. Best to have a pint in each, yes?
Afternoon: Return to Tunbridge Wells via the Hush Heath Estate and Balfour Winery. Situated in a gorgeous area of countryside, you can saunter around the vineyard on one of the self-guided walking tours passing endless vines, apple orchards and ancient woodland. Post-exploration, head to the tasting rooms where you can do a self-tutored tasting of the award-winning wines over a charcuterie board or simply sip on a single glass of something bubbly.
Both Cranbrook and Hush Heath can be reached from Tunbridge Wells by train, using a Southeastern service from Tunbridge Wells to Marden via Tonbridge. It’s then a 7 minute journey to the estate or 9 minutes to Cranbrook, both by taxi.
Make your way back to Tunbridge Wells, perhaps with a few bottles of Hush Heath’s finest clinking merrily in your bag. Consider grabbing a coffee and piece of cake for the road from one of the many cafes, and bid farewell to the town.
by NicciKimmelwrites, a local lady with excellent taste!