10 good reasons to visit Tunbridge Wells...
PUBLISHED: 12:46 28 September 2009 | UPDATED: 16:16 20 February 2013
Currently celebrating 100 years of gaining 'Royal' status, Tunbridge Wells' links with monarchy actually go back as far as 1629 and the town's historic charm still continues to attract thousands of visitors every year...
Springs and things
The Pantiles, to the south of the town, is an attractive colonnaded walkway where you will find many specialist stores, services, cafés and pubs. Its history lies in the discovery of the Chalybeate Spring in the 17th century. A taking of the 'health-giving' waters became popular with the gentry and members of the Royal family who visited the town. The waters have been served by a 'dipper' for the last 400 years. Customers are given the water free but tradition dictates you pay a small charge of 50p for the service.
Walk this way
Visitors can discover the colourful past surrounding Tunbridge Wells on an hour-long walk guided walking tour around the town (Mar-Dec). A blue badge guide will point out places of interest, giving details on famous visitors such as Queen Anne and Samuel Pepys. The £3.50 fee includes a drink from the Chalybeate Spring.
If you prefer doing your own thing you can use a Heritage Walking Trail leaflet from the Tourist Information Centre. It includes a map and gives details of around 40 places of interest.
Names and faces
The town's history can be seen in its mixture of Georgian and Victorian architecture. Many attractive period features and buildings remain and you can identify places of architectural interest and the well-known personalities who have visited or lived in the town through the use of claret-coloured commemorative plaques.
Plenty in store
There are several distinct but connected shopping areas that between them offer everything you could need for a spot of retail therapy. On the High Street you'll find designer clothing, jewellers, and interior specialists. Royal Victoria Place has more than 100 retailers under one roof and on the main roads, side streets and historic alleys that lead down to The Pantiles there is a diverse range of independent outlets. There are two regular Farmers' Markets, one held outside the town hall and one in The Pantiles, plus a A Craft Market on the first and third Sundays of the month.
Food and drink
There is a huge choice of places to eat in Tunbridge Wells, from pub grub and pavement cafés in the Pantiles to bistros and restaurants in the town itself, plus fine dining at places such as the Hotel du Vin, The Spa Hotel and Thackerays. Latest addition is the cowboy-themed Smith & Western down by the Old West Station, where you'll be served by cowboys and girls.
One of the biggest sporting events on the calendar is the annual cricket week in June at The Nevill Cricket Ground, when Kent County Cricket Club takes on a series of top-flight opponents. For amateur sportsmen and women you'll find clubs and venues for all the major sports, or try 10-pin bowling at Knights Park or rock climbing and skiing at the Bowles centre just outside of town. The Royal Tunbridge Wells Croquet Club has three full-size lawns in Calverley Grounds.
The Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery in the Civic Centre has dolls, toys and games, plus around 7,500 items of clothing and accessories from the 1700s to the present day. There is also the biggest collection in the world of Tunbridge Ware, the decorative marquetry woodware made in the area from 1600 to 1920, and more than 28,000 natural history specimens, many collected in Victorian times.
For another trip back in time, discover the Spa Valley Railway. Climb aboard an historic train at Old West Station and take the 3.5 mile journey through the Kent Weald countryside, stopping off at High Rocks before going on to Groombridge. Passengers can then take a short walk to visit Groombridge Place, one of the area's many historic houses and estates, before catching the train or taking the signposted public footpath back to Tunbridge Wells.
The Assembly Halls in the centre of town plays host to a variety of top acts from the world of entertainment. Just across the road, housed in a former church, is Trinity Theatre which offers dance, comedy and music as well as a diverse range of international performing arts, film and visual arts. For filmgoers, there is an Odeon cinema at Knights Park and Trinity also shows non-mainstream movies.
All that jazz
Tunbridge Wells has an enviable reputation for being a centre for live music. There are regular 'gigs' at the town theatres and in local pubs such as The Grey Lady. The 16 years-plus market is catered for by The Forum on Tunbridge Wells Common where there are live bands and comedy nights. Make a note in your diary for next August when The Pantiles will once again be hosting the annual 'Local & Live' free festival featuring 50 musical acts.