10 good reasons to visit Tunbridge Wells
PUBLISHED: 10:25 16 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:25 16 January 2016
Improvements to the A21 mean it's about to become even easier to spend a great day in this fine spa town
1 Heart of the town
Once famed for the water that flows from its Chalybeate Spring, The Pantiles is the heart of old Tunbridge Wells. A Georgian colonnade with some of the prettiest buildings in town, it is now a thriving collection of shops, pubs, cafés and restaurants. With a move toward more outside eating in recent years, the feel on a sunny day is of a continental café culture, helped by a programme of regular events and markets, www.pantilestraders.co.uk.
2 Fascinating architecture
Tunbridge Wells is known for its Georgian and Victorian architecture, with history loving tourists flocking to the ‘village’ area on the south side of town. Here places including the High Street, Chapel Place and The Pantiles are lined with lovely old shops, pubs and townhouses. Fine examples of the town’s architectural heritage can be found everywhere and even include a JD Wetherspoon’s pub inside the grand old Opera House. Renowned architect Decimus Burton (1800-1881) left the greatest mark on the town, designing dozens of impressive private homes, most notably in the Calverley Estate.
3 Non-stop shopping
A town of two halves, the more traditional shopping area is around The Pantiles, the High Street and Mount Pleasant Road, while the modern, big brand shops can mostly be found at the top end of the town. Calverley Precinct acts like a modern High Street, with Royal Victoria Place shopping centre (01892 514141) at its core. The shopping centre recently released exciting proposals for a new multi-screen cinema within its roof, as well as several new restaurants and bigger stores. In addition it hopes to create a new entrance at the eastern end of Calverley Road, connecting it to another of the town’s shopping areas, the vibrant and eclectic Camden Road.
4 Top places to eat
Tunbridge Wells is not short of excellent places to eat. Along with all the big names you would expect to see, you can find the highly-rated Kai’s Kitchen Thai café (01892 534497), The Old Fishmarket Oyster and Champagne bar (01892 511422) and Kitsu sushi restaurant (01892 515510). Thackeray’s (01892 511921) is multi-award winning and The Beacon (01892 511921), set high above the town with superb views, is under new ownership and fresh from a full refurbishment. Some of the most popular places to eat are the independent cafés and restaurants along Camden Road, including Il Vesuvio (01892 534420) Rendez-Vous (01892 525830) and Don Giovanni (01892 529442).
5 Woodland adventure
Groombridge Place is a wonderful local attraction, particularly for children with a love of the great outdoors. With a number of woodland walks through the ‘enchanted forest’, boat rides along a section of river, a great café and shop, as well as a birds of prey centre, children’s play area and pretty moated house surrounded by formal gardens, it offers a great family day out. Groombridge puts on special events all year and its themed school holiday entertainment days are a huge attraction for families trying to make the most of time together, www.groombridgeplace.com.
6 Arts and music
The town is lucky enough to boast one of the top small music venues in the country, The Forum (www.twforum.co.uk). Having been run by a group of friends and volunteers for more than 20 years, it has hosted band including Oasis and Mumford & Sons and is a exciting, intimate place to see up-and-coming bands. Nearby Trinity Arts Centre (www.trinitytheatre.net), housed in a converted Decimus Burton church, puts on more than 350 live music, dance, drama, comedy and film screening events each year and close by is the art deco Assembly Hall Theatre (www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk). Having been refurbished last year, it now has a sparkling new bar area, new seating and air conditioning.
7 Breath of fresh air
Wonderful green spaces dot the locallandscape. At Dunorlan Park, a 78-acre park a short walk from the town centre, visitors can walk around the lake, have a snack at the café, explore such places as the water cascades, the fountain and the Victoria Cross Grove and even take to the water from the boat hire centre. If that doesn’t appeal, you can explore the vast Tunbridge Wells Common, have a bite to eat at the café in Calverley Grounds or head to Grosvenor and Hilbert Park where a new children’s play area is open and a massive park refurbishment project is nearing completion.
8 Heritage railway
The Spa Valley Railway carries passengers along a five-mile stretch of line between the old engine shed of Tunbridge Wells West station and Eridge. Closed to mainline passenger services since 1985, it’s been used as a heritage railway line since 1997 and runs steam and diesel engines. Passengers have the option of getting off at the High Rocks, Groombridge or Eridge and the railway runs many popular events throughout the year, including Santa Specials at Christmas, murder mystery evenings and children’s events, details at www.spavalleyrailway.com.
9 Community events
Throughout the year there are many excellent events for the community to get involved with. In the summer months, Calverley Grounds hosts popular music festival Local & Live, as well as the Tunbridge Wells Mela, a festival celebrating world food, music and culture. There are great family fun days held at Grosvenor & Hilbert Park, a popular Food Festival on The Pantiles and The Forum organises alternative music festival Unfest. At Christmas, Calverley Grounds is transformed into a Christmas village with an outdoor ice skating rink and in January there is a Winter Lantern Festival which fills Camden Road with light and colour.
10 Historic Manor house
Set a little further from Tunbridge Wells, but well worth the drive, is Penshurst Place. For more than 650 years, this stunning fortified manor house has provided poetic inspiration and welcomed guests including Henry VIII – who even briefly owned it – and Elizabeth I. Today it is still the family home of Viscount De L’Isle but visitors can see some of the grandest parts of the house, including the Baron’s Hall. The jewel in the crown is the 11 acres of walled gardens and there is a wonderful children’s play area, a café, restaurant and gift shop, as well as a calendar of exciting events, see more at www.penshurstplace.com. w