10 reasons to visit Tunbridge Wells

PUBLISHED: 10:24 18 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:24 18 February 2019

The Pantiles is the historic heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells (photo: Manu Palomeque)

The Pantiles is the historic heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Originally an elegant Georgian leisure resort, it remains one of our county’s best-regarded towns

1. Iconic Pantiles

The historic heart of Tunbridge Wells and the place that made it a popular leisure resort for Georgian and Victorian high society, The Pantiles is a pedestrianised colonnade of shops, pubs and eateries. Once famous for its iron-rich spring water and bath house, it’s now the area to head for if you love independent businesses. Vintage fairs, French markets, food festivals and live music are just some of the reasons to visit throughout the year.

Dunorlan Park has rolling views and a pretty boating lake (photo: Manu Palomeque)Dunorlan Park has rolling views and a pretty boating lake (photo: Manu Palomeque)

2. Open spaces

Deliberately planned with several large parks and open spaces, here you’re never far from the colour green. Among the main parks are Dunorlan – known for its rolling views and pretty boating lake – as well as Grosvenor and Hilbert Park and Calverley Grounds, both with excellent children’s play areas. Trails across Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons are popular with dog walkers and runners, and there’s enchanting Broadwater Forest to explore too.

The Grey Lady on The Pantiles hosts twice-weekly candlelit concertsThe Grey Lady on The Pantiles hosts twice-weekly candlelit concerts

3. Cultural fix

Quirky, much-loved Trinity Theatre is set in a converted church and has a 350-seat auditorium, a newly refurbished café and bar, and an art gallery. Offering comedy, live music, theatre and cinema nights, it’s even considering creating a viewing platform at the top of its clock tower. More traditional in its tastes, the biggest venue in town is the 1930s Assembly Hall Theatre. With a seating capacity of 1,000 people, it tends to attract larger touring shows and musicals.

Children love climbing over Wellington Rocks on Tunbridge Wells CommonChildren love climbing over Wellington Rocks on Tunbridge Wells Common

4. Live music scene

There’s also a vibrant local music scene here. Encouraged by the town’s very own grassroots music venue, The Forum, which celebrated its 25th anniversary two years ago, there are many local bands and solo artists. The twice-weekly Paul Dunton & Guests candlelit concerts at the Grey Lady on The Pantiles and monthly Local & Live Sessions at Trinity both showcase local talent. The biggest annual music events are Unfest, held at The Forum and other venues in May, and Local & Live Festival in August.

Don't miss the chance to ride on the the hidden-away Spa Valley RailwayDon't miss the chance to ride on the the hidden-away Spa Valley Railway

5. Retail therapy

At the bottom end of town is the historic High Street, Chapel Place and The Pantiles, filled with luxury boutiques and independents. Some of our favourites are Trevor Mottram’s kitchenware shop, Fromage & French, Kitch, Fairfax Gallery and Adrian Harrington Rare Books. At the top end of town is Royal Victoria Place Shopping Centre and Calverley Precinct, with all the big-name brands. Between the two is Mount Pleasant Road with gems like Hooper’s department store and Walsh Bros antique and vintage jewellery.

Thackeray’s esteemed restaurant occupies William Thackeray's former homeThackeray’s esteemed restaurant occupies William Thackeray's former home

6. Eating out

There are great places to eat and drink. A few favourites are: The Warren, The Old Fishmarket by Sankey’s, Vittle & Swig, Rendez-Vous, Kitsu, The Mount Edgcumbe, Thackeray’s and The Ivy. Have coffee and a snack at Casa da Claudia, The Black Dog, Juliet’s, The Plant Base, The Bicycle Bakery, Basil or Fine Grind. Drink at Fuggles, Sankey’s, The Bedford, Framptons, Chapel Place, The Ragged Trousers, The Pantiles Tap, The George or The Common Room.

The Forum is the town’s very own grassroots music venueThe Forum is the town’s very own grassroots music venue

7. Outdoors fun

Perfect for outdoorsy families and with acres of woodland, formal gardens and a vineyard, nearby Groombridge Place has superb children’s play areas, high ropes, animals and a boat to ferry you along a stretch of the narrow River Grom. There’s a café and a bird of prey centre on site too.

Trinity Theatre is set in a converted churchTrinity Theatre is set in a converted church

8. Heritage trains

Set in the old Tunbridge Wells West station, the Spa Valley Railway has been operating vintage steam and diesel engines since 1997. It runs from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge and back, with stops at the High Rocks (where you can explore the eponymous sandstone outcrops) and also Groombridge (see point seven).

9. Quality events

It’s an active community with lots going on. Look out for fairs, live music and food festivals on The Pantiles, as well as annual events like the Tunbridge Wells Winter Lantern Parade (on 9 February), which is returning bigger and better after a year off.

10. Historic home

Head to nearby Penshurst for one of our most fabulous stately homes. Penshurst Place is more than 650 years old and was used as a base by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Given to Sir William Sidney in 1552, it has remained in the family ever since. Explore Baron’s Hall, the Long Gallery, Tapestry Room and the Queen Elizabeth Room. There are stunning formal gardens, parkland, a woodland trail and a superb children’s adventure playground, as well as a café, restaurant and gift shop.

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