10 reasons you need to visit Tunbridge Wells

PUBLISHED: 11:51 20 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:51 20 February 2020

Part of the historic ‘village’ at the bottom end of town (photo: David Bartholomew)

Part of the historic ‘village’ at the bottom end of town (photo: David Bartholomew)

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Prepare for a heady mix of history, culture, great shopping and dining at this elegant spa town

1. Eat out and about

This historic spa town has a great range of places to eat and drink, with everything from a waffle house and coffee shops to sushi restaurants and fine dining. For a light bite try Juliet's, The Bicycle Bakery, The Plant Base, The Black Dog, Delaney's and Casa da Claudia. For drinks we like Sankey's, Chapel Place, The George, The Common Room, Fuggles Beer Café or Framptons. And dine out at places like The Ivy, The Warren, Thackeray's, The White Bear, The Mount Edgcumbe, Vittle & Swig, Zorba, Kitsu and Hattusa. The most interesting development in 2019 is the repurposing of Royal Victoria Place's Ely Court. The disused outdoor shopping area has been taken over by Central Market and now offers pop-up eateries and a large covered seating area.

2. Historic Pantiles

If you're sightseeing, this pretty pedestrianised shopping area in the old part of the town will be at the top of your list. The site of the natural spring from which 'the Wells' takes its name, The Pantiles has been the main attraction for centuries. Lined with historic buildings, there are pubs, bars, cafés, coffee shops and shops selling everything from art and wedding dresses to kitchenware and apparel for pampered pooches. The association of traders is very active and events are held here throughout the year, from Hug Many on New Year's Eve to food festivals, French markets and summer jazz evenings.

There's lots of much-needed change afoot at the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre at the top end of town (photo: Manu Palomeque)There's lots of much-needed change afoot at the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre at the top end of town (photo: Manu Palomeque)

3. Live music hub

The area has a vibrant live music scene and one of the UK's best small music venues. The Forum has been open since 1993 and has attracted some of the world's biggest bands. Dedicating as much time to supporting and showcasing local musical talent as it does the touring professionals, grassroots venues like this are vital for up-and-coming musicians. Elsewhere there are regular music nights at the Grey Lady on The Pantiles and in the cellar of The Sussex Arms pub. May brings alternative music festival Unfest and August bank holiday sees the town celebrate homegrown acts at the Local & Live Music Festival in Calverley Grounds.

4. Theatre choices

The small and quirky Trinity Theatre, set in a converted church, is an intimate space offering theatre, comedy, live music, an excellent annual Christmas musical, a digital cinema and a great café and art gallery. There are plans for a £1.5m renovation project to conserve the building's heritage and upgrade its facilities, including opening its church tower to the public and creating a viewing platform. Nearby, the Assembly Hall Theatre has been operating since 1939 and hosts a number of larger touring shows, music, comedy and an annual pantomime.

5. Heritage trains

The Spa Valley Railway, set in the old Tunbridge Wells West station, is packed with nostalgic charm. Running vintage steam and diesel engines on a previously disconnected stretch of track that once linked all the way through to Brighton, this is a real family favourite. Starting at either Eridge or Tunbridge Wells, choose to stop at the High Rocks or at Groombridge for a visit to Groombridge Place.

6. Mix of shops

Shopping in Tunbridge Wells is split into two main areas; the historic 'village' at the bottom end of town, including The Pantiles, Chapel Place and the High Street, and the more modern top end of town, including the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre. But explore the more bohemian offerings of Camden Road and Monson Road too. A few favourites include Walsh Bros vintage jewellery, Trevor Mottram's kitchenware shop, Hall's Bookshop and Adrian Harrington Rare Books, The Silver Sheep, Le Petit Jardin and Jeremy's Home Store.

7. Hit the rocks

The geology of this area is such that there are several natural sandstone outcrops in and around Tunbridge Wells. If you visit the Mount Edgcumbe pub restaurant, it's hard to miss one of them as it's practically in the pub garden; a short walk across the Common brings you to the Wellington Rocks, next to the cricket ground. In nearby Rusthall there is another outcrop opposite the Toad Rock Retreat pub, known as Toad Rock. Most impressively of all are the High Rocks out towards Groombridge. The Geological Site of Special Scientific Interest covers 3.2-hectares and features rocks interlinked with bridges in a stunning woodland setting.

8. Ancient estate

A short drive away, Penshurst village looks for all the world as though time stopped several hundred years ago. Here you'll find historic Penshurst Place, a manor house and estate frequented by both Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I when they visited Kent. Owned by the Sidney family since 1552, parts of the house go back more than 650 years.

With more rooms open to the public now than ever before, visitors can explore the impressive Baron's Hall, the Long Gallery and the Queen Elizabeth room, along with formal gardens, woodland and an excellent children's play area.

9. Green and pleasant

You're never far from the countryside in Tunbridge Wells, but just in case you need to escape into nature during your visit, there are plenty of parks and green spaces to seek out. Visit Calverley Grounds in the centre of town, with its award-winning children's play park, or Dunorlan Park with its sweeping views and popular boating lake.

Get involved with some of the community events held at the vast Grosvenor and Hilbert Park, or walk the dog on Tunbridge Wells Common. Just on the outskirts of the town is the Broadwater Forest, and within it the RSPB Broadwater Warren Nature Reserve.

10. Big events

There's always something exciting happening in Tunbridge Wells. The Pantiles has a range of fairs, festivals and live music nights throughout the year, and there's the Winter Lantern Parade happening at the top end of town this month (8 February). In the summer it's all about the Local & Live Music Festival held in Calverley Grounds and at The Forum, while the winter sees the arrival of the annual skating rink and festive market at Calverley Grounds over the Christmas period each year.

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