10 good reasons to visit Tunbridge Wells

Cafe culture in Tunbridge Wells

Cafe culture in Tunbridge Wells - Credit: Archant

This elegant spa town is a mecca for those in search of history, open spaces and fabulous food and shopping choices

1 The Pantiles

This spa town grew around a spring discovered in the early 17th century and today you can still see it bubbling up on The Pantiles. No visit to the town is complete without a walk along this pretty colonnade, but what the postcards can’t show is how the reinvigorated area has become a trendy, modern shopping and eating destination. Try coffee and exquisite cakes at Rosemary Shrager’s Patisserie (01892 548358), lunch at the freshly refurbished Duke Of York gastro pub (01892 517619) or even treat yourself to oysters and champagne at Sankey’s Old Fishmarket (01892 511422).

2 Architectural gems

In 1826, the architect Decimus Burton was commissioned by the wealthy owner of Calverley Estate to “erect a number of edifices suitable to the reception of genteel families.” A perfect example of the resulting grandiose buildings, mainly built from local sandstone blocks, is now the Hotel du Vin (TN1 2LY). Look to Trinity Theatre, once Holy Trinity Church, and the private villas in Calverley Park for more fine examples.

3 Green spaces

Having been set up as a tourist town, Tunbridge Wells had several green spaces so the gentry could take in the country air. The 200-acre Common boasts some unique sandstone outcrops, including Wellington Rocks. Calverley Grounds is an oasis with ornamental gardens and a café, and The Grove is a small, shady park with a lovely children’s play area. Grosvenor and Hilbert Park has a vast play park, a lake and acres of parkland – and don’t miss vast Dunorlan Park. Once a private landscaped garden it has steep grassy slopes down to a boating lake.

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4 Theatre and arts

The town boasts not one but two excellent theatres. The art deco Assembly Hall Theatre (01892 530613, TN1 2LU) seats around 1,000 people and offers a range of live music, comedians, family shows and musicals throughout the year. February sees shows from Cirque Beserk, Noel Fielding and Fairport Convention. And combining an art gallery, café and a theatre, inside a Decimus Burton former church, Trinity Theatre (01892 678678, TN1 1JP) is a vibrant arts centre with 350 events a year.

5 Spa Valley Railway

On the outskirts of town is the old West Station. Closed to mainline passenger services since 1985, part of it has become a heritage railway line, using the old engine shed as a base. Today the Spa Valley Railway (01892 537715, TN2 5QY) carries visitors along its five-mile stretch, with stops at the High Rocks, Groombridge and Eridge. As popular with adults as children, it holds several special events throughout the year, including Santa Specials at Christmas, a summer gala and fish and chip supper trips.

6 Camden Road

Tunbridge Wells has long been a town of two halves, with great shops in the old ‘village’ area near The Pantiles and at the top of town in and around the Royal Victoria Place Shopping Centre. However, Camden Road, a bustling area with a real community feel and many independent retailers, is giving them a good run for their money. This part of Tunbridge Wells is quirky, vibrant and surprising. Try town-based farm shop Locality (01892 626632), toy collector’s heaven Cosmic Cartwheels, (07797 210531), quirky art gallery Bluemoon (01892 540100), family run Italian restaurant Il Vesuvio (01892 534420) or The Black Dog café (01892 549543).

7 Community events

Tunbridge Wells likes to celebrate and throughout the year there are events that bring the community together, including Tunbridge Wells Mela, a multi-cultural free festival of music, food and dance, and the fantastic Local & Live Music Festival, both held in Calverley Grounds. Many family events are held in Grosvenor and Hilbert Park and on The Pantiles, and there’s even an alternative annual music festival, Unfest.

8 Groombridge Place

Set in a beautiful village four miles from Tunbridge Wells, Groombridge Place (01892 861444, TN3 9QG) offers stunning gardens and an enchanted forest. The house is not open to the public but the formal gardens are a joy to explore and in the surrounding grounds there is plenty for the children, from woodland rope swings and zip wires, animals to visit and bird of prey displays to an adventure playground.

9 The Forum

The live music scene is booming and for more than 20 years The Forum (08712 777101, TN4 8YU) has been at its heart. Proud to be part of ‘the toilet circuit,’ it is one of the only live music venues that can claim to have once been just that – the building was originally a Victorian public toilet. The Forum has seen performances from acts that would go on to worldwide fame. Oasis, Coldplay, Ellie Goulding and Mumford & Sons performed here, just before they hit the big time. It’s tiny, with a capacity of around 230 people, but highly regarded and much loved by its many fans.

10 Pepenbury walk

If it’s a peaceful woodland walk away from the hustle and bustle of town you’re looking for, then head for nearby Pembury and Pepenbury (01892 822168, TN2 4QU) – a charity and residential care home for people with learning disabilities, based on a farm. For a small donation you can visit the animals cared for by residents, which include chickens, kune-kune pigs and donkeys, and enjoy the Bluebell Walk. At around a mile and a half long, through unspoilt woodland, it’s a pretty, peaceful route with a tea room at the end offering outside seating and a plant sales area. n

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