10 reasons you should visit Tunbridge Wells
- Credit: Archant
It’s a lovely family town, full of independent boutiques, restaurants and bars to keep everybody entertained. Tunbridge Wells has it all
1. The Pantiles
It’s the historic heart of Tunbridge Wells and, as the home of the natural spring discovered in 1606, it’s what gave the town its name and its fame. Little has changed in this pretty Georgian colonnade over the past 400 years and the bathhouse and well are still a feature – although drinking the murky, iron-rich water isn’t as fashionable as it once was. Over recent years the area has seen a boom and all sorts of exciting new independent shops, cafés and restaurants have opened alongside some old favourites. In the summer it’s the very definition of café culture as tables of diners spill into the outdoor space. Nominated by the community who love it, it recently reached the top three in the Great British High Street Awards.
2. The Forum
For more than 20 years The Forum, a former Victorian public toilet at the foot of the Common, has been bringing live music to the area. Run as a not-for-profit community venture by a group of local music fans, the 250-capacity venue welcomes not only touring acts but provides a vital place for homegrown talent to develop and shine. Acts who have passed through its doors have famously included Adele, Mumford and Sons and Coldplay. Five years ago it gained national fame when it was voted NME’s top small music venue and recent refurbishment efforts have meant improvements to the facilities without losing any of its rustic character. www.twforum.co.uk
3. Assembly Hall
If it’s traditional live entertainment you’re after, look no further than the Assembly Hall Theatre. A huge 1,000-seat venue built in 1939, it is the largest theatre in the area and hosts all kinds of musicals, dramas, comedy shows, dance and live music events. This February there is everything from a performance by legendary band Fairport Convention, celebrating its 50th anniversary (3 February), to the stage tour version of Sorry I Haven’t A Clue (26 February). www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk
4. Spa valley Railway
Based in the old Tunbridge Wells West station, the Spa Valley Railway runs vintage steam and diesel engines on a five-mile stretch of line between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge. Closed to mainline passengers since 1985, it was opened as an attraction in 1997 and now offers fun days out for train lovers of every age. With a stop at High Rocks and Groombridge, it’s easy to make a real day of it. www.spavalleyrailway.co.uk
5. Camden Road
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For something a bit different, take a stroll along the town’s eclectic and rather bohemian Camden Road. A buzzing blend of hairdressers, nail bars, tattoo shops, cafés and charity shops, life here feels very different from the stuffy reputation some people have attached to Tunbridge Wells. It’s a bit off the beaten track for tourists but highlights include the fabulous Locality farm shop, children’s shoe store Stampede and the wonderful new Vinyl Revolution record shop, as well as a huge choice of little independent cafés and restaurants.
6. Trinity Theatre
For even more culture, there’s yet another theatre in this lucky town. Trinity Arts Centre is a beautiful converted church which boasts a 350-seat auditorium, a café, bar and art gallery. Hosting plays and live music events, as well as regular comedy nights, it is also a boutique cinema with regular film screenings. This month sees a National Theatre live transmission of Amadeus (2 February) and a Trinity Theatre Club production of John Osbourne’s Look Back In Anger (28 February-4 March). www.trinitytheatre.net
7. Groombridge Place
A lovely family attraction with plenty to do for outdoorsy youngsters, Groombridge Place is very popular, particularly during school holidays. Although there is a moated manor house here, it isn’t open to the public and it’s the grounds – including acres of woodland, formal gardens and a vineyard – that are the attraction. As well as a café and gift shop, there is a fabulous children’s play area hidden in the woods, a boat to transport visitors along a small stretch of river and the site is home to a raptor centre, with regular flying displays. The entertainment here during school holidays, with roaming actors and hands-on crafts, is first class. www.groombridgeplace.com
8. Shop and eat
It’s a town of two halves, with the more historic Pantiles and old High Street at one end and the modern shopping area, Royal Victoria Place shopping centre and Camden Road at the other. Shops on The Pantiles to look out for include Trevor Mottram’s cookshop and Chegworth Valley farm shop, while great places to eat and drink include The Old Fishmarket, the Cake Shed and Woods. New restaurant Framptons has recently opened in the old Barclays bank building. Towards the station you’ll find gems like Chapel Place gin bar and Peter Speight’s butchers, as well as the new One Warwick Park hotel with its L’Amore restaurant. Up in Camden Road there are some great places to eat including the newly extended Bicycle Bakery, Gusta and Rendez Vous. Some of our favourite shops include Love Inc interiors and gift shop and Jeremy’s Home Store but there’s something here for everyone, including a huge Fenwick and Hooper’s department store opposite the station.
Tunbridge Wells is dotted with parks, some of the most popular including Dunorlan Park, with its slope down to a lake with rowing and pedal boats during the warmer months, and the small but perfectly formed Grove, with the rear of The Compasses pub opening directly out to it. Grosvenor and Hilbert Park has made great improvements, including a new play area and a café with community space. Trying to make similar alterations is Calverley Grounds, where residents and members of the park’s Friends group are working hard to raise the required funds. For a bit more wilderness on your walk, try Tunbridge Wells Common.
10. Penshurst Place
A short drive from Tunbridge Wells is the historic manor house Penshurst Place, which has dominated the pretty village of Penshurst for more than 650 years and was regularly visited by royals, including Henry VIII – who used it as a base while courting a young Anne Boleyn at nearby Hever. Visitors can view several rooms including the medieval Baron’s Hall and the Elizabethan Long Gallery. The grounds include one of the oldest private gardens in the country, and a superb adventure playground, www.penshurstplace.com