Things to do in Guildford - where to eat, shop and visit
- Credit: Various
Surrey’s county town, Guildford is a great place to visit at any time of year, but especially now, when its beautiful cobbled high street is lit up for Christmas…
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2014
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A potted history…
Seated firmly in the North Downs gap, and with the River Wey running through the middle of the town, Guildford has been an important place in Surrey for hundreds of years, becoming a centre for commerce as early as the mid 17th century.
Add to this the fact that, give or take a few miles, the town lies midway between London and Portsmouth – a strategic route for traders, businesspeople and holiday makers for centuries – and you can see why it has become such a focal point for our county.
As befitting a town of its stature, several important buildings lie dotted around.
The castle, believed to have been built just after the Norman conquest of 1066, lies to the west. Built of local Bargate stone it has, during its life, been used for royal apartments, HQ of the sheriff and even the county gaol for Surrey and Sussex.
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The Guildhall in the High Street, built in the 1300s and extended in the 16th century, was formerly the courtroom and Council Chamber and still serves many civic functions.
More recently, the striking red-brick cathedral was added to the town, opened by the Queen in 1961. Currently the focus of a big campaign to raise money for essential repairs, the cathedral is hosting a whole range of fund-raising events at the moment (see guildford-cathedral.org).
Today, many innovative businesses have made Guildford their home with the nearby Surrey Research Park being at the cutting edge with medical services, satellite technology and gaming companies.
On top of that, there’s also the university too – which recently achieved an eleventh place ranking in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2015 league table.
As a centre for the arts, Guildford also boasts the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, The Electric Theatre, G Live, The Odeon Cinema, The Boileroom and the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM).
And then there’s all that fabulous shopping too (read more about all that above and below right...).
Did you know…?
Author Lewis Carroll, who penned the much- loved children’s classic Alice in Wonderland, has long been associated with the town. Although not actually a resident of Guildford, he owned a house near the castle grounds where his six unmarried sisters lived. What is more, next year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of the sequel, Through the Looking Glass, so look out for all sorts of commemorative events coming up, which we’ll be covering in the pages of Surrey Life.
Food and drink
When it comes to having a coffee or getting a bite to eat in Guildford, there’s a great range of independent cafés and restaurants, and some good pubs.
There are far too many to list them all here (click here for some more recommended Guildford restaurants), but an enduring favourite is Olivo, a lovely family-run Italian restaurant at 53 Quarry Street (tel 01483 303535). A winner in Experience Guildford’s recent awards, they offer classic Italian cuisine with Chef Specials, a set menu for lunch and evening à la carte. Pansotti al Sugo di Noci anyone?
Last but not least, there’s also Coffee Culture at 2 Angel Gate (tel 01483 564200) – an independent coffee shop owned by husband and wife team Will and Clare Gill. Precision roasted coffee, handmade paninis, bagels and more give this place a unique buzz. Oh, and there is wifi and daily newspapers too.
Loads of independents and several large chain stores mean you will be dizzy with the choice of where to swipe that credit card.
If you love music (and who doesn’t?), pop into Ben’s Collectors Records at 5 Tunsgate (tel 01483 301165). This wonderful treasure trove of vinyl and CDs
is run by Ben Darnton, who seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge not just of the music industry but also Guildford as well.
Fancy a bit of pampering in-between all that Christmas shopping? Well, head to Champneys, at 194 High Street (tel 01483 455850), where at their Day Spa you can de-stress and indulge a little with a pedicure, a manicure or even a St Tropez tanning treatment.
While we’re on the subject of looking good, tucked away at 22 Chapel Street (just off the High Street), there is a specialist running shop called Fitstuff (tel 01483 533133). Offering everything for the serious runner, they can even give you a free “video gait analysis” to ensure you buy the right running shoes for your style. Did you know, running one mile means your feet hit the ground 1,600 times?!
Finally, we couldn’t finish without mentioning the fantastic furniture showroom of the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice at Tunsgate (tel 01252 719917), where you never know what second-hand gems you’ll find – and where their scented candles come highly recommended.
My favourite Guildford...
As a relative newcomer to Guildford, Matthew Milliken, general manager of the four-star Mandolay Hotel, has enjoyed exploring his beautiful adopted town. Here, he reveals five of his favourite things to do there…
1. Shopping… The House of Fraser is heaven for a committed shopaholic like myself; there’s always something to tempt me. It’s a proper traditional department store and I love the place.
2. Rumwong is one of the finest Thai restaurants I have ever eaten in – a real experience with exceptional levels of service and superb, authentic Thai cuisine.
3. G Live has been a tremendous addition to Guildford. I have attended a number of shows and concerts there and I have never been disappointed with the quality or the variety on offer.
4. I may be biased, but my ideal afternoon treat is tea at The Mandolay. I have a real weakness for pastries and our chef makes all ours fresh every day. It’s easy to see why he has won so many awards.
5. Time to walk off a few calories, and I love a stroll through Stoke Park, a real local treasure. As it’s just a couple of hundred metres from the hotel, it is ideal for a lunchtime escape.
• For more on The Mandolay Hotel, see their website at guildford.com
Trains from London Waterloo run through Guildford frequently and the whole area is served by a huge network of buses. There are also numerous car parks, but beware – it does get very busy especially during the Christmas season and it would be wise to use one of the three Park and Ride services. They are situated at the Spectrum Leisure complex on Parkway (sat-nav GU1 1UP), Artington, Portsmouth Road (GU3 1LP) and Merrow, A25 (GU4 7AA). Services operate every 12 minutes until 7.30pm then every 20 minutes. Check out the details online at guildford.gov.uk/parkandride.