4:57 PM September 16, 2022
17:00 September 16, 2022
Once a seaside resort frequented by the aristocracy, Kent’s only spa town is one of our favourites. With great places to eat and drink, and a focus on families and culture, let’s take a look around
Known for its Georgian architecture, foodie scene and an array of attractions from the Spa Valley Heritage Railway to the famous Dunorlan Park boating lake, Royal Tunbridge Wells is a great place for a day out. Just on the Sussex border and surrounded by countryside, it’s a place that mixes the best of country living with everything you could need in a big city.
Formed only in the 17th century, the somewhat confusing name of Tunbridge Wells was the result of a natural spring found not far from the ancient town of Tonbridge. Big news at that time, a small settlement was built around it and gradually grew into the distinct community we see today. Literally built as a playground for the wealthy, it has long been considered an affluent town with a reputation for being a bit stuffy, which it manages to shake off. In fact, Tunbridge Wells is a fun, family-friendly place to visit, with plenty to see and do.
Things to do
1 Explore the tiles
Thanks to the Chalybeate spring discovered here, Tunbridge Wells’ first settlement was around the area we now know as The Pantiles. With inns and gambling dens sprouting up around it, it was the first street in what was to become a town. Initially, visitors flocked to the bathhouse, where they could soak up the beneficial properties of the iron-rich waters, but over the years it’s been less about the spring and more about the scenic promenade itself. The historic heart of this city, the pedestrian colonnade is now full of restaurants, bars, pubs and shops – with a real focus on outdoor café culture. Live music in the summer, along with regular markets, food and drink festivals and Christmas events, make it just as relevant today as it was in the 1700s.
2 Play in a park
As it was developed relatively recently, the design of this city has been given a lot of thought. With much of it designed by architects like Decimus Burton, who often designed developments around shared green space, public parks were a high priority. In creating a fashionable country town, planners used places like Tunbridge Wells Common, Calverley Grounds, The Grove and Grosvenor & Hilbert Park to give everyone access to the great outdoors. Joined by Dunorlan Park, once the private grounds of a stately home but now a huge park, all mean you’re never far from somewhere to get some fresh air in Tunbridge Wells. There are excellent dog walks on the Common and in Dunorlan, while Grosvenor & Hilbert has one of the best children’s play areas.
3 Discover the Amelia
There is something new in Tunbridge Wells. After years of planning and construction delays, the new cultural center – with the municipal library, adult education center, museum and tourist information center under one roof – has finally opened its doors. Right in the city center, a monumental effort has been made to bridge the gap between the old museum and the old adult education center, both listed, with the giant new architectural atrium. The result is the Amelia Scott Building, known as Amelia. Named after a local social reformer and suffragist, it is now fully operational and comes highly recommended. Once you’ve browsed the art gallery and museum exhibits, stop by the Fine Grind cafe for a cup of coffee and a sandwich in the courtyard.
4 Attend an event
Culture vultures are unlikely to be bored in this city, with two theaters (Trinity Arts Center and the larger public Assembly Hall Theatre) and The Forum, an award-winning concert venue. Plus, there are all kinds of fun events throughout the year. Summer sees the local and live music festival at Calverley Grounds and there is an alternative music festival called Unfest held across the town earlier in the year, as well as the biannual Tunbridge Wells Puppet Festival and the Multicultural Tunbridge Wells Mela. In recent years, celebrity chefs and big-name music groups have invaded the town for Tom Kerridge’s Pub In The Park festival in July, and every Christmas sees Calverley Grounds transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with ice skating, mulled wine and seasonal stalls. .
Unusually, this town is spread over two areas, separated by the steep Mount Pleasant road. The older part, known as ‘the village’, is at the bottom of the hill, with the railway station, the old High Street and The Pantiles, while the newer upper part includes the shopping district, the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre, the Assembly Hall Theater and the more bohemian area of Camden Road.
A foodie town with great places to eat at either end, the choices are pretty much limitless. Try pubs like Frampton’s, Sankey’s and The Duke of York, and restaurants like Hattusa, Kiko, The Lyle, Kai’s Kitchen, The Old Fishmarket and The Warren. Cafes abound too, with Casa da Claudia, Juliet’s and Fine Grind among our favourites. New faces on the scene include Roddy Burger, The Hidden Well and Kumquat Café, while celebrity chef Atul Kochhar’s highly anticipated new restaurant, Riwaz, has yet to launch on The Pantiles at the time of writing. And as you might expect, fine dining is also big business here – try Tallow, Thackeray’s, The Ivy, The Beacon and Hotel du Vin.
If your visit has you thinking about moving here, you’re not alone. Attracting commuters with its fast 45-minute train journey to London, and with good schools and amenities appealing to young families, it has one of the healthiest property markets in the county. In one of our most expensive areas, you can expect prices to start at around £170,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, with two-bed terraced houses from £300,000 and semi-detached houses. -three-bed finishes from around £390,000. At the higher end of the market you will currently see properties up to £5m.