1. The Pantiles and the Chalybeate Spring
The first port of call for most visitors to Tunbridge Wells is a walk along the Pantiles.
This covered, colonnaded walkway is the perfect introduction to this historic town. The elite of Georgian society used to flock to Tunbridge Wells to escape London for a while, promenading along this elegant walkway. Since then, successive generations of visitors have done likewise.
Many of the buildings lining the walkway were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, adding to a feeling of a bygone time. Today, visitors can browse through the independent shops which line the Pantiles or relax in one of the bars, cafes, or restaurants.
Tunbridge Wells is the only spa town in southeast England. The spring water was the prime reason the town originally attracted visitors. The Chalybeate Spring is found at the northern end of the Pantiles, and you can still taste the water today at selected times of the year, served by a traditionally dressed ‘dipper’.
The Chalybeate Spring is free to view all year round. You can check in advance with the local tourist centre if you will be able to sample the spring water at the time of your visit.
2. Spa Valley Railway
Take another step back in time with the Spa Valley Railway heritage line and enjoy a steam or diesel-powered trip through five miles of beautiful countryside.
Starting at Tunbridge Wells West station, the journey travels as far as the village of Eridge where you can enjoy a walk and a bite to eat at the Huntsman pub.
As the train winds its way through this area of outstanding natural beauty there are a couple of stations along the route where you can alight. Groombridge station provides access to Groombridge Place and Enchanted Forest, a fun family destination, while the picturesque High Rocks station sits beneath the ancient sandstone rocks of the same name.
Check out the Spa Valley Railway calendar as there are plenty of events held throughout the season. Dining, real ale and cider trains, plus murder mystery evenings are a flavour of the popular events held. As are the theatre performances, with shows such as a Taste of Faulty Towers adapted from the West End for the trains.
The journey between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge takes around 30 minutes. A standard all-day adult ticket costs £15, while for seniors the cost is £14. Children between 2-15 years can travel on the train for £7.50. There is a family ticket available for £38 covering two adults and two children. It is always best to check the railway calendar and timetables in advance.
3. Dunorlan Park
This tranquil and popular park is located on the eastern edge of Tunbridge Wells.
Meadows, streams, ponds, terraces and a lake combine to make Dunorlan Park one of the treasures of the town. It offers a free day out for a family looking for an idyllic spot for a walk or a picnic.
The park used to form the private grounds of a mansion. The terrace sat just below the house and remains a lovely spot looking out over the surrounding countryside. The park stretches across 27 hectares. Stroll over the grasslands, admire the water garden and cascade, walk along the tree-lined avenue with its fountain, and relax by the lake and ponds.
You can hire boats from April through to the end of October on the lake. Anglers take note too, as you can fish on the lake between June and March providing you have a license. The stream which runs through the park forms a series of ponds, with two dipping platforms on the smaller pond near the playground.
Dunorlan Park is free to enter throughout the year from dawn to dusk. Four-seater rowing boats and pedalos cost £10 for half an hour, as do double kayaks. A single canoe costs £5 for a half hour on the lake. The park has a good value, family café that opens from 9 am to 5 pm every day.
4. Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery
Tunbridge Wells has a fascinating history, including the discovery of its natural spring and subsequent royal patronage.
The museum forms part of the Amelia, a cultural, heritage, learning and services hub located in the heart of Tunbridge Wells.
The origins of the collections found in the Amelia go back to 1885. The building houses around 60,000 pieces portraying the history and stories of Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area. Archaeology, art, social history, household items, toys and more are represented in the collections which you will find located around the Amelia.
There are frequent exhibitions and events staged at the Amelia. These can be far-ranging in theme, from the Cabaret Mechanical Marvels exhibition running between June and October, to Discover Days, a three-day creative puppet-making event in August that the kids will love.
The Amelia building is a great place for families to head to at any time and is certainly a good one for those rainy days when you are looking for indoor entertainment. The hub is free to enter and opens every day at 9 am except for Sunday when the doors open at 10 am. A family-run café called Fine Grind is also located within the Amelia.
Tunbridge Wells is a popular destination for shopping with a great mix of well-known branded stores and independent shops. The following are some of the top shopping spots in the town.
It is hard to deny that the Pantiles is the jewel in the Royal Tunbridge Wells shopping crown. The elegant walkway has an atmosphere and style of its own. As you stroll along you will find an excellent variety of independent stores. Pop into Trevor Mottram, a shop for all your cooking and kitchen needs, which has graced the Pantiles for nearly 40 years. Food and cake shops, jewellers, pet stores, household items and antiques all feature in the eclectic mix.
Royal Victoria Place
You will find over 90 of the most popular branded stores in the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre. Located on Victoria Road, the shops are spread across two levels. Among the brands found here are Lush, Marks and Spencer, JD Sports, Trespass, Next, Wilko, Monsoon and Oliver Bonas. Open every day of the week, there is also a selection of places to grab a bite to eat and drink.
The High Street
The high street in the historic quarter of Tunbridge Wells is also well worth a visit. A diverse range of independent and branded stores can be found here, as well as cafes and restaurants. This is an area full of character and charm and includes G.Collins and Sons, the Queen’s appointed jewellers.
6. Penshurst Place and Gardens
A short 7-mile hop from Tunbridge Wells is the spectacular Penshurst Place.
This historic house dates back to the 14thcentury and was once a hunting lodge used by King Henry VIII. You can visit the house and explore the 48 acres of grounds it is set within.
The house is filled with historically significant rooms. Queen Elizabeth I often visited Penshurst Place and you can see the room with its wonderful upholstered furniture where she would hold her audience during her stays. The Long Gallery, the West Solar, the Tapestry Room, and the Crypt are further must-see parts of the manor.
Head outside to the grounds which contain 11 acres of beautiful Grade 1 listed gardens. These gardens are split into different sections and feature their own planting styles. You can enjoy the different colours created through the seasons. Parklands, an arboretum and a lake make for idyllic walks.
A toy museum and an adventure playground will keep the children entertained too. The house is open from 10 am to 3.30 pm daily until 30th October. The grounds are accessible daily from 10 am to 5 pm until 30th October. Grounds and gardens only prices for adults are £11.50, with an extra £2 for entry to the house. Separate child and family ticket prices are also available.
7. Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk
You are spoiled for choice for walks when visiting Tunbridge Wells.
The surrounding High Weald area offers everything that is good about the English countryside. Plenty of marked paths, changing scenery and fascinating landmarks all make for great walking country.
The Tunbridge Wells circular walk takes you from the south of the town through an area of outstanding natural beauty. The whole loop is around 27 miles in length, but do not panic, there is no written rule stating you must complete the whole walk in one go.
The route of the circular walk takes you past many notable landmarks, including Groombridge Place which was used to film the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. You will walk past orchards and vineyards. You will see the stunning stained-glass windows of All Saints church in Tudeley.
The beauty of this walk is it also offers four shorter waymarked circular walks. Ranging from 8.5 miles to 15 miles, these walks provide good options for a single day’s walk in a gorgeous landscape. If you love walking, Tunbridge Wells is a good place to head.
8. Groombridge Place and Enchanted Forest
Groombridge Place provides an excellent family day out. There is so much to see and do here.
Set in the grounds of a moated manor, the formal gardens with their giant chess set are a great place to start. Look out for the peacocks and fallow deer as you start to roam further afield.
There are great wildlife spotting opportunities here. The bird of prey displays is a popular feature at Groombridge Place which has its own owl and raptor centre. During the main school holidays and at weekends you can enjoy a ride on the canal boat, costing £1.50 for adults and £1 for children.
The kids will love the enchanted forest. The zip wires and giant swings are a blast in themselves, but your children will also love exploring Crusoe’s World with its pirate ship, tepee village and fort. At the top of the forest is an impressive 750-meter-long raised boardwalk.
Groombridge Place and Enchanted Forest are open daily between 10 am and 5 pm. Admission is £12 for adults and £10 for children and seniors. There is a family ticket option for four people priced at £40. When it’s time for refreshments the Peacock café serves a range of food and drinks.
9. Food and Drink
Tunbridge Wells has a fine selection of restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars when it is time to refresh after a day exploring the spa town. The following are some noteworthy mentions.
Thackeray’s provides relaxed fine dining from its choice of menus. Located on London Road, two courses from the set lunch menu cost £26. Main courses on the a la carte menu start from £30, with the dry-aged dexter beef rib eye priced at £38. There is a meat-free menu where you could opt for the cauliflower kiev for £16.
The Duke of York
If you prefer a traditional pub the Duke of York could fit the bill. Situated on the Pantiles, the pub offers traditional pub food using locally sourced ingredients. The Chalcroft Farm beef burger from the main menu is priced at £14.25, with the southern fired plant-based burger costing £13.25. Lunch, Sunday and children’s menus are also available.
This little gem sees you eat while enjoying stunning country views. A former arts and crafts house, The Beacon has a restaurant and a garden bar. Two-course lunch in the restaurant costs £26, while a five-course dinner is priced at £55. Head into the garden bar and you can select from a menu including mains such as whole Kent coast mackerel with potato and watercress salad for £17.
This award-winning café serves an ever-changing menu using freshly sourced ingredients. Breakfast, brunch and lunch are catered for by this High Street café. Menus are set daily and include sandwiches if you fancy a lighter bite. Don’t forget to try the cakes. Juliet’s Café is open every day except Monday.
10. Hever Castle
Just 7.5 miles from Tunbridge Wells is Hever Castle, the ancestral home of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.
Parts of the stunning interior date back to the 13th century. As well as seeing Anne Boleyn’s childhood bedroom, you will visit the elegant drawing room and the Queen’s Chamber, containing one of the finest collections of Tudor portraits.
There are 125 acres of grounds to explore, including formal gardens, woodland, trails and a 38-acre lake. Fabulous flower displays all year round and abundant wildlife makes Hever Castle an idyllic country spot to visit.
The castle holds events during the year including its summer jousting tournaments. These are always spectacular to witness. Hever Castle opens daily during the summer months. Castle and garden entry prices start from £19.80 for adults and £11.25 for children aged 5 to 17. Garden-only tickets are also available.
11. Some More Ideas
Tunbridge Wells has so many attractions it is a tough act to whittle them down to just ten. Therefore, the following are a few more recommendations.
Bowles outdoor centre is the place to head for a family outdoor adventure. Try your hand at kayaking, canoeing or rock climbing. If you enjoy rocks but fancy something a little more sedate, a scenic walk around the striking High Rocks is a must.
Tunbridge Wells has some excellent art galleries. The Fairfax gallery on the Pantiles exhibits a broad range of original contemporary paintings and sculptures. Not too far away you will find the Beumee Gallery, exhibiting contemporary fine art from around the world.
Tunbridge Wells also has excellent theatres. The Assembly Hall theatre brings big names and well-known acts to Tunbridge Wells. The Trinity Theatre on Church Road serves a feast of more alternative dramas and entertainment, ensuring the broadest spectrum of theatre is available to residents and visitors to Tunbridge Wells.