Lucy is a travel writer based in the Cotswolds, who’s been running her award-winning travel blog On the Luce since 2011. She is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, has a MSc in sustainable tourism and has been featured by the BBC, Stylist, Marie Claire and Forbes. She loves train travel, walks, log fires, a good glass of wine and her two very spoilt black and white cats.
Tunbridge Wells natural spring water made it the toast of Georgian society, and it was christened 'royal' by King Edward VII whose mother Queen Victoria loved to visit. Today this historic spa town combines beautiful architecture, independent shops and galleries, and some great places to eat and drink, making it a perfect weekend break destination – and if you're coming from London it's under an hour by train. So here's our guide to how to spend a weekend in Tunbridge Wells in Kent.
After arriving in Tunbridge Wells, check into the Hotel du Vin for the next two nights. The hotel is a luxuriously converted Grade II listed mansion that once hosted Queen Victoria. It overlooks Calverley Grounds and is packed with original features, with 34 rooms and suites – each named after a different wine – as well as a bar, bistro, and lounge. All rooms come with king-sized beds with Egyptian cotton linen, and deluxe rooms and suites also have roll-top baths, bathrobes and slippers and Nespresso coffee machines if you want to go extra luxurious.
Start your evening with a drink at the hotel. If the sun's shining head outside to the terrace where tables surrounded by gardens are decorated with twinkling lights. Or if it's a bit chiller then the hotel bar's deep burgundy walls, log fires and candles give it a romantic atmosphere, with bartenders whipping up signature cocktails like the Sazerac – made with whiskey, absinthe, cognac and bitters.
Then take a short walk down the Old High Street to Soprano Tapas and Wine Bar for dinner. This cosy, characterful Spanish restaurant is a real local favourite – make sure to book in advance though as it's super popular at weekends, with two dinner settings.
The menu features a huge range of tapas dishes, from classics like patatas bravas and tortilla to more unusual dishes like the tasty duck infused with ham, sundried tomatoes and sauteed potatoes. Plates are great value and not too big so it's a good excuse to order a table full and try something new. And there's an extensive wine list to go with it too.
The next morning, fuel up on breakfast at the hotel before a day's exploring – the Hotel du Vin's B&B package includes a continental selection of fruit, pastries and cereals as well as cooked options from scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a traditional Full English breakfast.
Then take a walk to Dunorlan Park, around 15 minutes away from the hotel. This grand Victorian park stretches over 78 acres. It was originally the grounds of a grand mansion designed for Yorkshire-born millionaire Henry Reed by renowned Victorian gardener Robert Marnock in the 1860s. After Reed sold up the mansion was used to house troops in WWII before being damaged by fire and eventually demolished.
Today the gardens are a green oasis of rolling hills planted with trees and flowers and dotted with interesting original features like a spring, Grecian Temple and lavish ornamental fountain. It's a favourite spot for locals to stroll, take the kids to the dragon-themed playground or enjoy a coffee from the park café overlooking the lake. And in summer you can head out on the water with kayaks and pedalos available to hire.
Next head back into town to explore The Pantiles. This elegant Georgian colonnaded street is the most famous address in town, dating back the days when the wells which gave Tunbridge Wells its name were discovered. The cream of society came to take the waters – and enjoy the social scene – and the Pantiles got their name from the tiles used to pave the streets for evening promenades.
The Pantiles are still just as stylish these days, though now the original apothecaries and tailors who had their shops here have been replaced by independent stores, art galleries, and cafés and restaurants with tables spilling out onto the pavement. It's one of the best spots for shopping in Tunbridge Wells, with bi-monthly farmers and crafts markets as well as individually owned boutiques selling jewellery, clothing, furniture, kitchenware and even gifts for your dog. You can still see the original Chalybeate Spring too, and can be served a taste by a local guide in period costume when the waters are flowing.
After lunch, head to the Calverley Grounds, a landscaped park right in the centre of town. It was built as a private garden for the well-heeled Victorians who lived in the surrounding houses, but is now a public park with pretty ornamental gardens decorated with colourful flowers. In the summer there are concerts and events and in the winter the centre of the grounds is transformed into a winter wonderland with ice rink and Christmas market stalls.
Take an hour or so to chill out at the hotel before heading back down to The Pantiles, which is lit up beautifully by night. Start with a drink at The Duke of York, a Grade II listed historic building that's been serving drinks to Tunbridge Wells residents for centuries. They have local real ales and craft beers available as well as a good range of gins if you fancy a pre-dinner G&T.
Then you don't have far to go to dinner at Sankey's The Old Fishmarket, which is right next door. As you'd guess from the name, this tiny black and white building was originally the town's fish market – and its now a restaurant and Champagne bar serving some of the best seafood around.
Oyster lovers will be in heaven as they're a speciality, but as well as a standard menu you can also build your own seafood platter with a choice of langoustines, prawns, lobster, crab and mussels
Start the day with another good breakfast before travelling out of town to nearby Scotney Castle – if you don't have a car then it costs around £25 each way to get there by taxi. This National Trust property combines a 14th-century moated castle with a Victorian country mansion and is surrounded by tranquil gardens, parkland and woods.
The original medieval castle was built in 1380 by Roger de Ashburnham, but from the 1770s it was owned by the Hussey family. They built the mansion in the 19th century after castle life got a bit too uncomfortable, and landscaped the gardens in Picturesque style. The last of the Husseys, Betty, lived in the house until 2007 and it still feels like a family home, with pictures, books and crockery. She was a big cat lover and even left her cat Puss to live there after she'd died.
The castle is currently closed for renovations, but as well as touring the house you can wander around the gardens and there are walks through the woodland. There's also a tea room and shop selling plants and gifts. And if you time it right you can take a guided 'hop walk' – the castle is the National Trust's only working hop farm and you can learn about how they're grown and used to make beer.
Back in town, finish off your weekend in Tunbridge Wells with afternoon tea at The Ivy. Located on the High Street, the Ivy is a glamorous brasserie with a colourful décor of red and gold, with some fascinating vintage photos of Tunbridge Wells in its spa-era heyday decorating the walls.
The Ivy's Wonderland afternoon tea is served from 3pm–4.45pm, and has an Alice in Wonderland theme. So as well as the traditional dainty sandwiches and scones with jam and cream, look out for some more unusual delights, from a green wonderland juice to a 'Eat me' almond and lavender macaroon, and a red velvet raspberry Queen cake. And if you want to toast the end of your trip in style, you can add on a glass of Champagne.
Eridge Road is an exclusive development set within landscaped gardens and overlooking Tunbridge Wells Common. This new retirement development is located within easy reach of The Pantiles and Tunbridge Wells High Street – and there’s a branch of Sainsbury’s within a few minutes’ walk.
The 40 one and two-bedroom apartments are energy-efficient, easily maintained and feature a high-quality specification. Each new home has outside space – either a terrace or a balcony as well as surface or undercroft parking.
Choose a new home at Eridge Road and you’ll be able to relax knowing that an Estate Manager will be on hand to maintain the development, the landscaped setting. The Estate Manager will also keep a watchful eye on your property when you’re away from home – leaving you free to travel, to lock up and leave or just to enjoy peace of mind whilst you’re on holiday.
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