Head to Royal Tunbridge Wells and you’ll discover a town that’s all about the good things in life. Starting with water, when Charles I’s wife Henrietta Maria came to imbibe the iron-rich water of the Chalybeate spring.
The Georgian promenades of The Pantiles may seem serene, but Tunbridge Wells managed to mix royalty with a racy past; the commons that surround it were once tracks for horse racing.
Now though, Royal Tunbridge Wells blends Georgian architecture with a strong food culture; it’s where some of Kent’s most bountiful countryside surrounds a town full of hidden gems, all within easy reach from the railway station.
Click on the map below to reveal Tunbridge Wells' hidden gems
What to see
The Pantiles were built for 18th century aristocrats to peacock in, but today it’s a bit more democratic, with shops, restaurants and art galleries behind its pillars. The Fairfax Gallery showcases local artists, while for entertainment of the musical variety, Tunbridge Wells Forum (a former public toilet) is an intimate yet buzzing venue that's hosted the likes of Adele and Coldplay over the years.
Where to eat and drink
The countryside around Tunbridge Wells now has a series of award-winning vineyards, including Biddenden and Chapel Down. You can sample them at Chapel Place Wine and Gin, a cheery wine bar set back from The Pantiles. Fine dining restaurant Thackeray’s has French accented food in the former home of writer William Makepeace Thackeray, and just off the high street, Casa da Claudia has superior cakes.
Places to explore
The historic Corn Exchange in the centre of Tunbridge Wells has moved with the times, too — it now houses the Rosemary Shrager cookery school. And why not taste the water that first drew visitors here? It’s available at the end of The Pantiles, sometimes served by a “dipper” in traditional costume. The Spa Valley Railway offers visitors the chance to take in the view from Eridge and Tunbridge Wells on a five-mile journey. The heritage railway’s fish & chip trains and annual Santa specials are a roaring success.
Where to stay
The Spa Hotel reflects Tunbridge Wells’ watery history. First opening its doors in 1880, it has 70 rooms and features a spa and two restaurants. Elsewhere, on London Road, Tunbridge Wells Retreat is a friendly hotel in several Victorian houses.
To discover hidden gems in the South East, and book your train tickets, visit southeasternrailway.co.uk/winter
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*This content was commissioned and approved by Southeastern