A traveller's guide to Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Soak up the sights of this charming Georgian spa town set in the Kent countryside.

Published 16 Jul 2019, 08:00 BST, Updated 5 Nov 2020, 05:27 GMT
The Pantiles
The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells.
Photograph by Alamy

Why go

For a lavish slice of English social history, there's nowhere quite like Royal Tunbridge Wells. Intriguingly, this is the only town in Kent with no medieval history — it owes its existence to its mineral-rich thermal springs that were discovered here in the 17th century. But by the 1700s, Tunbridge Wells had quickly become the place to be for the nobility of the day, who’d decamp here in their droves to take to the waters and make merry. While those days of debauchery might be over, the genteel Kent town has plenty to keep visitors occupied for a weekend away, with bustling boutiques, cafes and bars all set against a backdrop of some of country’s finest Regency architecture. visitkent.co.uk

What to do

Did you know Kent has more castles than any other English county? Twenty minutes’ drive from the town centre is Scotney Castle, a Tudor revival manor and an 14th-century Brothers Grimm-esque, moated castle surrounded by elaborate, rambling gardens. Also nearby is Penshurst Place, a grand stately home dating back to the 1300s, whose majestic surrounds have earned it starring roles on the big and small screens. 

We like

Chapel Place for its giddying collection of more than 120 gins, stacked like apothecary bottles behind the bar. Whether it’s for one of the colourful house cocktails or a classic, perfectly paired G&T, locals quickly fill the bar most evenings, so squeeze in beside them or grab a table outside and watch the town tick by. 

Don't miss

The Pantiles, the town's most famous and elegant street. A stroll along this colonnade is to walk in the footsteps of the wealthy flâneurs who would come to gamble, dance and drink away their summers in the lounges and bars of yore. It's far less hedonistic today, however, and is a fine spot for afternoon tea and a browse of the twice-monthly food and crafts market. It's also the place to pick up a piece of Tunbridge ware, too — the ornate woodwork has been a staple souvenir of the town since the early 19th century.

Where to eat

Just a short stroll from pretty Calverley Grounds, The Black Pig pub certainly lives up to its name, with the likes of pork croquettes and slow-roasted pork on the menu. There are plenty of non-porcine plates, too, from steak to sea bream. 

Where to stay

Bed down in One Warwick Park, where each of the 39 rooms and suites offers a stylish escape from the bustle of the nearby High Street but a stone's throw from The Pantiles. The hotel’s restaurant, Seventeen, serves up elegant British fare such as a saddle of Kent lamb and a killer cheeseboard. 

Follow @connorjmcgovern

Published in Jul/Aug 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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