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48-hours   ›   Short breaks › Travel Inspiration  ›  South East of England

Kent family holidays - my two night itinerary in Tunbridge Wells

Bursting with green, open spaces, a range of restaurants and tons of great activities for youngsters, Tunbridge Wells is a brilliant location for a Kent family holiday. Whether you’re looking to entertain tiny tots or teenagers, there is something for everyone in this unique and varied corner of the ‘Garden of England’.

Located on the Kent / Sussex border, Tunbridge Wells is a beautiful borough, centred around the charming Georgian spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Easily accessible by train and a vibrant hub of activity, it boasts picturesque countryside, natural play parks and fascinating historic sites, as well as being a prime destination for outdoor adventures and family-friendly eateries.

From quiz trails to steam trains; escape rooms to castles, here is my suggested itinerary on how to spend a family-friendly 48 hours in Tunbridge Wells.

February 23, 2023

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Friday afternoon in Tunbridge Wells

Kick your weekend off by getting your bearings and learning about the history of the pretty market town of Royal Tunbridge Wells by doing a locally-created Quiz Trail. Available to purchase online, these engaging and reasonably priced booklets take you on a self-guided walking tour of the town with fun clues and facts along the way.

Starting in the iconic Pantiles, explore historic walkways, hidden gems and solve cryptic riddles based on what you find. It’s the ideal way to spend time together as a family and discover more about this fascinating town in an entertaining and interactive way. You can complete the trail at your own pace (I would recommend allowing 1-2 hours) and there are accessible options for anyone with prams or wheelchairs to follow too, making it an easy and stress-free afternoon with little ones. There are also plenty of independent coffee shops and restaurants to duck into along the way if you need to relax or refuel at any point. I defy you not to be tempted to stop for a sweet treat at The Cake Shed!

If the weather isn’t on your side or you have spare time after finishing the trail, the town’s newly-refurbished library, The Amelia, is definitely worth a visit. With a large children’s section, exhibitions and a lovely on-site coffee shop, it has a lively atmosphere and plenty to explore.

Friday evening in Tunbridge Wells

On Friday evening, treat yourselves to a family-friendly show at one of Tunbridge Wells’ popular theatre destinations. Located in the centre of town, Trinity Theatre and The Assembly Hall both boast a great variety of musical shows, plays and performances throughout the year.

For dinner, you’ll be spoilt for choice, but the accessible and modern TN1 Bar & Kitchen comes highly recommended. Serving food all day, their large menu includes steaks, mussels, pasta and burgers as well as a children’s menu with the option to order smaller adult mains if preferable. Located a short walk from both theatres, it’s a vibrant and popular eatery which is both family and dog friendly.

Saturday morning in Tunbridge Wells

Get up and out on Saturday morning to explore some of the stunning surrounding woodland and countryside that the Garden of England is famous for. Just a 20 minute drive from Royal Tunbridge Wells, Bedgebury Pinetum is an award-winning conservation site showcasing over 12,000 specimen trees, spectacular landscapes and picture-perfect lakes. With an abundance of wildlife to spot and miles of sign-posted forest trails for walking, cycling, horse riding and playing, it is an ideal destination to get the whole family embracing the great outdoors.

Toddlers and young children will love the enchanting Gruffalo and Zog trails along with the natural play areas, whilst older children and teenagers will enjoy the adventurous thrills of cycle trails or the Go Ape Tree Top Challenge. There is also a cafe on site (just by the car park) which opens at 8.30am and serves hot food and drinks throughout the day.

Entry into the forest itself is free, but parking charges apply. If you’re able to get in early, my top tip would be to make the most of their early bird parking prices which are applicable if you arrive and leave before 11am. See the Bedgebury Pinetum website for more details (link below).

If you have time after your visit to Bedgebury, nearby Bewl Water is also a lovely spot for a waterside walk or cycle. Spanning 800 acres of scenic parkland, it also has a wooden adventure play area, waterside cafe and soft play area for small children.

Saturday lunchtime in Tunbridge Wells

After a busy morning of fresh air and outdoor pursuits, you’ll have certainly worked up an appetite, and The Vineyard in Lamberhurst can provide a family-friendly pub lunch to suit all tastes. With cosy, rustic interiors and a large outdoor terrace and garden, this country pub has an extensive menu and a very good play area to keep youngsters entertained. Their children’s menu also has toddler prices which is a very helpful and cost-effective option.

Part of the Elite Pubs group of Kent pubs and restaurants, The Vineyard prides itself on sourcing 85% of its produce from within a 25 mile radius, making it a sustainable and locally-supportive choice. From Hedgerow Game to Rye Bay Fish; Anno Distillery gin to Tonbridge Brewery beer, a trip to The Vineyard (or any of the other Elite Pubs) is a positive way to try some delicious local food and drink. If you fancy your own unique space, they also have their fabulous ‘Adventure Shacks’ which you can hire for up to 8 people.

Saturday afternoon in Tunbridge Wells

The South East is famous for its historic sites and castles, and one of the best for a Kent family holiday has to be Hever Castle. The former home of Anne Boleyn, this 13th century moated castle is right out of a fairytale book with a drawbridge, gatehouse and walled bailey. Surrounded by perfectly manicured ornamental gardens, lakes and mazes, as well as hundreds of years’ of history and child-friendly activities, it makes for a fantastic outing for all the family.

Whilst you could easily spend a whole day exploring the castle and grounds, an afternoon will allow time to see most of the site. Start with a tour of the castle itself (I recommend downloading the audio guide trail for young visitors to follow), taking in all the Tudor splendour that the rooms have on offer. From the imposing and ornate fireplace of the Dining Hall to the grand four poster bed in Henry VIII’s bedchamber, you’ll be in awe of the beauty and magnificence on display throughout this impressive building. Well pitched at children and adults alike, it is sure to spark a historic fascination in youngsters, bringing the Tudor period to life.

Coming back out into the daylight and present day, there are 125 acres of award-winning gardens to discover. The formal, landscaped gardens are breathtaking, but I personally love the seasonal woodland walks, with snowdrop and daffodil trails set out in Spring time, and a burst of colour to follow during tulip season in the Summer. The rose garden is also mesmerising, with the sweet fragrance of 5,000 roses filling the air, and their giant topiary chess set is a unique sight! Most of the gardens are pram-friendly, but there are steps and steep hills at certain points.

To keep children entertained, there are seasonal trails and activities throughout the year as well as a water maze, yew maze, archery, jousting shows and shield painting, all of which are very well organised and a lot of fun. In addition, there are two impressive play areas – the ‘Acorn Dell’ for under 7’s and Tudor Towers Adventure Playground for older kids – which will no doubt wear their little legs out.

End your visit by taking a peaceful moment at Hever Castle’s gorgeous Italian Loggia. Used predominantly to host weddings, this area is breathtakingly romantic and beautiful, with views across the 38 acre lake and back across the formal gardens. Your little ones will no doubt be starting to feel quite worn out by all the excitement of the day by this point, so it’s a relaxing place to wind down before heading back to your accommodation.

Saturday night in Tunbridge Wells

You can’t go far wrong with a good Italian meal and it doesn’t get much more friendly or authentic than Il Vesuvio on Camden Road. A traditional, family-run restaurant with rustic decor and a homely feel, Il Vesuvio’s menu includes all the classic pizza and pasta favourites, as well as some delicious meat and fish dishes. Make sure you leave room for their tiramisu too!

Sunday morning in Tunbridge Wells

Ease into Sunday morning with breakfast at the wonderful Juliet’s. Located on Tunbridge Wells High Street, just a short walk from the Pantiles, Juliet’s is an award-winning cafe serving delicious cakes, sandwiches and hot drinks. On weekends, they also serve mouth-watering breakfasts, with choices including eggs benedict, pancakes or smashed avocado. It’s extremely child-friendly and makes for a lovely family brunch. It does often get busy, especially on the weekend, so if you are faced with a queue, another good option is Framptons. Just a short walk away, Framptons is equally child friendly with a tasty selection of breakfast dishes on offer.

Once refuelled, head over to Tunbridge Wells West station to take a return trip on the historic Spa Valley Railway. Offering steam and heritage diesel train journeys through the Kent and Sussex countryside, hopping aboard this classic rail route is a great way to visit the neighbouring villages and nearby landmarks. Plus, any train enthusiastic little ones or fans of Thomas The Tank Engine will be in their element!

There are a number of spots to visit en route – including the dramatic High Rocks and the rolling hills of Eridge – but I would recommend spending the majority of your morning exploring the pretty village of Groombridge. Bikes are available to hire from the station (via Country Bike) if you are looking for a family cycle, Harrison’s Rocks are a short walk away and there are two lovely pubs to enjoy a drink at.

Sunday lunchtime in Tunbridge Wells

As your weekend draws to a close, make your way back into Royal Tunbridge Wells for lunch and one final activity. The Shuffle House on St John’s Road serves a sensational combination of Latin tapas and Neapolitan stonebaked pizzas, which are all delicious. They also offer gluten free pizza bases and non-dairy options for those with dietary requirements in their lively, colourful restaurant.

On Sundays, kids eat free when ordering an adult main meal which makes for a very reasonable family Sunday lunch. In summer months, enjoy lunch and cocktails in their outdoor courtyard (I have a real weak spot for their Margaritas!), whilst the kids are entertained by the restaurant’s namesake – their famous 14 foot shuffleboards. These can be booked free of charge for one hour slots.

After lunch, round off your weekend with one of ClueCracker’s award-winning escape rooms. With spaces on site at The Shuffle House and just across the road, ClueCracker has 3 interactive live escape rooms to immerse yourselves in, all suitable for 2-6 players. Choose from Jail Break, The Diamond Dogs and Temple Quest, all of which will keep you on your toes and are jam-packed with puzzles, challenges and cryptic clues. It’s the perfect way to complete your family weekend away before heading home.

If you have additional time...

If you’re spending longer in the area, I also highly recommend making time to visit the following places:

Scotney Castle – a beautiful 14th century moated castle owned by the National Trust. It’s very pram friendly and so picturesque in all seasons. There’s also a small natural play area which is ideal for under 5s.

Dunorlan Park – a lovely, leafy park on the outskirts of the town centre with a stunning lake at its heart. Enjoy picnics and boating in the summer months, as well as taking in the meadows, wildlife and large play area.

Penshurst Place & Gardens – located just a short drive from Tunbridge Wells, Penshurst Place boasts tons of history and gorgeous green spaces for little legs to explore.Entry is free with Historic House membership and they often run seasonal trails.

Ashdown Forest & Pooh Corner – the home of Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Forest is just a short drive from Tunbridge Wells. Play Pooh sticks, wander the heathland and enjoy tea at Pooh Corner cafe.

Knole Park – a medieval deer park with amazing views and plenty of wildlife and history. Again, it is National Trust owned and parking must be booked in advance.

Manic Ceramix – for rainy days or something more creative, visit Manic Ceramix on Camden Road to paint some pottery and take home some special keepsakes of your trip.

Where to stay in Tunbridge Wells

One Warwick Park – Located a stone’s throw from the historic Pantiles, locations don’t get much more central than this. The main hub of the town is in walking distance and being near the train station, it’s an ideal base for exploring the wider area. Whilst mainly a hotel, they have a self-catered house and apartment, both of which would be suitable for families with small children. Both properties are dog friendly too and guests can take advantage of the main hotel’s amenities including their Brasserie restaurant.

Caracol Camping – If you’re keen to embrace the Kent countryside and get back to nature, Caracol Camping is an ideal family glamping option. Nestled within a wildflower meadow in Groombridge on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells, they have 8 fully furnished bell tents for hire, all of which boast a double bed, fresh linen and a BBQ firepit.

The Vineyard – As well as good food and a great play garden, The Vineyard also has four charming bedrooms for guests to stay in. Located in Lamberhurst, this is an ideal location for exploring more of the beautiful countryside around Tunbridge Wells town. All rooms include a King Size bed, en suite bathroom and on-site parking.

My favourite places to stay

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February 23, 2023