From its charming tea rooms to its grand manor houses, stately gardens and river cruises, Guildford is the perfect Surrey market town – an idyllic retreat from the bustle of London. Hunt around Henry III’s Norman castle for the painting that hides a secret passageway, boat peacefully along the tranquil Thames or throw yourself into the town’s sparkling nightlife and arts scene.
Once South Western Railway has deposited you in the Surrey heartland, Guildford is as relaxing or as exciting a town as you want to make it. Lewis Carroll wrote Through The Looking Glass here – come and see what’s on the other side.
Getting a PlusBus add-on to your train ticket will allow you unlimited access to an entire day on Guildford’s buses – the stops are over on the Guildford Park Road exit from Guildford station. Both exits have a taxi rank, while at the Walnut Tree Close exit you’ll find a PlusBike hire kiosk. The car park has 378 bays, including spaces for ‘city cars’ such as Smart cars.
Whether you’re looking for a cultural town break or a get-away-from-it-all countryside escape, Guildford has it all. Culture vultures have the stunning Guildford Castle to explore with its gorgeous gardens, restored Norman keep and hidden secrets. Make sure you keep an eye out for events in the grounds themed around medieval technologies, Game Of Thrones and Alice In Wonderland.
You can peruse the area’s archeological finds, textiles and Lewis Carroll artefacts at the Guildford Museum and then throw yourself into the local arts and crafts scene in the exhibitions at the Guildford House gallery on the High Street. Head 7 miles out of town to the Watts Gallery Artists Village, which is well worth a visit for its incredible display of over 100 works by the celebrated Victorian painter GF Watts.
If you’re seeking more rural escapes, meanwhile, you have 2,600 acres of Surrey Hills to explore, an area of outstanding natural beauty to ramble, cycle or sail. You can also enjoy one of Guildford’s 78 parks and 32 children’s playgrounds if the kids need to let off some steam.
You can take in a tree walk with the gardeners of Hatchlands Park, ducking off to discover the intriguing Georgian icehouse and the mysterious stone temple. Then, take in one of the area’s many stately homes, such as Polesden Lacey, the Edwardian retreat with spectacular views over 1,400 acres of ancient woodland where the Queen Mother spent her honeymoon.
Named the “luxury shopping capital of the UK” by Experian, Guildford is a paradise for stylish shoppers. Designer brands and high street names fill the Friary shopping centre, and high end stores are jostling for space in the city’s plush new Tunsgate Quarter mall, opening just off the cobbled high street in October 2017.
Interesting and quirky independent stores are buoyant, and you’ll see plenty as you stroll around Guildford’s inviting centre. For wine buffs, it’s worth making a short journey south to Shalford to find The Guildford Wine Company, which imports some of the finest wines from around the globe and offers tastings
After the best scones in Britain? Then head to the top of Guildford’s House Of Fraser department store to the Tea Terrace and sample the very best of British baking in a café that feels like a life-sized doll’s house.
Just as stylish is Positano, a Tudor-beamed dining room bringing a mouthwatering taste of Italy’s Amalfi Coast to historic Guildford – it’s said the building was once the Lord Mayor’s house.
Or, for an alternative flavour of the Med, head to Spanish favourite La Casita for king-sized paellas and tempting tapas.
Guildford knows how to bed down in style – the town centre stopovers are brimming with personality and panache. Check out the Guildford Harbour Hotel, practically a resort in its own right thanks to its chic spa, award-winning seafood restaurant The Jetty and flamboyant cocktail bars.
The 4-star Mandolay boutique hotel is worth more than just a brief stay, bringing a taste of the exotic to its 72 luxurious rooms and speciality spirit bar. Or to get a real taste of Guildford’s history, book into the Angel Posting House, which is built on a Saxon site and boasts a 14th century stone undercroft hidden beneath its Regency style rooms. Choose a luxury suite and flop around your very own 4-poster.