48 Hours in...Guildford

Our best picks for a weekend in Guildford by train

Guildford, or Golden Ford, has been attracting visitors for a century. Initially the name referred either to the golden sands or golden flowers along the riverbank – but sadly all of the pre-Middle Ages TripAdvisor reviews have been lost and with them the original meaning.

Recently, the beautiful county town of Guildford has been attracting savvy travellers thanks to its great shopping, the wining, dining and easy access to beautiful streets. And it really is easy to get to – Guildford’s on the Waterloo to Portsmouth line and it’s just 36 minutes from Waterloo and 50 minutes from Portsmouth. But what to do if you’ve got a weekend to spare in Guildford? Well, that’s where we come in...

One thing to note before we get started: Guildford has two stations: Guildford and London Road, with the former being the main station that serves the town.

Where to stay

Guildford Harbour Hotel

With 183 rooms a short wander from the cobbles of the high street, the Guildford Harbour Hotel is a popular choice for business and leisure travellers – not least because with a spa, a seafood restaurant, a cafe and two bars once you’ve got here it’s difficult to walk away.

The Lobby at the Harbour Hotel, Guildford
The Harbour Hotel, Guildford

Mandolay

Just a few steps away from London Road station is the Mandolay. This cream-coloured haven has 78 rooms, four AA silver stars and two AA rosettes for the restaurant. It easily lives up to its CV with superb dining and excellent accommodation.

Travelodge Guildford

If you’re travelling on a budget then Travelodge is a sound bet. It’s a 20-minute walk from Guildford Station and offers you a bed for the night and a few more £s in your pocket for all the boutique shopping you’ll be getting involved in.

Breakfast

Coffee Culture

Head to this much-loved independent local for a shot of wake-me-up or for a calming cuppa. This cosy, family-run cafe is also the perfect way to get your bearings in a friendly venue hidden down the narrow Angel Gate passage just off the High Street.

Shopping

After your pick me up it’s time to hit the streets and the shops. The big draw for Guildford in the retail stakes is the independent shopping – in previous years it’s been voted luxury shopping capital of the UK and it’s very easy to see why: Guildford is teeming with cool independent stores.

Courtyard

This award-winning store is one of the best independent designer fashion boutiques in the country and is just about a minute’s walk from Coffee Culture. Come here for your new season outfit.

The Gate Boutique

More luxury womenswear is on show here and, again, it’s moments away from Courtyard. Keep an eye on their website for when they host their seasonal sales for a bargain from established and upcoming designers.

Record shops

At either end of the town, north to south, you’ll find a pair of record stores that will sate the most avid of crate diggers. Head (or pack your other half off) to Ben’s Collectors Records opposite the Guildhall and Woodbridge Road for Collectors Record Centre.

If a mooch around the major high street retailers is more your thing, then head to The Friary. Here you’ve got Zara, Muji, Urban Outfitters and all the other expected brands, ideal for finding that moment of perfect retail bliss. The High Street also has its fair share of big brands too with Waterstones, Monsoon, Jigsaw, Barbour, The North Face and many more besides.

If you’re looking for some bling then award-winning independent jewellers Simon Pure is your destination. You’ll find the store on the left down Swan Lane, another little ginnel off the High Street.

Sightseeing

When your lunch is done, maybe it’s time to dump the shopping bags and get a feel for the history and culture of this wonderful town.

Guildford Castle

An aerial shot of Guildford Castle and grounds
Guildford Castle and grounds

After his big win at Hastings, William the Conqueror set about dividing the spoils of the country, which was not usually a peaceful process. After making sure towns and cities bowed to his rule, he began to fortify key locations. And that’s where Guildford castle comes from.

In recent years the Castle has been made more accessible for visitors with essentials like a roof and floors being added. There’s also a platform on the top where you get a wonderful panorama of the surrounding Surrey Hills.

The castle is set in beautiful scenery and has Green Flag-winning grounds. Filled with vibrant, colourful beds and a brilliant statue of Alice stepping through the looking glass, this is a popular strolling spot.

Guildford Museum

By the castle you’ll find the local museum which is packed with art, textiles and assorted artefacts that tell the history of the town. The museum itself is actually four different buildings and they all have tales to tell that reveal the way Guildford has developed.

Front entrance to the Guildford Museum. A sign on the wall to left of the door reads: 'Guildford Museum. The archaeology of Surrey, local history and needlework collections. Open Monday - Saturday 11am-5pm. Admission Free.'
Guildford Museum

Lunch

The Drummond

Right, if you’ve had your fill of shopping, maybe it’s time to get those blood sugar levels under control. The Drummond is a gastro pub just 10-minutes from the high street where you can get a pint and a burger or fish and chips. They do love a bit of rugby so expect matches to be aired if they’re being played.

Afternoon Tea

HarBar

As the light softens and your energy takes a dip it’s time for a refuel. If anything is going to wake you up then it’s the kaleidoscopic display of soft furnishings at HarBar – not so much a riot of colour as a full blown uprising. From 12 till 4.30 you can choose form a variety of menu choices including egg and cress sandwiches, scones, meat platters and there’s even a fizz-based option.

The Undercroft

One way you can see how Guildford has remained true to its roots is the Undercroft on the high street. Back in the 1200s wealthy importers created these semi-subterranean spaces to ply their wares from. A fascinating glimpse at the past.

Theatre

The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

There’s something for most people at The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. With touring comedians, seat-fillers like The Mousetrap as well as more highbrow theatre pieces, you should definitely check the What’s On? pages to ensure your visit isn’t coinciding with something you’d love to see.

G Live

With classical concerts by the likes of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, kids shows, dance performances, tribute acts and high-calibre comedy, G Live is covering a lot of bases. But check the itinerary as you may be able to surprise them with tickets to steal their heart.

Evening Meal

The Hidden Kitchen

A 10-minute taxi ride away you’ll find the Asperion Hillside Hotel and in there, The Hidden Kitchen. The restaurant has just 10 tables so it’s an intimate affair and reasonably priced.

Live Music

The Back Room

In the back of The Star Inn you’ll find… you’ve worked out the name already haven’t you? This has been small music venue for some time now – The Stranglers famously played their first gig here. Today The Back Room still showcases new talent as well as cabaret acts, so keep an eye on their website for details.

Sunday Lunch

There are plenty of places in the town centre to get a Sunday lunch fix, from pubs to posher fare. But why not build it into a walk? If you head to The Seahorse in Shalford you can get there after a 30 minute walk down the river Wey. It’s everything you want from a country pub: exposed beams, a garden and, at the time of writing, the ability to order a trio of roasts. That’s why we’re here right? (Vegetarian options are also available.)

If you fancy a more energetic wander then there are lots available. Godalming is found south down the river and then west out of the town and has numerous establishments. North of Guildford there’s The Jolly Farmer which is a wonderful Fullers country pub that’s a little over an hour’s walk away.

Heading Home

Once the lunch is done and you’ve got back to your hotel it’s time to start thinking about extrication but luckily the line to Waterloo and Portsmouth remains very regular and will deliver you at home after a restful sit down in short order. Now, when was that report due?

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