Guides

A weekend in Cheltenham

Cheltenham Spa

Best known for its festivals, spa and horse racing, my home town of Cheltenham isn’t the most obvious UK city break destination. It can get overshadowed by its more famous touristy neighbours – Oxford on one side, Bath on the other and picture-postcard Cotswold villages all around. But it’s makes for a great weekend break destination in its own right, with gorgeous Georgian architecture and great places to eat, drink and shop. So here’s my guide to how to spend 48 hours in Cheltenham.

More weekend guides: Oxford, Cardiff, Bath, Canterbury, Rye, Chester, York, Glasgow

Friday evening

Check in to the Malmaison Cheltenham, in the heart of Montpellier – Cheltenham’s most stylish district, with plenty of bars, restaurants and boutiques. Set in a white Regency villa, the hotel is classically grand from the outside but inside it’s modern and stylish, with lots of contemporary furniture and artworks, and modern tech like paperless check-in and in-room iPads (see my review of their sister hotel in a converted prison in Oxford). There’s lots of space to relax, with a cosy lounge-come-library and a Victorian conservatory as well as a smart bar, restaurant and spa. Double rooms start from £125 a night.

Take a walk through Montpellier to the Daffodil for dinner. The restaurant serves modern British food in a converted art deco cinema, full of gorgeous original 1920s design features (I love it so much I got married there!). Head upstairs for a drink in the Circle Bar first, with a great cocktail list and half-price Champagne and sparkling wine on Friday nights from 6pm to 8pm. Then walk down the sweeping stairs to the restaurant – where the cinema screen used to be you can now watch the chefs in action in the open kitchen.

Daffodil restaurant Cheltenham

Art deco style at the Daffodil

Saturday morning

Start the day off with a walk through Montpellier and Imperial Gardens. Cheltenham is a big festival city – with annual jazz (May), science (June), music (July) and literature (October) festivals. The parks are used as festival venues, with marquees, shops, cafés and lots of free events. But even if you’re not there for a festival, you can grab a coffee from one of the park cafés and take a walk around the gardens. Carry on down the Promenade, Cheltenham’s main shopping street lined with elegant Georgian buildings.

For some background on the town, join a history and architecture walking tour. The Blue Badge guides have lots of interesting stories about Cheltenham’s Regency buildings and its days as a holiday destination for upper-class spa-goers. Walks start from the Wilson Art Gallery and Museum at 11am and take 90 minutes (adults £5, children £3). At the end of the tour, head back to the Wilson for a look around the galleries. It recently reopened after a big refurbishment and has a mix of exhibits, from Arts and Crafts furniture to the story of local hero Edward Wilson – one of Scott’s team on his ill-fated 1912 Antarctic expedition.

Cheltenham's Wilson Art Gallery and Museum

The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum

Saturday afternoon

Refuel with a stop at the Well Walk Tea Room for afternoon tea. It’s one of Cheltenham’s oldest shops and inside is packed with quirky antiques and crafts. Don’t miss a slice of their cake – from an unusual courgette sponge to a Cheltenham Dripper, the local version of a lardy cake – served on vintage crockery. Then burn it off with a walk to the Pittville Pump Room, about 20 minutes north of the town centre. Built in the 1820s, this was Cheltenham’s largest spa building, surrounded by manicured lawns and ornamental lakes. You can still taste the medicinal spa waters from the pump (open 10am–4pm, unless closed for an event).

If you’re a real ale fan, pop into the Jolly Brewmaster for a pint, a traditional-style pub with a great selection of beers on tap and a big beer garden with summer barbecues. Or if wine’s more your thing, then head to new wine bar The Grape Escape, an unstuffy tasting room with a big selection of wines and red and white tasting flights. Have dinner at the Suffolk Kitchen, which specialises in seasonal, British produce. Then finish off the day with a dose of culture. Choose from a show at the ornate 1890s Everyman Theatre or a film at the Screening Rooms, a luxury cinema that comes with armchairs and waiter drinks service.

Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham

The Pittville Pump Room

Sunday morning

If the sun’s out (or you’re feeling brave), start the day with a few laps at Cheltenham’s 1930s Sandford Parks Lido, one of the UK’s largest outdoor heated pools with a 50-metre main pool as well as childrens’ pools (adults £4.50, children 5–15 £2.30). Or if that sounds too energetic, then try out the Malmaison’s REN spa, for a relaxing massage, facial or body scrub. Head to the Boston Tea Party next for brunch, with everything from a full English to Scotch Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.

If you’re in the mood for shopping, you can find the usual high-end, high-street shops (think White Company, Cath Kidston and Space NK) on the Promenade. Or the area around Montpellier and the Suffolks has lots of interesting independent shops to explore. Check out the Triton Gallery for antiques and interior design, Bodega for women’s clothes and accessories, David Hayward for bespoke jewellery, Lovedge for British-made gifts, prints and homeware, and the Suffolk Anthology book shop.

Promenade in Cheltenham

Cheltenham’s Promenade

Sunday afternoon

Cheltenham is surrounded by gorgeous countryside, so take a walk out of town to explore some of it on a loop around Cleeve Hill (it’s a short car or bus ride on the 606 service to the starting point). The walking route covers about 4 miles up through woodlands and meadows, with panoramic views across the Cotswolds, to Gloucester Cathedral and right across over to the Black Mountains in Wales. It’s part of the Cotswold Way, a 100-mile walking route from Chipping Campden to Bath. Finish the weekend off with lunch at the Rising Sun on Cleeve Hill, a pub with fantastic views across five counties from its beer garden.

Views across the Cotswolds

Views across the Cotswolds

Have you visited Cheltenham? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat? And if you do visit get in touch – I am always happy to take visitors on a cocktail tour!

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How to spend a weekend in Cheltenham, England, with tips on what to see, do, eat and drink on a 48-hour escape to this historic spa city.

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39 Comments

  • Reply
    Day In / Day Out
    September 1, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    That view of the Cotswolds is breathtaking!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 1, 2015 at 8:50 pm

      Thanks, I’m very lucky having that countryside right on my doorstep!

  • Reply
    mayeu45
    September 1, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Very nice post ! Make sure to come and visit Bristol, my “home town” at the moment, if you have not done so yet. It is such a wonderful city nearby you ! 🙂 I just made a post about the Balloon Fiesta in Bristol, if you need few reasons to come over !

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 1, 2015 at 8:55 pm

      Thanks – funnily enough I’d not spent much time in Bristol until recently but visited a couple of weeks ago and have a post about my stay there coming up later this week! Would love to see the Balloon Fiesta one day though, it looks fantastic.

  • Reply
    Darlene
    September 1, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    Looks so lovely. I haven´t been yet but will put it on my list.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 1, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      It’s a bit less known that the really popular destinations like Bath or York but it is a lovely city – if you ever make the trip then do get in touch!

  • Reply
    abitofculture
    September 1, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    I had a good day Christmas shopping in Cheltenham last year by train. Lots of nice independent shops, some nice statues and cafes – just a shame the station is so far from the centre!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 1, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Yes the station is a bit out of the way – though if it’s a nice day then there’s a walking route on an old railway line called the Honeybourne Line just opposite the station which is the most scenic way into town!

  • Reply
    jerry
    September 1, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    Will Defntly be on my list of places to visit in the UK as soon as the British Government decides to not charge such a high visa fee for South African travelers.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 1, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      Those visa fees are high! Hope you get to make the trip someday though.

  • Reply
    Debbie williams
    September 2, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Ive lived in the Forest of Dean for years & all my family live in Cheltenham, still lots of places in this piece I didn’t know about . Thanks . Ps my daughter bought me a voucher for afternoon tea at The Daffodil !

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 2, 2015 at 9:40 am

      I’m from Ross-on-Wye originally (and my mum is from the Forest) but moved back to Cheltenham from London five years ago, still discovering new things around here too! Enjoy the Daffodil, I’ve not been for tea yet but love it there.

  • Reply
    Suzanne - Travelbunny
    September 2, 2015 at 7:51 am

    I’ve thought about visiting The Cotswolds for a break but never considered Cheltenham – think you might have just convinced me! Pittville Pump Room looks gorgeous.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 2, 2015 at 9:38 am

      It would be really easy to do a combined Cheltenham/Cotswold weekend too – let me know if you do! The Pittville Pump Room is a beautiful building, it’s used for a lot of weddings now and you can see why.

  • Reply
    pathindley
    September 2, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Great post. I grew up in the area and was back visiting family this weekend. We went to the Suffolk Sunday market @TheSuffolks which was lovely despite the rain and then had a drive out as Cheltenham is a great base for exploring the Cotswold villages and towns like Bourton-on-Water and the Slaughters. My family also like the Leckhampton area as nice shops, cafes and bars. They usually park there and walk into town. We had brunch at the Curious Cafe in Bath Road, Leckhampton last time which was fab.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 2, 2015 at 9:44 am

      I live in Leckhampton so Curious Cafe is about two minutes from my house! Missed this weekend’s Suffolk Street Fair as I was away but have been to a few, lots of interesting stalls and food and drink. It’s so handy for the Cotswolds too – though I should do some more exploring, you’re always worst at it when things are on your doorstep!

  • Reply
    Sarah
    September 3, 2015 at 10:24 am

    I’d love to go to these beautiful parts of England – you sell it very well Lucy! All looks stunning. I love a good afternoon tea spread – you’ve made me hungry!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 9, 2015 at 10:27 am

      Thanks Sarah, it’s really nice to share a bit of my part of the world with people (and you can’t have an English country weekend without tea and cake!).

  • Reply
    thebritishberliner
    September 9, 2015 at 9:32 am

    I loooove the Cotswold. It makes me home-sick and even though I’ve been to Bath and Oxford many times, I don’t believe that I have ever visited Cheltenham! Aaaargh! So many places to visit in so little time.
    p.s. I will be in Bath and Bristol for a very long weekend in Novemeber, so if you’re going that way again do let me know.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 9, 2015 at 10:28 am

      I think Cheltenham’s a bit more of a hidden gem as there are so many big-name tourist spots around. Bristol and Bath aren’t far at all so let me know when you’re over!

      • Reply
        thebritishberliner
        September 23, 2015 at 6:58 am

        I’ll be there from 06.11.15 – 10.11.15. I’ll contact you closer to the tme if that’s OK. I’ve got a full itinerary in Bristol but I’m more flexible in Bath. Exciting times!

      • Reply
        Lucy
        September 23, 2015 at 11:55 am

        Fab yes that’s fine – should be around those dates at the moment.

  • Reply
    MummyTravels
    September 22, 2015 at 8:33 am

    I went along to the Montpellier Chapter a few months before my daughter was born – I remember an amazing spa treatment and wishing I could try the cocktails! The Daffodil sounds fabulous too, art deco is just wonderful.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 22, 2015 at 7:34 pm

      I just love art deco – after we picked the venue we ended up with a whole art deco theme for our wedding. The Dafoodil is a great spot, not sure whether its cocktails beat the Montpellier Chapter’s though, I feel a taste-off coming on!

  • Reply
    Anay Bhide
    September 28, 2015 at 8:00 am

    Hi Lucy,
    I was planning a trip to Cheltenham this week with friends and I was googling for travel blogs which would give me clues about the places to stay in and visit. Yours was one of the most helpful till now. I loved reading it too and would love to see more in future.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 28, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      Hope you have a great trip and so glad the post was useful – love Cheltenham!

  • Reply
    itsanoorthing
    January 12, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    My friend goes to Uni and she has been asking me to go see her for ages, so this post just makes me want to more!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 13, 2016 at 3:06 pm

      That’s great, hope you enjoy it when you do visit!

  • Reply
    Tanja
    April 3, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    what a great weekend!:)

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 5, 2016 at 6:55 pm

      Thanks, I love living here so it’s great to introduce it to more people!

  • Reply
    Lizaiza
    May 14, 2016 at 11:43 am

    This is such a wonderful post! I grew up in Cheltenham but live abroad at the moment and your words made me miss it so much. Definitely agree with a lot of your recommendations, especially the Everyman Theatre – I worked as an usher there when I was at school and it truly is wonderful. You’ve even inspired me to try out a few new places when I’m next home! Thanks for such a great post, I hope people are inspired to visit our home xxx

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 18, 2016 at 10:36 am

      Thanks so much – glad to bring back a taste of home! Cheltenham is such a great city, I’m hoping it’ll get a few more people to come and try it out for a weekend.

  • Reply
    Noelle
    November 14, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Great post! I’m actually moving to Cheltenham in just under three weeks so this gives me some ideas of what to do! I’ve been to the Suffolk Kitchen and am really wanting to make it to the Rising Sun pub.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 14, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      How fantastic! It’s a great city, sure you’ll find lots to see and do. A fellow blogger and I have just started a Cotswold Bloggers group and we’re planning a pre-Christmas meet up in Cheltenham if you’re here by then, otherwise sure there’ll be more events in the new year, would be great to meet in person (we have a Twitter account https://twitter.com/CwoldBloggers).

      • Reply
        Noelle
        November 14, 2016 at 4:03 pm

        I’ll be moving in early December so should be able to make it! 🙂 I just joined the Twitter group as well. Thanks!

        • Reply
          Lucy
          November 14, 2016 at 4:27 pm

          Great, hope to see you then!

  • Reply
    Kim
    January 14, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    I love Cheltenham! The architecture and the gardens are lovely. I’m from The Cotswolds and my family and I go to Cheltenham a lot and to The Everymann Theatre for their pantomime every year since I was little. We love Cheltenham for its shopping, walks, restaurants and the night life – comedy club, theatre etc.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 16, 2017 at 10:11 am

      I’m from Ross-on-Wye originally and always used to come to Cheltenham to go shopping or go out, so it’s lovely to have it on my doorstep now! (p.s. If you’re still in the Cotswolds area I’ve recently partnered with another blogger to set up a Cotswolds Bloggers group and you’d be very welcome to join http://www.cotswoldsbloggers.co.uk/)

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