Guildford – A Gem of a City outside London!
Guildford is a beautiful and historic city in the heart of Surrey (south-east England). Located just a thirty-minute train ride from London, I am often surprised that it does not feature more prominently on the tourist map for visitors to the UK. Guildford is compact, easy to navigate, offers culture, arts, history, shopping, unique places for food and drink and with stunning architecture, alongside a scenic river and delightful parks and greenery, Guildford has something for everyone and provides an alternative to the crowds and congestion of London. Within this article I will highlight some of the key offerings Guildford provides to any visitor – whether you are visiting for a day, a weekend or longer – there is enough to keep you feeling cultured and entertained or merely to help you relax!
Must See History and Culture:Guildford is a treasure trove of historic sites, locations and hidden gems, all within the city centre itself and include:
Guildford House GalleryLocated on the cobbled High Street, this 17th Century building offers temporary art exhibitions, a small craft and gift shop and a lovely cafe with courtyard. With free entry, it is a building worth visiting for its beauty and history, as well as the current exhibits!
Guildford CathedralA hilltop landmark over the city, Guildford Cathedral is one of England’s youngest cathedrals, dating from 1936 and impressive to visit. Free to enter, with guided tours available for a small fee. Evensong is held most week-day evenings at 5.30pm and worth attending. The cathedral also offers a cafe and shop.
Castle KeepDating from the 12th Century and a short walk from the historic High Street, set in beautiful grounds, is this castle ruin with a standing tower. Conserved in 2003-2004, the tower now offers a visitor platform on the roof from which it is possible to obtain breath-taking 360-degree views across Guildford. The tower does have a small entry fee.
Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud TheatreA Grade II listed theatre sited by the River Wey in the heart of the city. A fully working theatre offering an impressive program, including drama, shows pre or post-West End, comedy, opera, ballet and much more. The building also has an onsite riverside restaurant for a meal pre or post-show.
GuildhallLocated at the top of the High Street visitors will find this 16th Century (Tudor) building with its impressive clock dating from 1683. The Guildhall was originally a courtroom and council chamber and is now used for civic functions and private hire. The Guildhall is open for tours on Sundays from May to September.
The Spike Heritage CentreA building that is one of Guildford’s hidden gems – the Spike Heritage Centre is a fascinating old Poor Law Union Workhouse, dating from Victorian times. Tours of the site are available on a Tuesday or Saturday between 10 am – 4 pm and relay its history and stories from the times it was a functioning workhouse.
The River WeyRunning through the heart of Guildford is the River Wey. Visitors can explore the river from the city centre – walk along the extensive riverside paths (which are maintained by the National Trust), use the beautiful and idyllic picnic spots or enjoy a boat trip on the water. Also, look out for the sculpture of Alice and the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland which can be found as you head down to the riverside!
Essential for ShoppingGuildford was voted in 2013 the, ‘luxury shopping capital of the UK‘, by a survey carried out by Experian and it certainly is that! If (like me) you enjoy spending time wandering around shops and boutiques, seeking out either luxury items, a bargain or something that is ‘alternative’ then Guildford can accommodate. Guildford offers over 250 shops, ranging from High Street names and designer boutiques to small independent stores. There is also a great farmer’s market on the first Tuesday of the month. Make sure when shopping in Guildford you don’t miss the quirky side streets that connect the High Street to North Street – this is where you will find more of the smaller boutiques and independent shops offering products you are unlikely to find on another High Street. When considering shopping in Guildford I just have one word of warning though – with the High Street made of cobbles and on a steep hill- make sure you wear comfortable shoes!
Eating and Drinking in GuildfordWhen it comes to food and drink- in Guildford you won’t be disappointed. Whether you want a meal in a mainstream restaurant, a light lunch at an independent cafe, a cream tea in a more formal environment or a traditional British pub offering quality catering then Guildford can accommodate you. At every turn in Guildford city centre, you are not far from some amazing cuisine or refreshment to keep you energised and satisfied and to fit every budget.
Guildford’s Top EventsNo matter when you visit Guildford, the city ultimately offers year-round events and entertainment, so it might be worth checking out what is on before you travel to ensure you don’t miss out. Examples of events Guilford offers include:-
- Guildford Literature Festival featuring talks and interviews with well-known authors and book readings.
- Guildford Festival Craft Fair
- Outdoor theatre in the Castle grounds
- Guildford Fringe Festival
- Guildford Beer Festival if you want to try some real ales
- Cheese and Chilli Festival
- Food and Drink Festival
- Always the Sun Festival
- Raft races and other riverside events
- Christmas outdoor market