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10 Things to do in Cheltenham in just one day

10 Things to do in Cheltenham

Cheltenham is well known for horse racing during the Cheltenham Festival, but how many people know of Cheltenham as a spa town, a festival town or as Regency Cheltenham with some of the best preserved Georgian architecture in England? I visited the town in a day trip from Bristol and discovered an unexpected side of Cheltenham, with street art, great shopping and stylish boutique hotels that make the perfect base for a weekend in Cheltenham or as a gateway to exploring the Cotswolds. Here are some of the things to do in Cheltenham that we enjoyed when visiting for the day, as we cycled and walked around the town.

10 Things to do in Cheltenham

10 Things to do in Cheltenham

1. Explore Cheltenham by bike on the Regency cycle trail

Getting on your bike is a great way to explore Cheltenham if you are there just for the day, since you can see so much more on two wheels than on foot. We tried out the new Regency Cycle Trail, which starts at The Bicycle Hub, close to the station, where we were kitted out with bikes and helmets. As part of the package I’d downloaded the Regency Cycle Trail Mobile App that allows you to make a self-guided trail around Cheltenham. The 6 mile route is an easy cycle ride on mostly flat trails, with about half of the cycle paths being traffic-free.

Regency Bike trail in Cheltenham

Regency Bike trail in Cheltenham

Shortly after leaving The Bicycle Hub, we joined the Honeybourne line, an old railway line that has been made into a walking and cycling path. As we passed the old railway bridges and tunnels, I admired street art murals from the Cheltenham PaintFest held in September. The trail took us through Pittville Park where we stopped for photos at the ornamental lakes and then arrived at the Pittville Pump rooms.

Our cycle ride ended here although the trail continues through the heart of Regency Cheltenham, so it’s a great way to see the town if you only have a limited time. Those wondering what to do in Cheltenham with younger children may prefer to follow the traffic free trails along the Honeybourne Line as far as Pittville Pump Rooms and then return the same way to drop off your bikes, if you don’t want to cycle through traffic with the family.

The Bicycle Hub in Cheltenham | Bike Hire £25 including helmets, mobile mount and the Regency trail app. There are also children’s bikes, tandems and tagalong bikes for hire. If you are interested in active holidays around Cheltenham, check out the sister company Compass Holidays who offer walking and cycling holidays in the UK and Europe.

Regency Bike trail in Cheltenham

Regency Bike trail in Cheltenham Top: Cheltenham by Georgie Botttom: John Doh,

2. Admire the Streetart on the Honeybourne Line in Cheltenham

As we cycled along the Honeybourne Line, I’d noticed that some of the bridges we crossed had small murals and when we reached the two tunnels, it was time to stop for a closer look. This is one of the painting sites used by the Cheltenham PaintFest that takes place in September, with a grassy area between the tunnel entrances to park the bikes while you look around.

Looking for somewhere to stay? Check out these Hotels in Cheltenham

Street art on the sycle trail Cheltenham Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Street art on the cycle trail Cheltenham

There’s a big figure by Silent Hobo at the entrance to the tunnel and striking women looking back at you from Koe1 and Buber Nebz. If you like streetart, it may be worth timing your visit to Cheltenham for the Cheltenham PaintFest which is next taking place 1-8 September 2019, to see more murals being created at the sites around Cheltenham.

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Streetart on the Honeybourne Line Cheltenham

Streetart on the Honeybourne Line Cheltenham

3. Row your boat at Pittville Park in Cheltenham

After the Honeybourne line, the cycle trail continued through Pittville Park, a large ornamental park which was opened in 1825 when Cheltenham was becoming popular as a spa town. We cycled through the open grassy spaces in the western side of the park which has a couple of ornamental lakes, and stopped at The Boat House Café. It’s a pretty spot and when the weather is fine you can sit on the deck, overlooking the rowing boats on the small lake.

Boathouse in Pitville Park Cheltenham Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Boathouse in Pitville Park Cheltenham

This part of the park is relaxing place to stroll for nature lovers, with wild flowers and native plants under the trees and a bridge over the lake where you can watch for kingfishers dipping into the water. The Boathouse Café has a kiosk serving ice cream, coffee and home made cakes and I could imagine a beau in the 1920s bringing his sweetheart here to impress her with his rowing skills. Rowing boats can be hired at The Boat House from £11 for an hour with lifejackets provided.

Looking for somewhere to stay? Check out these Hotels in Cheltenham

Boating lake in Pitville Park Cheltenham

Boating lake in Pitville Park Cheltenham

4. Take the spa waters at the Pittville Pump Room in Cheltenham

We cycled on through the park towards the Pittville Pump Room, which is one of the landmarks of Regency Cheltenham. The area of Pittville on the outskirts of Cheltenham was developed by lawyer, MP and property developer Joseph Pitt in the 1820s as a rival spa town to Cheltenham, which had been popularised by King George III as a place for fashionable society to come and take the spa waters.

Pitville Pump rooms Cheltenham

Pittville Pump room in Cheltenham

The vision for Pittville was never fully realised, but the Pittville Pump Room was opened in 1830 and is a fine example of Regency style with its colonnade of Ionic columns and classical figures of Greek goddesses. Inside there’s a large assembly room, which is still used for weddings, concerts and events as well as a pump to supply the mineral waters that were considered so healthy. The pump rooms were closed when we passed by on our bike ride, but you can visit Wednesday to Sunday 10am -4pm when there’s not a function taking place there and taste the spa waters. More info on visiting Pittville Pump Rooms

5. Places to stay in Cheltenham – Cotswold Grange Hotel

Having spent the morning cycling along the Honeybourne Line and through Pittville Park, we had worked up quite an appetite and were pleased to arrive at the Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham, where our group was having lunch.

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Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham

Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham

This pretty boutique hotel in Cheltenham was built in the 1840s as the country residence of a wealthy London businessman and was originally surrounded by a large walled garden. Most of the grounds have now been built on, but you can still see the original garden wall as you look out from the back of the hotel. The small terraced garden has been landscaped to make a pretty outdoor retreat for guests.

Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham

Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham

The Cotswold Grange Hotel is just a short walk from Cheltenham town centre, on the road to the race course, making it one of the Cheltenham hotels that’s an excellent choice if you are coming for the Cheltenham Festival.

Looking to explore the Cotswolds? Check out these Cotswold Tours

Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham

Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham

Before lunch we were able to have a look around some of the 20 bedrooms, which are individually designed in elegant contemporary style, using hardwood furniture and antiques with a hint of Asian influences. Look out for the original cantilevered staircase which is a work of real craftsmanship and seems to hang in mid air.

Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham

Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham

On the ground floor is a bar for guests and a large dining room where we had a delicious lunch of wraps, salads, and spring rolls with some excellent options for vegetarians. The Brasserie is open in the evenings for dinner and is also very popular for Sunday lunch (Two courses £21.95) and the hotel is also able to cater for small celebration events. Although we were just there for lunch, the hotel would make a beautiful place to stay for couples looking for a luxury hotel in Cheltenham with the benefit of parking if you are touring the Cotswolds.

Cotswold Grange Hotel Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Lunch at Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham

Lunch at Cotswold Grange Hotel in Cheltenham

5. See street art from the Cheltenham Paintfest around town

After lunch at the Cotswold Grange Hotel, we walked into town and spotted more street art around the William’s Cycles location at Albion Street. This was one of the key locations from the Cheltenham Paintfest where the back and sides of the warehouse had been painted with full height murals. We enjoyed this mean looking girl in her wellies by Dice 67 as well as pieces by Roo Art, Nol, Snub23 and My Dog Sighs.

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Streetart in Cheltenham

Streetart in Cheltenham – Mural by Dice67

I imagine that this location would be a good one to see lots of artists working together when the Cheltenham PaintFest next takes place in September. There are lots of other locations too so the best way to find all the artwork outside the festival dates is to download the map that you’ll find on the Cheltenham PaintFest website.

Street art in Cheltenham

Street art in Cheltenham

7. Regency Cheltenham – admire the Georgian architecture

While the street-art was an unexpected find in Cheltenham, the pretty Georgian buildings are perhaps more what you’d expect of Regency Cheltenham. The so called Regency period stretched from 1811 to 1820 when King George III was taken ill and his son George IV took control of the monarchy as Prince Regent. Cheltenham’s pastel and cream flat fronted buildings are typical of the early decades of the 19th century, although the dates are a bit loose and many of Cheltenham’s Regency townhouses may have been built after the Regency technically ended.

Looking to explore the Cotswolds? Check out these Cotswold Tours

Regency architecture in Cheltenham

Regency architecture in Cheltenham

Cheltenham became especially fashionable after mineral springs were found in the fields around the town and a spa developed, with George III visiting in 1788 to drink the curative spa waters on the advice of his doctor. Where Royalty went, the rest of fashionable society followed and Cheltenham was soon booming. Parks, assembly halls, houses and shops were developed in the early 19th century to cater for the multitudes who came to take the spa waters.

Looking for somewhere to stay? Check out these Hotels in Cheltenham

Regency architecture in Cheltenham

Regency architecture in Cheltenham

Cheltenham is known as the most complete Regency town in England, a showcase for the typical style of tall terraced houses decorated with classical columns and wrought iron balconies. You’ll find these all around the centre of Cheltenham, especially in the streets close to the leafy Promenade and gardens that were developed around 1818, lined with elegant houses in the Regency style.

8. Floral displays in the Imperial Gardens in Cheltenham

My wanderings around the centre of Cheltenham, photographing all the pretty Regency buildings brought me to the Imperial Gardens, a park with pretty floral beds behind the town hall. Where the nearby Queen’s Hotel now stands was once the Sherbourne Spa and these gardens were laid out for the exclusive use of its guests. Now the park is a place to relax on the open lawns and admire the colourful bedding displays that change with the seasons.

Imperial Gardens in Cheltenham Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Imperial Gardens in Cheltenham

The impressive town hall is not quite as old as you might think, being built in 1901 in a classical style that blends with the Regency architecture of buildings nearby and is used for concerts, exhibitions and festivals.

9. Get literary at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and other Cheltenham festivals

The Cheltenham Literature Festival happened to be taking place on the weekend I was there, one of the many festivals held in Cheltenham throughout the year. I wandered around the festival village in Montpellier Gardens, where there were plenty of free activities, especially aimed at children and families. It was fun to see characters like the Gruffalo strolling past, play hop-scotch on a series of typewriter keys or have a selfie with the owl from The Owl and the Pussycat.

Looking for somewhere to stay? Check out these Hotels in Cheltenham

Cheltenham Literature festival

Cheltenham Literature festival

The park’s bandstand had been transformed into The Bookstand with Chinese lanterns and books to swap, while a large marquee housed the Feast Café, serving cakes, coffee and lunches from local restaurants and food specialists. Of course a big draw of the Cheltenham Literature Festival is the talks from TV presenters like David Attenborough and Great British Bakeoff winner Nadihya Hussein, comedians like Ruby Wax and authors such as Jacqueline Wilson, Philip Pulman and Anthony Horowitz. Unfortunately I didn’t have tickets for any of the events, but if if you enjoy literature it’s well worth planning a weekend around the Cheltenham Literature Festival and making sure you book in advance for some of the talks.

More info: Cheltenham Literature Festival website | 4-11 October 2019

Cheltenham literature festival Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Cheltenham literature festival

Other Cheltenham Festivals worth looking out for are;

Cheltenham Festival Horse Racing : The Cheltenham Festival in March is the highlight of the racing calendar, with four days of horse racing culminating in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (15 March 2019). If you love horse racing this is an unmissable event that fills the town with visitors. If you are not coming for the racing you may prefer to avoid visiting during Gold Cup weekend since accommodation in Cheltenham becomes scarce and expensive during the Cheltenham Festival and other major racing events.

Cheltenham Jazz Festival 1-6 May 2019: with over 60 daytime and evening events taking place at different venues around Cheltenham. There are both free and ticketed gigs around the town, with lots happening around the main festival site in Montpellier gardens over the weekend.

Cheltenham Science Festival 4-9 June 2019 : Held in Imperial Square Cheltenham with free activities around the festival site and talks from some of the world’s greatest scientists and thinkers – past speakers have included Brian Cox, Alice Roberts and Richard Dawkins.

Cheltenham Music Festival 5-14 July 2019 : established in 1945 the festival brings concerts to the Town Hall, Pittville Pump rooms and other venues around town, with world class performers, from contemporary music to the popular classics.

10. Wander historic Montpellier and Shopping in Cheltenham

After visiting the Cheltenham Literature Festival in Montpellier Gardens, I crossed the road to look around the shops in the Montpellier neighbourhood. My eye was drawn by the unusual classical figures decorating the front of the shops, known as the Caryatids. They date back to the 1840s when Cheltenham was experiencing its boom and are loosely modelled on the figures on the Acropolis in Athens, a popular style of architectural decoration in Europe at the time. I suspect that just like today, businesses found that a scantily clad lady helped to advertise their shops, but of course it was fine if she came from classical mythology!

Looking for somewhere to stay? Check out these Hotels in Cheltenham

Montpelier in Cheltenham

Montpellier in Cheltenham

The Montpellier neighbourhood grew up around the Montpellier spa located in the rotunda which is now part of The Ivy restaurant and the shops served the fashionable society who visited the spa and promenaded in the Montpellier Gardens. Now as then, the area is full of independent boutiques and stylish cafés, so it’s a great place to shop for more unusual finds and meet friends for a coffee or a bite to eat. More info on shopping in Montpellier Cheltenham

Montpelier in Cheltenham

Montpellier in Cheltenham

Other areas to find interesting shops in Cheltenham include;

The Promenade: Further down the high street you’ll find The Promenade, which is opposite the Promenade Gardens and offers a broad and semi-pedestrianised walkway with many upscale high street brands, as well as the House of Fraser department store. More info on The Promenade Cheltenham

The Suffolks: Beyond Montpellier is The Suffolks neighbourhood named after the Earl of Suffolk who owned this area in the early 19th century. This is the area to find smaller, quirky and artizan businesses with a bohemian atmosphere centred around the Victorian and Georgian properties of Suffolk Square. Look out for regular Sunday markets with crafts, antiques and vintage as well as the annual street market in May. More info on The Suffolks Cheltenham

10 things to do in Cheltenham flickr

To plan your visit to Cheltenham

For more information on all the things to do in Cheltenham, check out the Visit Cheltenham website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Looking to explore the Cotswolds? Check out these Cotswold Tours

Looking for somewhere to stay? Check out these Hotels in Cheltenham

Need a guide book? Check out the Rough Guide to the Cotswolds

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10 Things to do in Cheltenham
10 Things to do in Cheltenham

Thanks to Visit Cheltenham who hosted* my 1 day visit to Cheltenham and provided the experiences mentioned.

* More info on my policies page

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Lisa Jane
    March 15, 2019 at 10:28 am

    Aw it was such a fab bike ride. Gutted I couldn’t stay for the rest of the day!
    Lisa Jane´s last blog post ..Free walking tour London to learn facts about the Great Fire of London

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