A town guide to Epsom
PUBLISHED: 10:04 04 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:35 04 February 2020
The Jockey Club via PA Images
With racing pedigree and a spa day past, Epsom and its neighbouring Ewell have been attracting visitors for generations. While the racecourse still thrives and the area is rated by some as among the 'happiest places to live in England', there's also been a focus on building its cultural offering in recent years | Writer: James Knighton
Click here for our guide to the best things to do in Ewell
Best-known as the home of the internationally-renowned Derby Festival at Epsom Downs Racecourse, which is attended by Her Majesty the Queen and thousands of horse racing fanatics every year, Epsom and Ewell was named as the 10th happiest borough to live in England by a Royal Mail index last year.
A ranking which apparently took into account life expectancy, crime rates, carbon emissions and personal wellbeing, among other factors, it perhaps could have also included the many unique places to visit in the area as reason to bring smiles to people's faces.
While the world's spotlight hits Epsom Downs racecourse for one special weekend every year (this year's Derby race is on Saturday June 6, for those who like to plan ahead), it hosts a packed racing calendar from April, music nights during the summer and much more.
It's also a fantastic place to enjoy a stroll, as you can follow the track around its picturesque curves and stop in at a pub or two along the way - including The Rubbing House which is found inside the track itself.
As well as The Queen, the area has many famous connections including housewives' favourite Isabella Beeton, who spent part of her childhood living at Epsom Downs, before going on to write her seminal text, Mrs Beeton's Guide to Household Management, in 1861.
The Downs is a five-minute drive to the south of the town centre, which is surrounded by some gorgeous countryside.
Epsom Common, a local nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest, is another destination to explore and, if you can wangle an invite, the 350-acre Woodcote Park estate is home to the RAC's prestigious country clubhouse.
Much may have changed since it was known as a spa town in the Georgian era (Epsom Salts were discovered in mineral rich springs here back in the day), but there are still plenty of places to escape and find peace now-a-days too.
Mayfield Nursery, on Reigate Road, is open throughout the year and linked to the glorious lavender fields that open through the summer and are only a short drive out of town towards Purley.
It's a lovely little spot to pick up plants and gifts, but the area is well stocked with quaint garden centres including The Old Moat, which reinvests its profits into the Richmond Fellowship mental health charity and has its own café which sells seasonal produce from its own walled garden.
There are also adventures to be had. Hobbledown is a unique family attraction with its farm park attractions themed on a mystical and magical story. Kids can scale wooden towers, enjoy indoor soft play and meet the animals. Jungle Island adventure golf is found next door too.
Into Epsom town centre itself and the wonderful 19th century Clock Tower dominates the marketplace area and a melting pot of historic and modern architecture. There are traditional markets held here on Thursdays and Saturdays, 9am to 4pm, and a farmers' market on the first Sunday of every month.
Shoppers can head to The Ashley Centre with its 50 plus stores (opened by The Queen in 1984, it's a mix of High Street brands and independents such as Bamboo Basket, Café Moka and Hatty's Sweet Shop), while Epsom Square acts as a lifestyle hub of sorts with a number of food and drink outlets.
It's the Lester Bowden fashion store, which has been operating since 1898 (and in its present premises in The Spread Eagle since 1994), which perhaps stands out as a piece of retail heritage though.
From serving the Prince of Wales, Sir Winston Churchill and the Sultan of Oman in the early 1900s, their raison d'être is distinguished menswear, ladieswear and country wear.
The town has a thriving arts culture, with Epsom Playhouse running shows since 1984, Laine Theatre Arts training professional musical stars since 1974, the University of the Creative Arts in Epsom providing a focus on fashion and, since 2015, the multi-arts MGSO4 Festival (named after the chemical formula of Epsom Salts) which takes place in June.
There are also the ongoing efforts to transform Horton Chapel into a new arts centre.
So, whether you're looking to enjoy a day at the races, explore fabulous countryside or shop till you drop, a visit to Epsom and its surrounding attractions would be an enjoyable addition to your 2020 itinerary.
24 hours in Epsom…
Make sure to visit the Clock Tower and have a browse of the town centre offer while pondering the options for the rest of your day.
It's hard to beat exploring the Downs and imagining the racing history that's taken place there - just watch out for speeding horses, as many live and train there throughout the year.
Or, if you've got the little ones in tow, then Hobbledown is a must. Whatever you choose, grab a delicious sandwich at Yo Sarnie.
Check out a show at Epsom Playhouse (January's line-up includes Susie Dent Presents The Secret Life of Words, comedian Stephen K Amos and The Simon and Garfunkel Story among its highlights) or retire to a country pub for convivial atmosphere and food and drink.
We love The Jolly Coopers and Ye Olde Kings Head, but there are plenty of options. If you're in more of a restaurant mood, Le Raj has long been one of Surrey's premium curry house flagbearers and the stylish Lava Lounge bar and grill is the new kid on the block.