Some of the best things to do in Guildford
PUBLISHED: 06:05 28 November 2019 | UPDATED: 17:13 02 December 2019
With iconic architecture and picturesque riverside and countryside walks on the doorstep, Guildford is a beautiful town to visit with an excellent shopping and dining offering, as well as a thriving arts community
If ever the population of Surrey were polled on "where the most beautiful town in our county" is, there is a strong chance that the historical town of Guildford would be at the top of the list. With its setted High Street and maze of alleys and side streets, iconic town clock and newly refurbished Tunsgate Arch, spectacular castle grounds and domineering cathedral, there is certainly much to commend it architecturally.
There's another simple reason that it's such a stand out destination though, as the scenic River Wey meanders through the heart of the town and the Surrey Hills rise up around it in on all sides. In the heart of the town, the castle grounds are a tranquil haven to escape to for lunch or a leisurely weekend with a book. It's a bustling town that wraps itself in the countryside.
It's no surprise that Guildford has inspired many creative minds over the years, from Lewis Carroll, who wrote the Hunting of the Snark while wondering the nearby hills and is memorialised by many Alice in Wonderland-themed sculptures around the town, to Guildford Shakespeare Company, who are such an integral part of Surrey's cultural scene today.
There's certainly plenty to keep you entertained, with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, G Live entertainment venue, Electric Theatre community arts venue and any number of smaller arts destinations showcasing everyone from international artists and theatre stars to upcoming talents from the Academy of Contemporary Music and Guildford School of Acting.
There are also groups such as the Guildford Fringe Theatre Company, who host a fabulous summer fringe festival but also return to the stage in the winter months with their adult panto, Sinders. It runs from November 27 through to January at The Star Inn - although make sure to take your sense of humour with you! Earlier this year, The Stranglers unveiled a plaque at the aforementioned pub to commemorate the punk band's first gig there back in 1974.
In complete contrast to punks' renegade spirit, shopping is also one of the town's star attractions. It's made a little more interesting by the maze of alleys, where you'll find little hidden independent shops such as Ben's Collectors Records for music, Cry for the Moon for jewellery, The Bear Garden for unique toys, The Gate boutique for ladies' fashion, and everything in between.
Food and drink is high on the menu too. It would be remiss of us not to mention 2019 Newcomer of the Year at the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards, V Café at the Institute, which is Guildford's only dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurant. It's open every weekday 9am to 3pm, serving lunches between 12noon to 2pm and you'll have to pop in to see why it got our judges so excited.
That's just the cherry on the sundae, however, and wherever you walk in Guildford you'll find independent coffee shops that are perfect for brunching, such as Kalm Kitchen and Surrey Hills Coffee, and restaurants offering a taste of the world, including (but not limited too!) Postiano, Jeita, La Casita, Thai Terrace, Meat the Greek… well, you get the idea.
Perhaps the most talked about destination in recent years, apart from the award-winning V Café, of course, is the glitzy The Ivy Castle View at Tunsgate Quarter, which overlooks the castle grounds.
So, without having even begun to scratch the surface, you can see there's plenty to commend a visit to Surrey's de facto 'county town' (Kingston-upon-Thames officially holds the honour, despite officially being found outside the border these days…)
Aside from all that, Guildford is also surrounded by beautiful villages and there are a number of important Surrey heritage and tourism attractions on the doorstep, including Loseley Park, Watts Gallery and RHS Garden Wisley. So it's a perfect launchpad for people looking to discover Surrey too.
Wharf Road, Guildford GU1 4RR. Web: nationaltrust.org.uk
River Wey and Godalming Navigations was one of the first British rivers to be made navigable, opening to barge traffic in 1653 - and you'll still see narrow boats and kayakers passing by through Guildford's locks today. Dapdune Wharf is the National Trust's visitor centre and is open, from Friday November 1 to Sunday November 3, for the last time this winter. It's about a 15 minute walk along the river from the heart of town.
Guildford Castle Grounds
10 Castle Street, Guildford GU1 3UW. Web: guildford.gov.uk
You can't really ever say too much about Guildford's beautiful castle grounds, although still you often find that their existence comes as a complete surprise to people who only ever "pass through town." They are free to enter, although there is a small charge if you would like to visit the Castle Keep, and make sure to keep an eye out for the Alice Through the Looking Glass statue.
London Road, Guildford GU1 2AA. Web: glive.co.uk
They've got a mammoth month ahead at G Live, with Ben Fogle, John Mayall, Dave Gorman, Ben Elton, Jools Holland, Jonathan Pie, Jimmy Carr and Hawkwind just a taste of the variety to come in November. There's also a couple of Guildford International Concert Season dates to look out for, a must for classical fans, as well as Guildford Symphony Orchestra presenting Beethoven's Choral Symphony. Tickets tend to shift quickly for headline acts, so you may need to be quick on your mouse for many of the above.
Stag Hill, Guildford GU2 7UP. Web: guildford-cathedral.org
A comparatively modern cathedral, Guildford Cathedral has a fascinating story as the Second World War brought a halt to its building and necessitated a 'buy a brick' campaign before it was finally completed. The original crowdfunding, then! Dominating over the town from its perch on Stag Hill, you can see its angel watching over the town from many viewpoints. Guildford Choral Society is hosting a concert there on Saturday November 2, which could be a great time to visit.
Christmas lights switch on
High Street, Guildford GU1 3AJ. Web: guildford.gov.uk
With its picturesque streets, Guildford is a fantastic destination come the festive season and Christmas officially launches on Thursday November 21, from 6pm, with the lights switch on - which usually sees a packed High Street enjoying the start of the celebrations. There will be a firework display then but, if you can't wait that long, Guildford's Firework Fiesta sees bonfire night celebrations on Saturday November 2. It includes a torchlit procession from the High Street to Stoke Park.
24 hours in…
Waking up in one of the town's hotels, perhaps Guildford Harbour Hotel at the top of the High Street, explore the alley ways and streets before seeking out one of Guildford's independent coffee shops for a top notch brunch.
Stoll the River Wey and then pop into Partisan cheesemonger and delicatessen and Corkage wine shop to pick up a few picnic bits to enjoy in the Castle Grounds if the weather is good. If it isn't, no panic, check out Guildford Museum, Guildford House Gallery, one of the town's historic pubs, indoor ice skating at the Spectrum (not after a drink), Craggy Island rock climbing... yes, there's plenty to do even on a rainy day and there's a cinema too.
After what could easily have turned into quite a busy day, it's time to slow things down - maybe check out a show at the Yvonne Arnaud or book yourself into one of the many, many restaurants in town (we've got a list of our top 10 at surreylife.co.uk). As for pubs, you can settle down with riverside views at The Weyside and The White House or settle down in a piece of history at The Three Pigeon. For something a little more rowdy, try the Alley Bar or, for live music, The Boileroom.
While the secret is well and truly out to those who live in Guildford, people from further afield may not be aware of the Tudor Antiques speakeasy. Hidden down an alley way behind the closed doors of an antiques shop, it's a place for the discerning drinker who is always on the lookout for something new. It's open Thursday to Saturday every week from 7.30pm until late, and you request the secret access code via their website.