Considering heading to Cheltenham, but don’t know much about the spa town? As a Cheltonian myself, I’ll share some of the best things to see and do in Cheltenham, and answer the question that might be on your lips: ‘is Cheltenham worth visiting?’
You’ve likely landed on this page because you’re wondering whether or not to visit Cheltenham. Perhaps you don’t know much about our spa town, or exactly what there is to see and do. Or, perhaps you’re visiting for the iconic Cheltenham Races and are considering extending your stay to explore. Whatever the reason, in this guide I’ll share why Cheltenham is 100% worth visiting, and the best things to do here. Having been born and bred in Cheltenham, I think I’m well placed to share why it’s such a great place to visit. Here’s my guide to visiting Cheltenham, and why you need to add it to your list of places to visit.
Where is Cheltenham?
Cheltenham is a spa town in Gloucestershire, in the south west of English. Often considered the gateway to the Cotswolds, it’s surrounded by rolling countryside and within easy reach of many of the Cotswolds most popular towns and attractions. Cheltenham is a relatively large town, with a population of just under 120,000. Cheltenham is 88 miles from London, and around 45 miles from Bristol, Birmingham, and Oxford. This makes it well positioned from a number of major UK cities, and it’s also close to the Welsh border. It’s a popular retreat for busy city slickers looking to escape the hustle and bustle for quieter town living with easy access to the countryside.
How do you get to Cheltenham?
Cheltenham’s really well connected, which makes it pretty easy to visit. Cheltenham Spa railway station offers regular services to many major cities, there are good motorway links and an extensive bus network:
- By road – visiting Cheltenham from London or Oxford is easily accessible via the A40, or you can exit the M5 at junction 11 if you’re driving from Bristol or Birmingham. There’s plenty of car parks around the town, as well as a number of free spaces on the outskirts of the town centre. I can help if you are looking for a free space!
- By bus – Stagecoach and Swanbrook operate various services across Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds to Cheltenham. I recommend planning your route on Google Maps for the most up to date services and timings
- By coach – National Express operates various services to Cheltenham, and there are multiple coaches from London to Cheltenham each day
- By train – direct routes from London Paddington, Bristol Temple Meads and Bristol Parkway, and Birmingham New Street make Cheltenham accessible from most cities across the country
What is Cheltenham famous for?
If I mention Cheltenham to anyone outside the town or overseas, they will most likely associate the town with horse racing, and rightly so. Home to the Cheltenham Festival each March, Cheltenham Racecourse hosts some of the world’s most famous jump racing, attracting hundreds of thousands of racegoers each year. Cheltenham is, however, famous for a few other things too:
- Cheltenham Spa is, as the name suggests, a spa town. It rose to fame back in the early eighteenth century for being a health and holiday resort. Essentially a mini Bath Spa, Cheltenham was discovered to have its own mineral spa waters. It attracted the likes of Jane Austen, who often visited Cheltenham as a tranquil retreat. Even today, it is a peaceful spot for a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of life
- Cheltenham is known for being one of the most complete Regency towns in the UK. Thanks to its fame in the Regency period, plenty of intact Regency architecture remains in the town today. The Regency style is now synonymous with the town, with plenty of residences and businesses operating from Regency buildings
- Cheltenham is a festival town. As well as being home to some of the most famous horse racing in the world, multiple festivals take place in Cheltenham each year. The Sunday Times Literature Festival attracts global authors each October to discuss their latest works, and Cheltenham Jazz Festival each spring sees dozens of iconic jazz musicians play in the town.
- Cheltenham is home to some famous musicians. The Rolling Stones’ founding member, Brian Jones, is famously from the town and went to school here. Iconic composer, Gustav Holst, famous for The Planets was born and raised in Cheltenham. In fact, you can visit Holst Victorian House, where he lived and worked in Cheltenham.
Is Cheltenham worth visiting?
100%. Many of my friends who hadn’t previously visited Cheltenham are often surprised at how much they like Cheltenham. It’s a beautiful town with multiple parks, and each year there is more to see and do. There’s generally something for everyone – from bustling bars and fine dining restaurants to heritage, history, and stunning architecture. If you’ve not visited Cheltenham before, I recommend coming for a weekend. Book into one of the town’s best hotels, visit during a festival, and spend your time exploring the town and the Cotswolds beyond. It’s the perfect hub, whether you fancy eating, drinking, partying, or venturing into the countryside. And so my answer to ‘is Cheltenham worth visiting?’ is ‘absolutely’!
Is Cheltenham a good place to live?
Absolutely, and I can speak from first hand experience. Having been born and raised in Cheltenham, I’ve lived in London and spent years overseas in Canada, but have still come back to living in Cheltenham! It’s well located for major cities (I work in London and occasionally commute), offers a relaxed lifestyle, and there’s still plenty to do. In recent years, new bars and restaurants have made the town an increasingly attractive destination, and new establishments are opening all the time. Don’t just take my word for it – The Sunday Times voted Cheltenham as one of the Best Places to Live in the South West in 2020. The Telegraph has also regarded it one of the best places to raise a family, thanks to the excellent schools, low crime rate, and bustling town centre here.
What are the nicest areas of Cheltenham?
If you’re visiting Cheltenham for the first time, or perhaps looking to make your exploration of Cheltenham a little more permanent, you might be wondering where the nicest parts of town are. I’d recommend checking out the following areas:
- Montpellier – arguably the most chic part of Cheltenham, Montpellier is at the south end of the town’s famous leafy Promenade. Dating back to the early nineteenth century when it was the ultimate destination when visiting for the town’s spa, it’s been a hub for boutique restaurants, cafes, independent shops, and bars ever since. Although it tops the higher end of town’s price scale, there’s a stunning range of historic apartments and townhouses here.
- Tivoli – Tivoli is one of my favourite areas of Cheltenham. Boasting a handful of independent shops, cafes, and pubs, it’s a great place to wile away a morning or afternoon. It’s well located, and just a short walk from bustling Bath Road, and from Montpellier. Grab a coffee and explore the charming streets and pastel coloured townhouses.
- Pittville – Pittville is home to the iconic Pump Rooms and Cheltenham’s largest park and lake. It’s a great place to relax with a leisurely walk and a coffee, catch a game of tennis or to take the family. With plenty of green areas, it’s also a pretty part of town to live and within close proximity of the town centre. Expect to find large townhouses and beautiful Regency apartments in this area of Cheltenham, many with great views across the park.
- Lansdown – you’ll find some of Cheltenham’s most beautiful architecture in Lansdown, developed by two families back in the eighteenth century. Just a short walk from the boutique area of Montpellier and the town centre, it’s well positioned for a very comfortable lifestyle and is one of the most desirable areas of town with its stylish townhouses and luxury flats.
- Prestbury – located on the outskirts of Cheltenham, you’ll discover the historic village of Prestbury. It’s bizarrely known as being the most haunted village in the UK thanks to its reported frequent visits from the Black Abbot, but you’ll find buildings from all eras here. Boasting a handful of great pubs serving a decent pint and grub, it’s also just down the hill from Cheltenham Racecourse and plenty of countryside for some lovely walks at the weekends.
Which is better, Gloucester or Cheltenham?
This is a contentious question, and depends what you’re after ultimately. For me, Cheltenham is a lovely town with a community feel and dozens of excellent independent shops, restaurants, and bars. There are some beautiful hotels too, which I think makes it a great place to visit. There’s always something going on in Cheltenham, be it an event or a festival. Gloucester, on the other hand, is a city, which means it’s a little more spread out. Gloucester could also be considered more affordable too, particularly when it comes to housing prices. As a Roman city, Gloucester (or Glevum) is steeped in history, and it’s well worth visiting the magnificent Gloucester Cathedral where parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Watching a match at Gloucester Rugby with a cider or two is also really good fun. Cheltenham is naturally my favourite and so I’d recommend staying here, but you could always pop over to Gloucester for a look around.
When is best to visit Cheltenham?
You can visit Cheltenham any time of the year and you’ll have a great time. There’s something for every season, and festivals take place throughout the year. Visit in spring and you’ll find bobbing daffodils in the parks and Cheltenham Festival taking place. In the summer, there are plenty of places to eat al fresco, and the leafy Promenade is dappled with sunlight. Visit during autumn, and you can cosy up in one of the town’s many coffee shops and read books in preparation for the Cheltenham Literature Festival. And Christmas and winter is just magical too – the twinkly Christmas decorations and festive stalls along the Promenade are perfect for enjoying while you sip mulled wine.
Where is best to stay in Cheltenham?
If your answer to ‘is Cheltenham worth visiting?’ is ‘yes’, make sure you treat yourself to a nice place to stay. Cheltenham has a number of gorgeous boutique hotels to accommodate for a range of guests. In fact, I’ve written a whole blog post on the best hotels in Cheltenham. Here are a few of the places I’d choose to stay if I was visiting Cheltenham:
Ellenborough Park – 5*
Here’s why I’d stay at Ellenborough Park:
- Countryside location, perfect for strolls along Cheltenham Racecourse
- Outdoor heated pool (30 degrees all year round), and both indoor and outdoor jacuzzis
- A luxurious spa with seven treatment rooms
- A boot room, with a choice of Dubarry and Hunter boots all colours of the rainbow
- Telescopes for watching the horse racing at Cheltenham Racecourse
- The Restaurant, with original Tudor fireplaces and stained glass windows, perfect for afternoon tea
No 131 – 4*
With a great central location on Cheltenham’s famously fabulous Promenade, here’s what’s so great about Hotel No 131:
- Enormous beds and deep roll-top Victorian baths
- Each room is uniquely and elegantly decorated
- A gorgeous Georgian dining room turned modern sushi restaurant
- Its trendy cocktail bar
- Located on beautiful Imperial Gardens
Cowley Manor Experimental – 4*
Having recently undergone a major renovation, Cowley Manor Experimental is a wonderful estate on acres of land in the Cotswolds countryside. It has plenty of enviable features:
- 55 acres of beautiful countryside land
- A stylish indoor and outdoor pool with a bar, heated all year round
- The C-Side spa with four treatment rooms and a beautiful swimming pool
- Fitness classes including yoga and bootcamp sessions
- The gorgeous oak-panelled dining room, serving up delicious dishes
What to do in Cheltenham
Still curious to know ‘is Cheltenham worth visiting?’ There’s plenty to keep you occupied in Cheltenham, no matter your age, tastes, or preferences. Don’t miss my guide to the best things to do in Cheltenham. Here’s my summary of the things not to miss:
- Head to a festival. Cheltenham hosts over thirty festivals each year, a handful of which are globally celebrated.
- Appreciate the beautiful Regency architecture. Cheltenham has plenty of faschinating history, and some areas are like a scene from Bridgerton. Stroll along the beautiful promenade and taste. the spa water at Pittville Pump Rooms for yourself.
- Explore the outdoors. Grab a coffee from one of the town’s many coffee shops, and head outside. Cheltenham’s a really pretty floral town, having previously won Cheltenham in Bloom for many years. Head to the lido or explore the local parks – Imperial Gardens is my favourite.
- Enjoy some retail therapy. Cheltenham has always had a healthy mix of retailers and independent boutiques to keep shoppers happy. Head to the High Street or Promenade for major retailers, and explore the independent stores of Montpellier, The Suffolks, Tivoli, and Bath Road.
- Dine out at some award winning restaurants. Cheltenham is a wonderful foodie destination, with everything from rooftop restaurants to Michelin starred dining. Check out my pick of the best restaurants in Cheltenham.
- Experience the nightlife. From the theatre to the many pubs, bars, and clubs, there’s something for everyone when it comes to nightlife in Cheltenham. Check out my guide to the best bars in Cheltenham.
So, is Cheltenham worth visiting? Absolutely! I hope you found my guide to Cheltenham helpful. Is there anything I’ve missed? If you have any questions about visiting Cheltenham, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to help.