Cheltenham is an elegant historic town in the gorgeous Cotswolds, surrounded by beautiful countryside. It was a popular spa town during the Georgian and Victorian eras, so there's plenty of history to discover in Cheltenham's medieval churches, old-fashioned pubs, classical architecture and heritage train lines.

    The town has plenty of cultural attractions, from museum and galleries to smart and stylish boutiques and an opulent period theatre. You'll also find lively dining and entertainment options, as well as a strong equestrian scene thanks to its prominent racecourse. Whether you're here to soak up the history or try your luck at the races, here's our round-up of the best things to do in Cheltenham.

    What are the best things to do in Cheltenham?


    Cheltenham Racecourse

    Soak up the atmosphere at this celebrated racing circuit

    • Luxury

    The Cheltenham Racecourse draws thousands of people every year to its lavish racing events. Cheltenham Festival, held every March, is a major fixture in the racing calendar, but there are race days throughout the season. Take a look at runners and riders in the Parade Ring, cheer on your horse from the Grandstand, or get close to the action in the Best Mate enclosure.

    There are several bars and food trucks around, serving deli sandwiches, burgers, pizza and award-winning pies. On non-race days, the club has guided tours of its grounds which includes access to the stables, executive boxes and racecourse. The Centaur auditorium hosts concerts and other performances – it's also the venue for the annual Wychwood Music Festival.

    Location: Evesham Rd, Cheltenham GL50 4SH, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)3445 793003


    Holst Birthplace Museum

    A 19th-century house turned musical museum

    • History

    The Holst Birthplace Museum occupies the house where composer Gustav Holst spent his childhood. Celebrating his work and life in Victorian England, the rooms are preserved as they would have been in the late 19th century, complete with period furniture, ceramics and paintings. There's also a wealth of Holst's personal possessions, including his sheet music and the piano on which he composed The Planets.

    The museum's Victorian kitchen has a working coal-fired range. It hosts the popular 'Bake Back in Time' events, where you cook using authentic Victorian techniques. There are also kid's craft sessions, lectures, dance performances and a selection of concerts – sometimes even using Holst's own piano.

    Location: 4 Clarence Rd, Cheltenham GL52 2AY, UK

    Open: Tuesday–Saturday from 10.30 am to 4 pm (closed on Sundays and Mondays)

    Phone: +44 (0)1242 524846


    photo by Spudgun67 (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified


    Montpellier's independent shops

    Independent boutiques in attractive period buildings

    • Shoppers

    The charming historic streets of Montpellier are home to an assortment of independent shops. The Union Project and L'una Design both sell gorgeous homeware, while shops like Beatrice Von Tresckow and Dori Pierre offer stylish clothing choices. Try RJ Spicer for unique contemporary jewellery or Bakers Fine Jewellery for something more traditional.

    Once you're all shopped out, take a break at Ivy Montpellier Brasserie, which serves modern British fare in a beautiful domed rotunda, or try the consummate selection of wines and whiskies at Montpellier Wine Bar and John Gordon's. Montpellier Gardens is the peaceful focus of the area, which has a pleasant café and a gallery featuring works by local artists.

    Location: Montpellier, Cheltenham GL50 2DY, UK


    photo by Tess Beck (CC BY 2.0) modified


    The Brewery Quarter

    An amusement complex where you can shop, dine and play

    • Food
    • Nightlife
    • Families

    The Brewery Quarter is a former 18th-century brewery that's become an entertainment hub filled with shops, restaurants and bars. Recognisable retail names include Urban Outfitters and Luke 1977, while food choices range from buffet-style Asian food at The Real China to Chiquito's moreish Tex-Mex and succulent British steaks at Son of Steak.

    Catch the latest film releases at Cineworld, where IMAX and 4DX screens provide a completely immersive experience. Go bowling, play pool or dine in an old Cadillac at Hollywood Bowl, or take the kids to enjoy the ball pit and soft play areas at The Play Farm. Mr Mulligan's crazy golf courses will take you through deep jungles, historic ruins and 2 dazzling rooms of UV lights.

    Location: Henrietta St, Cheltenham GL50 4FA, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1242 574378


    photo by Colin Park (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Cheltenham Minster

    Medieval place of worship with beautiful stained-glass windows

    • History
    • Photo

    The oldest surviving building in Cheltenham, the Minster was built in the 11th century and has remained in almost continual use ever since. Interesting architectural features worth a closer look include the 14th-century broach spire, and the canopied stone basin near the altar, one of the largest in England. The Victorian rose window is particularly lovely and features depictions of biblical parables.

    There are several interesting wall memorials, including a 17th-century inscription by John English to his wife and a tribute to architect DJ Humphris. Classical music concerts and other events are held in the Cheltenham Minster throughout the year.

    Location: 44 Clarence St, Cheltenham GL50 3PL, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1242 519520


    photo by Reading Tom (CC BY 2.0) modified


    The Wilson

    From polar exploration equipment to rare Chinese porcelain

    • Families
    • History

    Part art gallery, part museum, the Wilson focuses on arts and design and local Cheltenham life. The gallery side includes a world-class collection of Arts and Crafts jewellery, ceramics and textiles, including a table made by William Morris. Other highlights are an extensive collection of 17th-century Dutch paintings, medieval floor tiles, and Chinese ceramics from the Tang Dynasty.

    On the museum's side, you'll find numerous exhibitions on Cheltenham's social history and its status as a fashionable spa town during the Regency. The Wilson is named after Cheltenham-born polar explorer Edward Wilson, and there's a fascinating section on his role in 2 of Captain Scott's Antarctic expeditions, including gear and scientific samples collected on the mission.

    Location: Clarence St, Cheltenham GL50 3JT, UK

    Open: Tuesday–Wednesday and Friday–Saturday from 9.30 am to 5.15 pm, Thursday from 9.30 am to 7.30 pm, Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1242 387488


    photo by Elliott Brown (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Afternoon tea on the Promenade

    Experience Cheltenham's cafe culture

    • Food

    The historic buildings and pavement seating on the tree-lined streets of the Promenade make it a wonderful place to have afternoon tea. Start at Huffkins Cheltenham, a terrific bakery which makes delicious cakes and pastries, as well as lardy cake, a local delicacy. Head to Memsahib Gin & Tea Bar for a late afternoon tea or early drink with tasty Indian snacks, speciality teas and a long list of gins.

    The Queen's Hotel at the south end of the Promenade offers an elegant afternoon tea with poached salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, clementine mousse and chocolate ganache. Equally delicious is tea at Hotel No. 131, with its freshly baked fruit scones, Jersey cream and English strawberry jam.

    Location: The Promenade, Cheltenham, UK


    Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway

    Take a scenic 14-mile journey through delightful countryside

    • Families
    • History

    Enjoy a picturesque trip through the Cotswolds on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, a heritage railway line first opened in 1906. The journey takes you through pretty villages and valleys, with views across the Malvern Hills and the Vale of Evesham. Sign up for a day course and you can even learn to drive one of the trains.

    The steam and diesel locomotives date from between 1919 and the 1960s and have been fully restored in period style, along with accompanying carriages. A catering car serving tea, coffee and bottles of the locally brewed Rail Ale is available on all trains. Some also have a 1950s-style restaurant buffet car that serves bacon rolls and cakes.

    Location: Prestbury, Cheltenham GL50 4SH, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1242 621405


    photo by Juan Enrique Gilardi (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Everyman Theatre

    Magnificent historic theatre and opera house

    • Nightlife
    • History

    Everyman Theatre was first opened in 1891 and features a lavish auditorium decorated with frescoes of cherubs and gold curlicues. A refurbishment in 2011 restored many original features, including the theatre's beautiful Scagliola marble. The venue hosts operas and plays, along with dance performances, comedy nights and the ever-popular annual pantomime.

    Recent hits have included a production of Dial M for Murder, a musical version of Sleepy Hollow, and the exuberant children's show Giraffes Can't Dance. The Circle Bar on the first floor has a fine menu of wines and whiskeys, while bright and airy Matcham's Restaurant on the 2nd floor serves 2-course meals before evening performances.

    Read more

    Location: 7-10 Regent St, Cheltenham GL50 1HQ, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1242 572573


    photo by Everyman Theatre (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Victoria Hughes | Contributing Writer

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