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48 hours in Cheltenham - The Festival Town

Visitng Cheltenham for the weekend

Food, fun & festivals: 48 hours in Cheltenham - The Festival Town

Festivals fill more than half the weekends in Cheltenham, the town that loves to entertain, enhance and enthral everyone who visits it! The arrival of spring is the starting signal for an array of events throughout the year which cater for a wide range of passions, from jazz and horse racing to science, literature, food and drink and cricket. Cheltenham offers almost 40 different festivals in total, but taken together they amount to just one part of what this Regency gem has to offer. From its ever-increasing choice of restaurants and bars to enticing places to stay, intriguing attractions and unique places to shop, this is a town in which it’s worth lingering for longer.
Once the excitement of horseracing during March’s world renowned Cheltenham Festival has cooled, the next event bringing thousands of people to the town is the annual Cheltenham Jazz Festival, with its carefully-curated mix of international musicians and singers and up-and-coming new artistes performing over six days in May.
Respected scientists and big thinkers will be coming together for the Cheltenham Science Festival in June to talk about the hottest topics of the day and encourage young and old to immerse themselves in activities that will expand their minds. This event promises six jam-packed days of debate, discovery, experiments and hands-on fun for the whole family.
Come July it’s time for classical music enthusiasts to rhapsodise over a week-long programme of concerts, with world premieres at Cheltenham Town Hall and emerging talent in the Pittville Pump Room, not to mention special events at DEYA Brewery’s taproom.
Other events that draw people to Cheltenham from all over the UK include the family-orientated Wychwood Festival held at the racecourse from the end of May, offering a long weekend of indie, world and folk music, along with comedy, art, fine ales and healing gardens. July’s colour-packed Cheltenham Paint Festival is a celebration of street art that’s now in its sixth year; the Cotswold Festival of Steam held during the last week in May sees the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway take visitors on a journey through time; Fantasy Forest - The UK fantasy festival at Sudeley Castle in July offers a magical day out for families and those who love the fantasy genre; Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival is a three-day epicurean delight in June, while the Cheltenham International Film Festival brings the best of world cinema to town for over 10 days.
Sports fans won’t want to miss the Cheltenham Cricket Festival, held over 20 days from June 30 in the idyllic setting of Cheltenham College, nor the excitement of the horse racing at Cheltenham Racecourse, with The Showcase marking the return of thundering hooves in October.
Cheltenham is a town in which the spirit of inclusivity thrives, as is shown by the community celebration Cheltenham Pride in May and June’s Lives of Colour Culture Fest, which embraces everyone through art, food, music and dance.
New to Cheltenham for 2024 is Cheltenham Fringe Festival in May, offering music, theatre, film, drag, poetry, comedy and more, and Cheltenham Oktoberfest, a two-day extravaganza of oompah bands, games, gourmet food and steins of German bier.
Meanwhile the world’s foremost writers, thinkers and performers will be in town during October for the globally-renowned Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival. This 10-day event offers an impressive programme of inspiring speakers and fascinating discussions.
The number of festivals taking place in Cheltenham throughout the year is just one of the ways in which this town sets out to cater for visitors, a tradition that dates back to its years as a celebrated spa destination. Alongside its impressive programme of special events, there’s a year-round offering of things to see and do too.
Pittville Pump Room is a stunning Regency gem overlooking the lawns and lake of Pittville Park. It opened in 1830 as the last and largest of Cheltenham’s spa buildings and has long been a popular spot for visitors, including members of the Royal family.
Another much-loved part of the town’s historic fabric and a must for culture buffs is the Everyman Theatre in Regent Street, which was designed by the great Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham and opened in 1891. It’s renowned for exciting programmes of productions, including drama, musicals, comedy and ballet.
The Wilson is Gloucestershire’s foremost art gallery and museum, with significant collections of furniture and other items from the Arts and Craft Movement and fine art, and fascinating archives relating to Antarctic explorer Edward A Wilson.
Holst Victorian House will be of special interest to those coming to Cheltenham for its music festival, especially in 2024 with the 150th anniversary of the birth of Gustav Holst, the composer responsible for The Planets Suite and many other much-loved pieces of music.
Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe will already be on the list of those going along to the Fantasy Forest Festival, but equally it’s a must for lovers of history and gardens. It’s the only private castle in the UK to have a queen buried within its grounds – namely Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII - and provided refuge for Charles I during the Civil War.
Other great places to visit in and around Cheltenham include Piston Distillery in Staverton, with its gin school in which it’s possible to be immersed in the artisan world of craft distillation and even make a bottle to take home and enjoy.
While festivals often feed the mind, it’s important to make sure there’s also sustenance for the body, something at which Cheltenham excels with its exceptional choice of restaurants. If the sophisticated setting of Cheltenham’s only rooftop restaurant and bar and a choice of everything from modern British classics to European-inspired cuisine appeals, including delicious options for vegetarians and vegans, The Nook is the place to be.
Call into the freshly re-imagined The Mayflower in Clarence Street for Chinese food, or Kibou in the Regent Arcade for contemporary Japanese food and drink. And for those craving a tasty burger, opt for Cheltenham’s finest by taking a trip to national award-winning The Beefy Boys in Regent Street.
Make the evening last by visiting one, or several, of Cheltenham’s atmospheric bars for a glass of wine or a creative cocktail. John Gordons in Montpelier Arcade specialises in the finest spirits, cigars, Champagne and whisky, while Memsahib’s Lounge on the Promenade offers a gin bar, delicious afternoon teas and a tempting menu of contemporary Indian cuisine. Mr Cambrays’ Curiosity, which doubles as a coffee shop by day and cocktail room by night, with 5 themed rooms to explore, is a must see!
The Retreat Wine Bar in Suffolk Parade has been offering fine hospitality since 1982 and is celebrated for its lively atmosphere, while Dunkertons Cider Bar  at Dowdeswell Park, is the perfect spot for a refreshing glass of locally made cider.
After a busy day, get a great night’s sleep in one of Cheltenham’s quality hotels. For contemporary charm in classical surroundings, The Queens Hotel has long been a popular choice. This imposing Regency building on the Promenade has 84 thoughtfully-designed and modern bedrooms, including several accommodating guests with dogs and accessible rooms.
Close by is No. 131, a hotel of 36 beautifully-designed bedrooms occupying a trio of Georgian townhouses with bold artwork and luxurious bathrooms. A must visit is the Gin & Juice Bar, one of Cheltenham’s top late night destinations.
Malmaison on Bayshill Road is housed within an impressively restored Victorian villa, originally built in 1847. Its 61 sumptuously-styled rooms offer plush beds, chic furnishings and state-of-the-art amenities, plus you’re just a short stroll away from the chic shops, bars and restaurants of Montpellier.
Ellenborough Park in Southam Lane is a five star country house hotel, spa and restaurant set within 90 acres of grounds, not far from the gallops at Cheltenham Racecourse, and is ideal if you’re looking for an elegant, peaceful stay but close enough to enjoy all the town has to offer. The hotel has a variety of beautifully-decorated rooms, including 14 that are dog friendly and even four pooch bedrooms with their own large enclosed gardens.
For Elizabethan splendour, stay at The Greenway Hotel & Spa in Shurdington. This centuries-old manor house is set within eight acres of grounds and its rooms combine classic style with a contemporary twist. Plus, there is a selection of dog-friendly rooms too.
Crescent Place in the heart of Cheltenham offers 14 beautiful and comfortable rooms within a Grade II-listed Victorian chapel dating back to 1855, and is the perfect place to stay if you don’t need the accoutrements of a staffed hotel and want to be close to the action.
Cheltenham has well and truly earned its ‘Festival Town’ strapline, but there’s so much more to see, do and experience within this Regency gem that it’s well worth booking a room and spending 48 hours, or even longer, within its friendly embrace.

Explore Gloucestershire
9 May 2024


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