Surrey: where to go, what to see
From the big-beast tourist destinations to our cool insider alternatives, read on for our pick of 16 unmissable attractions in Surrey
Headliner: Hampton Court Palace
Henry VIII’s old gaff is one of England’s top tourist attractions, and for good reason. This spectacular Tudor mansion – built in the 1500s as a home for Cardinal Wolsey – is gorgeously grand, brimming with history and surrounded by 60 acres of beautiful gardens. Don’t forget to take in the 17th Century maze and The Magic Garden. The palace is also home several festivals throughout the year including a summer music festival and the Hampton Court Flower Show.
Under-the-radar: Polesden Lacey
The former country retreat of Edwardian socialite Margaret Greville, was once quite the party house playing host to royalty and high society including Winston Churchill, Beverly Nichols and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who spent part of her honeymoon at Polesden Lacey in 1923. Set on a 1,400 acre estate, there’s plenty going on throughout the year including organised activities for children and families. During the summer months the gardens are spectacular, especially the Rose Garden which has its own festival, and at Christmas it is enchantingly festive. There are four way-marked walks across the estate which takes in two working farms, ancient woodlands, historic farmsteads and rolling downland.
Both are big hitters on the tourist map for visitors to England and for garden enthusiasts in general. RHS Wisley is a hub of horticultural excellence covering 240 acres of self-proclaimed ‘inspirational gardening with more than 12,000 plants, many of them rare or unusual. A journey around Wisley is like taking a world tour of plants. Don’t miss the Glasshouse. Kew gardens is the largest botanical garden collection in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s set over 300 acres with more than 50,000 species of native and exotic plants, trees and flowers. Climb the Treetop Walkway to take a closer look – 18 metres above the ground – at the garden’s vast collection of trees.
Painshill is one of the most beautiful, quirky and easy-to-navigate gardens in England – and it’s right on our doorstep in Surrey, sitting on the outskirts of Cobham just off the A3. Set on a 158 acre site, the gardens were designed by Charles Hamilton in the 1700s who was inspired by Renaissance art and his tours throughout Europe. The result is an eccentric and almost theatrical garden set around a large serpentine lake with a man-made crystal grotto as its centrepiece and follies and temples included for dramatic effect. There’s also a vineyard which produces a fine sparkling wine.
Headliner: Thorpe Park
Thorpe Park has everything the adrenalin junky needs – thrills, fun and terrifying rides including the world’s fastest rollercoaster, aptly named Stealth. There are over 30 thrill rides, guaranteed to get the heart pounding. The Swarm is the UK’s only winged roller-coaster and SAW is, you guessed it, a horror-themed ride. Go on it if you dare. Crank up the fear-factor at the annual Fright Nights Fearstival on every October in the lead up to Halloween.
Under-the-radar: Wild Wood Adventures
Unleash your inner Tarzan at the Wild Wood Adventures in Guildford – the UK’s most extreme treetop and zipline adventure. There are more than 60 challenges to try including Extreme Wild, an adventure of rope bridges, wobbly crossings, tightropes, climbing challenges and 15m high. Younger dare devils, can do Wild Kids – it’s aimed at kids from 6-12 and it’s easy enough to be fun, but tricky enough for a sense of achievement. Expect bridges, logs, zips from tree to tree, cargo nets, wobbly things, climbing walls and more. Wild Wood also has its own Zip Zone, with long, fast zip wires 15 metres high up.
Headliner: Sorrel, Dorking
The Michelin-starred restaurant in Dorking is number one on many a Surrey foody’s hit list. It’s the restaurant owned and run by Steve Drake, well known in these parts for his polished and masterful cooking. Roomy pants on, get scoffing.
Under-the-radar: The White Horse, Hascombe
A village pub that’s worth going out of your way for with a fine dining menu to rival the best London can offer and a wine menu that’s almost certainly offers the widest choice of fine wines by the glass in the south England. The kitchen is run by Valentino Gentile, an exciting chef and most certainly one to watch. The monthly supper clubs are well worth booking.
Headliner: Denbies Wine Estate
Family owned and run since 1984, England’s largest wine estate is set on a very pretty 265 acres just outside Dorking. There’s a large visitor’s centre, a hotel, two restaurants and wedding and conference facilities. Regular events including winery tours and art shows are also held at the estate.
Under-the-radar: Albury Organic Vineyard
Albury Organic Vineyard is a family-owned and run vineyard set on 12 acres in the Surrey Hills. It was planted by former IT man Nick Wenman in 2009, and out of about 600 commercial vineyards in the UK, Albury is one of only a handful that has been certified as organic – which makes it pretty unique. Regular events are held, including vineyard tours and tastings, wine and cheese tastings as well as pop-up music in the vineyard events.
Headliner: Chessington World of Adventures
Theme park, zoo and sealife centre – this is the best of all worlds for the family that wants animals and adrenalin. With more than 1,000 animals, including gorillas, sealions and Sumatran tigers, the park is loosely themed on world cultures. Head from the Mexicana to Wild Asia via the Land of the Dragons.
Both Muddy favourites, and both offering a lovely day out for families. Godstone Farm, just outside the pretty village of Godstone, has a brilliant adventure playground, indoor soft play and farm animals galore including highland cows, reptiles, llamas, giant rabbits, horses, goats, pigs, chickens and more. At Bocketts Farm Park, near Leatherhead, there are trampolines, giant slides, a bouncy pillow, two large indoor play barns and outdoor adventure trails, so plenty to do. Make sure you watch the famous pig race – it’s great fun – take a pony ride, hop on board the tractor and trailer, cuddle cute rabbits or feed the farm animals. As it’s a working farm, there are always baby animals to see including lambs, kids, piglets and chicks.
Headliner: Pennyhill Park
The undoubted queen of Surrey spas, Pennyhill is a luxury country house hotel and spa just a few miles from Bagshot. This is a a place that knows how to do spa life ins style – it’s pure old-school luxury. The spa is vast and spread out over 45,000 square feet with a luxurious Roman feel to them – think with grand archways, marble columns and walls of mosaics. And if you want to talk facilities… let’s start with the eight pools, thermal cabins with a range of heat, ice and steam, and 21 treatment rooms. There’s also a 25-metre indoor ballroom pool (with underwater music and fibre optic lighting), and an outdoor pool (heated in winter), a hydrotherapy pool, and three outdoor heated hot tubs, plus Thermal Heaven, the only complete thermal sequencing experience in the UK which includes a laconium, tepidarium tiled beds, herbal saunas, ice igloo, plunge pool and foot spas. Aaaand relax.
Under-the-radar: The Coach House Spa, Beaverbrook
An opulent hideaway, The Coach House Spa at Beaverbrook is perhaps one of Surrey’s best-kept secrets. It’s tucked away on the Beaverbrook estate, just outside Leatherhead, with a distinctive country club vibe that feels exclusive and upmarket. Happily, that doesn’t mean stuffy and snobby – the staff and patrons are a friendly bunch, and that combined with the beauty of the design makes for a very relaxing day. Glass architect Brian Clarke, is responsible for design, creating a beautiful calming space that reflects the surroundings surroundings. There are six treatment suites and a relaxation room, alongside the Thermal Spa which includes a steam room, sauna and and English bath house. There are also indoor and outdoor pools, as well and a gym and a fitness studio.
Headliner: Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village
The Artists’ Village is a unique Arts & Crafts gem found in the village of Compton, near Guildford. It’s an art gallery an art gallery dedicated to the work of the Victorian-era painter and sculptor G F Watts and his wife, the designer and artist Mary Watts, hosting visiting exhibitions throughout the year in addition to the permanent gallery. You can find out more about the lives of G F and Mary Watts at Watts Studios, and take a tour of the artists’ home, Limnerslease. The Grade I listed Watts Chapel, designed by Mary and created by the local community, is also nearby and worth a look. The Artists’ Village regularly hosts workshops, courses and talks, and has a packed programme of family events.
Under-the-radar: Belgravia Gallery
Relocated from London’s Belgravia to the Surrey Hills, this art gallery exhibits works by Nelson Mandela and HRH The Prince of Wales as well as British and international contemporary artists and sculptors. It’s open by appointment, and art is viewed in a home setting. In total more than 100 works of art, both traditional and contemporary, are on show and for sale. Sculpture for the garden can also be viewed. It’s run by mother and daughter team Anna Hunter and Laura Walford, both absolute experts in their field and super lovely and welcoming too.