Royal Leamington Spa truly is a right royal blast. Whether you're into culture, shopping or a night on the town, it won't disappoint
It was Queen Victoria who put the 'royal' into Royal Leamington Spa. On her visit in 1838, she was so impressed by the town that she added the prefix. Queen Victoria, of course, wouldn't recognise the place today but this splendid Regency town is still sure to delight.
The Pump Rooms
To get to the real heart of the town, you need to pay a visit to the famed spa. When Leamington's springs were discovered in 1784, the town was quick to capitalise on their potential, opening the baths in 1814. Visitors flocked to Leamington to take the waters, believing that they would cure a range of illnesses from gout to rheumatism. We don't expect such miracles today, of course – but you can still taste the spa water.
The Pump Rooms remains an impressive building at the top of the Parade. It is free to enter although the baths are no longer there. Today it houses a cafe, art gallery, an exhibition on the development of the spa plus the town's library and tourist information.
A walk in the park
The Jephson Gardens are the next logical stop on a tour of Leamington, as they're just across the road from the Pump Rooms. The park is a Grade II listed area, which was restored in 1999 after a £3 million grant from the Heritage Lottery fund. From spring to autumn there are spectacular floral displays and the Temperate House at the bottom of the gardens contains some more exotic plants. The gardens are open from 8am to dusk every day, and are the perfect place for a picnic. In the summer you can go boating on the lake, and there are also occasional free open-air concerts from a variety of local bands.
Leamington won't disappoint if you're after some retail therapy. Whether you're looking for chocolate or clothes, you'll be able to find it on the Parade, which runs through the centre of the town and is the main shopping street. Just off the Parade is the Royal Priors Shopping Centre, which contains a range of high street shops. For those looking to splurge, Livery Street offers a more upmarket range of retailers.
Film fans are well-catered for, with a choice of the Apollo cinema at Portland Place or the Royal Spa Centre on Newbold Street. The Spa Centre is also a venue for comedy nights, dance shows and music events, so it's well worth checking what's on during your stay. Theatre lovers can visit the Loft Theatre on Victoria Collonade. It's an independent community theatre offering a variety of productions, from comedy to classics.
With a population of around 45,000, Leamington is small but vibrant. A lot of the students from Warwick and Coventry universities live in Leamington, and that means the nightlife is buzzing. Trendy bars such as Mumbai Blu and Voodoo attract a young crowd, while those looking for a more traditional pub should head to the White Horse or The Fox. For clubbing, check out Evolve, Rios or Kokos.
Every summer, Leamington hosts the Peace Festival. The biggest free festival of its kind, it draws a crowd of hippies, alternative therapists and students to the gardens of the Pump Rooms. There's the chance to try out activities such as yoga and Indian head massage, you can browse the stalls and a range of delicious food is on offer. See www.peacefestival.org.uk for details.
Leamington boasts a fine array of places to get some great nosh, ranging from Nicolini's tasty Italian food to Oscar's French cuisine. For atmosphere, visit Wildes, a bar/restaurant at the top of the Parade which is based in a cellar. If you just want a snack, Ben's Cookies serves a range of scrumptious hand-made biscuits and milkshakes which kids (and adults!) will love.
The Best Western Falstaff hotel is on Warwick New Road. If you're up for some fun, the hotel hosts murder mystery weekends and also currently offers a package of two nights plus entry to nearby Warwick Castle for two adults and two children for £199.95.
The Episode hotel on Holly Walk is a lively hotel with a champagne and cocktail terrace, and it does a wicked crème brulee with raspberries and shortbread.
For a cheaper option, try the Buckland Lodge Hotel on Avenue Road which provides conveniently-located rooms in a Victoria villa.