Cheltenham: A Guide to the Regency Spa Town (2023)

Wandering through the charming streets of Cheltenham, you will see a unique blend of history and modernity that permeates the town and offering a wonderful mix of the traditional and the new, making it a perfect destination for anyone looking to unwind and refresh their mind, body, and soul. 

There is an abundance of independent and much-loved High Street shops, incredible dining experiences from street food to Michelin-starred fine dining, and unique festival vibes.

As a spa town resort, Cheltenham became known for its health and holiday spa following the discovery of mineral springs in 1716, and it claims to be the most complete Regency town in Britain.

The several festivals of culture, often featuring nationally and internationally famous contributors and attendees. 

Whether you’re looking to explore the town’s rich history, indulge in some retail therapy, or simply relax and soak up the atmosphere, this is a unique and special town with history, and culture, and should be on the travel itinerary for any visitor to the Cotswolds.

History

Dating back over a thousand years, let’s take a look at the early history and how Cheltenham evolved into the Cheltenham Spa that we know today.

Early History

Beginning as an Anglo-Saxon village over 1,200 years ago, 1226, Cheltenham became a market town, which was the basis of its economy due to its location on the edge of the Cotswolds, making it an important trading centre for wool and other commodities. Then, in the 18th century, medicinal waters were discovered.

Cheltenham’s fortunes changed, leading to the development of a spa industry and the first spa building was erected in 1738, and the town’s popularity as a spa resort grew rapidly and eventually became a fashionable destination for the wealthy and famous well into the 19th century.

There are still many places offering spas and information can be found on the Visit Cheltenham website.

Cheltenham Spa

The town’s Georgian architecture and beautiful parks and gardens attracted visitors from all over the world. This includes The Royal Crescent, built in the 1830s, and one of the town’s most famous landmarks and was designed by architect John Forbes, who also designed the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

In the early 20th century, Cheltenham’s spa industry declined although its heritage is still evident today.

Many of the town’s buildings date back to the Georgian and Victorian periods and have been preserved for future generations to enjoy. Today, Cheltenham is a vibrant town with a rich cultural heritage and a thriving arts and music scene.

Culture

Literature and Arts

The Cheltenham Literature Festival is a popular events and attracts visitors from all over the world. The festival is held annually in October (6-15 in 2023) and features talks, readings, jazz and workshops from some of the world’s most renowned authors. 

Another must-visit attraction for literature lovers is the Holst Birthplace Museum (check out The Holst Society website for more information) celebrating the life and works of Gustav Holst, the composer of the famous orchestral suite “The Planets.” The museum is located in a beautiful Regency townhouse and features a collection of Holst’s personal belongings, including his piano and manuscripts.

Music and Festivals

The Cheltenham Jazz Festival takes place every May and attracts some of the world’s best jazz musicians and has a mix of free and ticketed events, including concerts, workshops, and talks.

Every July, the Cheltenham Music Festival takes place around the town in many venues including the beautiful Pittville Pump Room.

Finally, in May, and running for over 100 years is the Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts that celebrates the best of music, dance, and drama and features a mix of amateur and professional performers.

Sports

Cheltenham is passionate about sports, especially horse racing and football. As a sports enthusiast, I was excited to explore the town’s sports scene and learn more about its history and culture.

Horse Racing

Horse racing is a significant part of Cheltenham’s sports culture and the town is home to the world famous Cheltenham Festival. This takes place annually in March and attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.

The Cheltenham Racecourse, is a beautiful and historic venue with excellent facilities and a capacity of over 67,000 spectators, and the festival features some of the most prestigious races in the world, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Football

The town’s main football team being Cheltenham Town FC that plays in League One and has a loyal fan base.

The Jonny-Rocks Stadium is the team’s home ground, and it has a capacity of over 7,000 spectators. The stadium is modern and well-maintained, providing an excellent match-day experience for fans.

If you’re interested, other football teams nearby or within the Cotswolds area are Forest Green Rovers FC, Cirencester Town F.C., Slimbridge A.F.C., Bishop’s Cleeve F.C., Tuffley Rovers F.C., Fairford Town F.C., Shortwood United F.C., Brimscombe & Thrupp F.C. and Longlevens A.F.C.

Education

Cheltenham has a reputation for offering high-quality education to students of all ages and the education system is divided into primary, secondary and and higher education.

Primary and Secondary Education

The Cheltenham School District is responsible for providing primary and secondary education to students in the area and offers a variety of programmes and services to meet the needs of all students, including those with special needs.

Cheltenham High School is the district’s flagship school, with courses covering topics including English, Math, Science, Social Studies, World Language, Psychology, Economics, 2 and 3 Dimensional Arts, and Music Theory.

There are a number of private schools, including Cheltenham Ladies’ College, which is consistently ranked as one of the top all-girls’ schools nationally. The school was established in 1853 to provide “a sound academic education for girls”.

Higher Education

Cheltenham is home to the University of Gloucestershire, which offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The university has a strong reputation for research and innovation, with a focus on sustainability and social responsibility.

The university also has several partnerships with local businesses and organizations, providing students with opportunities to gain practical experience in their chosen field.

Overall, the local education system is dedicated to providing students with a comprehensive and high-quality education, whether you are looking for primary and secondary education or higher education options.

Economy

In this section, I will provide an overview of Cheltenham’s economy and highlight some of the key industries in the area.

Retail and Tourism

As a Regency spa town, tourism is an important sector and the town is known for its festivals, including the Cheltenham Festival, which attracts visitors from around the world. In 2022, the Cheltenham Festival was worth an estimated £274m to the local economy.

Industry

Cheltenham has a small but significant manufacturing sector, with a focus on aerospace and electronics providing high-skilled jobs and contributing to the local economy. The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), responsible for electronic surveillance and intelligence gathering is nearby.

Business

Cheltenham has a growing business sector, with a number of startups and established companies in business parks and a number of banks and insurance companies located in the town.

Transportation

There are plenty of car parks and on-street (meter) car parks in Cheltenham, and the town itsrelf has a well-connected transportation system.

Here are some details about the roads and motorways and public transportation options in Cheltenham:

Roads

Cheltenham is well-connected to major roads and motorways. The M5 motorway runs to the east of the town, providing easy access to Birmingham and Bristol, the A40 runs through the town, connecting it to Oxford and London and the A46 connects Cheltenham to Bath and Gloucester. The town also has a good network of local roads, making it easy to get around by car.

Public Transportation

There is a reliable public transportation system, which includes buses and trains. The town has a bus station, the Royal Well Bus Station, which is centrally located in the town centre and from here, you can take buses to various parts of the town and surrounding areas.

The Cheltenham Spa railway station is located just outside the town center, and it provides regular train services to London, Bristol, Birmingham, and other major cities. The station also connects to local train services, making it easy to travel to nearby towns and villages.

If you are planning to use public transportation frequently, you can purchase a Cheltenham Dayrider ticket, which allows you to travel on all Stagecoach buses in Cheltenham for a day. You can also purchase a Cheltenham PLUSBUS ticket, which combines your train and bus tickets travel around the town and surrounding areas conveniently.

Overall, the transportation system is well-connected and reliable, making it easy to get around the town and surrounding areas.

The town is an exquisite romantic getaway perfect for a weekend of exploration and relaxation.

From the shops to the museums, spa experiences, and strolls in the peaceful gardens, there are plenty of activities available to be experienced by travelers.

Whether considering a romantic night out for couples or planning an educational day of sightseeing for the entire family or even a romantic getaway, Cheltenham is a charming regency spa town that offers something unique every visit.

Check out this 5 Day Cotswolds Road Trip Itinerary: A Comprehensive Guide

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