Insider Guide to Royal Leamington Spa
This Warwickshire town was previously named the happiest to live in the UK and its lush parks often play host to some great festivals. Have a read of our handy guide to find out why Leamington is the place to go.
Well-heeled riverside spa town, Leamington Spa or Royal Leamington Spa, renowned for its stunning white Regency architecture and gorgeous parks and gardens, has a quirkier side with a vibrant and creative independent scene – you’ll find vegan cafes, boutiques, art galleries and a Farrow & Ball. Local or just visiting – fancy a quick whistle-top tour and a few top insider tips?
Set inside a pretty Victorian birdhouse overlooking the river in lovely Jephson Gardens, The Aviary family-run café is an excellent choice for lunch if you’re looking for a not-on-the-high-street pit stop. Expect simple, honest food – think homemade bread, traditional stews, hand-crafted cakes and desserts – all artfully presented on the plate. Veggies, vegans and gluten free diners are well catered for too.
Great for dinner is hipster paradise The Drawing Board, which sits in a quiet residential street and is achingly cool with its squishy sofas and comic book-clad interior. On the menu is hearty-homemade food – including spam fritters (trust us on this one!) – washed down with local beers and wines from an extensive list.
Other good places to eat include: Warwick Street Kitchen, a lovely rustic independent cafe kitchen; indie restaurant Red Hot Mamma for stone-baked Italian pizza (and cool Insta pics of you book one of their outdoor ‘beach huts’); French bistro Eleven and Italian restaurant La Coppola. If Asian cuisine is more your thing then Nana’s Japanese is a must, but pre-booking is essential as this tiny eatery fills up fast (book on one of their infamous sushi nights if that’s your jam). Or for stylish gastropubs there’s The Star and Garter, award-winning The Moorings at Myton, and its thatched sister pub The Stag at Offchurch, in a tiny Warwickshire village just outside Leamington.
Mallory Court Hotel & Elan Spa sits in a peaceful leafy countryside setting just outside town with beautiful tended gardens. The 3 AA Rosette restaurant, run by head chef Paul Evans who previously worked at a host of Michelin star restaurants, features dishes from the kitchen garden, while Elan Spa won Best Spa in this year’s Muddy Stilettos Awards.
Fancy the great outdoors? Then you’ll love Hilltop Hideaways – a few miles from Leamington in nearby village Hunningham, it’s ultra-luxe glamping (hello Le Creuset kettles and underfloor heating) on a lovely family-run farm with incredible views over the Warwickshire countryside. I recently stayed in their luxury shepherd’s hut which comes in its own private field, with a shower and loo (always a bonus), and a farm shop, café, rescue farm animals and a play area on site. You can also book a bell tent, cabin, shepherd hut or simply a tent pitch on the site.
In the town centre, beautifully-landscaped Victorian Jephson Gardens with its tropical Glasshouse and Victoria Park are great for a stroll, riverside walk or picnic. Just outside is Foundry Wood, a small community woodland nature spot and a great place for families with outdoor classroom for kids’ holiday workshops, fortnightly forestry schools, nature trails, ecotherapy sessions, woodland crafts and even a large clay oven for outdoor pizza making sessions.Or, slightly further afield, Burton Dassett Hills is a scenic out-of-town country park comprising of rugged hilltops – great for kite-flying or to really tire out the dog.
Fancy a snifter? House Leamington’s with its quirky décor, multiple zones (even shhhh, a Secret Room for private parties) and cheeky cocktail list will sort you out in style. Kids eat for free (12-6pm) and there’s cocktail masterclass party packages – note, you’re not supposed to do both at the same time!
Alternatively, other laid-back buzzy independent boozers include family-run HART+CO with its pink interior, delicious cocktails and bigger is better brunch menu; Procaffeinate, a coffee shop by day and drinking den by night – you descend to the secret downstairs bar by walking behind an unsuspecting Smeg fridge; Fizzy Moon Brewhouse with its Fizz & Gin bar, micro-brewery and live music; fun neighbourhood pubs The Royal Pug (Gin Palace upstairs) & The Fat Pug, rustic basement bar The Cellar Club and The White Horse for lively boozy nights.
Not in the mood for a city slogathon? Relax, Leamington’s small and very easy to negotiate. There’s The Parade (the main high street), with more ‘boutiquey’ lanes running off it, and one central arcade, The Royal Priors, and Lower Leam – downtown Leamington with its more bohemian vibe across the river.
Winner of this year’s Best Giftshop in the Muddy Awards, Berylune is a small indie business on Warwick Street stocking exciting homewares, gifts and accessories – think gorgeous Liberty prints and snazzy plants. Make sure this place is first on your list whether you need a treat for you or someone else (or both).
Head to Warwick street and you’ll find three-time Chelsea Gold Medal-winning independent boutique florist and designer Sarah Horne, a staple on the street since 1980 (be sure to check out the pretty new Botanicals range featuring hand-drawn Orchids, Stargazers, Roses and Fresias). There’s also Anita Mannion’s UK Independent Drinks Retailer of the Year-winning Leamington Wine Company if you’re on the hunt for a decent bottle of red, white, fizz (hey, or all three).
Elsewhere on Regent Street and The Parade, you’ll find a mix of stylish high street favourites – Neal’s Yard, Farrow & Ball and Mint Velvet – peppered with indie boutiques and stores. For interiors, Ember Home treads a masterly line in the latest trends (industrial and middle eastern are particularly well catered for), or Walnut & Weave in the Royal Priors stocks a cleverly-curated range of gifts, cards and homewares for all ages and occasions. For fashion head to Lilac Rose (another Muddy Award-winner!) for kooky, retro-inspired British designers like Emily and Fin, Louche, Trollied Dolly and Darling, jewellery, accessories and gifts.
You can’t miss the imposing Grade II listed, 18th century Royal Pump Rooms at the bottom of The Parade, opposite Jephson Gardens. Once containing Leamington’s spa baths and assembly rooms, it’s now a creative hub housing a museum (check out the Hammam preserved from the original Turkish Bath for a slice of history), art gallery, library and kids’ art club in the holidays. See what’s on here.
Stunning country mansion house, Stoneleigh Abbey, is a stone’s throw away and has connections with Queen Victoria and Jane Austen, with the latter staying there with her mother in 1806 . Many feel it was the inspiration for Mansfield Park. The house is open by guided tour only but you can take a wander around the pretty gardens without booking – if it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for us.
Within a few miles you also have two fantastic historic castles, English Heritage-run Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Gardens, and 12th Century Warwick Castle with its action-packed family-attractions from the Castle Dungeons and Horrible Histories Maze, to the interactive Zog trail, War of the Roses live and old tower – you get a breathtaking view from the top.
Fancy a family kayaking, canoe or stand-up paddle board experience on the River Leam? Head over to Leam Boat Centre in Mill Gardens, across the river from Jephson Gardens, where there’s been a boating lake and boat house since the Victorian heyday. Children’s taster sessions and birthday parties for all ages available, including raft building and Dragon Boat racing.
Victoria Park has a skate park for teens, lots of space to run around, a play area and paddling pool for younger children. If it’s wet and rainy there’s a good trampoline park, Jump In and Swirls ice-cream parlour.
Just a stone’s throw away there’s Hatton Adventure World where the kids can meet the farm animals, tractor rides and more than 100 acres to scream about in. There’s also some cute shops and a sweet tea room for when they finally pass out.
We love Miss Kat’s Closet, an emporium of quality new, vintage and pre-loved clothes. It’s just over the bridge in Leamington’s Old Town.
Leamington’s newest addition to its food scene plays on as many puns as possible, starting with its name – The Magic Wingdom. Once you’ve finished rolling your eyes you can actually get some great food here with a Korean twist, unsurprisingly plenty of wings, but also bao (check out the David Baoie). There’s a pretty extensive vegan menu too.
For a small town, Leamington packs a punch with it’s cultural calendar including – diaries at the ready – Art in the Park, Leamington Food and Drink Festival, Leamington Peace Festival, Warwickshire Open Studios and Leamington Lantern Parade. If you’re looking for great theatre, head to Royal Spa Centre. The 1970s-style entertainment venue and cinema may look a little dated from the outside but has a top-notch comedy line-up, including the annual autumn Leamington Spa Comedy Festival, as well as family shows, events, concerts and popular Christmas panto.
There’s also The Loft with its main 200-seat auditorium and 50-seat Douglas Ford studio theatre, which has been producing high quality live theatre in the town since 1922, and is run almost entirely by volunteers. Great bar and coffee lounge too.
Galleries are well catered for in Leamington. Try Muddy Award winners Nova Fine Art for contemporary fine art, Snap Galleries for the pop culture and photography, Reload for urban art and Slate for new talent.
The small stylish authentic indie Steamhouse opened four years ago and makes its own bagels (including an impressive veggie and gluten free range) using flour from Charlecote Mill – Warwickshire’s last working mill. (Top tip: try the doughnuts with gloriously unexpected fillings). Just a few doors down is Spa Town Coffee – all-white minimalist interiors, ethical coffee, sourdough toast and the friendliest staff – it’s a great meeting place for coffee connoisseurs, students and hot-desking if you’re looking for somewhere to perch with your laptop. If you’re not a coffee drinker the rose tea is To. Die. For.
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