Guildford Highlights

01 November 2023 by Andrew Pizzey

Guildford town clock George James Architects

I recently moved to the area to join the team at George & James Architects, when looking for a new place to live I decided to settle myself in Guildford as it is a bustling country town with a rich arty vein, plenty of foodie options and an abundance of culture for me to explore and enjoy.

Guildford often features in 'Best Places to Live' lists as it is seen to offer the perfect combination of rural, country life with the enjoyment of lively city living, which I can now vouch for. It also makes an ideal spot for a day trip; so for anyone looking for a new place to visit, or live, here are some of my personal highlights from the town and surrounding area. 

Guildford Castle and walls George James Architects
Guildford high street architecture Goerge James
Guildford catherdral George James Architects

Architecture

I am always drawn to locations that offer examples of interesting architecture for me to study and enjoy, and Guildford certainly does not disappoint. The town has a wonderful mix of architectural styles, from the Saxon era to the present day which can be easily enjoyed just by strolling through the streets. 

At the heart of the town is Guildford Castle, sitting on top of a hill it offers stunning, uninterrupted views over the town below. The castle is thought to have been built by William the Conqueror shortly after the Norman invasion of 1066, since this time it has been used as a Royal Palace, private residence and prison, now the keep is open to the public and makes a wonderful highlight for any visit to Guildford. The gardens surrounding the castle also make for an enjoyable walk, with the moat having been transformed into pretty manicured gardens that encircle the castle.

Hidden just off the High Street you can find a medieval under croft from the 13th century. The space is beautiful, with a stone vaulted roof decorated with gargoyles, the basement space would have originally been designed as storage for the shop above. 

Guildford Cathedral is one of the UK’s youngest cathedrals, and one of only three Church of England cathedrals that have been built in the twentieth century. Designed by Sir Edward Maufe, the design is gothic influenced but created with modern techniques, most strikingly the cast in-situ concrete, an unusual approach in church construction.

Perhaps not the prettiest Cathedral from the outside, once inside it is a beautiful space, unusually minimal in style and decoration, the interior offers a beautifully simplicity. The decorations are low key, including the striking stain glass windows. I do love the injection of colour within the Lady’s Chapel, where the ceiling beams have been painted a vibrant turquoise, with gold star detailing.  

Fun fact, the Cathedral was used as a location for the cult classic, The Omen film!

To do

Guildford offers a wonderful blend of town and county, with plenty to keep you entertained. Guildford House Gallery is an art gallery set in a 17th century Listed town house, offering an ever-changing exhibition and shop, it is also where you will find the tourist information centre so is a good start to any visit to Guildford.

In the town you can find the Spike Heritage Centre, a really interesting museum housed in the ‘Guildford Union Workhouse’ which showcases how the poor of Edwardian England where once treated. The fascinating centre shines a light on those less fortunate, demonstrating what they had to do to earn their keep and the showing the conditions of these workhouses.

Just a short walk out of Guildford is Pewley Down, a 23-acre nature reserve that sits just outside the town it is a wonderful space for kids, and dogs to explore with spectacular views across the surrounding countryside.

A real gem to visit is Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village, originally founded in 1904 by the successful British artist George Frederic Watts and his wife Mary Watts, a renowned designer and artist. There is much to see and do here that you could happily send a few hours (there is also a shop, café and many walks from here), with the historic gallery featuring some impressive Victorian sculptures and paintings by George Frederic Watts alongside a changing contemporary art exhibition.

A short walk from the Artist Village is the Watts Cemetery Chapel, a Grade I listed terracotta building that was designed by Mary, first opened in 1898 the chapel is still in use today and free to visit. This wonderful little building is decorated with intricate clay tiles, designed with a fusion of celtic, art nouveau and Romanesque influences that cover the exterior. Internally the chapel has been decorated by wall painting, completed by some 70 plus local villages who helped to decorate the chapel, and finished with a large altar piece by G. F Watts himself.

Turnsgate Guildford George James Architects
Guildford high street George James Architects

Shop

The pretty cobbled High Street is a wonderful place to shop, with a good mix of retail options set within backdrop of interesting architecture from across the ages, and the iconic bracket clock overhanging the main thoroughfare. You can find several little lanes leading off the main High Street which are great to explore and offer some lovely independent stores and eating options.

There are two shopping malls in Guildford, to offer an easy and sheltered retail fix. At the Tunsgate Quarter (located between the High Street and the Castle) you can find stores including The White Company, Loaf and OKA and food options, at The Friary Centre you can find high street brands such as Zara, River Island and Next.

If you are lucky enough to visit on a Friday or Saturday, we strongly recommend you head to North Street Market, a small outdoors farmers market right in the centre of town where you can find some delicious treats.

Guildford March hare Geoge James Architecture

Eat & Drink

After such a busy few hours exploring the town you will need a break! Luckily there are so many different places to pick from, to suit your appetite and needs. For a quick bite or coffee I suggest Gail’s bakery in Tunsgate Quarter, Canopy Coffee on Haydon Place or Coffee Culture on Angel Gate.

If you are looking for something a little more substantial The March Hare is a comfortable gastro pub with delicious food and a vibrant interior design, it also enjoys a stunning spot in the town with views overlooking the castle. 

If you are looking for a place to quench your thirst, The Weyside Inn offers a perfect spot to enjoy an alfresco drink (they have lovely covered huts in the garden) and watch the boats glide by on the River Wey. If you are out later in the day and want something a little stronger, then I can recommend Komo for some wonderful cocktails in a beautifully atmospheric setting.  

Nearby

Just located to the south of Guildford is Loseley Park, a magnificent 16th century manor house which is open to the public over the summer months. The house and gardens are beautiful, and has understandably been used as a filming location for shows such as The Crown and Sense & Sensibility. It is possible to enjoy spending hours exploring the walled gardens, set over an impressive 2.5 acres these are divided into ‘rooms’ including the Rose Garden, Herb Garden and Organic Vegetable Garden.

Hatchlands Park is set just to the east of Guildford, an impressive Georgian country home set within sweeping parkland, now managed by the local National Trust. The house makes a wonderful day trip with so much to see, inside the house there are six richly restored rooms, boasting some of Robert Adam’s earliest work. The grounds are not to be missed, with landscaping by Humphry Repton they are best enjoyed by following one of the various walks that meander through them. 

  

I do hope you have enjoyed my suggestions of places to visit in and around Guildford, you might also like to read pervious articles about other local destinations such as FarnhamPetworthChichester and Petersfield

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