20+ best things to do in Guildford, Surrey

by Jan

20 + best things to do in Guildford, Surrey

Guildford is an affluent market town nestled in the gorgeous Surrey Hills.  It is surrounded by stunning countryside and stately homes, but is a vibrant, modern destination with shops, restaurants, and family attractions.  There is an impressive range of things to do in and around Guildford, whatever your age.

Whether it’s historic buildings, retail therapy, entertainment or somewhere to go with the kids, there’s plenty of activities to choose from in Guildford.  Its location near the North Downs and Surrey Hills provides an excellent base for exploring the stunning local Surrey countryside.  What’s more, Guildford is only 30 minutes from London, so it’s easy to travel for a day out.

Having lived locally for most of my life, it’s somewhere I go regularly and know well.  With so much to see and do, here is my local’s guide to the top 20 places to see and activities to enjoy in and around Guildford.

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Guildford High Street, Guildford, Surrey, UK

At the heart of Guildford is its High Street, with its iconic cobbled streets and listed buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.  These historic buildings are home to some of Guildford’s fantastic shops, which attract shoppers from all over Surrey.

Looking out over the High Street is the Guildhall’s stunning black and gold clock.  Dating back to 1683, this elaborate timepiece was a gift from a London clockmaker, John Aylward who wanted to trade in Guildford.  The Guildhall itself was originally a courtroom, dating back to 1550.

Despite the recent national decline of the British high street, Guildford still retains a good choice of stores to suit all ages and budgets.  In the High Street, you’ll find high-end chain stores, homeware and beauty retailers, with some independent boutiques in the side passageways.  The High Street is usually a pedestrian zone, so offers a pleasant retail therapy experience for shoppers.  Plus, there’s plenty of cafés, restaurants, and coffee shops for when you need a break.

In addition to the High Street, Guildford has several shopping centres, including The Friary and Tunsgate Quarter, which provide a good choice of chain store favourites and fast food outlets.  Guildford also holds a Farmers’ Market on the first Tuesday of the month.

You really should pay a visit to Guildford if you love shopping!

Front of the historic George Abbot Hospital showing large door flanked by two towers.

As you walk up Guildford High Street, look out for the George Abbot Hospital, one of Guildford’s may impressive historic buildings.  Founded in 1619 by Archbishop, George Abbot, the beautiful hospital now provides retirement accommodation for Guildford locals.

You should also keep an eye out for the Angel Hotel.  This 500-year old posting house is the last of Guildford’s coaching inns and dates to medieval times.  It is a reminder of when Guildford was a busy stopover for travellers going between London to Portsmouth.  It is now one of Guildford’s most central hotels (see below).

Another of my favourite historic buildings in Guildford High Street is The Three Pigeons pub.  Although the original was damaged by fire in 1916, the new front was inspired by a 17th Century Oxford house and has a very authentic old-world look.

If you want to learn more about the history of Guildford, head to the Tourism Information Centre in Guildford House Gallery.  Here you can sign up for a free guided tours of the town and surrounding area.

Visit Guildford Castle

Gardens at Guildford Castle, Surrey, UK

One of the must-see attractions in Guildford is its medieval castle, which is just a short walk from the High Street.

The 11th century Guildford Castle dates to the invasion of William the Conqueror.  It is now mostly in ruins, but the gardens are beautiful, with seasonal floral displays.

Although the Norman castle is not intact, you can still climb to the top of the Great Tower for views across Guildford.  There is a small charge for entry to Guildford Castle keep, but admission to the grounds is free.

See the Alice in Wonderland statue

Statue of Alice in wonderland in front of the Guildford castle

In the grounds of Guildford Castle is a fantastic sculpture of Alice looking through the Looking Glass.  This is a nod to author Lewis Carroll who spent much time in Guildford.  Although he didn’t live in Guildford, he bought a family home for his six unmarried sisters, after the death of his father.  You can still see his home “The Chestnuts”, which is a short walk from the castle.

More tributes to Carroll’s time spent in Guildford can be seen around the town.  Several of the nearby establishments acknowledge his books with names such as “The Mad Hatter” (hat shop) and “The March Hare” (pub).  Down by the river is a bronze statue of Alice reading her book near the rabbit.

Lewis died in Guildford and you can visit his grave at the cemetery on The Mount.  It is walking distance from the town, but a pretty steep climb.

Click here for more details about Lewis Carroll’s influences in Guildford.

Take a look round Guildford Museum

Guildford Museum, Guildford, Surrey, UK

Just round the corner from the castle is Guildford Museum.  In fact, the ancient gateway to Guildford Castle now forms part of the museum’s building.  Inside the museum, you can see artefacts and exhibitions which recount the history of Guildford.

Guildford Museum is only open in the afternoons from Wednesday to Saturday.  Admission to the museum is free.

If you want to find out more about Guildford’s history, this really is a place you should visit.

Get active at Spectrum Leisure Centre

You’ll find loads of things to do at the Spectrum Leisure Centre in Guildford.  This enormous entertainment complex offers something to suit everyone.  It has a large swimming pool, ten-pin bowling, rock-climbing, and a leisure pool with slides.

It’s also home to a large indoor ice rink and even has penguin skating aids, so little children can join in.  In the evenings, they hold Ice Discos with music, lights and a DJ.

The Spectrum is one of Guildford’s best attractions for sport-lovers and families and a handy place to visit when it’s raining.

Postcode for the Spectrum:  GU1 1UP

Jump around at Air Hop*

Inflatable equipment at the Air Hop trampoline park in Guildford

There’s plenty of ways to burn off energy at Air Hop, one of Surrey’s best trampoline parks. Choose from 50 interconnected trampolines, an obstacle course, AirHop Bag, Extreme Dodge Attack or Slam Dunk.

Teenagers love this trampoline park in Guildford, but this family attraction is suitable for children of all ages.  MiniHoppers is a session for babies as young as 6 months.  For those who don’t want to bounce, you can watch from the café overlooking the trampoline area.

This is one of the best attractions in Guildford for kids – they love it!

*Ad – Please note that we were kindly gifted tickets for Air Hop.  All opinions are our own.

Kick a ball at Stoke Park

Opposite the Spectrum leisure centre is Guildford’s largest recreational area, Stoke Park.  This extensive park is one of Guildford’s best outdoor spaces, with facilities to suit all age groups.

Stoke Park has playing fields for football and rugby, and a skate park.  For younger children you’ll find a playground and paddling pool.

Take a tour of Stoke Park Ornamental Gardens

Ornamental lake with small arch bridge and gardens with a statue

One of the hidden gems of Guildford is the ornamental gardens at Stoke Park.  In contrast to the main area of open parkland, the ornamental gardens are a neat, landscaped zone with colourful flower beds.

On one side is a boating lake with an island and pretty, arched bridge.  The pond has a central fountain and Japanese ornaments.  Behind the gardens is a fantastic paddling pool for toddlers.

The gardens provide a tranquil place to relax in Guildford.

Visit Watts Gallery Artists’ Village

Historic buildings with gravel path and manicured gardens in the foreground.

Just outside Guildford, in the village of Compton, is a unique fusion of art and countryside blended into one.  The Watts Gallery Artists’ Village is an art gallery dedicated to the work of Victorian painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts.   The art museum displays the work of the artist who was one of the best painters of the Victorian era.  If you are interested in arts and crafts, this is a great place to visit.

The extraordinary Arts and Crafts buildings are located within the scenic, Wilfrid Blunt woodlands.  The attractive surroundings provided a source of inspiration for Watts and his wife and you can still see the family home, Limnerslease, where the two artists lived.

Admission for children is free.  It’s worth checking the website before you go, as they often host family events and workshops.

The Tea Shop café is a popular tea shop, which serves afternoon tea as well as a tempting Welsh rarebit.

Explore Watts Chapel

Outside of dome shaped circular chapel with yew tree in foreground

One of the most unique places to visit in Guildford is Watts Chapel, a Grade 1 listed building, with breathtaking architecture. The building is circular, with red terracotta tiles and various exceptionally ornate features, such as the door.

Watts Chapel was the inspiration of Watts’ wife, Mary and is honestly one of the prettiest chapels I’ve ever seen.  It is tiny inside, so really doesn’t take long to visit, but is one of the most impressive attractions in Guildford.

Although the chapel was built in 1898, the interior wasn’t finished until 1904.  Inside the décor is equally as exquisite as the exterior.  The craftsmanship has art nouveau and Celtic influences which go from the floor to the top of the domed roof.

Outside, the graves include that of Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World”.  Frederik and Mary Watts have their resting place in the nearby cloister.

Watts Chapel is located just up the road from the artists’ village.  You can get there by walking across the fields or it is just a short drive.

Postcode: GU3 1DQ

Escape from reality at MeetspaceVR

One of the newest attractions in Guildford is MeetspaceVR, home to a variety of free-roam Virtual Reality games and experiences.  Pick from a choice of adrenaline fuelled missions, such as zero latency or the VR quest arena or test your skills in the VR escape rooms.  The puzzles provide immersive fun and virtual reality experiences for the whole family to play*.

We’ve not yet been, but MeetspaceVR has fantastic recommendations and sounds like a really fun thing to do in Guildford –  and not just for the kids!

*Most games are suitable for children over 12 years and adults.

Postcode for MeetspaceVR:  GU1 4UG

Climb the walls at the Blue Spider Climbing Centre

Another popular place to visit in Guildford on a rainy day is the Blue Spider Climbing Centre (formerly Craggy Rock).

The Blue Spider Climbing Centre has tons of climbing opportunities, suitable for all ages, sizes and abilities.  The whole centre is full of walls and boulders just waiting to be explored.

Climbers don’t have to have any climbing experience, as the Blue Spider Climbing Centre offers taster sessions for beginners, as young as five.   They also do adult sessions, which include traversing and bouldering, to suit all fitness levels.

You must add this to your list, if you are looking for fun indoor things to do in Guildford.

Postcode for Blue Spider Climbing Centre:  GU1 1RU

Chill out at Guildford Lido

On a sunny day, one of the best days out in Guildford is at the lido.

Guildford Lido is an enormous outdoor Olympic size pool with up to 10 lanes for swimming.  The lido is set in 4 acres of landscaped gardens and has grassy areas where you can chill or enjoy a picnic.  There is a paddling pool for toddlers and flumes for older children.

Postcode:  GU1 1HB

Make a splash at Stoke Park Paddling Pool

Paddling pool at Stoke Park, Guildford, Surrey, UK

If you have younger children, Stoke Park paddling pool is a brilliant place to visit on a sunny day in Guildford.  This large pool is shallow, so toddlers can splash around to their heart’s content.

You’ll find the pool near the ornamental gardens in Stoke Park.  There’s a small playground nearby and admission is free, so it’s a great free day out for little kids in Guildford.

Pop over to Guildford Cathedral

Outside image of Guildford Cathedral with a tree in the foreground

Guildford Cathedral is England’s newest cathedral and is relatively modern compared to many of the buildings in Guildford.  It was built in the 1950s using an art-deco design from architect, Sir Edward Maufe.

Guildford Cathedral is located atop Stag’s Hill on the outskirts of town near the university campus.  Despite its modernity, the cathedral still has a unique, impressive design and can be seen for miles around.

As well as a tour of the cathedral, they often have art exhibitions.  To the rear of the cathedral, you’ll find a children’s garden, with a labyrinth and area for each season.

You can park free of charge for up to two hours by the cathedral.  Visitors are welcome, and they have a coffee shop.

The postcode for Guildford Cathedral is GU2 7UP.

Step back in time at the Spike Heritage Centre

If you’ve ever wondered what life would be like in a poor house, then a visit to the Spike Heritage Centre provides the perfect opportunity to find out.  Volunteers at the museum will take you on a guided tour of the Guildford Union Workhouse and share stories of the miserable existence of its Edwardian inmates.

Discover the harsh conditions and hardships suffered by the workers and get an understanding of how life would have been for the homeless people and vagrants of Guildford.

Tours at the Spike Heritage Centre run on Tuesdays and Saturdays and last about an hour.

I’ve not been yet, but it sounds like an interesting place to visit in Guildford and has great ratings on Tripadvisor!

Postcode: GU1 3JH

Take a walk in Chantries Woods

A boy climbing a tree in Chantries Wood near Guildford, Surrey

One of the best places for a nature walk near Guildford is at Chantries Woods, a 200-acre woodland and meadow reserve. 

At Chantries Woods you’ll find several family-friendly trails that lead through the woods, and the much longer North Downs Way.

Look out for the viewpoint at Chantries Wood, as from here you can see all the way to Guildford Cathedral.  In the other direction you can see St Martha’s Hill, one of the Surrey’s top beauty spots.

The best time to visit Chantries Wood is spring when you’ll see carpets of bluebells across the woodland floor.  However, it’s a pretty place to walk throughout the year and in summer you can see the poppy fields.

There’s a small car park, which is free, but can get busy.

Postcode for Chantries Wood:  GU4 8AW

Head for the trees at Wild Wood Adventure

One of the most exciting outdoor family attractions in Guildford is Wild Wood, a high ropes course in Stoke Park.  This treetop challenge incorporates rope bridges, wobbly crossings, obstacles, tightropes and ziplines into one fun treetop adventure .

Wild Wood has two levels of course, so is suitable for children from 6 years to adults.  Perfect for adventurers in your family.

Take a riverside walk on the Wey Navigation

Canal boats on river in Guildford, Surrey

The River Wey runs through the centre of Guildford, so is ideal if you are looking for a tranquil escape from the town.

In 1653, the River Wey became one of the first navigable rivers in Britain.  It connected to the River Thames at Weybridge and later to Godalming in the South.  Today, you can enjoy the picturesque Surrey countryside with a riverside walk along the towpath.

Discover the history of Dapdune Wharf

boat on water poking out of boat house, with lots of green plants and trees around

To find more about the history of the Wey Navigation, head to Dapdune Wharf.  At the National Trust Visitor Centre you can see Resilience, one of the original Wey barges.  Unfortunately, Resilience sank after hitting a bridge on the River Thames, but was later found and towed to Dapdune Wharf.

During your visit, you can also see a reconstruction of the old blacksmiths yard, original cranes used to get the barges into the water and the old gunpowder store.

The River Wey provides a beautiful natural setting for the Visitor Centre.  To the left of it is a small wildlife area called Dapdune Island (which is not actually an island).

If you want to stop and enjoy the water, there is a café, or several picnic benches.

From Dapdune Wharf you can cross the footbridge and head towards Stoke Lock or take the easier option of a boat ride.  Boats set off every 30 minutes on the 40-minute trip, with a volunteer on board to recount the history of the waterways and area.

Nightlife in Guildford

Picture of red door to Italian restaurant on one story building. In front of the restaurant are planters with shrubs.

Guildford has a vibrant nightlife with loads of amazing restaurants, pubs, and bars to choose from.

One of the most popular entertainment venues in Guildford is G-Live, which has a regular programme of shows, concerts, comedy, and film screenings.  There is also the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, which puts on a variety of entertainment for all ages and The Electric Theatre, a community arts venue.  For something a little edgy, head to the Fallen Angel, Guildford’s only cocktail and cabaret bar.

There’s too many pubs and bars to mention them all, but the Long Bar at the Harbour Hotel is good if you want cocktails and music.  Or you could head to the The Cosy Club for a relaxed drink in a glamourous setting.

Guildford is definitely one of the best places in Surrey for a night out.

Places to eat in Guildford

There are so many places to eat out in Guildford, you really are spoilt for choice.  There’s food for all budgets, whether you want a quick grab-and-go snack or something more sophisticated.

If you’re looking for a lunchtime stop, you can’t beat the Guildford Townhouse Coppa Club in the centre of the High Street or Vietnamese Pho in the Tunsgate Quarter.

For fine dining, try the elegant Ivy Asia or sumptuous Thai TerracePositano is a good choice if you fancy eating Italian or you could go to The March Hare for quality pub food.

Keep reading for things to do near Guildford

Outdoor Places to visit near Guildford

Loseley Park

Loseley House, Loseley Park, Surrey, UK

Just 3 miles south of Guildford is Loseley Park, the ancestral home of the More-Molyneux family. It is a large, impressive house and has hosted many prominent guests, including Queen Elizabeth I and James I.  The mansion has retained many of its historic features, including fine artwork and panelling from Henry VIII’s Nonsuch Palace.

This house itself is a private residence, but the beautiful walled gardens are open to the public.  There is an also a tea shop, where you can buy the famous Loseley House ice cream.

Whilst you’re there,  take a gentle stroll around the lake or up into the woods.  Alternatively, you could visit as part of a circular walk from one of the local villages like Compton or Artington.

For a very different experience, look out for some of the events that are hosted at Loseley Park.  The kids recently had a fantastic junior driving experience in the woods by Loseley House.

Newlands Corner

Two Boys walking in field at Newland's Corner, Surrey Hills, UK

Being so close to the Surrey Hills, there are endless choices for walking near Guildford.  However, one of the most popular starting points is at Newlands Corner in Albury, just 4 miles from Guildford.  Here you’ll find several self-guided trails starting from the Visitor Centre.

You can walk in either direction.  One route will lead you down to Silent Pool or the picturesque village of Shere.  However, in the other direction you can head for St Martha’s Church, which is atop St Martha’s Hill.  The trails are colour coded and fairly easy to follow.  Several routes link up with the North Downs Way.

The trails follow a varied landscape of ancient woodland and open chalk downland.  It’s truly beautiful countryside and you’ll get sweeping views across the Surrey Hills.

For refreshments after your walk, the Visitor Centre offers a good choice of burgers, hot dogs, and hot chocolate.  You’ll also find outside picnic tables and public toilets.  Alternatively, cross the road to the Plucky Pheasant, a lovely café with all-day food and homemade cakes.

Hatchlands Park

Fairy house at Hatchlands Park, Surrey

Hatchlands Park is a large National Trust manor house in East Clandon, on the outskirts of Guildford.  Set in 400 acres of parkland and woodland, this country estate offers plenty of outdoor areas to walk and explore.  If you’re taking younger children, there is a natural adventure play area, with a tree house.

In summer you can go inside the country mansion to see their collections of art, musical instruments, and period furniture.  Alternatively, you can take a picnic or head to the café in the courtyard.

Hatchlands Park is one of the best National Trust days out near Guildford.

Postcode:  GU4 7RT

The North Downs Way

The back of two teenagers sitting on a low branch of a tree with a sandy path below

To the south of Guildford, is a long-distance trail, the North Downs Way, which leads from Farnham in the east to Canterbury in the west.

The trail is 153 miles (246 km) in total and passes through many of Guildford’s landmarks, such as Loseley Park and Watts’ Gallery.  There’s boundless opportunities for enjoying the countryside near Guildford and walking in the Surrey Hills or North Downs.

Hotels in Guildford

White historic hotel with the words Posting House Livery Stables on the front

If you are looking for places to stay in Guildford, there are plenty of excellent hotels to choose from.

There are several options for wonderful hotels in Guildford town centre, which would allow you to walk to all the main attractions.  The Angel Posting House and Livery is a historic hotel halfway along the cobbled High Street.  Each room offers luxurious furnishings and a four-poster bed.

If you prefer a spa hotel, the Harbour Hotel Guildford is a contemporary 4-star hotel at the top of the High Street.  They also have a restaurant and stylish cocktail bar, so ideal for nightlife too.

One of the most luxurious hotels in Guildford is the Barnett Hill Hotel, which is a 5 minutes’ drive from the centre.  Set in 26 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens, the Barnett Hill Hotel is a fantastic option if you want a deluxe hotel.

However, if you’re looking for cheap accommodation in Guildford, try the Holiday Inn which is just 3 miles from Guildford.  It has modern rooms, its own leisure centre and swimming pool.

Where is Guildford?

Guildford is in Surrey, in south east England.  It is about 33 miles south of London.

Getting to Guildford

By train

If you are coming by public transport, Guildford has two train stations.    Regular trains run direct from London Waterloo to Guildford and the journey takes from as little as 32 minutes. This makes Guildford a brilliant place to visit as a day trip from London.

By bus

There are numerous bus routes, which leave from the Friary bus station.

By car

If you’re travelling by car, Guildford is easily accessible from the A3, which links Guildford directly to Portsmouth, London and the M25 (Junction 10).  It is also close to the M3 and A31.  You’ll find several multi-storey car parks in the town centre.

What are your favourite things to do in Guildford, Surrey?

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