Visiting Surrey – An Area Guide
Bordering Greater London to the southwest, the county of Surrey is a patchwork of market towns, commuter villages and expanses of rolling countryside, like the North Downs within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It's dotted with historic parks, gardens and stately homes, and activities for visitors range from golf and horse-racing to river cruises.
Surrey: area layout
Guildford, county hub and home to the University of Surrey, is around 30 miles southwest of central London. A bustling modern town, it retains mementoes of its past including a 12th-century castle tower and 16th-century Guildhall.
Communities like Epsom and Kingston upon Thames merge seamlessly with the capital's southwestern suburbs.
The pretty River Wey flows through Guildford and on through Surrey to meet the River Thames near Shepperton, on the outskirts of London.
The North Downs run east to west across the county, with the Surrey Hills to the south. For panoramic views, climb the 18th-century tower that crowns Leith Hill, or to the top of Box Hill in the North Downs.
Things to see and do in Surrey
Surrey is home to famed racecourses at Kempton Park, Epsom Downs and Sandown Park, which host major horse-racing meetings like the Investec Derby Festival.
The focus is on another kind of racing at Brooklands Museum, where exhibits include vintage racing cars and historic aircraft, including one of the last supersonic Concorde airliners.
Discover Surrey's royal heritage at Hampton Court Palace near Kingston upon Thames, 16th-century home of Henry VIII, with its sumptuous Great Hall and a fine collection of paintings by masters like Canaletto and Holbein.
Near Guildford, Loseley Park is a gracious Elizabethan mansion surrounded by gorgeous rose gardens, filled with antiques, artworks and royal relics like George IV's coronation chair.
The concierge recommends…
Hotels in Surrey
Places to stay in Surrey include full service and no-frills hotels with good transport links to central London and London Heathrow Airport (LHR), in the county’s towns and on the fringes of the capital.
You’ll also find countryside hotels and traditional inns in rural areas and beside the River Thames.
The main A3 road is Surrey's principal link to London, connecting with the capital's M25 orbital motorway. London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and London Gatwick Airport (LGW) are less than an hour's drive from anywhere in the county.
Guildford is around an hour from central London by road or rail, and around 30 minutes’ drive from Heathrow or Gatwick.
If you want to stay nearer the heart of London but close to top Surrey attractions like Hampton Court Palace, Epsom Downs Racecourse and RHS Wisley, you can find hotels that cater to business and leisure travellers in Epsom Downs, Shepperton and Kingston upon Thames.
Eating Out in Surrey
Discriminating diners will find plenty to please within easy reach of Surrey's main towns. Locally sourced pasture-fed beef, home-bred pork, lamb and free-range chicken appear on many menus, and a traditional English Sunday roast is a lunchtime experience that's hard to beat.
Eat al fresco at gastropubs beside the River Thames in places like Weybridge, East Molesey and Kingston Upon Thames.
There's an abundance of fine-dining establishments in towns such as Ripley, Bagshot and Horsham, where celebrated chefs present tasting menus to satisfy even the choosiest gourmet palate.
At the other end of the culinary spectrum, there are independent restaurants serving affordable international cuisine in every Surrey town. South Asian, Chinese and Italian eateries predominate.
For those with less time to spare, familiar chain restaurants provide everything from burgers and chicken to pizza and sushi.
And to drink? Surrey’s craft ales have a long and honourable pedigree going back centuries, and vineyards on the chalk slopes of the Surrey Hills and the South Downs produce fine sparkling and still wines.
The chef recommends...
Shopping in Surrey
Surrey is so close to the world-class shopping in London that many locals on a retail spree head for the big city.
Westfield London, 15 minutes from Kingston upon Thames and 30 minutes from Guildford, groups nearly 400 upscale shops in one huge complex.
Shopping centres like Guildford's Friary and the Bentall Centre in Kingston upon Thames house mainstream brands like Boss, Zara and Armani.
Lovers of antiques and collectables can hunt for fine porcelain, glassware, silver and vintage jewellery at antiques fairs all over Surrey. Specialist centres group numerous dealers under one roof in places like Kingston upon Thames and Hampton Court.
Where to buy antiques in Surrey
Culture & Nightlife in Surrey
Lovers of art and literature will find much to inspire them in Surrey, and there's plenty to keep theatre, rock and dance fans happy too.
You can admire paintings by Old Masters like Rembrandt and Caravaggio at Hampton Court Palace's Cumberland Gallery.
Work by 20th-century British artists like Eduardo Paolozzi and Jacob Epstein is on show at The Lightbox in Guildford, home of the Ingram Collection of Modern Art.
Fans of vintage science fiction should visit Woking, where H.G. Wells set the opening of his novel “The War of the Worlds”. Michael Condron's gleaming, seven-metre “Martian Tripod” sculpture looms spookily over the town centre, and a themed walking route takes you to where the alien invaders land in Wells's original tale.
Surrey clubbers head for Kingston upon Thames for nights out at big, glitzy venues like Viper Rooms, Hippodrome and Pryzm, where DJs play club classics and new tunes to a lively crowd.
If you're looking for a laugh, you'll find stand-up comedy at venues like Kingston’s Crack Comedy and The Fighting Cocks.
In Guildford, G Live hosts musicians, singers and actors ranging from The Stranglers to Simon Callow and Jason Donovan.
On summer evenings, Surrey racecourses like Kempton Park and Epsom Downs combine racing with shows by rock stars like Bryan Adams, Dizzee Rascal and Kaiser Chiefs.
Nights at the theatre in Surrey
Visiting Surrey with a Family
Keeping your family entertained in Surrey is easy, with activities and attractions that include stately homes and palaces, museums and outdoor play areas.
Children can have fun exploring the famous hedge maze at Hampton Court Palace, where you’ll also find free history trails and 'Time Explorer' challenges that can be downloaded as apps for mobile devices.
At Farnham’s Rural Life Centre kids can meet lambs and donkeys, explore hands-on exhibits such as a Victorian laundry, and ride on the Old Kiln Light Railway’s miniature engines and carriages.
At Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, there’s a collection of classic cars, buses and aircraft, and you can enjoy vintage car rides around the former Brooklands Race Track.
At Lingfield’s British Wildlife Centre families can get close to creatures that city kids rarely see, like otters, red squirrels, deer and badgers.
Friendly South American beasts of burden lead you on a stroll through peaceful countryside at Surrey Hills Llamas in Hambledon, pausing for a picnic on the way.
At Birdworld in Farnham you'll encounter parrots, pelicans and penguins, as well as slightly scarier crocodiles, snakes and piranhas.
Adventures for families in Surrey