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Cheltenham, UK: Beyond the Festival

A day at the races in Cheltenham © Pexels / Coldbeer

Large festivals, sporting events, and other occasions have a way of overshadowing everything else that might be going on in a location. For instance, the carnivals of Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans take up the lion’s share of tourism material at certain times of the year, despite the fact that the latter site in Louisiana is renowned for its music, nightlife, and cuisine all year round. 

The Gold Cup

Cheltenham in the UK is one of these places that lives perpetually in its own shadow. The Gloucestershire town is celebrated worldwide for its annual Cheltenham Festival, which, in 2024, will take place from 12-15 March. 68,500 people attended the last of the four days this year (Gold Cup Day) and saw Willie Mullins’ Galopin Des Champs win the eponymous cup. 

For Cheltenham itself, this is arguably the most important event on the calendar and it rarely dips out of view even outside the town. The website Buzz Bingo manages to keep the hype for the Festival going for all twelve months with its Cheltenham: Sporting Legends title. Found among its other slots and games, Cheltenham: Sporting Legends features imagery from the race, like jumping horses. 

This kind of cross-promotional marketing isn’t exactly unusual around the world but, as mentioned, the weight that the festival carries in popular culture can make Cheltenham seem like a one-dimensional place. The town’s official website actually leads with its claims to Regency fame. Cheltenham is architecturally distinct in the UK, possessing buildings that went up during the reign of King George III. 

Relaxing at the spa after the races in Cheltenham © Pexels / Toni Cuenca

Cheltenham Spa

Depending on the source, the Regency period lasted from 1795 to around 1830-40. This particular style is a mix of neoclassical and Georgian architecture that’s epitomised by the Pittville Pump Room and the residential Pittville Circus. The Pump Room is one of several spas that were built in Cheltenham during King George III’s time (Cheltenham is also known as Cheltenham Spa) and retains the original pump to this day. 

Staying in the past, Sandford Parks Lido, a rare example of an outdoor pool in the UK, has been present in Cheltenham since 1935. This 50m long pool actually comes heated against the unpredictable British weather, making it something of an oddity even within its own tiny niche. Unfortunately, as a Grade II listed site, it has had its fair share of existential crises, as money for its upkeep runs out. 

Inevitably, Cheltenham also has many of the amusements that any modern town does. Of particular note is Le Champignon Sauvage, a French eatery located on Suffolk Road. This Michelin-starred restaurant is helmed by David Everitt-Matthias and was described by The Caterer magazine as a “rare jewel” in Cheltenham’s crown. There’s a McDonald’s on the High Street, for those who fancy a quick meal.

Voted the best place to live in the South West by The Sunday Times, Cheltenham offers a great deal to tourists – even when the Festival has ended.

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