Tenby: Top Ten Experiences
I first visited Tenby as an eight-year-old with my parents and still have very clear memories of my time there. Then, when my own children came along, I visited a second time and they experienced many of the things I had done twenty years earlier. Now, thanks to Coastal Cottages, I was able to visit again.
I stayed in an apartment just a few hundred metres from the Old Town Walls. Cheriton View was conveniently located to explore Tenby on foot. So, during our stay, we explored by walking everywhere. However, Tenby is a great base for exploring further afield too.
You can read my review of Cheriton View in another post on this website.
Visit the harbour
For me, the attraction of Tenby has always been the harbour. One of the more picturesque harbours around the coast of Great Britain it was once a busy commercial port. Today it is used by tour boats, small fishing boats and private vessels with very little other commercial activity.
Its stone quaysides are mainly filled with holidaymakers and its small beach is popular with families with young children. One of the whitewashed houses on the quayside has a blue plaque. Closer examination reveals it was the place where the popular children’s writer Roald Dahl spent his holidays as a child.
It is such a delightful place to stay overlooking the harbour from one window and looking out over the bay from another. The Cabin is still rented out as a holiday cottage and can be booked through Coastal Cottages of Pembrokeshire.
On the water’s edge at the harbour is a small chapel dedicated to St Julian. An earlier 13th-century chapel was demolished when the harbour wall on which it was built was knocked down to widen the harbour entrance and prevent silting up.
The church further up the hill was unwilling to accept the fishermen because they were unkempt, dirty and smelled of fish. The current chapel on the edge of the harbour beach was built for the fishermen and is now open for the public to visit. It has a delightful interior and until recently had a font balanced on lobster pots. There are still several reminders of its nautical connection.
Explore the narrow streets of the Old Town
Tenby was originally a walled town and a good part of the walls still remain. Enter through Five Arches Gateway and you are immediately transported back to different age despite the cafes, typical holiday shops and snack bars.
It’s great wandering the streets away from the tourist crowds and discovering blue plaques here and there and discovering new and interesting facts. Did you know that the man who introduced the “=” sign into mathematics came from Tenby?
All roads seem to lead down to the harbour which, before the arrival of the railways bringing tourists, was the lifeblood of the community. On the way, they pass many traditional fisherman’s hostelries and taverns worth stopping at.
Visit the Tudor Merchant’s House
Down one of these narrow streets is the National Trust owned Tudor Merchant’s House. This stone built three storey townhouse is the oldest building in Tenby. Built in the 15th-century it would have belonged to a merchant when Tenby was a busy commercial port. It has been furnished and decorated as it would have been in the year 1500, or thereabouts, using original and reproduction items.
The house consists of the ground floor which would have been used as a shop where the merchant conducted his business, the first floor with living quarters and the top floor where the family slept. On the top floor, there is a wardrobe of costumes which children, and adults if they wish, can dress in period costumes.
Try some fudge
Roly’s Fudge Pantry is definitely somewhere you should visit if you have a sweet tooth. You can watch the fudge being made on the premises before (or after if you prefer) you buy some of the wonderfully fudgey goodies on sale. Sea-salted maple and pecan and other unusual flavours sit cheek by jowl with the more standard flavours of chocolate and vanilla. Most of the fudge is made with clotted cream but there are flavours for vegans too.
Eat a pasty from Pembrokeshire
I thought all the best pasties came from Cornwall but they make some equally tasty ones in Pembrokeshire. The Pembrokeshire Pasty and Pie Company serve up some top quality pasties with traditional flavours, some Welsh flavours and some with specifically Pembrokeshire flavours.
I chose The Tenby Treat of Welsh beef and Stilton cheese sourced from local cheese producers and my wife had Welsh Lamb with potato, redcurrant and rosemary. Both were packed full of ingredients and tasted better than any traditional Cornish pasty I have eaten.
Check out the beaches
Tenby became popular with holidaymakers for several reasons but the major draw was its beaches. Either side of the isthmus joining Castle Hill to the Old Town are Harbour Beach and Castle Beach. Beyond these, and joined to them at low tide, are South Beach and North Beach.
Both are sandy and extensive. South Beach is the largest, backed by cliffs initially which segues into sand dunes with a golf course. It ends at rocks where Roald Dahl used to play as a boy on their annual holiday to Tenby. North Beach is backed by steep cliffs with hanging gardens and topped by an array of pastel coloured Georgian and Victorian era hotels.
Eat out on South Beach
I don’t mean take a picnic on the sand but visit the South Beach Bar and Grill which serves food at the edge of the beach close to Tenby town. Some might call it a beach bar but it is a lot more than that. At the Tenby end of the long stretch of sand known as South Beach is the modern wood, steel and glass bar serving great food, drinks and coffee with a view out across the waves and along the beach. Food can be eaten outside on the terrace or if the weather is inclement can be eaten inside with the same great views through the large picture windows.
Climb Castle Hill
It is worth the gentle climb to Castle Hill, though little remains of the castle itself. At the top, there are commanding views of the vast sweeping bays on either side and great views of the town. It is easy to see why it was an ideal site for a castle defending the town. Any approach by invaders from the sea would be spotted a long way off.
It is an ideal spot for a gentle stroll as there are several paths that circumnavigate the hill past gardens, the ruined castle ramparts, a few elderly cannons. There is also a bandstand where there are still recitals during the summer months with views out over the sea towards Canvey Island and its working monastery.
Visit the RNLI station
Below Castle Hill is Tenby Lifeboat Station, home to the Tamar Class all-weather lifeboat. There is a viewing gallery open daily for the public to look down on the boat, see an exhibition of the work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and the history of the Tenby Lifeboat in particular. There is also a small shop selling RNLI related souvenirs which help raise funds for the Service.
Weather permitting there are regular training launches. Of course, if there is a callout when you are visiting you can watch an unscheduled launch.
Visit Tenby Museum and Art Gallery
Tenby was once the third largest port in England, second only to London and Bristol. To learn such facts and plenty more visit Tenby Museum on the approach from the town to Castle Hill. It is only a small museum but it packs a lot in. From pre-history to the present day it documents the development of the town, its part in history and trade and of course the growth of the town as a holiday resort once the railway arrived. On the upper floor, you discover that the children’s author Roald Dahl holidayed in the town as a young lad.
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