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Secret Tenby - A local's Guide

Tenby (or Dinbych-y-Pysgod)- everyone has heard of it, many have visited, and who isn't familiar with Instagram photographs of the pretty curved harbour topped with pastel coloured houses?

But aside from the obvious vistas, how do you really get under the skin to make the most of a weekend there? What are the secret places and things to do that might be less obvious? We will take you through our favourite Tenby spots, eateries, and must-sees.

But first - a bit of history - here's a snapshot into Tenby's fascinating history:

  • The Norman invasion of South Pembrokeshire resulted in the area effectively being annexed from other areas of Wales, and eventually leading to the nickname 'Little England Beyond Wales' reflecting the historical and linguistic differences. Many Flemish settlers came here, bringing with them construction skills that helped build the defensive walls that surround Tenby.
  • In Medieval and Tudor times, the town was an important and thriving port carrying goods of cloth, wood, spices and even oranges to and from Spain, Ireland and the Mediterranean. This also attracted its fair share of pirates who are said to have hidden on the other side of St Catherine's Island!
  • A devastating plague in 1650 ravaged the town. The population was confined to within the walls and supplies dropped at the outskirts as people were too frightened to go closer. It is estimated about 300 out of the towns total inhabitants of 1000 lost their lives, and the town entered a period of decline and poverty.
  • Henry Tudor escaped through the underground tunnels of the town (supposedly leaving from the present-day Boots site) onto a boat, to eventually return to Britain to overthrow King Richard and become King.
  • Some of Tenby's beautiful and colourful sea-facing buildings were built in Georgian and Victorian times when the town was a popular seaside resort and a renowned spot to 'take the waters'.  

 

Top things to do 

Ok - so you have 24 hours in Tenby - where do you start, what do you do? Don't worry - read our suggestions below:

1) The take-it-all-in stroll 

You can pretty much get your bearings and see the main sights via this circular walk.

Starting at the Harbour: when facing the sea, walk right and down towards the lifeboat stations and around Castle Hill. Head back around via Castle Beach, and then stroll up St Julian's Street, turning left in front of St Mary's Church and heading down Church Street and then Cresswell Street. At the bottom, turn right and follow the sea all the way along the Esplanade to overlook South Beach. At the end, turn right down Victoria Street and then right again along South Cliffe Road to get back to the old walls, and through the five arches. Explore the shops along Lower and Upper Frog Street, before coming out at The Norton to overlook North Beach. Take the narrow Crackwell Street back down to the harbour.

Other nearby must-do walks if you have time:

- St Catherine's Island to Giltar Point

- Tenby to Waterwynch Bay - or take it further to Saundersfoot 

- Lydstep to Manorbier

2) A day at the beach

Of course Tenby is most famous for its pristine beaches. And what is particularly special about the town is that within a five minute stroll you have a choice of four beaches - North Beach, Harbour Beach, Castle Beach and South Beach. It is hard to pick the best from the four, each has its specific features and everyone has their own favourite! 

  • Castle Beach is our kids' favourite for the soft sand and opportunities to explore the rocks and caves around St Catherine's island at low tide. Castle Beach was rated by The Sunday Times as the best beach in the UK in 2019.
  • South Beach is a stunning 1.5 mile expanse of sand - you can walk all the way past Penally to Giltar Point, or shelter in the dunes with a picnic. It is also good for dogs (the only beach that is dog friendly in peak season).
  • Harbour Beach is small but usually very sheltered, great for toddlers! It is best at high tide (when the tide is out it tends to be a little muddy) and there is a lot to see here with the working harbour and boats coming and going, plus refreshment kiosks right along the walls. At low tide a pond forms at the end of the harbour wall and if you are lucky you can catch crabs and shrimps there.
  • North Beach sweeps up towards Saundersfoot and is marked in the middle by the rocky outcrop of Goscar Rock. At low tide you can explore below the old lifeboat station or enjoy the rock pools at the North side. On a clear day, you can see all the way to The Gower and Worm's Head from the beach.

Which beach to choose?

We have developed a 'picnic spot' selector to help you choose, taking into account wind and tide conditions!

Beaches further afield:

If you have time, it is worth also visiting the neighbouring beaches of:

  • Manorbier: A beautiful sweep of sand that can get good waves if there is a swell. Overlooked by the atmospheric Manorbier Castle - enjoy a cup of tea on the lawn and take in the old stone walls, pretty flower beds, and the general feeling of history.
  • Saundersfoot: A lively town spread along a sandy beach, and plenty of restaurants and pubs and takeaways to choose from. Try the crabbing area near the harbour, great for kids.
  • Church Doors and Skrinkle Haven: These two bays are directly side by side, split only by a narrow spur of headland. Back 30 years ago you could walk down steps directly onto beautiful Skrinkle. These are now long gone -  now the only way is at low tide through a wave cut tunnel through the rocks from Church Doors. Keep an eye on the tide to make sure you can get back! Steep steps down, but well worth the adventure.
  • Swanlake Bay: Tricky to find, but a good quiet spot for a swim if you can make it there via the coast path, only accessible on foot.

3) Wander the shops 

The centre of Tenby is a maze of narrow little streets. The roads are pedestrianised during the summer months when the bars and restaurants set up al fresco dining. There are plenty of interesting and quirky independent shops to stumble upon and explore and is a very enjoyable place to spend an afternoon discovering new treasures. Don't miss: 

  • EquinoxA long standing gift shop that is best described as an Aladdin's cave of interesting and unusual treasures. The shop is set over two storeys and is a maze of nooks and crannies with every room having a different theme, you will find unusual gifts to suit any budget. For younger shoppers there's plenty to see to keep them entertained plus plenty of toys to choose from. No matter how many times you visit it never loses its charm. (St Julian’s Street) 
  • Naomi Tydeman Gallery - Naomi is an award-winning watercolour artist (she won the Turner Watercolour Prize in 2013). Check out her gallery on Cobb Lane, near the Tenby Bookshop, for seascapes and Pembrokeshire-inspired work.
  • Jago - This independent fashion & lifestyle store providing contemporary homewares, jewellery, children's toys, indie clothing and kitchen accessories. The store is split over two floors with menswear upstairs and womenswear and homeware downstairs. The store stocks a wide range of products from all over the world, including brands like Barbour. They also have a sister store in the neighbouring market town of Narberth. (Athol House, Tudor Square)  
  • Cofion Books - Tucked away down a cobbled side street in Tenby is this tiny treasure-trove of a secondhand bookshop. Be prepared to rummage, but if you do you could be rewarded by a real find - many books are out-of-print and cannot be found elsewhere. Find Cofion just off St Julian's Street, opposite Plantagent's House Restaurant and the National Trust Tudor Merchant's House.
  • Seasalt Cornwall - This stylish clothing and homewares brand began its high street life in Cornwall and has grown into the UK-wide brand it is today. The women’s clothing, footwear and accessories sold are inspired by creative maritime heritage a perfect match for our seaside town. (Tudor Square)  
  • Tenby Bookshop - A favourite with Kids! Bookshop specialising in local interest children's and new titles you're sure to find something for everyone's taste. Also stocking a selection of contemporary gifts and stationery the main attraction for Children is their large selection of traditional toys. (Jubilee House, Tudor Square)  
  • Welsh Otter Studio - We obviously had to mention our very own studio! Located in the atmospheric Sergeants Lane, a stone’s throw from the harbour - the historical lane dates back to medieval times and once contained fishermen's cottages, trading warehouses and stables. The studio is home to a curated collection of Welsh-made interiors, textiles, and ceramics, all of which can be found on the website. Come and have a browse! (The Boathouse, Sergeant’s Lane) 
  • The Nook - This beautiful shop is home to a selection of unique handmade gifts specialising in arts and crafts, paintings and photography made by local artists. Always a delight to wonder in and peruse their latest additions. Make sure to check out their seasonal window displays if you happen to be passing. (10B, St Julian's Street)  

4) Get up and watch the dawn

Most of Tenby either faces south or east, making it hopeless for watching the sunset, but awesome for watching the sunrise.  If you are lucky enough to be there on a clear morning, get up just before dawn (or, if you prefer, don't go to bed!) and walk along South beach towards St Catherine's Island (if low tide), or along Castle Hill (if high tide). It will be worth it I promise!  Then once you have greeted the rising sun, head back to bed or to the legendary Dennis Cafe on Castle Beach for a bacon butty.

5) To learn a bit more about the town:

Visit the Tenby Museum and the nearby Lifeboat Station, both on Castle Hill. The museum is small but has a lovely collection of images and artefacts from Tenby through the years that I found fascinating, as well as a section on Tenby pirates that the kids (and big kids!) will love. View the Tamar lifeboat in the modern Lifeboat Station (this may be limited due to Covid, please check before travelling). Another idea is to take a guided walking tour to explore either Tenby's history, or its ghosts!  Walks have now recommenced following Covid-19, see Guided Tours Wales.

6) To escape the crowds:

The town can get very busy during holidays - take a breather in St Julian's Seaman's Chapel on Harbour Beach - a little stone building built in the 1800s that replaced a much older chapel that had been nearby since 1539. Currently closed due to Covid - but we hope it can reopen soon.

Gumfreston

If you fancy a quick trip out of town, try the nearby hamlet of Gumfreston. Here you will find a little, hidden, twelfth-century church dedicated to St Lawrence, though the western porch may be all that remains of an even earlier building. It has three holy wells in the churchyard, which are probably a pre-Christian holy site (three being one of the mystical numbers of the Celts). This is an exceptionally peaceful and restful spot - the overgrown church yard and encroaching woodland adding even more atmosphere.

Caldey Island

So Caldey Island may not be 'secret', but taking a 20min boat ride and allowing yourself a chance to wander away from the crowds has an element of exclusivity about it. This is a tranquil, beautiful place, owned and run by a community of Cistercian monks and has an active monastery. Walk to the lighthouse, and visit the gift shop. Enjoy the beautiful views back towards Tenby. Take a swim off the near-empty beach. Look out for the many birds on the island, and if you are lucky you might spot a puffin, a seal, or a red squirrel!

St Florence and Manorbier

A peaceful day can be had wondering around the pretty village of nearby St Florence- enjoy the quaint cottages (check out the Flemish chimneys) and a Norman church.  Parsonage Farm Inn has a lovely garden and is the perfect spot for a peaceful lunch. Then head over to the atmospheric Manorbier Castle next to Manorbier Beach. 

 

7) Get out on the water:

The 'Little Town of Fish' was once famous for its oysters - and it still teams with mackerel in the summer months. Choose one of the mackerel fishing trips from the wooden booths on the harbour, and catch yourself something for tea.
If you would prefer to stay firmly on land, the end of the harbour wall is a good crabbing spot at high tide (hold on tightly to small children as the drop can be high!)

If watching rather than fishing is more your thing, try Tenby Boat Trips for seal safaris and other wildlife watching voyages.
For something more active - the calm waters of the harbour are perfect for paddle boarding or kayaking - try SUP Sessions for paddle boarding sessions. South Beach can occasionally get some swell for surfing, as can nearby Manorbier. Outer Reef Surf School offer surf lessons and also rent out surf boards and paddle boards. They also do coasteering - Pembrokeshire has an amazing coastline to try this out!

8) Eat and drink 

You will be spoilt for choice when deciding where to eat here. Whether you are grabbing a quick bite or looking for something more substantial Tenby really does have something to suit every taste. Here are a few local favourites to enjoy: 
  • Pembrokeshire Pasty & Pie Co - If a quick bite is what you are looking for this is the place to visit but don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll still be leaving hungry - it will keep you fuelled for hours. They came to be after discovering an ancient Pembrokeshire Pasty recipe which they were determined to begin making to showcase this uniquely Welsh product. Since then, they have enjoyed a visit from Prince Charles, a 'Best Product in Pembrokeshire' award and a Gold Star from the Great Taste judges. (1 St Georges Street) 
  • Harbwr Brewery and Taproom – Situated next door to Welsh Otter, Harbwr is a Craft Brewery and Taproom, brewing a range of core ales just above the historic and beautiful Tenby Harbour. Owners of popular foodie-pubs The Buccaneer Inn and The Hope & Anchor; establishing a microbrewery seemed a natural fit. Steeped in local history, the brewery offers a truly unique visitor experience. (Sergeant’s Lane)  
  • The Food Quarter - A little mews courtyard tucked away in Upper Frog Street - you can choose between five different eateries including The Sand Bar, Cwl Box, Fuchsia Cafe, Indie Burger and Twelve at the Mews. Lots of outside seating and a great atmosphere in the evenings. (Upper Frog Street)  
  • Loafley Bakery & Deli - A firm favourite, this local gem is a must to visit if you happen to be passing. Their baked goods, salads and pastries are made fresh every day - you can order cakes, bread, hampers and graze boxes for a special event, or just as a treat for yourself. They also stock a delicious selection of artisan cheeses and all manner of delightful treats to stock up the pantry. (Upper Frog Street)  
  • Florentino’s - Building on the success of their first restaurant based in the town of Carmarthen. Florentino's chose the popular seaside town for its second restaurant. The setting is St Julian's House - a grade II listed building overlooking Tenby harbour, with great views particuarly from the upstairs tables. The food is traditional Italian created by experienced chefs from Florence - an authentic taste of Italian cuisine. (St Julian’s House, St Julian's Street) 
  • Plantagenet House:  In a building dating back to Tudor times, this restaurant has both atmosphere and delicious food in spades - perfect for a special meal. We like the tucked away Quay room, or the table in the chimney!
  • Simply Seafoods:  A Tenby icon on the harbour wall - the queue outside says it all. Try the crab sandwiches or the lobster rolls, all caught fresh.

9) Best coffee in town award

This is hard - there are so many amazing places in town to grab a takeaway or a drink-in coffee. There is the cute as a button Stowaway Coffee - tucked into one of the arches in the harbour wall. We've been tipped off to order croissants on a Friday for Saturday morning pick up - yum! Take your breakfast a few strides to harbour beach where you can sit and watch the boats bobbing.

One of my personal favourites has to be Vista, at the top of Crackwell Street. If you are lucky enough to bag a table on the balcony you will be rewarded by sweeping and dramatic views across the harbour and North Beach. The coffee is strong, and the delicious food has a Greek influence.

The other must try is Môr Tenby on St Julian's Street - this beautiful little shop opened last year selling ice cream, local food products, and some artisan homeware. It is just around the corner from Welsh Otter and is our go-to for the perfect latte - and the staff are pretty lovely too.

So which is best? The only way to know for sure is to give them all a try...

8) Top Events

If you are lucky enough to time it right these are some events to look forward to in Tenby (please check latest news to see if they are going ahead with Covid restrictions):
  • The Pembrokeshire Street Food Festival is a three-day event which hosts a variety of food vendors and is held alongside Tenby's South Beach, usually in the summer (it is not likely to be going ahead in 2021 due to Covid-19). 
  • Long Course Weekend - Set in Pembrokeshire, the event is set over three days. Postponed for 2021, this will be back in 2022.
  • Ironman Wales hosted in Tenby (at the time of writing, this is still scheduled to go ahead on the 12th September 2021). 
  • Tenby Arts Festival – where you can attend workshops, concerts, recitals and more (currently planned for 18th-25th September 2021). 
  • Tenby Blues Festival - Each November, the cosy interiors of Tenby’s pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants become unique live music venues (currently planned for 12th-14th November 2021). 
  • Tenby Beer Festival - A charitable event run by the Round Table, the Tenby Beer Festival takes place in the De Valence and welcomes visitors to taste a superb selection of beers, ciders and more (2021/2022 date TBC)

9) Getting there:

On peak days and during holidays, Tenby can get VERY busy. Here are our top tips for hassle-free travel.

Parking: If you don't mind a short but beautiful walk into town, one of the most spacious car parks is North Beach Carpark below the far end of North Beach (just follow signs as you come into town).  This saves you having to drive through town, and the carpark is large, meaning you should get a space on all but the very busiest of days. From the carpark, head up the path and you pop out at the top of North Beach. Take in the beautiful views during the ten minute stroll along the promenade into town.

When it is quieter, we also like Rectory Car Park above South Beach and next to the esplanade. Enjoy the views across to Caldey Island from up here. The walk into the centre of town is about five minutes along the esplanade.

Park and Ride: A useful service operates to and from the town, see here for more details

Train: Tenby station is part of the Carmarthen-Pembroke line. The station is quite central to the town so it is a good convenient option.

Bus: Buses run from Haverfordwest, Kilgetty, Pembroke Dock and Narbeth, but are not always that frequent - see here for timetables

The National Express has coach services from London and Birmingham.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy your Tenby stay.  If you have any top tips - tag us on Instagram (@welshotterhome) or Facebook (@welshotterhome) and we will add it in!