Cheltenham Festival - where to eat and drink after a day at the races

Montpellier Wine Bar, (photo by Tony Halliday)
Montpellier Wine Bar

Fancy a flutter? The Cheltenham Festival takes place 10–13 March 2020. Thousands of horse-racing fans will descend on the pretty spa town in Gloucestershire for one of the biggest events in the British sporting calendar. But where should you eat after a day at the races? And, more importantly, where should you have a celebratory drink/commiserate your bad fortune?

I lived in Cheltenham for several years and it's a fantastic place to have a night out. Race Week is notoriously busy though and some establishments do put their prices up or fleetingly turn into strip clubs to serve the influx of visitors with deep pockets. It is possible, however, to avoid these tourist traps and enjoy the party atmosphere, safe in the knowledge that you aren't being ripped off. These are my top tips, in no particular order, for getting the most out of a visit to the town. All places are plotted on the map of Cheltenham's centre (see below): orange for restaurants, blue for pubs and red for cafés.

Good luck with your bets!

Becky at Insight


Where to eat in Cheltenham

(1) The Tavern

Situated just off the central Promenade, this is a hidden treasure. The menu's special appeal is its incredible burgers and sliders - from Sloppy Joes to teriyaki tuna - and the restaurant has a lovely, informal atmosphere and friendly service. I can't recommend the French Dip highly enough - a delicious burger made from beef that has been cooked for hours to deliver a knock-out taste, accompanied by a red onion gravy dip. A great spot to enjoy wonderful British gastropub food with friends. 

(2) The Daffodil

This beautiful venue in the Suffolks area is an Art Deco dream inside, fully appreciated from the bar on the mezzanine circle balcony. Dinner here always feels like a special occasion; outstanding food is accompanied by live jazz music on a Monday evening and Saturday lunchtime. Get your gladrags on for a very elegant evening out. Romantic alert: this is also a great place to take a date you're keen to impress.

(3) Montpellier Chapter

This contemporary restaurant is located in one of Cheltenham’s newest hotels at the top of the exclusive Montpellier area. Modern style and regency splendour go hand in hand here, where the waiters wear Converse trainers with their smart clothes and show you impressive wine lists on iPads. In a place this dapper, there’s always a risk of pretension but this is, mercifully, diverted completely in favour of a cool and relaxed atmosphere. 

(4) The Railway

A little bit further out of the centre, but well worth the 10 minute walk. This cosy pub is perfect for warming up in after a cold day. Friendly staff, quirky furniture - and irrefutably the best sausage and mash kitchen in Cheltenham…or even the whole of Gloucestershire. The menu consists of upwards of 10 types of sausage, 4 types of mash and 2 types of gravy – plus a mustard selection to die for. Try the pork and leek sausages with apple and cranberry mash and vegetable gravy, with parmesan crisps and lashings of horseradish mustard. Absolutely delicious.

(5) Hot Pepper Jelly (Brasserie HPJ)

A bohemian little bistro in the heart of the Suffolks area, Hot Pepper Jelly is a lovely restaurant serving interesting fusion food in a friendly environment. If you enjoy candlelit meals with lots of wine and vintage interior touches, this is the place for you. The place has more of a bar feel in the evenings and there is outdoor space if the weather is kind. It’s not a place to rush though, so make sure you allow plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere.

(6) Curry Corner

This Bangladeshi restaurant has two claims to fame: firstly, it is the oldest Bangladeshi restaurant in the country; and secondly, it narrowly missed out on the top spot for Best Local Restaurant on Gordon Ramsey’s ‘The F Word’ in 2009. The food is fantastic; the garlic and coriander lamb curry is incredible. I was recommending this place to my friends for weeks afterwards.

(7) Ruby

The best Chinese restaurant in Cheltenham, nestled amongst the bars and antique shops of the Suffolks area. The service is very good - you can really feel the family-run influence. I went for a friend's birthday at a time when I wasn't eating meat and was fully prepared for a lacklustre eating experience as a consequence (being quite the carnivore usually), but the waiter helpfully recommended the monkfish and I've never looked back.

(8) Moran’s

In the Bath Road area, this restaurant reigns supreme. Always bustling, this bar/restaurant is a popular choice for any kind of celebration. The curried chicken lasagne is a surprise hit. No, really.


Where to drink in Cheltenham

(1) The Beehive

Located just off the popular Suffolks area, this old-fashioned pub is a real treat. There aren’t many seats, but this doesn’t deter the loyal customer base. Get there early and try to secure the ‘Messy Corner’ for a snug couple of hours. If the weather’s warm enough, they may sell their locally-famed ‘cider slush puppies’ – local cider with lots of crushed ice. There is a restaurant upstairs if you get peckish.

(2) The Retreat

This trendy wine bar in the Suffolks attracts a cool, young crowd. Tends to get busier later in the evening, when the music is turned up, the shots are poured and the Beautiful People arrive. I was in this bar during Race Week last year and an Irishman who had struck lucky that day bought shots for everyone in the bar. It's that kind of place. Those looking for a quieter evening may wish to avoid!

(3) Jolly Brewmaster

A traditional pub slightly off the beaten track, this is the ideal choice for ale connoisseurs. The products of many local breweries are on offer and bar staff will happily let you try before you buy. Known as the ‘Jolly Brew’ to locals, this is the kind of pub where you may accidentally tread on a sleeping dog or lose spectacularly in the regular pub quiz. A difficult pub to leave!

(4) Monty’s Cocktail Bar

This cocktail bar, under a restaurant of the same name, is near one of the town biggest nightclubs, 13, and so draws a fun, well-dressed crowd. Try the Grey Skies cocktail for a surprisingly tasty concoction of vodka and Earl Grey tea. There is often live music in this bar – a great warm up for some celebratory dancing.

(5) John Gordons

For those searching for a more sophisticated tipple, John Gordons, in the Montpellier area, is a must. A wine and whisky merchant, this bar offers a huge selection of drinks, and expert advice, to its customers. It's the sort of place that you walk past when it's cold out and wish you were inside. There are only a few tables, so be quick off the mark if you want to spend some time here exploring your favourite spirits.

(6) The Vine

This cosy pub, clad in gorgeous red and green tiles, is well-known locally for its excellent (and reasonably priced) Thai food and good sense of fun. A popular ‘Vinefest’ festival is held here every summer; grass is brought in for the floors and bands play until the small hours. A good night is guaranteed – even if you’ve had your fill of cool music and Thai food, there are two more options in The Strand and The Swan (see below), just opposite.

(7) The Strand

Located in the town centre, The Strand is a local institution. A good selection of beer (and fantastic mulled cider in the colder months) is on offer, along with high quality pub grub. There’s always something on, too; from open mic nights to craft evenings, this is a lively venue. There’s also a large outdoor area if the sun decides to shine.

(8) The Swan

Always busy on any night of the week, The Swan is a great choice for groups of friends looking to have a good time. High quality pub food, one of the best beer gardens in Cheltenham and a buzzing atmosphere help make this a local favourite.

(9) Montpellier Wine Bar

This bar is a favourite during Race Week so get here early to secure a spot. Wine lovers will enjoy this beautiful bar, located just off the central Promenade. The restaurant downstairs serves great bistro food. 

(10) J’s Vodka Bar

This tiny vodka bar is in the centre of town near the Everyman Theatre. Always packed to the rafters, this converted regency house sells a huge range of flavoured vodkas and cocktails in each of its rooms and is open late. Be warned, it could get a little sweaty.


Where to soothe a hangover in Cheltenham

(1) Curious Café

This adorable café is right at the heart of the lively Bath Road area and will sort out any sore heads in a flash. Huge fry-ups are served in the mornings. It gets very busy so don’t be surprised if you are put on a table with people you don’t know – a communal spirit is all part of the café’s charm. If the weather is nice, ask to sit in the garden. A visit here will help soothe any hangover.

(2) Moka

This is a great little café in the Suffolks area, where you can leisurely read the papers and choose from a large range of breakfasts. A stylish interior and excellent coffee keep people coming back. The perfect post-race restorative.


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