Tenby, A Coastal Getaway In Wales

One of the absolutely top, perfect breakfasts I’ve ever enjoyed at a B&B (and I have had a great many) was served in Tenby, a small town on the southern coast of Wales. Tenby is a popular, charming resort town with a long history, a getaway with numerous attractions.

one of the entrances to old town Tenby.

An archway in the wall is one of the entrances to old town Tenby.

But first, the breakfast. Every morning, Stephen and Clair, at Croyland Guest House, set out a buffet filled with a wide array of fruits, cereals, juices, yogurt, and of course coffee and tea. Then come the full meals. With a cheery smile, Stephen serves eggs any way you like along with your choice of sausage, bacon, black pudding, beans, bagels or toast, hash browns, tomatoes, Welsh rarebit, smoked salmon – even pancakes with syrup if you wish. In other words, almost every breakfast food imaginable. I don’t know how they manage to do it so well, but it certainly sets you up for a day of sightseeing.

Deer Park Road in Tenby

B&Bs welcome guests along Deer Park Road.

Colorful flowers surround the entrance at Croyland Guest House, which stands in a row of similar B&Bs on Deer Park Road. It has seven en-suite rooms with free wifi, TV, and mini-fridge, and guest parking is free in a nearby lot. It’s a three-minute walk to the heart of Tenby, which has long been a favored holiday destination for Welsh and English tourists.

All About Tenby

Set on Carmarthen Bay, Tenby was well-protected in the Middle Ages, with thick stone walls and a Norman castle. Parts of the walls remain, with a five-arched entrance to the oldest part of town. My husband John and I wandered the cobblestone streets, poked into gift shops, studied menus posted at restaurants, walked the beaches, and strolled along the harbor admiring the boats and sea views. If we had continued along the famous Wales Coastal Path, heading north, we could have walked a scenic 4-1/2 miles to Saundersfoot, with stops along the way for the splendid vistas.

entrance to Tenby

Five arches in the town wall mark the entrance to old town.

Instead of that hike, we turned into town to see St. Mary’s, the largest medieval church in Wales. In 1951, it was designated a monument of “exceptional architectural and historical interest.” The stone church’s interior is open and spacious and has carvings of foliage, fish, a mermaid, and—my favorite—a Green Man. Other, more usual carvings are the figures of Jesus and four apostles. There are pointed archways, chapels, and several tombs of noted people, but my attention was drawn to a wall tablet, a memorial to one Robert Recorde.

St. Mary's church in Tenby

St. Mary’s is the largest medieval church in Wales.

Mr. Recorde was a brilliant scholar, best known now for inventing the equals sign (=) in mathematics. Born in Tenby in 1510 or 1512, Recorde attended Oxford University at the age of 15 and went on to write several books on astronomy, medicine, and geometry, including the first book in English on algebra. He acted as physician to King Edward VI and Queen Mary and was controller of the Royal Mint and comptroller of Mines and Monies in Ireland.

Unfortunately, Recorde ran into trouble. He was sued for defamation, arrested for debt, and went to prison where he died in June, 1558—a sad ending to the impressive career of a son of Tenby. With a nod of respect to Robert Recorde we left the church, which has a sign on a box at the entrance: “Drop in a fiver, you won’t miss it and you know you’ll feel better.” Who could resist that one?

Stairs lead from the town of Tenby to the beach.

Stairs lead from the town of Tenby to the beach.

Eating in Tenby

Tenby has a number of good restaurants, as you’d expect in a resort town. Ocean, upstairs and overlooking the harbor, has a fine reputation, and we enjoyed a tasty meal, though the atmosphere felt rather formal and subdued. The menu covers a lot of territory, from pizza and pasta to Welsh traditional dishes. The Blue Ball is another well-known eatery, a cozy spot serving local seafood in a family-friendly atmosphere.

Plantagenet House, a restaurant in the heart of town, is a long step back in time. Parts of the building date back to the tenth century in this quaint and quirky spot, which has exposed beams, eclectic furnishings, and an enormous Flemish fireplace and chimney. Baskets of flowers hang at the entrance, and indoors there’s a bar with low sofas, candles, and mellow music. The menu in the restaurant upstairs is the up-to-date part, emphasizing fresh seafood and good, if expensive, British cooking.

For another view of times past, I recommend a tour of the Tudor Merchant’s House. It’s the oldest house in Tenby, built around 1500 for the family of a merchant who dealt in cloth, pots, spices, and coal. The period furnishings are so accurate you half-expect the housewife to come bustling in, wondering why strangers are in her kitchen at a table laid for a meal. This is in the main living area; upstairs is a timbered bedchamber with a carved four-poster bed and views from mullioned windows. Under the National Trust, the stone house has been carefully preserved as a treasured piece of history. Guides in period costume are available for tours.

Many houses in Tenby are painted in bright pastel colors.

Many houses in Tenby are painted in bright pastel colors.

Turning back to Tenby’s numerous eateries, the classic Coach and Horse pub on Upper Frog Street is a local favorite, offering steak and Guinness pie and other traditional pub food, as well as dishes with an Asian touch. We also enjoyed The Buccaneer Inn, a friendly, casual spot where they serve good fish and chips in generous portions, excellent grilled sandwiches with Welsh cheese, and other pub foods, indoors or on a sizable outdoor patio.

A good choice for picnic food is the Picnic Basket Deli, on St. George’s Street. It has a selection of sandwiches and hot snacks; I took mine to the promenade above the beach and sat on a bench among a profusion of flowers, looking over the bay. That had to be topped with a trip to the very popular Fecci’s Ice Cream Parlour, also on St. George’s Street.

Our favorite meals, the best we had in Tenby, were at The Mooring. The low-key lighting and soft music were inviting, and all dishes, from olive tapenade to tender chicken breast with leeks and mash, were excellent. There is usually a special, such as plaice with spinach. Our dessert of brownies was rich and chocolatey, and even gluten-free.

Tenby has several interesting little shops for those who like to browse, and in a mini-version of an indoor mall, various stalls sell postcards, used books, jewelry, scarves, trinkets and, this being a fishing town, a seafood stand. For a look at some of the geological, historical, and maritime artifacts of the area, as well as works by local and national artists, visitors like to tour the Tenby Museum and Art Gallery. It’s the oldest independent museum in Wales.

Shops line the streets in old Tenby.

Shops line the streets in old Tenby.

A couple of side trips from town, especially loved by children, are Folly Farm, which has a zoo and rides, and Blue Lagoon Water Park, with pools, waves, slides—everything for water-lovers. Both attractions are less than a half-hour drive from Tenby.

A very different experience is a visit to the island of Caldey, a twenty-minute boat ride from town. Caldey, home to a few permanent residents and a community of monks, is considered a sacred sanctuary and known as one of the holy islands of Britain, with traditions still observed by the monks who live there today. They raise cattle and make cheese, shortbread, soaps, and other toiletries for sale. Visitors can tour the island and view a rich array of birds, seals and other wildlife. A ferry service goes from Tenby to Caldey Island in spring and summer when the weather allows.

The Tenby National Park Visitor Centre, near the five arches entrance in the old town wall, provides information on the area.

Written by and photos by Marilyn McFarlane for EuropeUpClose.com

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  1. Lawrence Hourahane says

    A nice review of the town in which I live! Just to say that St Teresa’s Convent Tea Room has now closed, but you are quite right about the good food served in the Buccaneer pub and The Mooring restaurant.

    If you fancy good old fish & chips, the best in town are served at the Park Road Fish & Chips cafe, near the multi-storey car park.

  2. Marilyn McFarlane says

    Thank you for the update, Lawrence. You live in a lovely town. I’m sorry to hear the tea room has closed, but glad to know about Park Road Fish & Chips. I missed that one and will go there next time.

  3. John Parkhurst says

    Tenby is a delightful vacation spot in a dramatic setting high above the sea. Very good walking in town and lots of good places to eat and enjoy the local flavor.

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