Words by Rachael Stiles
From its medieval streets and historical significance for its role in the Magna Carta, to its independent eateries, bursting cultural calendar and quiet green spaces, the market town of Bury St Edmunds has something to suit everyone’s idea of a great day out.
1. Abbey Gardens and Ruins
The site of one of the most important medieval monasteries in Europe, this still makes a great visit, even though the abbey itself was destroyed by fire and later dissolved by Henry VIII in the 16th century. In 1831, the grounds of the ruins became a botanic garden, which have evolved into the beautiful Abbey Gardens . While you’re there, after entering through the 14th century Abbey Gate, see the 12th century Norman Tower, one of the oldest Norman buildings in England, and visit St Mary’s Church, the final resting place of Mary Tudor and thought to be England’s largest parish church.
Entry to the Abbey Gardens and the Abbey Ruins is free. It’s in the historic heart of the town, a 15-minute walk from Bury St Edmunds station.
2. Bury Ale Trail
Bury St Edmunds has a long brewing tradition – monks were brewing ale here almost 1,000 years ago when everyone, young and old, drank beer at all times of the day. Today you can experience this rich heritage on the Bury Ale Trail , sampling local real ales and craft beers in 20 of the town’s waterholes, including award-winning pubs, characterful bars, cocktail bars and restaurants. Of course, you don’t have to visit them all… Pick up a map in the tourist information office or in the venues, or download it from the website. Some of the stops on the trail are just a few minutes’ walk from the train station. If you want to see how it’s made, a 20-minute walk away is Greene King Brewery, where you can take a tour and find out about how it still sources its water from Bury St Edmunds' chalk wells, just like the monks used to do.
3. Bury St Edmunds Festival
Get your cultural fix at the annual Bury St Edmunds Festival from 17 to 26 May, with 11 days of music, theatre, film, comedy, poetry, drama, talks, exhibitions, guided walks and more. Immerse yourself in history, take part in a ceilidh, see a play or enjoy some folk or classical music from some iconic names in music – there’s something to suit everyone’s tastes. The events of this seasonal highlight are spread across some of the town’s iconic venues, clubs, beautiful outdoor spaces, museums, theatres and halls. Go to the Bury Festival website to find out more and get the full line-up.
4. The historic guildhall
Spend a Wednesday or Sunday afternoon in Bury St Edmunds so that you can visit one of its most historic and fascinating buildings – and in a town that’s famed for its history, that’s saying something. Built in 1279, the Guildhall is the oldest continuously-used civic building in the UK, and also boasts our only surviving example of a WWII Royal Observer Corps Control Centre, which relayed vital messages to RAF crews. Through the story of the townspeople who’ve lived there over the last 700 years, take a journey through its history with the interactive displays and collections. Visit the court room, banquet hall, Tudor kitchen and gardens, all brought to life by enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides, with added fun and games for younger visitors. You can walk to the Guildhall from the train station in just under 20 minutes. The Guildhall is open Wednesdays and Sundays, from 11am to 4pm and admission is free.
5. Suffolk Regiment Museum
History buffs will relish a visit to this museum that tells the story of the Suffolk Regiment, including the regular, militia, volunteer and war-time battalions. It shares the soldiers’ experiences through items such as badges, medals, uniforms, weapons, equipment, photographs and other personal memorabilia, some dating back to the Regiment’s foundation in 1685. Until the 1950s and 60s it was a working museum, where new recruits would go to be taught the Regiment’s history. A National Serviceman's bed space gives visitors an idea of what life was like in the Regiment, both in the 1950s and on active service. You can walk to the Suffolk Regiment Museum from the station in 20 minutes. Find more information on their website.
6. Bury St Edmunds Food & Drink Festival
What bank holidays were unintentionally invented for: food festivals. Find out why Bury St Edmunds is known as ‘The Foodie Town of Suffolk’ on Sunday 25 and Monday 26 August with two jam-packed days of free events, tastings and on-stage performances in the Cookery Theatre from celebrity TV chefs, as well as members of the local food community. When you’re not being inspired by their culinary delights, you can browse the festival’s wide range of local produce stalls and foodie attractions. Spread around the town, you’ll also find a mini farm, Punch & Judy shows, and a beach in the town centre. Go to the Bury St Edmunds Food & Drink Festival website for more information.
7. St Edmundsbury Cathedral
Built within easy reach of the Abbey, St Edmundsbury Cathedral , which is Suffolk’s only cathedral continues to undergo development, with the addition of the 160-foot Millenium Tower, finished in 2005.
Go behind the scenes on a tour of the tower, where knowledgeable and entertaining guides will take you to dizzy heights for spectacular views from the top of the tower of the town and surrounding countryside. They will fill you in on the origins of the tower and impressive vaulted ceiling, built to modern standards using traditional methods. You can also gaze up at the cathedral’s notable stained glass and wander around its grounds. Tours run from April to September on Saturdays and Sundays and on Bank Holidays. Check the website for details. You can walk from the train station to the cathedral in just over 15 minutes.
8. Abbeygate Cinema
The quirky Abbeygate Cinema in the historic heart of Bury St Edmunds has been lovingly modernised but retains much of its original 1920s charm. Sink into a comfy sofa to watch something from its varied programme of new releases, art house films, the best of the blockbusters and streamed theatre events. If you’re up for dinner and a movie, or just post-film tea and cake, there is also an on-site Georgian-style restaurant, where the chef serves a menu that blends dishes from around the world with local produce. You can reach Abbeygate Cinema on foot within 15 minutes from the train station.
9. The Apex
Bury St Edmunds’ home of live music, The Apex attracts performers from all genres, as well as big names from the world of comedy. From big band and ballroom to folk, blues, rock and pop acts, the venue is known as an exceptional space to enjoy live music, thanks to its unique acoustics and architectural design, which also makes it a much-loved venue for the artists who perform here. The Apex also hosts exhibitions in its gallery space, the only public art gallery in town, as well as talks, workshops and craft markets, and it houses the Tourist Information Centre. Check the website to see what’s on. The Apex is a 15-minute walk from the train station.
10. Bury’s independent shopping and café culture
For browsing independent shops and boutiques in a picturesque setting, it doesn’t get much better than Bury St Edmunds. Along its medieval streets and tucked into the pretty Georgian squares, the town centre – less than 10 minutes’ walk from the train station – offers an array of stores selling everything from clothes to homewares, in addition to classic high street brands. It also boasts a thriving café culture, with plenty of opportunity for pleasant stops at its local tearooms, stylish cafés, artisan coffee shops and family-run restaurants.