The weekenders’ guide to Bury St Edmunds
Words by Harriet Cooper
Bury St Edmunds has it all. The Suffolk town is steeped in history, whether you want to learn about its Benedictine monastery, marvel at medieval architecture or stroll around the Georgian squares.
But this is also a town that has embraced the 21st century with a thriving arts scene, a clutch of innovative breweries, and award-winning restaurants and gastropubs at every turn. There’s also superlative shopping, a wealth of leisure activities, and plenty of parks and woodland to get back to nature. What more could you ask for?
The must-sees in Bury St Edmunds
St Edmundsbury Cathedral
Suffolk’s only cathedral is well worth taking in – indeed, there’s a reason why pilgrims and tourists have been visiting the site for over 1,000 years. Wander around yourself or, in season, there are daily guided tours (except Sundays).
Either way, highlights include the ancient library, the crypt treasury, the magnificent stained glass, and the Lego cathedral in the south-west corner, a work-in-progress replica of the edifice made entirely from the toy bricks.
The Abbey and Abbey Gardens
The abbey was founded in 1020 and became one of the most powerful Benedictine monasteries in England. The impressive ruins include a complete 14th-century great gate and a Norman tower.
The abbey remains sit among 14 acres of award-winning gardens, with all manner of attractions, from herb and rose gardens to a wildlife feeding area and an aviary. Entrance to the gardens is free.
Moyse’s Hall Museum
Moyse’s Hall has looked out over the market square for more than 900 years in various guises – as a bridewell, workhouse and police station, to name a few. Now the medieval building houses an excellent museum with a permanent collection documenting the town’s past.
There are also interesting temporary exhibitions and events, including themed craft workshops for all the family and historical talks and lectures.
The essential Bury St Edmunds experiences
Greene King Brewery Tour
In 1799, 19-year-old Benjamin Greene founded a brewery in Bury St Edmunds. More than two centuries later and Greene King continues to craft fine ales at its HQ in town.
Book a brewery tour and see how real beer is made using traditional brewing methods, before finishing off with a tutored tasting session in the Beer Cafe.
Bury St Edmunds Market
This isn’t any old street market. The Bury St Edmunds market, held in the Buttermarket and Cornhill, predates William the Conqueror.
These days, the bustling twice-weekly affair has more than 80 stalls on a Saturday and 60 on Wednesdays, selling everything from fresh, locally sourced seasonal produce to vintage clothes, pottery and plants, as well as street food from around the world.
As the only surviving Regency playhouse in Britain – the work of renowned architect William Wilkins, who designed the National Gallery and University College London – the Theatre Royal is a must-visit for both theatre lovers and history buffs.
Aside from a packed programme of productions and events, visitors can also book the one-hour Theatre Tour to discover its rich and vibrant story.
Where to eat in Bury St Edmunds
Cheap and cheerful
The Giggling Squid is a chain of restaurants serving fresh, rustic Thai food. Book a table at the Bury St Edmunds branch – ask for one in the glass room at the back – and indulge in the tapas lunch menu, which offers excellent value for money.
For something a little different, try Edmunds, a restaurant on the main campus of West Suffolk College run solely by students aspiring towards a career in the hospitality industry. The cooking is top-notch and reasonably priced.
Pea Porridge is located on a square that was once a green called Pea Porridge Green – hence its name. The vibe is laid-back and homely, while the ever-changing menu focuses on local produce, much of which is cooked on a ‘Bertha’ charcoal oven that adds a beautiful smoky aromas to dishes.
Ben Hutton, the owner of Ben’s, is so committed to the provenance of his produce, keeping it as local as possible, that he breeds his own pigs and sheep for his farm-to-fork menu.
For understated elegance and award-winning French fine dining, Maison Bleue will not disappoint. Seasonal, local and sustainable ingredients are all key in Brittany-born chef Pascal Canevet’s menu.
For a push-the-boat-out meal order the Plateau de Fruits de Mer, which comes loaded with lobster, crab, langoustines, oysters, whelks, tiger prawns and mussels (you do need to give 48 hours notice if ordering this).
Where to drink in Bury St Edmunds
Bury St Edmunds has a brewing history that goes back some 1,000 years, making it the ideal place for a pint. Aside from the Greene King brewery, the Old Cannon microbrewery offers brewery tours, too. It also doubles up as a bar and restaurant, serving its own delicious real ales.
The Nutshell has a bar that measures just 15ft by 7ft, making it the smallest pub in Britain, with customers jostling for a place at the bar since 1867.
Where to stay in Bury St Edmunds
From luxury glamping to contemporary boutique hotels, Bury St Edmunds offers accommodation to suit every taste. The ivy-clad four-star Angel Hotel, a former coaching inn frequented by Charles Dickens, may be steeped in history but its rooms are all contemporary chic.
The recently refurbed Northgate, set in a striking Victorian townhouse, has nine exquisitely decorated rooms – and the cocktail bar of your dreams.
For those who like the great outdoors, West Stow Pods is a family run glamping site just outside town, where the star of the show has to be Pod Hollow, a subterranean dwelling nestled in the side of a grassy knoll.