Suffolk, a county on the east coast of the England, is often known for it’s picturesque beaches and pristine coastline. I’d visited those areas a lot as a child, but for this day trip, I decided to explore in-land and visit one of the major towns in the county – Bury St Edmunds.
An added benefit of a trip to Bury St Edmunds is its proximity to absolutely stunning English countryside and villages, including the lovely Ickworth House and pretty Lavenham which is consistently voted as the most picturesque village in England. And Harry Potter fans – it’s also home to Harry’s child hood house in the films. It’s a win win really.
Again you really need a car to make the most of this trip as there isn’t much public transport serving Lavenham or the villages, although you can get the train to Bury from London in about 2 hours, changing at Cambridge so you could combine it in to a rail tour of the UK.
So how do you make the most of a day in the area? Here are my top tips on what to visit.
1. Start the day off with a stroll around Lavenham
Lavenham is the most visited spot in the area so I recommend starting your day in the ‘prettiest village in England’ before the crowds arrive. There is also limited parking and if you’re wanting beautiful photos you don’t want cars in front of every pretty building. I recommend arriving at 9am or before if you can to make the most of it.
A nice way to start is walking around Lavenham, just taking in the stunning buildings as you go before everyone else arrives. This village is full of ancient houses, dating back to the 1300s!!! One of the first things that hits you is how wonky these old houses have become over time – and that is their main charm. Be sure to take the time to admire them, as well as all the timbered and beamed houses.
One of the most famous is the Harry Potter House, which is both perfectly wonky and perfectly timbered – featured in the film adaptations as Harry’s birthplace.
2. Visit the Little Hall Museum
To learn a bit more about the area and its rich history, a visit to the Little Hall Museum is well worth it. Here you can study the development of the Tudor house, relax in its pretty walled garden or hear the story of this incredible house’s occupants through the centuries.
3. Grab an early lunch in the main square
Before leaving Lavenham, I recommend having an early lunch at around mid-day as the main square in Lavenham has lots of pretty places to sit. The Restaurant at the Great House is delicious (try the local Gressingham duck if you can), although I personally preferred the Number Ten wine bar and kitchen (unsurprisingly) for a laid back lunch with a tipple.
4. Take a drive to Ickworth House
Ickworth House is just a short drive away from Lavenham, and is well worth a stop off on your way to Bury St Edmunds. The house was built between 1795 and 1829 and is a unique structure with its rotunda architecture. As well as the hall itself, Ickworth has a lot to offer in and around its grounds, with nice walks well signed, as well as den building for children, stunning walled gardens, an on site cafe and acres of woodland to enjoy.
5. Stroll down to Horringer-cum-Ickworth
Another pretty little Suffolk village lies at the end of the drive of Ickworth House, about a 15 minute walk away. Enjoy the village green, pretty thatched cottages and lovely church before heading back to the car and on to Bury St Edmunds.
I recommend spending a couple of hours at Ickworth House and in the village to take you to around 2.30pm in the day when you leave for the next destination.
6. Drive to Bury St Edmunds and visit St Edmundsbury Cathedral
About a 10 minute drive through the English countryside (be prepared for our very windy roads), you will come to the town of Bury St Edmunds. A highlight of this town is its huge cathedral, which is impressive outside and in. There are also ‘tower tours’ if you’d like to get some stunning views out over the town and countryside.
My personal highlight of a visit to the Cathedral was actually just outside of it, and the most unique houses I’ve ever seen. On the site where the cathedral now sits was once a huge Benedictine Abbey – one of the most powerful and richest in all of England. The Abbey fell in to ruins, but some walls are preserved with actual houses built in to them. I’ve never seen anything like it and the houses are beyond stunning. The very definition of house goals.
7. Roam the Abbey Gardens
Behind the cathedral lie the Abbey Gardens – complete with monasterial ruins showing the pure scale of the once standing Abbey and quaint English rose gardens with views to the cathedral. This is a great spot to grab a drink and just take in the views.
8. Stroll around the picturesque lanes and shops
Bury has some cute lanes full of shops and cafes. Treat yourself to some cake and a coffee, browse lovely gifts at The Parsley Pot, peruse the books in Waterstones or take home some fresh cut flowers at Tudor Rose Florists. There are also pretty houses galore dotted around the town, and this picturesque red phone booth for anyone who wants a traditionally English snap.
9. Visit Moyse’s Hall Museum
This museum has overlooked Bury’s town square for over 900 years and charts its early history through a series of exhibitions. It even hosts historical talks and lectures, as well as medieval craft workshops for all ages. It’s a great place to find out more about Suffolk’s history and medieval England.
10. Collapse with dinner and drinks
After all that exploring, you’ll be ready for dinner and drinks. Whether you go for low-key at Bills, Mediterranean at Pea Porridge or for Thai at Zap, you can’t go wrong with a wide choice of great options to finish off your day.
Thank you for reading! Have you ever heard of Bury St Edmunds, Ickworth or Lavenham? If you’ve been what did you think? Whilst COVID has been devastating in so many ways, for so many people – I am glad to have slowed down and appreciated the beauty of more places close to home. I hope you’ve been able to as well. Stay safe and happy travelling.