Nestled in Suffolk, England, Bury St Edmunds could just be another small English town. It’s fairly small and you can wander around easily on foot and there’s actually loads to do there too! In this post I’m going to be looking at things to do in Bury St Edmunds and hopefully convince you to take a trip out there and see for yourself what a little gem it is.
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The town of Bury St Edmunds has a quiet and understated feel to it. The history of the place is truly amazing, diverse and goes back a long, long time, yet the town doesn’t seem to feel that it needs to shout from the rooftops about it. Perhaps that’s because the ruins of the Abbey in the town really dominates the area in a way that means they don’t have to shout. It’s there – ‘take a look at it and enjoy’ they seem to say and it’s both impressive and unassuming at the same time.
Bury St Edmunds is a treasure trove for people who enjoy history when they are travelling. There is so much to learn about no matter what period you want explore. So what is there to do and enjoy there?
Disclaimer – we were invited to visit and hosted by Bury St Edmunds and Beyond however all opinions are my own!
Bury St Edmunds Abbey and the Abbey Gardens
One of the big attractions to the town of Bury St Edmunds is its history and nowhere is this more apparent than the Abbey Gardens. You can’t miss the impressive Abbey Gate as an entrance (see picture at top of this post).
The Abbey is celebrating its 1000 year anniversary this year as the first time that the Abbots came was in 1020 when a small church was built to house the body of St Edmund – then the patron saint of England. Since then the site was a huge pilgrimage destination and the huge Abbey was subsequently built around it.
Having visited a number of abbeys over the past few years (its perfect for exploring with a dog!) I can say that the ruins here, although much depleted are an immense size. The area is incredibly impressive.
The gardens themselves are an absolute delight to walk around and as it’s a public space gives it a different feel to those where you have to pay to look around. There’s much to look at with old walled gardens, opens spaces and also, of course, the ruins themselves. You can learn as you go round with many information boards to show what the site would have contained.
The Abbey Gardens and the ruins of the Abbey are free to explore. They open early in the morning – 7.30am Monday – Saturday and 9am on Sundays. The closing time varies through the year although there are signs that will tell you. As a guide in winter it’s around 4.30pm and from 6pm – 8pm during the spring and summer months.
St Edmunsbury Cathedral
This is Suffolk’s only cathedral and it’s been a site of worship for over 1000 years. It’s just next to the Abbey ruins so you’ll not need to go far to explore there.
The interior of the cathedral is absolutely stunning (see pic below) and you could spend so much time just enjoying the architecture of the place. I know it always surprises me just how intricate the decorations are. It’s an absolute delight of a place to visit.
I loved that inside they also have a Lego model of the cathedral being built and you can contribute by ‘sponsoring’ a brick – that’s also going to be impressive once done!
Entrance to the cathedral is free and there are some guided tours you can take too. Tours are available from 1 May – 30 September and cost £5 per person.
There are also tours of the tower in the cathedral that run from March – October, weather depending, that cost £10 per person.
You can check out the website of the cathedral here
St Mary’s Church
Just a little further along from the cathedral you have another religious building with some amazing connections to history. St Mary’s church is most famous for being the resting place of Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII. Mary is who the ship the Mary Rose was named after.
Mary had married the Duke of Suffolk and so when she died she was buried in the Abbey of St Edmunds. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries her remains were moved to St Mary’s church and you can still see her tomb in the church. Be aware that it’s a very simple tomb, very plain and perhaps not what you might expect!
Entrance to the church is free, although donations are welcome. Do check the church website before visiting as it may be closed for services.
Holding the title of Britains smallest pub you have to come and see this little marvel of a drinking establishment! Consisting of a single, very small, bar there’s only room for a handful of patrons at one time. It’s a friendly place and a great stop to learn a little more about the history of the town.
Bury St Edmunds is well known for its ale (see the brewery below) so if beer, ale and brewing is what you’re interested in you can definitely get your fill here. The local tourist office also does an ale trail guide to help.
Moyse’s Hall Museum
The main museum in Bury St Edmunds is the Moyses Hall Museum and although I don’t really like to use the overused phrase of ‘hidden gem’ it really is one. Town museums can often be a random collection of artefacts just gathered together because it has to be shown ‘somewhere’. I didn’t get the feeling of that in this museum.
Housed in a really interesting building that dates back 900 years itself I heartily recommend a visit here. There is history to be learned from the monastic past (and if you want to know more about the Abbey and that history I’d definitely suggest heading there to learn more – the museum staff are also incredibly friendly and happy to answer questions) and also from the post dissolution era too with some especially interesting stories of crime and punishment in the area. Some of it is pretty macabre but really interesting stories!
As well as local history the museum has a really impressive clock and watch collection – one of the largest in the UK, a large collection of paintings and fine art, including by Mary Beale and some military history too. Certainly somewhere you can spend an enjoyable hour or two!
There is a charge for the museum but it’s not prohibitively expensive at all and there’s an option to get a ticket that will allow entrance to the museum for a full year as well as to the nearby West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village (which we hoped to visit but the weather meant we had to leave for another time!)
Prices are correct as at January 2020
Day tickets: Adults £5, Concessions and children – £3, Family £15
Heritage tickets (12 month museum and West Stow): Adults £12, Concession – £8, Children £6, Family – £40
Monday to Saturday: 10am – 5pm (last admission at 4pm)
Sunday: 12pm – 4pm (last admission 3pm)
See their website here
Greene King Brewery
Greene King brewery is a big thing in Bury St Edmunds. It is nowadays one of the leading brewers in the country and owner of pubs but the story started in Bury St Edmunds over 200 years ago at the end of the 1700s when it was set up by a young man named Benjamin Greene. From there the company grew to where it is today.
From a tourists perspective there are brewery tours that you can go on to learn about how beers and ales are made. They also go into the history so you can see what an effect this business had on the town. You’ll also be able to try some of the beers in the brewery cafe if you are keen on the different kinds.
I’ll confess I’m NOT a beer person, although my husband is. We didn’t manage a tour as time wasn’t on our side, but can confirm that the cafe is indeed lovely! Also I wasn’t ready for the sense of nostalgia as the smell of the brewery just took me straight back to my childhood as I grew up in a Scottish brewery town!
Tours are available and cost £16 per person. They are for 16 years plus only (16-17 year olds need to be accompanied by an adult) and you can see more about the tours and book here.
The Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds is special in that its the only regency period playhouse still in use in the UK today. It doesn’t look much from the outside but inside is a different story!
The theatre was built in 1819 and has a lot of the original features still present.
Inside you can have a tour of the theatre and learn about its history. They’ll show you behind the scenes and talk you through what makes this an important piece of our heritage.
There are a couple of tour options available. First is the basic tour which run from February to November on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11am. You should book online – the cost is £7.50 but is free if you are a National Trust member.
They also do a more interactive tour called a Close Encounter tour. The guides are dressed up as they would have been in the Regency period and its a more engaging and entertaining tour.
See info and book the tours here.
Of course you could also take in a show while you are in Bury St Edmunds too – see their website for what is on while you’re visiting.
Blue plaque walking trail
From Charles Dickens to the donor of the clock collection in the museum, Frederic Gershom Parkington, there are a number of historic and renowned people with a connection to the town immortalised by blue plaques. You can take a walk around the town taking in and learning about these notable people. It’s a small trail but might be of interest if you’re wandering around anyway!
You can get the blue plaque trail guide online here.
Wander round the shops/ take in a coffee
Of course, being a market town, Bury St Edmunds has a raft of lovely shops to while your time away looking around! I found the place really pleasant with a mixture of big name stores and some interesting independents too. The streets are quaint and I loved that many of even the big name shops had buildings that didn’t detract from the character of the town. It’s compact and easy to get around.
You’re spoiled for choice with coffee shops too – so many to choose from!
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