Insider guide to Bury St Edmunds
It’s the summer of staycationing and if you’re looking for somewhere a little bit under the radar to discover, you’ll want to read our up-to-date guide to Suffolk’s historic market town, including all the best places to scoff, shop, sleep, drink and hangout
Pleasing on the eye with its gorgeous pastel-coloured houses, historical ruins, medieval quarter and cathedral, Bury St Edmunds feels a bit of a secret often bypassed for Suffolk’s main attractions, the coast and countryside.
What a mistake to make because buzzy Bury, with its Michelin-star restaurant, independent shops and thriving arts scene, is deffo weekend break territory. Charles Dickens, who set part of The Pickwick Papers there, knew the score enjoying stays at the Angel Hotel and describing Bury St Edmunds as a “handsome town of thriving and cleanly experience”. So true, Charles, so true
Everyone’s raving about Pea Porridge on Cannon Street right now after it bagged a Michelin star earlier this year (Suffolk’s first Michelin-star, whoop). Despite the hype, there are no airs and graces at this laidback restaurant converted from two cottages to three cosy dining rooms with rustic wood tables, exposed brick walls and an original baker’s oven at its heart. Head chef and owner Justin and his wife Jurga run the show and the fact they’re both crazy about food and wine shines through, think dishes like Felixstowe skate, brown shrimps, turlu turlu (a spiced, Turkish ratatouille FYI!), aigrette and caper leaves.
Muddy Awards best restaurant finalist Maison Bleue serves modern French fare in a fancy setting on Churchgate Street. We’re also loving 1921 Angel Hill where the menu’s local produce through and through, so expect to be Instagramming delish dishes like Ardleigh asparagus or saddle of lamb from the Denham Estate all presented as edible works of art.
The Northgate Hotel is a thing of beauty – a magnificent Victorian-era town house with interiors mag-style decor, fine-dining restaurant, cocktail bar with a terrace and just nine individual bedrooms with original fireplaces, the occasional antique and free-standing tubs.
Standing the test of time (like, over a century) is the rather fabulous The Angel. Charles Dickens stayed here in 1835, way before Tripadvisor had been invented, but he must have rated it as he returned twice as a journalist for the Morning Chronicle and to do a reading at the nearby Athenaeum. You can even book the room he slept in (215) now known as the Charles Dickens Suite and naturally you’ll need to knock back a Great Expectations cocktail or two – Suffolk dry gin, martini, Ardberg, lemon twist (not that they’re pushing a theme here or anything).
Baskervilles on Whiting Street in the town centre’s medieval grid is a vegan coffee shop with a secret cocktail bar below. Ok it’s not that secret, but is stays open until late Thurs-Sat, the menu’s chocka with enticing concoctions like Rathbone’s Fairy Garden – gin, Pimms, fresh strawberry jam, lime, Angostura bitters, topped with homemade pomegranate and hibiscus soda – and cocktails are served in a teapot on Sundays, because why the hell not?
Did you know Bury’s home to Britain’s smallest drinking hole The Nutshell Pub ? Probably not. The bar’s just 15ft by 7ft and apparently it’s been confirmed in the Guinness Book of Records that this really is the UK’s tiniest pub, so obvs you’ll need to pop in for a pic and to check out the mad decor which includes a mummified cat and foreign notes plastered on the ceiling.
You can tour and tipple at Greene King Brewery, exploring the old buildings, finding out how the local brew’s made and then tucking into tastings at the fab Beer Cafe, including two chutneys, a marmalade and mustard all made from beer.
Bury has two sides when it comes to shopping – the Arc Shopping Centre by the Cattle Market car park houses all the big chains (Super Dry, Joules, Waterstones, Wagamama etc), but you’ll find some cracking independent shops lining the elegant Georgian streets near the Abbey. Hit up Javelin and Anna for fashion, and The Parsley Pot and Quest for gifts.
The lively market takes place on the Butter Market every Wednesday and Saturday (more than 80 stalls to browse), and there’s an annual Food and Drink Festival too. The Christmas market is the biggest event in the calendar, attracting 130,000 visitors.
You can’t miss St Edmundsbury Cathedral as it dominates the entire town from its central spot, so you’re pretty much sightseeing while you’re shopping.
Abbey of St Edmund in pretty Abbey Gardens was officially 1000 years old in 2020 but Covid rained on the parade, so there are plans to celebrate the occasion in 2022 (imagine the candles on that cake). One of the most important medieval monasteries in Europe, it’s a beautiful place to spend an hour or two and there are rumours that St Edmund’s remains are still there, possibly in an iron coffin in the monks’ cemetery beneath some former tennis courts. Expect a major Richard-III-found-in-a-Leicester-car-park type reveal at some point in the future.
Bury’s home to the only surviving Regency playhouse in Britain, The Theatre Royal where you can see all the latest shows, in an amazing pre-Victorian setting. In contrast, The Apex is an award-winning ultra modern event space, with everything from plays to live music, art exhibitions and yoga classes.
Drag them away from screens for a morning at Moyse’s Hall Museum, which transports kids back in time through artefacts and tales from the Bronze Age, Roman era and Medieval times. Though if you want something more contemporary there are events too, like a modern art exhibition running until September 21, which includes works by Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Banksy.
St Edmundsbury Cathedral has launched a project to recreate the iconic landmark in Lego, take the fam to see the development and donate a brick or two while you’re there (it’s in the south west corner of the cathedral).
Nearby Ickworth House is a great place for all ages, with massive grounds for picnics and lots of activities – explorer packs with binoculars, outdoor theatre, crafts and games (we’re keen on the cafes, gift and garden shops too).
ON THE MOVE?
Check out the brand new Insider Guides to cities and towns from the other Muddy Stilettos editors…