Step back in time
Originally an Anglo-Saxon settlement, the town takes its name from King Edmund, the original Patron Saint of England, and King of East Anglia; his shrine at the Abbey of St Edmund was one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in the country. And it was in the village of Hoxne, a couple of miles from Wild & West farm, that he sacrificed himself to save England. The Abbey was largely destroyed in the 18th century but today you can wander through the mystical Abbey Ruins in the award-winning Abbey Gardens and be transported back to medieval times. The kids will love exploring and discovering the birds in the menagerie along the way. And across the gardens stands Suffolk’s only cathedral – St Edmundsbury Cathedral, which was built in 1503.
For those who want to really immerse themselves in days of old, there’s the West Stow Anglo Saxon Centre and Country Park on the site of an old settlement situated 7 miles outside of the town. History is brought to life through a wonderful reconstruction of the site and there are Anglo Saxon houses you can step inside. If you’re visiting in the summer, then look out for the costumed groups who’ll be more than happy to answer all your Anglo-Saxon queries!
For a history lesson with a difference, we recommend taking the Greene King brewery tour – the site has been a working brewery for more than 200 years. You’ll get a chance to see behind the scenes and sample the beers being brewed. The town boasts a huge number of pubs – try The Beer House, The Old Cannon Brewery or The Mason’s Arms, all perfect for a beverage or two and a tasty pub lunch. And if it’s cosy you want, then pay a visit to The Nutshell, one of the smallest pubs in Britain at just 15ft by 7ft (it even earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records!).
Where to eat?
Spoilt for choice doesn’t begin to cover the foodie options, and there’s something to suit all budgets. If you’re going all out, then splurge at the Michelin-starred Pea Porridge, dining that will make your taste buds sing. La Maison Bleue offers French cuisine with a modern twist, while Rustico is the perfect place to indulge in some authentic Italian dishes (it’s always warm and inviting, and the portions are generous).
If informal dining is your thing, then head to Zen Noodle Bar and grab a seat at one of the wooden tables, where you can choose from a mouth-watering selection of rice and noodle dishes from China, Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam. We love The Giggling Squid on Abbeygate Street which serves delicious, aromatic Thai cuisine – the perfect pre- or post-shopping pit stop. And if you’re short on time then there’s a great choice of independent cafés too, like the Bay Tree Café. A few minutes outside of town you’ll find another indie gem where relaxing and recharging is encouraged; FOLK Café offers a warm space to kick back and sample a simple yet delicious menu, plus speciality coffee by local roasters and locally baked artisan bread.
If browsing a market is your thing, then look no further; there are vibrant street markets every Wednesday and Saturday, and regular crafts and foodie ones a couple of Sundays a month – perfect for experiencing what the lovely Suffolk local makers are offering.
Independent boutiques and shops line the charming streets. Pocket Watch & Petticoats is a fabulous vintage-inspired clothing store (plus it’s family run…tick!). Also great for those retro finds for the home is 3catsVintage, which is brimming with furniture and art as well as clothes and accessories. Then there’s Javelin, a cool fashion and lifestyle store that’s a firm favourite with locals. Be warned, though – it’s impossible to leave empty-handed. Bohemia Vintage & Lifestyle is another treasure trove of unusual finds. Be sure to take a stroll down St John’s Street (the hippest street in town), a vibrant mix of independent businesses including a vinyl record store, quirky gift shops, tattoo and piercing parlours and a gorgeous florist.
There’s a vibrant arts scene that’ll delight music and theatre lovers. The Apex, a relatively new addition to the town, is a multi-genre venue that attracts some class acts – everyone from Soul II Soul and Billy Bragg to Leo Sayer and Russell Watson have played there. Julian Lloyd Webber said it has the best acoustics he had ever heard (quite a boast!).
Art lovers can pay a visit to one of the town’s many galleries including The Apex’s contemporary gallery that holds exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing the work of emerging and established artists. Plus, there’s Smiths Row Art Gallery housed in an elegant building designed by famed Georgian architect Robert Adam.
One of the town’s proudest monuments is the Theatre Royal – the last remaining Regency theatre in the country. You can take a tour of the beautiful Grade 1 listed building, which was constructed in 1819 and extensively restored and reopened in 2007. The theatre is home to a vibrant mix of drama, dance and music throughout the year and attracts many of the country’s leading companies and performers.
With so much to offer visitors, it’s hard to resist the lure of this rather magnificent market town – a single day might not cover it, so be prepared to return again!