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6 Great Things to Do in Bedford, England

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By Matt Morelli

Ask a Bedfordian whether there are plenty of things to do in Bedford and you probably won’t get a favourable reply. Bedfordians can be surprisingly downbeat about their town.

Ask this particular (former) Bedfordian though, and he’ll write an entire travel guide. And, here it is!

Bedford is a small, unassuming market town of around 80,000 people. In proportion to its size, it is one of the most culturally diverse towns in the UK with nearly 10% of the population originating from South Asia and almost 30% of Italian descent (me included).

The cultural patchwork is reflected in the town’s extensive offering of restaurants serving high quality and reasonable priced cuisine from all over the world. As well as ubiquitous Italian and Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants, there are eateries serving French, Japanese, Mexican and Turkish food, to name but a few.

In this post, I’ll be uncovering some of the best things to do in Bedford, aimed at both residents and visitors. If you’re looking to spend some quality time in town, this post is for you.

Is Bedford worth visiting?

Yes, Bedford is definitely worth visiting.

It’s cliche, but Bedford really does offer something for everyone, not just in terms of food but in attractions and activitiesFabulous museums, well-tended parks, a stunning riverside area, multiple sporting facilities, a burgeoning arts scene and cute independent shops all help to ensure everyone’s needs are catered for.

With minimal planning, a day out in Bedford would be very well spent. To get the most out of a visit, a stay of at least one night is recommended.

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Plan & Book your trip

Getting there: Find great train fares with Trainline. Find and book bus tickets with BusBud. If you need to fly, find great prices and lower emission flights with Skyscanner.

Where to stay: For hotels and all other types of accommodation, use Booking.com and/or Hotels.com. For holiday homes, use Vrbo.

Things to do: To find things to do, we like using GetYourGuide, Viator and/or Klook.

Best things to do in Bedford

Bedford offers plenty of interesting and unique attractions. Here are some of our favourites.

The Panacea Museum has a beautiful and peaceful garden around the back

Visit the Panacea Museum

Address: 9 Newnham Road, Bedford MK40 3NX

Discover the amazing and peculiar story of the Panacea Society, a religious community formed in the early twentieth century that created its own Garden of Eden in the centre of Bedford. We found it fascinating! Once you’ve explored the well-presented displays at the Panacea Museum, visit the lovely & peaceful cafe and garden at the back of the property. Worth visiting Bedford for this alone!

Admission is free!

Check ahead: The museum has changeable opening hours, so check their website before you visit.

Bedford’s main museum is The Higgins, containing a number of permanent exhibits

Drop into The Higgins

Address: Castle Ln, Bedford MK40 3XD

Bedford’s recently refurbished Higgins Museum and art gallery charts the history of Bedford from the stone age to the modern day in a fabulously contemporary style. As well as fossils, pottery, furnishings and costumes, there are priceless works of art by Picasso, Turner and Constable. There are frequent visiting exhibitions and events and there’s an adjoining cafe/restaurant.

Admission is free!

A palm tree stands proudly alongside Bedford’s signature suspension bridge

Stroll along The Embankment

Address: The Embankment, Bedford MK40 3PD

By far the best part of Bedford is its riverside area, colloquially known as The Embankment. Finely manicured flower beds, huge leafy trees, wide green meadows & parks, plenty of wildfowl and thoughtfully placed paths and bridges combine to create a beautiful & relaxing parkland.

If you’re travelling by car, there’s plenty of paid parking along The Embankment and along adjacent streets and free parking along Shaftesbury Ave (though you’ll be lucky if you grab a spot). Parking on Sundays is free pretty much everywhere.

Enhance your visit: Boat & bike hire is available at the recently revamped cafe, The Longholme and there’s a putting green in Russell Park (both spring/summer only). 

Priory Country Park is a lovely green space near the centre of Bedford

Catch a breather at Priory Country Park

Address: Barkers Ln, Bedford MK41 9DJ

A peaceful and well-maintained 145 hectare green space consisting of lakes, meadows and woodland. Priory Country Park is where locals head to for a breather. A brisk walk around the lake takes around an hour, leaving time to visit the nearby Beefeater pub or the newly opened cafe in the visitor centre. Check the website for information on guided walks by experienced park rangers. Access is best by car and there’s plenty of free on-site parking.

Bedford’s surrounding waterways are lovely and best seen by boat

John Bunyan Boat Cruises

Departure point: Sovereigns Quay, Bedford MK40 1QS

The John Bunyan Community boat offers regular weekly cruises along the River Great Ouse from Bedford town centre to Priory Marina and Kempston. The volunteer-run community projects also offers a series of special themed cruises including ‘Jazz Night’ cruises.

We really enjoyed our leisurely cruise along the river, taking full advantage of their cream tea add-on to make the afternoon a little bit extra special.

Pre-booking is essential.

Canoe Trail offers a variety of ways to get onto Bedford’s waterways

Hire canoes, kayaks and SUPs with Canoe Trail

Meeting point: alongside Longholme Boathouse, The Embankment, Bedford MK40 3TP

If you prefer to do things a little more hands-on, Canoe Trail offer anyone the chance to hire their water-based vessels. You can choose from a range of canoes, kayak and SUPs or varying sizes with all the safety equipment and briefings included as standard.

We had never captained a two-person canoe before, but the friendly team at Canoe Trail gave us lots of confidence and we almost literally took to it like a duck to water. During our two hour paddle, we were free to go wherever we liked, but we were encouraged to follow the provided map which took us down river towards nearby Cardington Lock. It was a wonderfully mindful way to enjoy the river.

Plan & Book your visit to Bedford

In this section, we’ll go through how you can plan and book your visit to Bedford.

Getting to Bedford by Train

Bedford has two railway stations, but you should avoid Bedford St. Johns and alight at Bedford (which is occasionally referred to as Bedford Midland).

  • Thameslink trains run frequently from Brighton and London St Pancras International, via both Luton Airport & Gatwick Airport which terminate at Bedford.
  • Faster East Midlands Railway services (occasionally branded Luton Airport Express) also run from London St Pancras International and continue to Sheffield, Nottingham & Derby.
  • A regional route from Bletchley (near Milton Keynes) is serviced by London Northwestern Railway.

Upon arrival at Bedford, the 5-10 minute walk into the town centre is clearly signposted (follow town centre and/or bus station). Alternatively, council-operated taxis are always waiting outside, though fares are expensive.

Tickets can be purchased right up until the moment of departure, though savings can be made by booking Advance tickets ahead of time. To do so, we recommend booking tickets with Trainline.

Getting to Bedford by Bus

If you’re travelling within Bedford borough or just across the border, Stagecoach and Grant Palmer provide reliable services. Stagecoach runs the reliable and frequent X5 bus service, starting in Oxford and calling at Bicester, Buckingham, Milton Keynes and terminating in Bedford. From the east, bus 905 services a route from Cambridge via St. Neots to Bedford every 30 minutes.

Getting to Bedford by Road

Bedford sits between the M1 and A1(M) via the A421. All of the town centre car parks are run by the borough council. All are free for the first two hours on Saturdays and free all day on Sundays. 

Getting Around Bedford

Bedford is easy to navigate on foot. Almost all of the listings on this page are within walking distance of one another.

Hotels in Bedford

Bedford hasn’t always been great in terms of accommodation, but things are beginning to change.

Hotels in Bedford

At the time of writing, the best ranked hotels in Bedford’s town centre according to Tripadvisor are:

Our pick however, based on photos and reviews, would be Albero Lounge. The hotel has some beautiful looking rooms and the location is perfect.

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About the author

Matt Morelli

I've travelled to 38 countries across 4 continents, both independently and with my wife. I've been writing travel guides and making videos since 2007, all based on my real-life experiences. Here To Travel is a place for travel advice and inspiration that encourages us all to make mindful decisions. If you want to have life changing adventures that have minimal impact on the places and people you visit, Here To Travel is for you.

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