Bedford, England: Things to See & Do, Places to Eat & Activities

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.

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.

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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At a Glance

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Things to do in Bedford: Higgins Museum (left), Panacea Museum (top right) & John Bunyan Boat (bottom right)

Things to Do in Bedford

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


Panacea Museum

Address: 9 Newnham Road, Bedford MK40 3NX
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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, 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 the website before you visit.


The Higgins

Address: Castle Ln, Bedford MK40 3XD
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Bedford’s recently refurbished main 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!


The Embankment

Address: The Embankment, Bedford MK40 3PD
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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

Address: Barkers Ln, Bedford MK41 9DJ
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A peaceful and well-maintained 145 hectare green space consisting of lakes, meadows and woodland. It’s 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.


Things to see in Bedford: Michelangelo Fresco (top) & Suspension Bridge (bottom)

Things to See in Bedford

There are a couple of things of interest when it comes to things to see in Bedford.


Michelangelo Fresco

Address: Corner of Howard Street/Mill Street
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The exterior wall of a coffee shop isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a two-story recreation of Michelangelo’s Libyan Sibyl, the original of which can be found in Rome’s Sistine Chapel. Using a technique dating back to about 1500 BC, the artist completed the work in three months at a cost of £12,000.


Suspension Bridge

Address: Near The Embankment/Bushmead Ave junction
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Every self-respecting Bedfordian knows of this beautiful and surprisingly steep iron bridge. It’s as close to being an official emblem of the town as it can be without actually being one. Opened in 1888, it still offers pedestrians a terrific view and to cross from the north to the south bank and vice-versa. A great selfie spot!


Cafes in Bedford: Inside Coffee With Art (left) and cappuccino at The Pavillion

Cafes in Bedford

Bedford offers plenty of places to sit down with a drink and people-watch. Here are some of our favourites.


Coffee With Art

Address: 82 High St, Bedford MK40 1NN
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A cosy, welcoming and unpretentious cafe which mixes local art with great coffee, loose leaf teas and lots of tasty sweet and savoury treats. While the artwork changes regularly, books play a big role in the permanant decor. A staircase and an entire wall is seemingly constructed from old books while more books appear to emerge from a large split in another wall. It was an instant hit when it opened in 2013 and it’s still really popular today.

Vegetarian options available.


The Pavilion

Address: Park Ave, Bedford MK41 7SS
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friendly, local eatery set in the heart of Bedford Park’s award-winning leafy, green acres in a building that was dormant for decades. All day breakfasts and lunches are heartyBritish and made using locally sourced ingredients. Sit inside and admire the tall ceiling, sit outside on the heated veranda or grab a quick snack from the window on the side. Check the website for events and the regular supper clubs.

 Vegetarian & gluten-free options available.


Restaurants in Bedford: burrito at Baja (top left), brunch at Albero Lounge (bottom left) & veggie Thali at Thali & Tandoor (right)

Restaurants in Bedford

Bedford is a town that’s full of great restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world, typically at very reasonable prices.


Baja

Address: 17 Castle Ln, Bedford MK40 3NX
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An small independent restaurant serving satisfying mexican-inspired street food. Portion sizes are generous and prices are reasonable. We really like the wall of photos depicting scenes from Mexico. Keep things simple by getting a burrito (with a choice of fillings) and an Aguas frescas to wash it down. Delicious!

 Vegetarian options available.


Thali & Tandoor

Address: 28 Castle Ln, Bedford MK40 3US
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Bedford has plenty of traditional Indian restaurants, but this isn’t one of them. Here, the specialty is street food and regional delicacies. The menu is extensive and exciting and comes with detailed descriptions to help you choose. If you can’t decide, go or the Thali, an assortment of small dishes.

 Vegetarian options available.


Herd

Address: 5 St Cuthbert’s St, Bedford MK40 3JG
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There are just six burgers on the menu (one veggie) at this small, super-cool burger place. Each option is simple, but expertly prepared using high quality ingredients. Prices are okay and decor is rustic and on-trend. There an adjoining bar serving craft and artisan beers that’s worth checking out too.

Vegetarian option available.


The view of Riverside North from the south bank of the Great Ouse

Activities in Bedford

Bedford main activities are focused on its riverside, namely cruises and canoe hire.


John Bunyan Boat Cruises

Departure point: Sovereigns Quay, Bedford MK40 1QS
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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 ‘Fish & Chip Supper’ cruises and ‘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


Hire canoes, kayaks and SUPs with Canoe Trail

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

The nearest airport to Bedford is London Luton (IATA: LTN) which is around 50km (30mi) away from the town centre.

Short and medium haul flights operated by a variety of mainly low cost airlines take passengers to/from all over Europe. EasyJet has the largest presence at the airport.

Click the button below to search for the best fares for your flight to Bedford from your local airport.

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Getting from the Airport

Bedford is connected to London Luton Airport by road and rail. Catching the train is best (see below for details on how to catch the train to Bedford), followed by ordering an Uber from the arrivals hall. There are currently no direct bus services.


Getting to Bedford by Train

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

  • Thameslink trains run frequently from Brighton and London St Pancras International, via both Luton Airport & Gatwick Airport and terminate at Bedford.
  • Faster East Midlands Trains also run from London St Pancras International and continue to Sheffield, Nottingham & Derby (Off-peak only from May 2018).
  • A route from Bletchley (near Milton Keynes) is serviced by London Northwestern Railway.
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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.


Getting to Bedford by Bus

If you’re travelling within the borough or just across the border, Stagecoach and Grant Palmer provide reliable services. If you’re travelling from Cambridge or Milton Keynes, Stagecoach runs the half-hourly X5 coach route. If you’re travelling from further afield, we wouldn’t recommend travelling by bus.


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 council and are reasonably well looked after. 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.


Home rentals in Bedford

There are some great homes located in and around Bedford for you to choose from. Click the button below to check them out.

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New to Airbnb? Get money off your first stay when you sign-up with our special link*.


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