From the rolling hills of the Chilterns to the numerous historic landmarks dotting this charming county, Bedfordshire is brimming with attractions waiting to be explored.
If you’re seeking outdoor adventures and family-friendly activities, or a culture-vulture looking to dive into the rich cultural heritage of the region, this guide unveils the best attractions and things to do in Bedfordshire. So let’s begin!
Woburn Abbey, Woburn
The first entry on our guide to things to do in Bedfordshire is Woburn Abbey, which began life as a monastery in the 12th century before the Duke of Bedford transformed it into a private residence.
Today, it opens its doors to the public, showcasing exquisite art collections and sprawling gardens. The Abbey’s interiors reveal a series of state rooms filled with notable works of art.
Amongst its treasures are paintings by renowned artists, including Canaletto and Van Dyck.
Outside, the gardens invite leisurely exploration, with over 28 acres of serene, landscaped beauty. They house the famous Humphry Repton designs. Visitors can also explore the Deer Park, home to nine species of deer.
Woburn Abbey offers a glimpse into a bygone era, providing a rich, educational experience for those delving into the region’s heritage. It remains an unmissable spot for history enthusiasts and cultural explorers looking to experience some of the most notable Bedfordshire attractions.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, located in the rolling Chiltern Hills of Bedfordshire, is the UK’s largest zoo. This expansive park is home to over 3,500 animals and provides a sanctuary for some of the planet’s most endangered species.
The zoo’s spacious enclosures are designed to mimic natural habitats, offering a humane and enriching environment for the animals.
Visitors can witness a range of species from the majestic African elephants to giraffes, engaging in natural behaviours. Conservation is at the forefront of Whipsnade’s mission, contributing to vital breeding programmes.
The zoo offers an interactive experience, with opportunities to get up close to some creatures, under the guidance of experienced keepers – one of the most highly-recommended family-friendly destinations in Bedfordshire and a visitor attraction of some repute.
Wrest Park, Silsoe
Wrest Park in Silsoe, Bedfordshire, is a hidden gem of English heritage. The estate boasts a spectacular Grade I listed country house set within 90 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens.
Dating back over 300 years, Wrest Park’s architecture is a delightful blend of French and Dutch styles, offering a distinct contrast to the typical English country house.
The gardens are a key attraction, presenting a stunning example of the evolution of garden design over several centuries.
Visitors can stroll through intricate parterres, wooded walks, and the magnificent Long Water, a formal canal that reflects the grandeur of the house.
Alongside its aesthetic charm, Wrest Park is steeped in history, with the grounds featuring classical statues, historical monuments, and a unique Chinese Bridge.
Dunstable Downs, Dunstable
Dunstable Downs, located near Dunstable in Bedfordshire, is renowned for its stunning landscape and panoramic views.
As the highest point in the region, it offers a breathtaking vantage point over the surrounding countryside. This area of natural beauty forms part of the Chiltern Hills and is a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
The extensive network of footpaths and trails invites visitors to explore its rolling hills and serene grasslands, ideal for walking, kite flying, and picnicking.
Managed by the National Trust, Dunstable Downs is also home to important historical sites, including ancient burial mounds.
The visitor centre, equipped with a café and informative displays, offers insights into the area’s natural and cultural history. Dunstable Downs is a cherished destination for those seeking to connect with nature.
Bletchley Park, Bletchley
Bletchley Park, located in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, is a site of profound historical significance. During World War II, it was the central hub for British codebreakers, including the famous Alan Turing.
Their work in decrypting the Enigma code is credited with shortening the war and saving countless lives. Today, Bletchley Park stands as a museum dedicated to commemorating these extraordinary achievements.
Visitors can explore the beautifully preserved huts where codebreakers worked in secret, deciphering enemy communications. The exhibits provide a fascinating insight into the intelligence operations and the groundbreaking work in early computing.
The park also celebrates the lesser-known stories of the thousands of people who contributed to its success, many of whom were women. Bletchley Park is a tribute to human ingenuity and a poignant reminder of the silent heroes of war.
Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton
Stockwood Discovery Centre, situated in Luton, Bedfordshire, is a delightful destination that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.
This family-friendly venue is renowned for its extensive collection of horse-drawn carriages, one of the most significant in the UK. Visitors can journey through the history of travel and transport, exploring how these carriages played a vital role in society.
The centre also features beautifully landscaped gardens, including period gardens and a medicinal garden, providing a peaceful retreat and a chance to connect with nature.
The gardens showcase the art of horticulture through the ages, and the medicinal garden highlights the historical use of plants in healing.
The centre’s combination of historical exhibits and natural splendour makes it a cherished local attraction, perfect for a family day out or for anyone interested in exploring the cultural heritage of Bedfordshire.
Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden
The Shuttleworth Collection, nestled in Old Warden, Bedfordshire, is an unparalleled aviation and automobile museum, offering a unique glimpse into the history of transportation.
This extraordinary collection was founded in 1928 by Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth, an avid aviator and racer.
Aviation enthusiasts can marvel at rare aircraft from the First and Second World Wars, including pioneering models that chart the early days of flight. The collection extends to classic cars and motorcycles, each with its own story and significance.
The Shuttleworth Collection is renowned for its airshows, where these vintage planes take to the skies in spectacular displays, offering a rare opportunity to see them in action.
Set in the picturesque grounds of the Shuttleworth Estate, the museum also features beautifully maintained gardens. Another worthy entry in our guide to memorable things to do in Bedfordshire.
Leighton Buzzard Railway, Leighton Buzzard
Leighton Buzzard Railway in Bedfordshire is one of England’s unique narrow-gauge heritage railways. Originating from the First World War, this railway has a rich history, initially serving the sand industry before transitioning to a passenger service.
Stretching for almost 5 miles, the line provides a nostalgic journey through the beautiful Bedfordshire countryside. Visitors can experience the charm of vintage steam and diesel locomotives, which are meticulously maintained and operated by enthusiastic volunteers.
The on-site museum at Page’s Park Station enriches the experience, displaying artefacts and information about the railway’s history.
Special events like Santa specials and themed rides add to its appeal, making it a delightful Bedfordshire attraction for families, history enthusiasts, and railway aficionados alike.
Bedford Park, Bedford
Bedford Park is a quintessential Victorian urban park and a cherished green oasis for the town’s residents and visitors.
Officially opened in 1888, it was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, known for his work on London’s Crystal Palace.
Spanning over 80 acres, the park blends landscaped beauty with recreational facilities, including tennis courts, a cricket pavilion, and a picturesque lake. Notably, the park boasts a bandstand and a Victorian-style pavilion, adding to its historical charm.
The tree-lined avenues and well-manicured gardens provide a tranquil escape from urban life, making it an ideal spot for leisurely walks, picnics, and family outings.
Its combination of natural beauty, historical significance, and community focus makes Bedford Park a vital part of the town’s cultural and social fabric.
Priory Country Park, Bedford
Priory Country Park, a picturesque natural haven in Bedford, spans 360 acres and offers a diverse range of activities and landscapes. This tranquil park, nestled alongside the River Great Ouse, boasts a large lake that’s a focal point for wildlife enthusiasts and casual visitors alike.
Ideal for birdwatching, the park’s wetlands and meadows are home to a variety of bird species. It’s a popular destination for walking, cycling, and fishing, with well-marked trails winding through scenic woodlands and open spaces.
The park also includes a visitor centre, providing educational resources and information about the local fauna and flora. For families, the play areas and picnic spots make it an ideal setting for a day out.
Priory Country Park hosts events and activities throughout the year, engaging the local community and visitors in environmental conservation and outdoor recreation. This serene park is a testament to the beauty of Bedfordshire’s natural landscape, offering a peaceful escape from urban life.
Harrold-Odell Country Park, Harrold
Harrold-Odell Country Park, located in the picturesque village of Harrold, Bedfordshire, is a delightful escape into nature. Comprising over 144 acres, the park is known for its two beautiful lakes, set amidst rolling meadows and mature woodlands.
These lakes, a central feature of the park, are popular for fishing and provide a haven for waterfowl and wildlife, making it an ideal spot for birdwatching.
The park offers a network of well-maintained walking trails that wind through varied landscapes, perfect for leisurely strolls or more energetic walks.
With a children’s play area, Harrold-Odell is also a family-friendly destination, offering outdoor fun for all ages. The on-site café and picnic areas make it a perfect spot for a Bedfordshire day out.
Stotfold Watermill, Stotfold
Those looking for Bedfordshire cultural sites should direct their gaze towards Stotfold Watermill – a beautifully restored 18th-century watermill and a shining example of England’s rich industrial heritage.
This Grade II listed building, brought back to life by dedicated volunteers, operates as a fully functional flour mill, producing stone-ground flour using traditional methods.
Visitors to Stotfold Watermill can explore the three floors of the mill, each detailing different stages of the milling process and showcasing the original milling machinery.
The mill is set alongside a charming nature reserve, offering picturesque walks and a chance to spot local wildlife. The adjacent Kingfisher Café provides a cozy spot for refreshments, overlooking the serene mill pond.
This lovingly maintained watermill is not just a top Bedfordshire attraction; it’s a testament to the preservation of traditional skills and a link to the region’s pastoral past.
Swiss Garden, Old Warden
Swiss Garden in Old Warden, Bedfordshire, is a remarkable example of a Regency-style landscape garden. Created in the early 19th century, this 9-acre garden is on the site of the Shuttleworth Museum and is known for its picturesque design.
The garden’s layout is a harmonious blend of natural and man-made elements, with winding paths leading through diverse plantings, past tranquil ponds, and under canopies of mature trees.
Key features include the Indian Kiosk, the Grotto and Fernery, and the ornate Swiss Cottage, each adding to the garden’s whimsical charm.
Swiss Garden offers a tranquil retreat for visitors, providing a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the beauty of a bygone era.
It is not only a horticultural delight but also a testament to the creativity and vision of its original creators, making it a cherished Bedfordshire visitor attraction in Bedfordshire.
Bird of Prey Centre, Wilstead
The Bird of Prey Centre in Wilstead, Bedfordshire, is an exceptional facility dedicated to the conservation and education of birds of prey. Covering more than 6 acres, the centre is home to a diverse collection of over 300 birds, including eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, and vultures.
It offers a unique opportunity for visitors to witness these magnificent birds up close and learn about their habits and habitats. The centre conducts flying displays and hands-on experiences, allowing visitors to interact directly with the birds under expert guidance.
These demonstrations not only showcase the birds’ incredible skills and adaptations but also emphasize the importance of conservation efforts for these species.
The Bird of Prey Centre is committed to rescuing and rehabilitating injured birds, playing a vital role in wildlife preservation.
Mead Open Farm, Billington
Mead Open Farm in Billington, Bedfordshire, is a delightful family destination offering an interactive and educational experience. Spanning 30 acres, this farm is a haven for a variety of farm animals, including sheep, cows, pigs, and goats.
Visitors can engage in hands-on activities such as animal feeding and petting, making it an ideal place for children to learn about farm life and animal care.
The farm also boasts a range of indoor and outdoor play areas, including a massive indoor play barn, go-karts, and trampolines, ensuring fun for all ages.
With its focus on family-friendly entertainment and education, Mead Open Farm is a popular choice for a day out in Bedfordshire, offering a blend of fun and learning in a rural setting.
The Forest of Marston Vale – Forest Centre, Marston Moretaine
The Forest of Marston Vale, encompassing about 61 square miles between Bedford and Milton Keynes, is a striking example of environmental regeneration and sustainability. This initiative aims to transform a once heavily industrialized area into a thriving, green landscape.
Over 2 million trees have been planted since 1991, creating a diverse patchwork of woodlands, wetlands, and meadows. The flagship Millennium Country Park, set in the heart of the forest, offers a serene retreat with walking and cycling trails, a large lake, and abundant wildlife.
The park’s visitor centre, with its café and interactive exhibits, serves as an educational resource about the importance of reforestation and ecological balance.
The Lodge Nature Reserve, Sandy
The Lodge Nature Reserve, located near Sandy in Bedfordshire, is a haven for wildlife and nature enthusiasts. Managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), this reserve covers 180 hectares of woodlands, heathlands, and grasslands.
It provides a vital habitat for a diverse range of bird species, including woodpeckers, nuthatches, and warblers. The reserve’s extensive network of trails allows visitors to explore the varied landscapes, with several bird hides strategically placed for optimal wildlife viewing.
The Lodge, a Victorian-era house, sits at the heart of the reserve, offering educational displays and information about the local ecology and RSPB’s conservation efforts.
The surrounding gardens are beautifully landscaped and include a sculpture trail, adding an artistic element to the nature experience.
The Lodge Nature Reserve is a serene and picturesque destination, offering a chance to connect with nature and learn about the importance of wildlife conservation in the UK.
Ascott House and Gardens, Leighton Buzzard
Ascott House and Gardens, located in the village of Ascott near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, is a historic estate renowned for its exquisite gardens and impressive art collection.
Owned by the Rothschild family and managed by the National Trust, the house showcases a blend of architectural styles, with a Tudor exterior and an interior enriched with fine paintings and antiques.
The gardens are a true highlight, featuring a blend of formal and natural landscapes. They include extensive lawns, vibrant flower beds, topiary, and a picturesque lily pond, making it a haven for garden enthusiasts.
Visitors can also explore the more informal areas, offering tranquil walks through woodlands and meadows. Ascott House and Gardens host various cultural events and exhibitions, adding to its appeal one of the most impressive Bedfordshire visitor attractions.
Canoe Trail, Bedford
The Canoe Trail in Bedford is an exciting outdoor adventure, offering canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding along the scenic River Great Ouse.
Running for 23-miles, the trail weaves through Bedford’s picturesque countryside and historic town centre, providing a unique perspective of the area.
Ideal for both beginners and experienced paddlers, the trail is well-suited for family outings, group activities, or solo adventures. Along the journey, participants encounter diverse wildlife and pass by landmarks like the Victorian Embankment and Bedford’s historic bridges.
The Canoe Trail offers freedom to explore at one’s own pace, whether it’s a leisurely paddle or an energetic excursion.
Rentals are available, including all necessary equipment, making it accessible for those without their own gear. This trail offers an immersive experience, showcasing the beauty and tranquility of Bedford’s riverside landscapes.
Barton Hills Nature Reserve, Barton-le-Clay
Barton Hills National Nature Reserve, situated in the northern part of Bedfordshire, is a stunning example of chalk downland, renowned for its exceptional natural beauty and diverse flora and fauna.
This 97-hectare reserve is part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and boasts a variety of habitats, including chalk grasslands, woodlands, and scrub.
It’s particularly famous for its wildflower displays, including species like orchids and rare pasqueflowers, which bloom in spring and early summer.
The reserve is also home to a wealth of wildlife, including butterflies such as the chalkhill blue and birds like the skylark. Walking trails meander through the hills, offering visitors panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and opportunities for nature photography.
Barton Hills National Nature Reserve is a haven for nature enthusiasts, hikers, and anyone looking to enjoy the tranquility of one of Bedfordshire’s most beautiful natural landscapes.
Woburn Safari Park, Woburn
Woburn Safari Park is among the most popular family-friendly destinations in Bedfordshire. It offers a unique wildlife experience, allowing visitors to observe a wide range of exotic animals in spacious, naturalistic enclosures.
This drive-through safari park enables guests to get up close with some of the world’s most magnificent creatures, including lions, tigers, and elephants, from the comfort and safety of their own vehicles.
The park also features a pedestrian area known as the Foot Safari, where visitors can explore more animal exhibits, interact with smaller creatures, and enjoy various educational talks and demonstrations.
Woburn Safari Park is an Bedfordshire attraction for families and wildlife enthusiasts, providing an exciting opportunity to learn about animal behaviour and conservation efforts while enjoying a day out in the countryside.
Jordans Mill, Broom
Jordans Mill, nestled in the charming village of Broom near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, offers a unique blend of history, nature, and cuisine. This historic site, home to the Jordan family for over 150 years, features a beautifully restored Victorian flour mill.
Visitors can explore the interactive museum that tells the story of the mill and the evolution of flour milling through innovative displays and hands-on exhibits.
The surrounding gardens and meadows, set along the tranquil banks of the River Ivel, provide a picturesque setting for leisurely walks.
The on-site café and restaurant offer a delightful culinary experience, with a focus on locally sourced and seasonal produce, much of which is grown in the mill’s own gardens.
See the official tourist site for the low-down on things to do in Bedfordshire – https://www.experiencebedfordshire.co.uk