If you’re looking for a classically British getaway, Bedfordshire could be the place for you. Ideally placed for access from London, it’s just 30 miles away from the capital, but its green countryside, wide rivers and pretty houses and villages make it feel as though it’s much further away. With many areas of outstanding natural beauty, it’s a place where you can get back to nature. Here at Plum Guide, we've gone above and beyong to create this expert guide for you, so read on for our suggestions on the best places to visit in Bedfordshire.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
Wildcat at Whipsnade Zoo
This is one of the top things to do in Bedfordshire for a reason. The UK’s largest zoo, there are more than 3,600 animals here - so you’re sure to find one that you identify with (whether it’s a lion or an ostrich will depend how you’re feeling that day). A trip to the zoo is a classic day out and you can be sure that you’ll be entertained at Whipsnade. Watch the sea lions flip and the meerkats poke their little heads out of their holes. Kids big and small will appreciate the chance to buy a stuffed animal at the gift shop, especially if bigger kids were never allowed to have one after childhood zoo visits. Now, you can afford to buy one for yourself, because you deserve it.
The Swiss garden and Shuttleworth collection
Whether the words ‘a fun day out for all the family’ bring you pleasure or make you shudder with horror, there’s no denying that Shuttleworth ticks that box. A combination of a museum and gardens, there are activities here for everyone aged two to 92. Aeroplane nerds (we know you’re out there) will thrill at the Shuttleworth Collection, an aeronautical and automotive museum located at the Old Warden Aerodrome. One of the most prestigious museums of its type in the world, you’ll be free to geek out over the vintage aircraft here. The Swiss garden will be enjoyed by those of a slightly more gentle inclination. Created by 1824 and 1832 by the 3rd Baron of Old Warden Lord Ongley, thanks to clever landscaping and planting it really does look like the Swiss alps. Ideal if you don’t want to get on a plane but still want to enjoy the feel of being in the mountains.
Woburn Safari Park
Lionness at Woburn Safari Park, Bedford
If spending time with your family sometimes feels like you’re in the wild plains of Africa fighting with rhinos and zebras, Woburn Safari Park is the place to come to to entertain your little elephants. More than 1,000 animals live on wild parkland here. Just remember to check your car insurance before submitting your windscreen and antenna to the creatures within. As well as a driving safari, you can enjoy seeing elephants, alpacas and lemurs while on foot. Daily keeper talks and demonstrations ensure that the whole trip isn’t a wild animal free-for-all and has some educational value.
Rushmere Country Park
If art is your thing but you still want to enjoy nature when you’re looking for places to visit in Bedfordshire, Rushmere Country Park ticks both boxes. On an accessible and easily navigable trail, you can climb on and interact with many large wooden sculptures. Keep an eye out for fairy doors and make sure to pose your kids for a photo on the giant’s chair.
Amaravati Buddhist Monastery
For something a little different when you’re searching for places to visit in Bedfordshire, try visiting a monastery. If you’ve been stressed at work or at home, or are looking for some peace and aren’t familiar with Buddhism and the tradition of monasteries, a respectful visit here could bring you much-needed clarity. Visitors are more than welcome at this place and come from all over the world to this monastery, which practises in the Theraveda tradition. Established in 1984 by Ajahn Sumedho, it’s an extension of Chithurst Buddhist Monastery, with roots in the Thai Forest Tradition.
People can bring an offering of food or goods that the monastery needs (check the website for details), learn meditation or simply experience something outside of their daily lives (stressful-yet-well-paying job, we’re looking at you). The monastery encourages peaceful reflection and is open from early in the morning until the evening. If you need some real downtime, on Saturday afternoons meditation workshops are held.
There's plenty to do in Bedford, the county's namesake town, but if you're looking for a quintessentially charming English village, head to Ampthill. Think Miss Marple and tea and scones. We recommend visiting on Thursday, which has been market day ever since Henry III decreed it to be so in 1242. With plenty of diverting shops, we recommend that you bring your credit card. The boutiques and independent shops are the ideal place to find presents for those hard-to-buy-for relatives. If you enjoy spooky stories, take a look at the ghostly ruins of Houghton House, a Jacobean mansion dating from the 1600s. Abandoned since the 1700s after a roof collapse, lots of period details remain - along with ghosts (probably).