Car-free in and aroundBedfordBedfordshire

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Overshadowed by more famous destinations, like Oxford (50 miles west) and Cambridge (30 miles east), Bedfordshire is one of England’s smallest counties. But the county town of Bedford, just 35 minutes from London's St Pancras station, has beautiful riverside parks, great museums, fascinating military, industrial and literary connections, and a fabulous community rail partnership. From Bunyan's Pilgrim to Bletchley Park's cryptanalysts, from giant metal heads on the High Street to double-ended sweet and savoury pastries, a day trip to Bedford is an unexpected voyage of discovery. There's lots to see so you might need longer. Scroll to the end for more information on where to stay and how to get around.

  • County: Bedfordshire
  • Great for: art | cycling | family | good cafés and pubs | history | literary connections | local food | markets | museums | railway |
  • Refreshments: Ridgmont station tea rooms, the Higgins pantry, Gunns bakery and lots more
  • Please note: Researched/updated November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have tips to share, do get in touch:
Pastry clanger - Bedford car-free adventures
  1. 4. From castles to clangers

    Bedford is a compact town to explore. Sets of helpful yellow footprints, painted on the pavement, lead the way from the stations into the centre. The River Great Ouse is a lovely place for a stroll with the 18th-century Swan Hotel overlooking the five-arched bridge.

    • Just behind the hotel is the castle mound with information about the siege of Bedford and a great view of the river from the top. The original site was much bigger and included a medieval lime kiln, whose remains are still visible through a street-level window on Castle Lane.
    • Turn left between the Swan and the castle mound to find The Higgins in the old Castle Brewery – a beautifully curated, accessible guide to the town’s history, people and sense of place. This fabulous free museum, which also contains the 19th century home of the brewery’s founder Charles Higgins, has some great collections of treasures from around the world, as well as displays about brick-making, lacework and other local industries.
    • In the museum’s galleries, you’ll find prints by Edward Bawden and painted fairy tale furniture by William Burges. And there’s great Italian food on offer in the Pantry café downstairs.
    • Pick up a copy of the town’s self-guided trail and have a wander past the local sights. Follow Castle Lane to St Paul’s church, open daily – the BBC’s daily wartime service was broadcast from here to the armed forces throughout Europe during World War II. Head through the great screen towards the altar and have a peek under the medieval wooden seat on your right to find a carving of the siege of Bedford.
    • Just behind the church, near the Harpur shopping centre, Bedford’s regular markets brighten up the square.
    • Two huge hollow metal heads, decorated with patterns of lace and brickwork and colourfully lit by night, face each other across the end of pedestrianised Silver Street.
    • Turn right into the High Street again to find Gunn’s Bakery on your left, selling fresh homemade Bedfordshire Clangers. The traditional clangers (which have featured on Bake Off and Jamie & Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast) have gammon and onion in one end and sweet apple at the other. Gunns now sells newer variations, including vegetable curry and mango pudding, or slow-cooked beef with rhubarb and custard! Perfect for a picnic on the train home.
  1. Getting around by train, bus or on foot and places to stay

    Here’s a bit more practical info if you’re planning a staycation in the Bedford area.

    • Trains from London St Pancras to Bedford take around an hour, sometimes less.
    • If you’re taking several bus rides Stagecoach offers Day Rider tickets giving unlimited trips across the city from.
    • If the bus journeys are on the same day that you arrive by train, get a bargain PlusBus ticket for unlimited bus rides around the whole urban area.
    • There are lots of places to stay in Bedford, like the riverside Mercure or the Swan Hotel opposite. They are both about 15 minutes’ walk from the station.
    • There is great walking country nearby. Several long distance paths run through Bedford, including the Ouse Valley Way, which follows one of Britain’s longest rivers. Thameslink have teamed up with All Trails to offer hiking routes from local stations and there are more routes here.
  • Canal locks - Bedford car-free adventures
  • Pub sign - Bedford car-free adventures
  • Pastry clanger - Bedford car-free adventures