In the East of England but with quick connections to London, Bedfordshire is a county that isn’t often associated with tourism.
But this isn’t to say that there’s little to see either.
There are lots of gigantic and palatial country estates, and several, like Woburn Abbey and Whipsnade, have turned their grounds into award-winning wildlife attractions.
And when it comes to elegant country towns, Ampthill, Bedford, Woburn and Leighton Buzzard have the demure 18th-century architecture and traditional pubs that we all love about the English countryside.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Bedfordshire:
The village of Woburn radiates grandeur in a way that only Georgian architecture can.
These flat-fronted townhouses (many a frontage for much older properties) have upscale restaurants, antiques shops and even tailors, in case you weren’t aware you’re in a posh part of the county.
Woburn Abbey is a former monastery that became the seat of the Duke of Bedford after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, and remains in the family.
The art collection is very special, and has 24 Canalettos, 10 van Dycks and a trove of other priceless works.
Woburn Safari Park is also on these grounds and will definitely get a thumbs up from kids.
Bedfordshire’s county town is unusually diverse despite its modest size.
Around a third of Bedford has Italian ancestry and there’s a large Punjabi community.
Bedford also has lots visitors to sink their teeth into, most of all in the central Castle Quarter: This was where the 17th-century preacher and writer John Bunyan was imprisoned for 12 years, during which time he wrote the seminal Pilgrim’s Progress.
The Bunyan Museum is open in summer and will give you all the background.
The Higgins Bedford Museum has Saxon and Roman artefacts and watercolours by the likes of J.M.W. Turner.
And in such a cosmopolitan location the food is superb; head for Tavistock Street, which is packed with restaurants of all nationalities.
3. Leighton Buzzard
An engaging market town, Leighton Buzzard benefits from being on the Grand Union Canal, which linked Birmingham with London in the 1920s.
If you follow it south for a while you’ll step out into some of Bedfordshire’s most beautiful countryside, with hedgerows and green fields speckled with sheep.
For a dash of splendour you can’t beat Ascott House, which is in 13 square kilometres of grounds and was developed by Leopold de Rothschild in the Arts and Crafts fashion in the early-1900s.
And if you want to teach kids about country ways and let them meet farmyard animals, Mead Open Farm has range of activities like grooming ponies and bottle feeding lambs.
In the south of the county, Dunstable has a few things that distinguish it from a typical market town.
The showpiece is Dunstable Priory, a Norman wonder dating to 1132 and charged with extra significance because it was here in 1533 that Henry VIII officially divorced Catherine of Aragon, an event with huge repercussions.
More modern but no less vital is the new Grove Theatre, a wonderful venue to see touring comedians and musicians.
The countryside around the town merits some exploration as you’re in the eastern foothills of the Chiltern Range.
Not to forget Whipsnade Zoo, run by the Zoological Society of London and one of the largest wildlife conservation parks in London.
As a manufacturing town and a transport hub, Luton is never going to be a place for traditional townscapes, pubs and tea rooms.
But the town does have some top-notch family, including two free museums.
The Stockwood Discovery Centre is a mishmash of exhibits centred on the Bagshawe Gallery, which was inspired by Scandinavian folk museum and captures the trades, costume and way of life in the Luton area in the early-20th century.
The Wardown Park Museum, in a handsome “Jacobethan” mansion, dips even further into Luton’s past and recounts its time as one of England’s lace-making capitals in the 1600s.
If you had to create a model for a charming English market town, it would come out looking a lot like Ampthill.
Affluent, furnished with lots of Georgian brick architecture and with lots of diverting independent shops, you could pass an enjoyable few hours here.
Thursdays particularly because that’s the market day, and has been since Henry III decreed it in 1242. On a ridge with rousing views are the ghostly ruins of Houghton House, a Jacobean mansion from the 1600s.
It was abandoned in the 1700s after its roof collapsed, but loads of detail up to the second floor remains, including window frames, pillars and the vivid white quoins on the corners.
A likeable market town that feels a bit more down to earth than places like Woburn, Biggleswade deserves a visit for some of its noteworthy inhabitants down the years.
One of these was Herbert Jordan, the forbear of the well-known company Jordans Cereals, whose Victorian flour mill is both a historical attraction and a sort of community centre, with gardens, a cafe and workshops.
Another was Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth a racing driver and aviator, and his fleet of early aircraft is believed to be one of the finest in the world, containing some extremely rare Edwardian flying machines, and also a variety of vintage cars and motorcycles from the first decades of the 20th century.
A very cute spot to stop by, Silsoe has a pub, a lot of pretty cottages, some minor curiosities and a landmark of immense grandeur.
If you amble around the village for a while you’ll see the 18th-century lock-up, a squat octagonal chamber where drunks would be kept until they sobered up.
The Church of St James was rebuilt in the 1820s, and chose a romantic, medieval style some time before this had become fashionable.
But the marquee attraction has to be Wrest Park, a Grade I country house with neo-renaissance architecture and absolutely glorious French-style gardens.
If you’ve caught John Bunyan fever in Bedford you could come a short way south to the village of Esltow where he was born in 1628. Since Bunyan was a pious man, the most appropriate sight would be Esltow Abbey, which has been here since the 11th century and became a parish church after the nunnery was suppressed in 1539. Bunyan was baptised here and worshipped at this church as a child.
Also check out the Moot Hall on the village green.
This lovely timber-framed building was constructed in the late-1400s as a courtroom and meeting hall for the village.
Set in the remote lush countryside of central Bedfordshire is an unhurried and endearing town that neatly sums up rural England.
The main sight is Shefford Porch, a half-timbered house that has survived since the 1200s.
But the joys of this place lie mainly in its restaurants, pubs and walking paths that can be joined from the edge of the town.
There’s lovely scenery all around, irrigated by the Flit and Hit Rivers, and three golf courses within moments of the town.