Economic misfortune led to the creation of one of the prettiest villages in England. Leave your cares behind for a weekend with these gorgeous things to do in Lavenham.
Inside tip: stay in the 15th century Hotel & Spa The Swan for a memorable stay.
Gorgeous things to do in Lavenham
Lavenham is a small village in the county of Suffolk, popular for its picturesque streets and medieval vibe. It is, in fact, one of the best-preserved medieval villages in the country, with over 300 timber-framed buildings that make it a dream destination for history lovers.
And until this year, I’d never heard of it.
Even though I’d lived in Cambridge for three years, just a short drive away in East Anglia.
So, don’t make my mistake. Enjoy all these gorgeous things to do in Lavenham, from coffee shops to pubs that haven’t shut their doors for hundreds of years. It’s time to sprinkle a little Harry Potter magic into your life (and, yes, they filmed scenes here.)
So, if you picked Lavenham for your next weekend adventure, let’s dive in.
Disclosure: we received complimentary access to some of the attractions and places to stay in this article on things to do in Lavenham. As ever, as always, we kept the right to write what we like. What’s the point otherwise? Also, if you book or buy through any of the links on this page, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Cheers for that!
How to Travel to Lavenham
Lavenham itself lies 32 kilometres from the seaside towns of Felixstowe and Ipswich and only 20 kilometres from inland Bury St Edmunds. London is only 92 kilometres away, so you’ll be there in about 2 hours.
It’s handy to have a car to explore East Anglia and in Lavenham, parking isn’t too difficult as long as you’re happy to walk a little way.
To head to Lavenham by public transport, take the train to Sudbury and then travel by bus or taxi from there.
If you plan on spending most of your weekend in Lavenham itself, you won’t need much in the way of extra transport. But if you want to make the most of the area, it really is helpful to have your own set of wheels.
What’s Lavenham’s History?
Lavenham’s history springs into life during the Middle Ages, when it was a thriving hub for the wool trade, and its merchants became wealthy from the booming industry.
During Tudor times, the village continued to grow, building the Lavenham Guildhall and De Vere House, which still stand today.
Come the industrial revolution, though, Lavenham’s fortunes changed. As the textiles industry failed, the village didn’t have enough spare cash to start building with new materials like brick. As a result, they had to make do with the half-timbered houses, inadvertently leaving behind a beautiful snapshot of history.
Today, Lavenham is an impossibly pretty village with quaint streets and shops. It oozes a romantic ideal of English heritage set amid postcard perfect countryside.
Top Things to Do in Lavenham
One day in Lavenham is enough to get the village vibe, but two days will give you a completely new perspective on the place. Here is what you can do on a 1–2-day visit.
Discover the High Street
Lavenham’s High Street is one of the best places to start. It is home to some of the village’s most intriguing buildings, with plenty of shops and cafes to load up with cakes and brownies. The best way to let the village’s medieval spirit in is to take a stroll down the street and admire the stunning architecture of the centuries-old buildings.
Just a short walk will lead you to the historic market town square, where a farmers’ market is held every fourth Sunday of every month, just outside the Lavenham Village Hall.
Visit the Lavenham Guildhall for a History Lesson
Next, head to Lavenham Guildhall, which is one of the best-preserved buildings in the village. In the 16th century, the Guildhall served as a meeting place for the Lavenham Community Council and was later used as a workhouse. Today, it is open to the public as a National Trust property.
A local guide will tell you the history of the house and give you lots of information about the town as well. Look out for the woad in the garden; this humble plant played a huge role in building the wealth of this part of England.
Visit the Little Hall Museum
It’s the shortest of walks from the Guildhall to this lovely building painted in a sensational ochre colour. It belonged to a family of clothiers back in the 14th century, and after becoming a derelict house, it was beautifully restored in 1920. Admire the gorgeous collection of artefacts and walk around the museum’s walled Tudor knot garden. It’s the perfect activity for a sunny afternoon.
Check out Local Art at the Angel Gallery
The Angel Gallery hosts the work of local artists, and there is always something new to see.
A quick visit will help you discover the paintings, sculptures, and other works of art available and pick up a few boutique souvenirs.
Take the Lavenham Woodland Walk
For those who love the outdoors, the Lavenham Woodland Walk is a great way to explore the countryside around the village.
This circular walk takes you through woods and fields with dye plants, along the River Stour, and past historic buildings like the Church of St Peter and St Paul. Look out for the old Lavenham to Long Melford Great Eastern Railway line and Kentwell Hall.
Have Tea and Cakes at the Lavenham Blue Vintage Tea Rooms
Stop at the Lavenham Blue Vintage Tea Rooms for a cup of tea and a delicious slice of cake.
The tea rooms are housed in a beautiful timber-framed building, of course. This is Lavenham after all.
Order a tea and scones or a traditional pie and make yourself at home in this cute and cosy place.
Stop by the Harry Potter House
Fans of the Harry Potter movies will love the opportunity to visit De Vere House in Lavenham. The house was used as the filming location for Godric’s Hollow in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and, even in real life, it looks like it was pulled out from the movie.
Take a Picture of the Crooked House
Everybody takes a picture here probably because it is impossible not to be amazed at how this strange building is still functional. The Crooked House was built in the 14th century, but it experienced a makeover in 2021 with new owners..
Discover Lavenham’s Antique Shops
As befits such an historic town, Lavenham has plenty of antique shops crammed with vintage items, from furniture and ceramics to paintings and collectables. When you get a moment, take a stroll along Church Street and browse through the various shops, each with its unique character.
Find a Souvenir at the No 8 Gift Shop
If you’d love to take a piece of Lavenham home with you, the No 8 Gift Shop is the perfect place to find unique gifts and souvenirs. You’ll find it on Water Street, just a stone’s throw away from the main square.
Have Afternoon Tea at the Swan
Combine one of England’s finest traditions, afternoon tea, with one of Lavenham’s most striking venues: The Swan. This sprawling historic building encapsulates the spirit of the village in one place – and more about it later.
Sip a taste of the past at the Airmen’s Bar
Also in the Swan is the poignant Airmen’s Bar, a popular drinking spot for US pilots during World War Two. The walls are covered with message from pilots of the time and those who returned. And messages from relatives of those who didn’t.
Where to stay in Lavenham
The best thing about Lavenham is that most hotels have been here for centuries, so you have a high chance of spending the night in a unique, historic building.
We stayed at The Swan, an out of this world hotel and spa in a 15th century inn. If you’re imagining half-timbered beams and crooked walls and ceilings then you’d be half right. The other half is the fully modern pulsing hot shower and cosy temperature control in the rooms.
The main Gallery restaurant is exquisite and welcomes children from 12 years upwards, younger children can dine in the informal Brasserie 487. The Swan is genuinely child friendly with a healthy and hearty cygnet menu available in both restaurants. Look out for the red onion bread and tarragon butter amid the full, local three course menu.
There’s also a more relaxed lounge and the poignant Airmen’s Bar.
The spa is for adults only, with a small outdoors hot tub and very high tech treatment rooms. The massage bed was the most comfortable of my life, with heated pads, eucalyptus inhalation and all kinds of bendy bits that meant that my body could truly relax.
It’s also something of a journey for your tastebuds as well, with pink smoothies, lemon sorbet, macarons and lemongrass tea all as part of the massage ritual.
I’d highly, highly recommend you try to get a room in the Swan, and not just because they were our partner for this project.
But if you can’t, here are some other accommodation options:
- The Angel Hotel. Built in the 16th century, this hotel was once a wealthy merchant’s house. Today, it has 15 rooms, a French cuisine restaurant and separate lounge area. Lavenham Cottages. Finally, for self-catered options, try Lavenham cottages.
Great things to do as a day trip from Lavenham
Gorgeous as Lavenham is, it’s a shame to come this far and not go any further. Here’s what we found on our recent trip.
Anglo Saxon Museum
East Anglia used to be a stronghold for Anglo-Saxon life and this centre brings it all to life. Although, to call it by its official name, it’s the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village & Country Park.
Outside, you can walk in reconstructed houses, halls and barns to smell the smoke and feel the thatch and imagine what it would be like to live in England before the Renaissance.
A small museum and livelier Visitor’s Centre fill in the gaps through stories, artefacts, dressing up and pretend archaeological digs.
There’s also an enormous playground outside for kids, which is free to access, plus several lovely walking routes that are easily, if not fully, accessible.
The Italianate Estate of Ickworth
Another National Trust property, the sumptuous estate at Ickworth mingles spring daffodils with Easter hunts and genteel gift shops with cute cafes. All set around the magnificent curved stone property.
Bury St Edmunds
Despite living in Cambridge for three years, I’d never made it the short drive to the picturesque Bury St Edmunds. Famous for its abbey ruins and Greene King brewery, it’s a quaint, sweet spot for lunch and some shopping.
Biased as I am towards my first university home, Cambridge really is a spectacular city to visit, for all its small size. With the oldest college, my alma mater, founded in 1284, it’s fair to say there’s a lot of history baked into those stone walls.
More on Travel in England
If you like historic, picturesque parts of England, then you’ll also probably enjoy Harrogate, the spa town of the north and the Cotswolds, to the west of London.
Find our full collection of articles on England in our European travel guide section.
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