If you're anything like me, you'll be awful at visiting places that are right on your doorstep.
Newmarket is a measly one hour away from the town I live in, and yet it is one of the many places that I had never even considered visiting before. But I can now confirm that Newmarket is definitely one of Suffolk's hidden gems and if you like horses, the outdoors and quaint little towns, Newmarket should be somewhere you consider visiting asap!
I drove into Newmarket on one of the few bright and sunny days that we had back in February. And as I drove down the A1304 towards Newmarket, with my window down, one of the first things that I noticed was how green the landscape was. I don’t know what I had been expecting but it definitely wasn’t the rolling hills and acres of fields that I was greeted with.
I’m always dubious about going to new places because, as much as I love exploring, I’m a country girl through and through so the thought of exploring a new city always gives me butterflies in my belly. I love a city break from time-to-time but the thought of feeling trapped within the confines of a city does make me nervous. The countryside calms me and it is when I’m surrounded by the natural world that I am most at home. So, as I trundled along with the sun baring down into my little car, I decided that I already liked Newmarket. And I hadn’t even parked my car up in the town yet.
Give me green fields and the smell of the country over high-rise buildings and crowded areas any day. And that is exactly what Newmarket has to offer its visitors.
How to get to Newmarket
I was invited along for a whirlwind tour of Newmarket by local experts, Discover Newmarket. And, as I'm acutely aware of how painfully late I am to 99% of the things that I do in life, I decided to head across to Newmarket a day earlier than necessary (and managed to leave one hour later than I had planned to for that too…). Armed with a SatNav and a boot full of belongings (because I can’t ever pack lightly), I settled in for what I thought was going to be a long drive. But just over an hour later, after driving in what felt like one big straight line, I arrived in Newmarket.
So to say that travelling to Newmarket couldn’t really be any easier is a bit of an understatement. Thanks to the world-renowned race courses, the town has been developed with tourists and visitors in mind. With regular trains running from the nearby city of Cambridge and bus services available from Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds, as well as a National Express service from London, arriving in Newmarket by public transportation is as easy as can be.
And, if like me, you prefer to travel by car so that you can pack half of your possessions in the boot, then you have little to worry about. Newmarket is located just off the A14 and can be reached by road within 1 hour from London, Norwich, Peterborough, and Milton Keynes (evidently)!
Where to stay in Newmarket:
For a somewhat small town, Newmarket is home to quite a few places to stay – all varying in location, price, appearance, and size. So while that makes deciding on a hotel quite difficult if you’re as indecisive as me, it also means that visiting Newmarket doesn’t have to be out of bounds for anyone as they have both budget and luxurious options to pick from.
Newmarket is surrounded by acres of beautiful countryside, so if you’d rather be a bit further out from the town to enjoy those views then a stay at the White Horse Stables might interest you. Nestled inside a Grade 11 listed country house, the hotel is located just 3 miles out from Newmarket but as I'm sure you can imagine, this one is a little bit pricier than most.
If you’d like something just as exquisite, but a little bit closer to Newmarket then the Bedford Lodge Spa and Hotel could be just what you’re looking for. Again hosted within a country house, the Bedford Lodge has carefully combined the old with the new and sits adjacent to some of the most famous horse racing training stables in the world.
For those looking for something comfortable but a little less impactful on the purse, the Best Western Heath Court Hotel could be just the thing and is perfect for anyone wanting to be right in the centre of the horse racing action. Located just 300 yards from the centre of Newmarket town, the Heath Court Hotel stands at the bottom of the famous Newmarket Gallops, providing you with the perfect base for watching the horses while they’re out training.
And finally, for anyone looking for a budget option that is perfectly adequate for a short stay and is ideally located right in the town centre, the White Hart Hotel is where I stayed on my recent trip. Cheap and cheerful describes it fairly well. The rooms are relatively small but they are tidy and nicely presented. It would be worth noting though that it can be quite noisy as the bedrooms are located right above the popular pub however for a mid-week stay, it did me just fine.
Places to eat and drink in Newmarket:
Wavertree’s Coffee Shop
Located within Newmarket’s famous National Stud is the Wavertree Coffee Shop. Offering up homemade food including quiches, jacket potatoes and paninis, as well as a soup of the day, delicious cakes and the ever-popular traditional cream tea, this is a lovely little place to stop off for a rest during your day. Plus, what better place to be to get a real glimpse into the racing world than at the National Stud itself? All while munching away on some homemade snacks...
Coffee and Co
If you're exploring the town itself then Coffee and Co is an award winning cafe located just off Newmarket's high street and next door to Palace House. It's the ideal place to stop off for a quick snack while you're out and about. And if you're looking for something to warm you up, then I can personally recommend the Gingerbread Mocha!
The Tack Room
Nestled inside the National Heritage Museum, the Tack Room is open to the public and is ideally located within walking distance from Newmarket’s high street. Infinitely popular with locals, in the summer months tables are moved out into the King’s Yard so that visitors can enjoy basking in the sunshine. During the day the restaurant serves traditional British food and by night it transforms into an elegant restaurant, wine and cocktail bar, making it the perfect all-round place to head for food at any time of the day.
The White Hart
For a cheap and cheerful pub dinner, in a lovely setting, head to the White Hart. As expected, they serve up traditional pub food and are ideally located in the centre of Newmarket's high street. As I was staying in the hotel, I had the pleasure of eating both the cooked breakfast in the morning and the Hunters Chicken for dinner. Neither of which I can fault as they were both well-priced and incredibly tasty.
What to see and do in Newmarket
Mention Newmarket to almost anyone and one of the first things that comes to mind is pounding hooves and race courses. And rightly so. Newmarket is the heart and soul of the horse racing industry, after all. So, unlike every other town in the country where horse-riders are subject to abuse from the drivers on the roads and the pedestrians on the bridleways, in Newmarket the horses run the show.
And as the stars of the scene, they are given the utmost respect. There are bridle paths running alongside the roads throughout the town centre. And there are designated crossings, accompanied by signs demanding that the cars give way to the racehorses. They are Newmarket’s pride and joy. The horses make up Newmarket’s past, present, and future. And they are what people come to Newmarket to see.
If I'm being totally honest, I left a day earlier than necessary for my Discover Newmarket tour just so that I wouldn't run late on the day. But I'm really glad that I did as it gave me a chance to explore the little town itself. So, after dropping my bag off at the White Hart Hotel, I ambled off for what was to become my first afternoon spent exploring a new town entirely on my own.
I had thought that I would feel a bit self-conscious or nervous about being somewhere new on my own, but the town has such a homely feel to it that I settled into my solo afternoon immediately. I spent a good amount of time exploring the little side streets and stumbled across some really lovely little cafes, shops, the Palace House Museum and a gorgeous church nestled deep into the estate. I snapped away on my camera to my heart's content, stopped off for a few drinks to warm up (as it was decidedly colder outside of my car) and then slowly ambled my way back past the towns infamous Clock Tower to the hotel for a relaxing evening in.
I woke at 6am the next day, feeling well-rested after the first relaxing evening in I've had in ages and excited about my day ahead with Discover Newmarket...
The National Stud
As horseracing is at the heart of most of Newmarket’s attractions, it made sense to start the day at the National Stud. Tours run by local tourist experts, Discover Newmarket, will give you an insight into the horseracing industry and provide you with the opportunity to meet the stars of the show – the Newmarket stallions.
The Gallop Tracks
After an introduction and a bite to eat at Wavertree's Cafe in the National Stud, we all bundled into the minibus that was ready and waiting to take us watch the up-and-coming horses out training. It goes without saying, that during your stay in Newmarket you’re likely to come across at least a handful of the 2,500 horses that reside in the town. But if you’d like to make more of a conscious effort to see some of the horses in action, then you'll need to take a trip to the gallop tracks between 6 am and 12 pm.
Thousands of horses will be out training during this time and you'll be able to watch in awe from the sidelines as group after group of horse and rider come galloping past you.
The Jockey Club Rooms
Next up was the Jockey Club Rooms. If you've had enough of looking to the future then step back into the past with a visit to the Jockey Club Rooms. Primarily a member only club, the prestigious house is open to visitors outside of members-only periods and is well worth a visit if, like me, you like to see how the other half live! During allocated times throughout the year you will be able to take a peek into the elusive Jockey Club with a behind-the-scenes tour from Discover Newmarket. Or, if you’re able to plan your trip for an open house event, you could find yourself enjoying a Sunday lunch or afternoon tea in one of the impressive dining rooms.
If you're ready to head back into the present, then Newmarket's more modern attraction, the National Heritage Centre for Horse Racing and Sporting Art should be top of your list. Located within the gorgeous walls and grounds of Palace House, it is a mere five minutes walk from the high street. And with three main elements; the new National Horseracing Museum, the National Art Gallery of British Sporting Art and the Rothschild Yard, where you can meet former racehorses, there’s sure to be something to interest you! The horses were a surefire win for me, and I honestly found it fascinating to watch snippets of the rehabiliation training of what were once racing-fit horses. It's promising to see so many make it off the tracks safely, and into homes where they are loved just as much as they were by their adoring fans, owners and grooms. But if horses aren't your thing (or if you visit on a painfully cold day like I did and you need to warm up) then the museum itself has lots of interactive exhibits to explore. I for one had an immense amount of fun pretending that I could one day be a jockey by practicing my riding technique on the racehorse simulator in the museum...
Alternatively, if you've simply had enough equine entertainment for one day and you’d rather avoid the horses altogether, then head to the gallop tracks after 1 pm for a walk across the countryside or seek out one of Newmarket’s local gems – the Devil’s Dyke. The Dyke itself has an interesting history dating back to Anglo Saxon times but geographically it runs for seven miles from Wooditton to South Newmarket and is ten metres high on either side! As one of Newmarket’s special conservation areas, the Dyke is the perfect place to head on a sunny day if you’d like to take in some of the countryside that Suffolk has to offer to its visitors.
I arrived in Newmarket with no clue of what to expect. I left feeling in awe. It turns out that Newmarket does have far more to it than horses. And yet it is simultaneously proud of its horse-rich past, present and future.
Thanks to Discover Newmarket I am a complete Newmarket fan and I am now determined to make a trip back on a race day so that I can really see the town in action.
*I was invited on a tour of Newmarket by Discover Newmarket but my opinions remain entirely my own.
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