COVID-19: Please only plan to visit Lavenham when it’s safe to do so, and be responsible when you do. We recommend visiting the relevent websites to check what’s open before travelling.
Perched on a hill overlooking the rolling countryside, Lavenham, in Suffolk, is considered one of England’s most well-kept medieval villages. Its picturesque half-timbered houses date back to the 15th and 16th century; a time when the village was one of the wealthiest in the country.
Lavenham’s prosperity came from the wool trade, and the village was renowned for its blue wool cloth, which was exported as far as Russia.
Many of the village’s 340 listed houses were built during this era, and oddly the reason we’re lucky enough to be able to see them today is because the village lost its riches with the end of the wool era. People didn’t have the money to build new homes or change their existing ones and so they continued to live in these old buildings.
Understandably over the centuries many fell into states of disrepair, but thankfully in recent times work was undertaken to restore and protect these beautiful buildings – and therefore the history of this town.
Why you should visit Lavenham
Today Lavenham is an Instagrammer’s dream. Colourful crooked houses, overflowing with character, line the streets and you simply can’t take enough photos.
But there’s much more than just pictures to take at Lavenham; the village has lots to see and do, with independent stores a plenty, cute cafes and interesting museums that bring its history to life.
“There was a crooked man
he walked a crooked mile
he found a crooked sixpence
upon a crooked style
he bought a crooked cat
which caught a crooked mouse
and they all lived together
in a little crooked house”
Published in the 1840s, this nursery rhyme is said to be inspired by the crooked houses of Lavenham.
Things to do in Lavenham
You can easily while away a day in Lavenham – there’s a surprising amount to see and do for a village of its size. Grab one of the free village maps from the information centre or outside some of the houses and bus stops around the village and start exploring!
Lavenham Market Place
Once the hub of the village, the historic market place, with its cute Market Cross, crowns a hilltop and is surrounded by beautiful buildings that have been featured in many films over the years.
Here you’ll find a selection of pubs, cafes, independent shops and hotels as well as several must visit houses/museums.
Also be sure to check out the surrounding streets – here you’ll find some interesting properties and wonderful views. For example, head up to the top of Prentice Street for amazing views over the rolling Suffolk countryside…
One of the village’s most famous attractions is found on the market place; the beautiful lime-washed Lavenham Guildhall, which is the largest of its half-timbered houses.
Now owned and maintained by the National Trust, the guildhall was built in the 16th century for the Corpus Christi Guild – the elite in the village who oversaw the cloth trade.
Interestingly though, it was only during its first 20 years that the guildhall’s use was related to this trade. After the wool era came to an end the guildhall was used for a variety of different means, from a workhouse to a prison.
The National Trust has set up the building in a way that visitors can move through its past, with different rooms set up as they were at different times in its history.
Stories are told through the eyes of the people that used to live, work or even be imprisoned there, giving you an insight into what life was like there at the time and the trials and tribulations locals faced. Covering everything from medieval times to this century, you can easily while away an hour or two here, before stopping off for a cuppa at the pretty little Guildhall Tea Room.
Make sure you don’t leave before taking a stroll around the garden. At the back of the property you can see the old mortuary and the dark, cramped lockup.
Little Hall Museum
Owned by the Suffolk Buildings Preservation Trust, the Little Hall Museum is run entirely by volunteers and is open April-October each year.
The museum is a late 14th Century Hall House on the main square. You can’t miss its vivid orange exterior!
It began life in the 1390s as a clothier’s house and workplace, it was enlarged, and extended in the 1550s. Restored at the start of the 20th century, it’s a gorgeous little place to look around and also has beautiful walled garden to stroll around.
You may be surprised to find out that this pretty, but small little cottage just off the market place on Barn Street was once visited by a queen.
Look carefully and you’ll an engraved slab on the 16th century Grade I listed Molet House, marking the visit of Queen Elizabeth I, who slept here on March 24, 1586.
Lavenham High Street
Visitors to Lavenham should make time to wander the high street as it’s home to a number of gorgeous half-timbered independent shops, galleries and cafes, as well as the historic Swan hotel.
Shops and galleries on Lavenham high street include:
- Timbers Antiques and Collectables
- Wildlife Art Gallery
- Lavenham Contemporary Art
- Crooked House Gallery
Merchant’s Row, located where Water St meets Church St, is a stunning row of medieval jettied buildings steeped in history and home to a collection of contemporary independent boutique businesses. Be sure to check out:
- Ariel Gallery
- Village Gossip
- Blue Magpie Studio
- Country Flair
- Curiosity Corner
Other Lavenham attractions
Don’t restrict yourself to just the market place and high street when you visit Lavenham though. One of the highlights of any visit is simply taking the time to wander its side streets and see what you can find.
There’s beautiful houses a-plenty here, many with interesting stories to tell. For example, Shilling Old Grange, on Shilling St is where Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was allegedly written.
Harry Potter’s family home
Also fans of JK Rowling will also get a kick from the Lavenham/Harry Potter link; De Vere House, on Water Street, was featured in the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as the young wizard’s birthplace and the spot where he was given that tattoo.
Lavenham Farmer’s Market
Known as one of the best in Suffolk, time your visit right and you can check out Lavenham Farmer’s Market. Held on the fourth Sunday of every month at the Village Hall, everything sold here comes from within a thirty mile radius of the village and you’ll find everything from freshly baked breads, local produce, garden plants and freshly cut flowers.
Lavenham’s Parish Church, called St Peter and St Paul’s Church, is excessively large for a village of its size, with a tower 141 feet high. It’s known as having one of the most lavish interiors of a Suffolk church and the money that built this building against came from the wool trade.
One of the most visited churches in East Anglia, it’s well worth checking out when you’re in Lavenham.
Lavenham Railway Walk
If you want to get out into the countryside then we recommend the Lavenham Railway Walk.
What once was a railway line is now a beautiful country walk 1.5 miles in length. It’s a lovely spot for a stroll, taking you past Lavenham Church, the ancient wood and Lavenham Hall.
It was declared a Local Nature Reserve back in 2003 and if you’re that way inclined you can make a full day of it as this walk links up with the Valley Walk and Melford Walk.
Cafes and tea rooms in Lavenham
After all that exploring you’re bound to want a sit down for a cuppa and well, in Lavenham, you’re spoilt for choice.
There’s a variety of cafes and tea houses to choose from, many housed in the village’s famous historic buildings. Here are your options:
- Sweetmeats Tea Rooms
- Chilli and Chives
- Hadley’s Ice cream Parlour
- Munnings Tea Room
- Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms
- National Trust Guildhall Tea Rooms
- Cafe Nini Tea Rooms
Lavenham pubs and restaurants
If you’re after something a bit stronger – or a bit more filling than a scone or sandwich – then there’s several lovely country pubs and restaurants in Lavenham you could visit:
- The Swan at Lavenham
- The Great House
- The Greyhound Pub
- The Angel Pub
- The Cock Horse Pub
- Memsaab Indian Restaurant
- No.10 Wine Bar & Kitchen
The Great House Hotel & Restaurant
Found on the market place, The Great House is a stunning 14th century building which is used as a French restaurant and a five-bedroom boutique hotel.
The Angel Hotel
Also on the market place is The Angel Hotel, a pub, restaurant and hotel with eight individually decorated rooms.
The Swan at Lavenham
As is the case with most of the buildings in Lavenham, The Swan is ‘Insta’ pretty, thanks to its medieval timber frame exterior. The inside has just as much character, with oak beams, open fires and cosy lounges for guests to unwind. In summer you can enjoy the old courtyard – now a lovely relaxing garden.
We stayed at The Lavenham Swan during our visit – find out more about this hotel and what it has to offer (an amazing spa!) in our full review, coming soon!
There are several parking options for people driving to Lavenham. Free parking is also available on the roads throughout Lavenham, with no restrictions, plus there are free car parks just opposite Lavenham Church and off the market place.
Special events in Lavenham
There’s always a number of events happening in and around Lavenham at any given time. If you’re planning a trip and want to see what’s taking place during this time then you can check out Lavenham upcoming events online.
From walking tours to concerts and fairs, there’s bound to be something that takes your fancy!