Discover Stamford, Oakham, and Rutland Water: A Unique Family Adventure in England

If you’re planning a weekend (or even a few more days) in England and want to experience something unique away from the usual tourist spots, the Stamford, Oakham, and Rutland Water area could be the perfect destination for you. I visited for the first time with Felicity and our girls in March, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this area and I’ve visited many places in England over the years (Oxford with 5 things to do in Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, London with 5 things to do in London with kids, Cornwall, Cotswolds, Devon, just to name a few).

Stamford is the perfect base for visiting the whole area both by car and public transport, although I highly recommend using your car (or a rental car) to get around, especially if you’re traveling with family, as you can visit, in addition to the places I’ll mention in detail below, also small characteristic villages that are located in the region. But let’s go in order and start with what to do and see in Stamford.

Stamford: A Dive into the Past

Stamford, nicknamed “the most beautiful city in England”, is a Georgian treasure trove of medieval churches, sandstone houses, and quaint shops. The first thing to do in Stamford is to stroll through the cobbled streets of the historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and admire the period architecture of the houses and buildings, typical English architecture.

I also recommend visiting All Saints Church, right in the centre, with its imposing Gothic bell tower and the old All Saints’ School, where the famous writer Daniel Defoe studied.

For lovers of history and architecture, a visit to the Stamford Arts Centre is a must; with a variety of theatrical performances, concerts, and art exhibitions, there’s always something new to discover. The centre is also home to the Stamford Tourist Information Centre, where you can get more information about what to do and see in Stamford, as well as receive a free city map.

You can’t talk about Stamford without mentioning its theatres, such as the Stamford Corn Exchange Theatre and the Rutland Open Air Theatre, which offer a range of live performances, from comedies to classical concerts. For an evening of entertainment and culture, these places are the perfect choice.

For shopping, St. Martins Antiques Centre is the perfect place to find hidden treasures and antiques, while if you’re interested in local history, Browne’s Hospital and Museum offers a window into Stamford’s past with its collections and stories.

Finally, don’t miss the Friday food market, if you’re in town on this day: the historic centre is filled with stalls where you can buy local products at great prices, as well as breathe in a beautiful atmosphere, undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Stamford.

Stamford food market

Afternoon Tea in Stamford

To try something unique and typically English, I recommend an afternoon tea, which is a tasting of tea, sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, cakes, and pastries (basically a lunch). The tea can be of various types, but among the favourites is Earl Grey. If you’re not a tea lover, no problem: you can opt for fruit juices or prosecco, the latest trend in England.

afternoon tea in England

Where to have afternoon tea in Stamford?

Definitely at Central Café & Tea Rooms, known for being the oldest tea room in Stamford, located in a half-timbered building that is said to be part of a large 15th-century wool house. This place offers not only a wide selection of teas but also delicious homemade cakes and options for breakfast and lunch. We had 4 afternoon teas, 2 for us adults with a glass of prosecco, and 2 for the girls with fresh fruit juice. Great atmosphere, beautiful building, and welcoming and courteous staff.

This tea room is located in the centre of Stamford and is open every day, with hours varying from Monday to Friday (09:00 – 16:30) and Saturday and Sunday (09:00 – 17:00), it’s the perfect place for a relaxing break during your day.

Burghley House: An English Renaissance Treasure

About 2 km from Stamford is Burghley House, one of the largest and grandest houses of the 16th century and undoubtedly one of the things to do and see in Stamford. This majestic residence is a prime example of an Elizabethan “prodigy house”, a term used to describe the spectacular residences built to demonstrate power and prestige. The interiors are very beautiful, a journey through history that your children will also like (although they will appreciate the outdoor playground more, which we will see later).

Burghley House

The History

Burghley House was built for Sir William Cecil, later Baron Burghley, who was Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. Construction began in 1555 and was completed in 1587, and since then it has been the residence of his descendants, the Earls and then the Marquesses of Exeter. Today, the house is managed by the Burghley House Preservation Trust, a charitable organisation dedicated to the preservation of this important piece of English history.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Burghley House is its connection to history and culture. The house has hosted numerous historical events and has served as a location for several films and television productions. Its art collection includes both Renaissance and modern works, and the interiors reflect the changes in taste and style through the centuries.

The Interiors

The house is open to the public and offers a circuit of sumptuous and richly furnished state apartments, showcasing priceless works of art and treasures. The park, designed by the famous landscape architect Capability Brown, adds further beauty and grandeur to the whole, with its hidden paths and panoramic views.

The Gardens

The gardens of Burghley are equally impressive, with the Garden of Surprises and the Sculpture Garden offering a unique experience to visitors. The Garden of Surprises is a water garden full of Elizabethan tricks and surprises, while the Sculpture Garden features contemporary works of art in a historical setting.

Hide & Secrets

If you visit Burghley House with children, head to Hide & Secrets, an adventure playground located in the woods of Burghley, designed to stimulate the imagination and exploration of the little ones. With treehouses, giant slides, climbing walls, swinging walkways, tunnels, and observation nests, it offers a multi-level play experience that can keep children occupied for hours.

Hide & Secrets playground  in the woods of Burghley house

But it’s not just a place of unbridled fun; the park is also and above all an educational experience. Along the way to the Hidden Towers, children can participate in activities such as building shelters and climbing on logs, thus encouraging the development of motor skills and creativity. In addition, the park is equipped with sensory areas, perfect for children of all ages, including those with special needs.

Practical Tips

  • I recommend bringing a packed lunch if the weather is nice as you can have a nice picnic on the lawns of the gardens. Or there are also two restaurants, with varied menus, although the prices are not exactly cheap.
  • Admission to the house is £20 if you buy tickets on-site or £18 if you buy them online. For families of up to 5 people, the total price is £48.
  • Parking at Burghley House is free.
  • For more information on opening hours, special events, and much more, visit the official website.

Oakham: A Medieval Jewel

Just 11 km by car from Stamford, Oakham is a perfectly preserved medieval village, dominated by Oakham Castle, once a royal residence and now a museum and home to a public school. It was originally a much larger fortified dwelling, complete with perimeter walls, an entrance gate, and a drawbridge with iron chains. Today, what remains is the great hall, witness to a glorious past and a history that has spanned centuries of political and social change.

I recommend visiting the Great Hall, built between 1180 and 1190 by Walkelin de Ferrers, lord of the manor of Oakham, and the beating heart of the castle. This hall is famous for its collection of giant horseshoes, donated by members of the nobility and royal cavalry passing through Oakham. This unique tradition has left an indelible mark on the history of the castle, creating a fascinating exhibition that continues to grow over the years.

Admission is free.

It’s nice to stroll through the narrow streets of the historic centre and discover its hidden treasures, such as the Rutland Water Museum or the Rutland Falconry and Owl Centre.

Rutland Water: Unspoiled Nature and Outdoor Activities

Among the things to do and see in Stamford, I also recommend a stop at Rutland Water, a vast artificial lake (the largest in Europe) surrounded by woods and green meadows. There are many things to do, such as hiking or biking, but you can also rent a boat or kayak and sail on its calm waters (when there’s no wind).

My advice is to park at Rutland Water Normanton Car Park (see map below) and walk counterclockwise towards Normanton Church, a small church on the lake. If you’re feeling energetic, you can continue walking to the dam, about half an hour on foot. Beautiful, highly recommended.

Throughout the year, Rutland Water hosts numerous festivals and events, including sailing competitions, music festivals, and local produce markets. To find out more, visit the official Rutland Water website.

Tasting Local Specialities

The cuisine of this area of England boasts numerous local specialities to try, such as Stilton, one of England’s most famous cheeses, and delicious fruit-based desserts.

In Oakham, try the Full English breakfast, a timeless classic, which consists of crispy bacon, eggs prepared to your liking (scrambled or fried), sausages, grilled tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, baked beans, and, for the more daring, a few slices of black pudding, a blood sausage. Toasted or fried bread and a good cup of black tea are also essential elements to start the day with energy.

Despite being a national institution, many English people indulge in the Full English Breakfast mainly on weekends, when the hectic pace of the week gives way to moments of relaxation and pleasure.

Where to Stay in Stamford

For a comfortable and stylish stay in the heart of Stamford, The Crown Hotel is a fantastic choice. This historic coaching inn seamlessly blends old-world charm with modern amenities, offering cosy rooms, a traditional pub atmosphere, and a convenient location for exploring the town’s attractions.

The Crown Hotel Stamford England

Meadow House in Stamford is a great option if you are traveling with children. Here are several reasons why it might be a perfect choice for you:

Family-Friendly Accommodations:

  • Meadow House offers spacious rooms and family suites that can comfortably accommodate families of various sizes.
  • Rooms are well-equipped with amenities such as Wi-Fi, TV, and tea/coffee making facilities.

Convenient Location:

  • Situated in a peaceful area, Meadow House provides a quiet retreat while still being close to Stamford’s main attractions.
  • It’s within easy reach of local parks, historic sites, and family-friendly restaurants.

Child-Friendly Amenities:

  • The hotel provides cribs and extra beds upon request, making it easier for families with young children.
  • There are also play areas or nearby parks for children to enjoy.

Breakfast Options:

  • Meadow House offers a hearty breakfast with a variety of options that cater to both adults and children.
  • Special dietary needs can often be accommodated upon request.

Safety and Comfort:

  • The hotel ensures a safe and secure environment, which is crucial for families traveling with children.
  • The friendly and attentive staff are available to assist with any special needs or requests.
Meadow House in Stamford

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