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24 hours in historic Newmarket, the home of horseracing

“The sun always shines in Newmarket,” tour guide Malcom tells me as we walk around the National Stud, just outside the town centre, its perfectly manicured fields bathed in a late-summer glow. This isn’t the only thing about sunny Newmarket that feels idyllic.

The whole place feels peaceful, a far cry from hectic city life, with acres of green space at every turn, from picnic fields to the manicured lawns of the Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa to the Gallops. Newmarket is the only place in the UK where horses have the right of way, so travel can be slower, but you get the distinct feeling that nobody here is ever really in a rush.

A united love of horses – and horse racing – bonds the town. Not to mention the horse racing museum, as well as the training fields and National Stud making for popular tourist attractions, there are also statues of famous racehorses dotted around the town and Newmarket is home to not one, but two, racecourses – the July Course and the Rowley Mile Course – as well as being the national headquarters for the legendary Jockey Club.

Horses racing at Newmarket Rowley Mile racecourse
Horses racing at Newmarket Rowley Mile racecourse

It’s fair to say that my whistle-stop tour of this peaceful Suffolk town involved a fair bit of horse racing history and a trip to one of Newmarket’s famous racecourses, but there’s a lot more to love about this historic destination, including fine dining, an award-winning spa and the chance to spend some time in the great outdoors. Here’s how I spent 24 hours in Newmarket.

2pm

National Horseracing Museum
National Horseracing Museum

After an hour’s train ride from London to Cambridge, followed by a quick 19 minutes to Newmarket and I had arrived. First up was lunch at the Tack Room – a delicious open steak sandwich with a seasonal salad – and we were off to explore the National Horseracing Museum. The museum is packed with artefacts from around the world, as well as plenty of information about the origins of horseracing and how the sport has developed over the decades.

4pm

After checking into the luxurious Jockey Club Rooms, our tour guide, Frankie, shows me around the building, which is every bit as grand and elegant as you’d expect from such an institution. The Jockey Club was founded in 1750 by some of the most influential figures in British society who shared a passion for horse racing. It was originally intended as a place to meet and discuss their shared interest, as well as important affairs and host special guests in the grand dining room.

Today, the Jockey Club is the largest commercial horse racing organisation in the UK, owning 15 of Britain’s most famous racecourses, including the Rowley Mile and July Course in Newmarket, as well as Aintree, Cheltenham and Epsom Downs.

5pm

After a busy day exploring, it was time for a little R&R at the award-winning spa in the Bedford Lodge Hotel and Spa. Sitting adjacent to the hotel, the hotel’s spa has a rooftop hot tub, hydrotherapy pool, steam room, sauna, and experiential showers. It’s light and airy, with far lovelier views over the town’s atmospheric architecture than photographs would have you believe.

7.30pm

Newmarket gin served at the Bedford Lodge Hotel and Spa
Newmarket gin served at the Bedford Lodge Hotel and Spa

Our dining experience begins with a refreshing Newmarket gin, of course. A small-batch gin brand presented in a delightful racing-themed bottle. Then on to the main event in the hotel’s cosy restaurant, serving a seasonal menu and some seriously delicious desserts.

9.30pm

A short drive back to the Jockey Club rooms and it was time to turn in for the night. The Jockey Club Rooms chambers are spacious and homely, with traditional, yet stylish, decor and a cosy feel. It’s easy to get an early night in the super-comfy beds at the Jockey Club Rooms, complete with luxurious bedding and cosy throws for snuggling down under now the cooler weather has set in.

Day 2

7.30am

I’m repeatedly told that Newmarket rises early. The first lot of horses are taken out of the stables for a ride across the training grounds at 6am, but we’re going to catch a slightly later session. I head out to the front of the building where a new tour guide, the lovely Malcolm, is waiting for me in a branded black cab – the perfect chariot for guiding us around the sights of Newmarket on a morning excursion.

First we watch the horses on their morning ride, which turns out to be such a peaceful start to the day. There’s also the option to enjoy some bubbles while you watch, if you’re celebrating the sights of Newmarket.

9am

The National Stud
The National Stud

We’re back in time to enjoy a hearty breakfast at the Jockey Club Rooms, which for me means a huge veggie breakfast, plenty of coffee to prepare me for the day ahead, fresh juice and fruit and yoghurt. After a quick outfit change, it was time to head off to the National Stud – quite literally, where the magic happens.

10am

A visit to the National Stud offers an insight into how the race horses of tomorrow are bred, as well as taking a look at some of the most famous racing horses of years gone by. Malcolm talked me through the turbulent history of Mill Reef, who was largely considered one of the finest racehorses to run in the second half of the 20th Century. Mill Reef won both his starts as a four-year-old before his racing career was ended by injury, but inspired such fandom that one woman apparently still visits his grave every year to leave flowers – and says she loves Mill Reef even more than her husband, Malcolm tells me.

There’s the chance here to see the horses up close and how well they’re looked after; animal welfare is clearly a top priority across the different attractions and facilities in Newmarket. Our final visit in Newmarket is to feed some foals a few apples before heading on the road again – a sweet and heartwarming finish to the visit.

12pm

Next, we’re off to our final stop of the day; the Rowley Mile racecourse. After a quick tour around the grounds including a peek inside the Royal Box, Malcolm offers up some advice on picking a winner, as well as how to place a bet and find the best deals on the day, for racing novices. I’m then left to my own devices to enjoy an afternoon of racing at one of the UK’s most historic racecourses – a fitting end to my whistle-stop tour of brilliant Newmarket.