Insider guide to Northampton
Think you know everything there is to know about Northampton or are you a newbie and need the inside line? Read on for the Muddy guide to Shoe Town and a bit beyond.
If you’re keen to make the most of everyone’s favourite East Midlands county town (creative licence on my part, what of it?) but don’t have a clue where to even start, you’re in luck! We’ve got our ear to the ground for the coolest spots in Northampton. Have a tasty bite, catch a show and visit the quirky places you can only find hidden at the heart of the country. Whether you’re a local looking to stretch your legs and make your way out of the house a wee bit more, or you’re seeking a holiday destination somewhat off the beaten track, you’ve come to the right place! Pow!
Magee Street Bakery just beside the Racecourse is your one stop brekkie shop for freshly baked goods, egg and bacon rolls on homemade Pain du Magee and locally roasted coffee from Carrara Coffee. Around the corner is The Old Grocery Espresso Bar, one of the coolest hangouts in town, if you time it right you might get a spot of musical entertainment with your poached eggs or sausage roll and, if you’re feeling sociable, they also run chess nights and rollerskating at the Racecourse. The fully zhuzhed up Northampton Museum and Gallery now boasts a gorgeous glass atrium that houses a cafe and serves up breakfasts, brunch, lunch and fab afternoon teas alongside the art and shoe collection.
Lunch? Our top tip is The Ark, a super friendly, floating vegan cafe on the River Nene wedged between the University’s Waterside campus and Radlands skate park. Scoff homemade cakes, toasties and epic veggie burgers while you gaze at the swans floating by on the river and sip a cup of Yellow Bourbon Coffee roasted just up the road. For a hearty pub lunch head to The Lamp. They may brand themselves as backstreet boozer (sounds pretty meh, right?) but The Lamplighter on Overstone Road in the Shoe Quarter is the place to go for classic Sunday roast with edgy Dalston vibes. Or you could try The Old House on Welly Road, a gorgeous-looking Arts and Crafts style building on the outside with chilled-out industrial chic vibes on the inside and a fab menu with veggie and vegan choices.
For dinner, the town is your oyster (well, not really as we’re quite far away from the sea, but you get me). If you’re going for something cool and casual head to The Smoke Pit for a multi-sensory explosion. This grafitti-adorned warehouse hangout is a teenage dream and they do their meat extraordinarily well, think mega-stacked burgers, sticky ribs and loaded fries. Bite Street, Northampton’s cult street food pop-up, is an absolute must if you’ve got a good appetite. They hop around various venues in town including Franklin’s Gardens and Duston Mill, bringing a food festival style vibe with them and tons of local street food and drink producers. We absolutely love Oren Pho, a Vietnamese restaurant that doesn’t look much from the outside, perched beside the Carlsberg roundabout, but as a self-proclaimed summer roll aficionado, I will happily tell you that the food here is as authentically moreish as anywhere I’ve eaten in actual Vietnam.
Dressed to impress? Head to Hibiscus at Delparé Abbey, a tucked away fine dining restaurant in the Billiard Room of Northampton’s 900 year old abbey, serving up 7 and 10 course tasting menus. Or try Muddy Award winning and super-popular Nuovo, a bustling town centre gem specialising in Italian cuisine, cicchetti and cocktails to die for.
It may be a controversial POV but my take on where to stay in Northampton is usually to head outta town. Soz. There are the usual chains but we prefer something with more personality. Head to Flore House, just a 15 minute Uber ride to the pretty village of Flore, this country house boutique stay offers two luxurious suites with quirky, arty vibes.
The Falcon Hotel in Castle Ashby, another Muddy Award winner and owned by local aristos Lord and Lady Northampton, is exquisite and focused on nature and wellbeing, so expect yoga, outdoor swimming and a hefty dose of luxury thrown in. The Eyas restaurant here is sheer delight. Head a bit further north to Rushton Hall, beloved of Emma and Matt Willis who tied the knot here, a grand country house hotel to rival any, with the Stableyard Spa on site for all your pampering needs.
Lace up your Docs and give the Northampton Heritage Trail a go. Starting at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the best preserved of the four Norman round churches left in the country, you’ll then make your way past such sites as the beautiful Guildhall. It’s an idyllic meander around the up and coming town centre (not all of it, but take the beauty where you can), and the gorgeous old churches are worthy of an insta-snap. If you’re feeling ultra walkie, head down London Road until you reach Delapré Abbey, an old medieval nunnery. If walls could talk, then these ones could more than satisfy your inner budding historian. Can’t be bothered to walk? Grab a Voi scooter instead and saunter around town on two wheels to get where you want to be.
There’s no shortage of pubs on N’town and we’ve spent many a very happy hour in The Black Prince on Abington Square, where loud live music is a regular delight, but if you’re after a slightly more chilled vibe then we thoroughly recommend heading to Maule Collective on Derngate. They make craft beer in their own brewhouse but they also do a mean cocktail. The porn star martinis are highly recommended. Around the corner at the heart of the Cultural Quarter and conveniently located next door to the Royal and Derngate theatre, John Franklin’s do great wine and cocktails of an evening and it’s also a cosy place to sit and work with your laptop during the day with a cheese toastie in hand (brushes crumbs from keyboard).
We also love House of Dapper on Wellingborough Road, a failsafe place to grab a sarnie and a decent coffee by day and a cool bar and music venue at night serving up killer cocktails and kitschy vibes. You can also sign up for their co-working space too if you’re bored of staring at the same four walls working from home. And finally, if it’s a caffeine hit you’re seeking then you must head directly to Yellow Bourbon Coffee Roasters on Angel Street. Owner Steve travels the globe in search for the best beans, then roasts them right here at the back of the store and serves up the most magnificent hot brews to enjoy in the cosy shop or packaged up to take home.
For a fashion fix there are some gorgeous boutique stores in town. 32 The Guild on Guildlhall Road is a tiny shop showcasing owner Zoie’s exquisite taste. Think Isabel Marant, Bella Freud and Grenson. Head to Thackeray’s on Welly Road, run by stylish mum and daughter duo Rachel and Ella Richards, for more stunning clothing collections from the likes of Anine Bing, Les Boys Les Girls and Stine Goya.
Vintage lover? 15 Collingwood is a stylish midcentury haven, whilst Vintage Guru on St Giles is a retro emporium stocked full of everything from gifts and crafts to clothing and homewares. For foodie treats check out St Giles Cheese, a fab deli and cheesemonger established in 2010 by husband and wife team Steve and Caroline Ward.
Known as the County of Spires and Squires, Northants has more stately homes than any other shire, so there’s always a walled garden, parterre or ballroom to sniff around. Althorp is a stones throw from town and is always popular with visitors as the childhood home and burial place of Lady Di. Holdenby House was famously where King Charles I was imprisoned prior to his execution and it’s also home to Icarus Falconry, which houses a collection of Eagles, Falcons, Hawks, Buzzards, Owls and Vultures, not forgetting the resident rambling tortoises.
Northampton is home to the tallest abseil tower in the world, the National Lift Tower. Originally built to test lifts, it’s now a listed building and what’s more you can abseil down all 418ft of it with the National Abseil Team. This one is still on my to do list after the small matter of a pandemic got in my way but I’m definitely going to do it. Soon, okay…?
Northampton and Lamport Railway is a child-friendly way to get a dose of history as you ride up and down in the restored steam trains. When the Mudlets have run out of steam, head to the delightful Magic Bean Emporium, which is at the actual railway station (not the steam one) to celebrate everything Harry Potter and magical and indulge in all your favourite sweet treats, it’s a celebration of the the imagination.
Recently re-opened after a multi-million pound re-development project, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery now houses the largest collection of shoes and shoe heritage in the world, representing Northamptonshire’s historic shoe industry. There are more shoes here than in Carrie Bradshaw’s closet – a whopping 15,000 plus loads more historic collections, modern art and a fab new cafe and shop.
The site of Northampton High School until the mid ’90s, 78 Derngate is now a stunning museum showcasing what is the only house in England to be designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and is a fantastic example of Art Deco architecture and interior design.
In the heart of the Cultural Quarter, Northampton Filmhouse shows a healthy mix of arthouse and blockbuster movies in a comfy and stylish atmosphere (you can take wine in, yay). Head next door to the Royal and Derngate for your theatre fix, where you’ll find the whole gamut from musicals and comedy to earnest drama.
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