Things to Do Near RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall

Get Off Base to Explore One of England's Loveliest Regions

Elm Hill Norwich
••• Elm Hill, Norwich - an easy family day out from RAF Lakenheath or Mildenhall. Getty Images

 

You don't have to go far to find lots of things to do near Mildenhall and Lakenheath. What's more, if you're stationed at one of the two US Air Force/RAF bases in East Anglia, there's plenty of cheap family fun to be had, less than an hour from your temporary home.

Thousands of US Air Force personnel at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, and their families, make Suffolk, England their home. The men and women of theUSAF 48th Fighter Wing, the Liberty Wing at RAF Lakenheath, and the units of four different major USAF commands at RAF Mildenhall, along with their wives and kids, have created a settlement as big as a medium sized American town within the two military bases.

Both Lakenheath and Mildenhall are located in East Anglia, one of the most beautiful regions of the UK. If you are lucky enough to be stationed here, don't miss the chance of exploring the fairytale villages, gorgeous beaches, wonderful shopping and fun attractions practically on your doorstep.Military families who take the opportunity to venture off base while they're here will find a lot to enjoy.

(In 2015, the US Air Force announced it would be pulling out of Mildenhall by 2020 but no firm date has been set and the base continues as a family posting destination for USAF personnel.)

Undiscovered England

Some of the best things to see are virtually undiscovered outside of the local area. Just 25 miles northeast of Lakenheath and about 33 miles from Mildenhall is the pretty market town of  Swaffham in Norfolk,. There's lots to see here, for example:

  • Castle Acre Priory - Built in 1090 as a Cluniac monastery, it is one of the largest and best preserved monastic sites in England. And if you think monastery ruins sound a bit dull for a family day out, I can report that I took three small children there, ranging in age from 3 to 10 years old, and they had a field day playing in the extensive ruins. The Priory is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m from April through September and to 5 p.m. in October. From November 1 to March 31, it's only open on weekends. Adult admission is £7 with child and family tickets available.
  • The Green Britain Eco Centre  - The top feature of this Swaffam attraction is a futuristic, 220-foot tall wind-turbine with a viewing platform right under the nacelle (you can probably see your house on the base from up there). It's the only wind turbine in the world that's open to the public to climb. (And some have abseiled or base jumped off it for charity too). More than 150,000 visitors have already climbed the 300 steps to the top. There are two platforms on the way up where you can rest and learn more about the turbine. Children (who love it) are welcome but they must be at least 7-years-old and at least  120cm/4 feet tall. The viewing platform at the top, designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster, puts visitors into the heart of the machine. Opening times are seasonal so it's best to check the website.  In 2017, admission to the eco center is free but admission is charged for the tours, from £6 for one adult, to £18 for two adults and two children.
  • The Ostrich, a very good 15th century country pub with a child-safe walled garden, good burgers and other hearty, family-friendly choices, located in the heart of the very quiet village of Castle Acre, opposite the village green.
  • Swaffham Market - A huge, fun Saturday market where you can stock up on fruit and veg, plump English sausages, local cheese and game, plus crafts, housewares, flowers and plain old stuff of all kinds. The market celebrated its 800th birthday in 2015.
  • The Swaffham Museum  - A quaint, local museum where you can find out about native son Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamun's tomb.The Museum is open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays to 1 p.m. Admission is free. It's usually closed from Christmas to mid February.

The City That Time Forgot

Venture a little bit further, to Norwich, up the A47, and you have some of the best shopping, sightseeing and dining in all of East Anglia, plus a daily market under striped awnings that's one of England's largest and best. 

Norwich, off the beaten path for years, has a unique vibe - part modern and part medieval.

The nearly 1,000 year old Norwich Cathedral is the most complete Norman cathedral in England and a fascinating place to visit. It's surrounded by a huge Cathedral Precinct, full of cobbled streets and ancient houses. 

Discover the England of Dreams

Head south into Suffolk and you'll find the England of your children's storybooks and your travel fantasies. Pastel painted cottages tilting crazily under their thatched roofs, cottage gardens overflowing with colorful flowers, ancient pubs full of local character.

When World War II American servicemen stationed nearby discovered Lavenham (a village that has often been the tourism "poster child" for this county), they could hardly believe the place was real. It is, and their families have been returning year after year.

Check out 5 Reasons to Visit Suffolk This Year and you'll see why you won't want to miss a chance for an off-base visit in this glorious region.