Abbey Gardens, in Bury St Edmunds, has been named among the top five most visited free attractions in England - to the delight of tourism leaders.

The 14-acre site was the only place outside of London to appear in the top five of VisitEngland's annual visitor attractions survey.

The gardens are home to the remains of the Abbey of St Edmund, which will be celebrating its 1,000th anniversary next year.

It was built during the reign of king Canute, with the Benedictine abbey being one of the richest and most important monasteries in medieval Europe - bringing in pilgrims from all corners of the continent.

East Anglian Daily Times: The abbey ruins at Abbey Gardens in Bury St EdmundsThe abbey ruins at Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds (Image: 07952 866252/

Today, the gardens boast floral displays, a bowling green and play area – as well as the popular aviary, cafe and riverside walk.

Sue Warren, brand and marketing manager at Bury St Edmunds and Beyond – the town's tourism company – said the team is "absolutely thrilled" by the gardens' inclusion.

She said: “Bury St Edmunds is becoming increasingly well-known thanks to the work by Bury St Edmunds Beyond, Our Bury St Edmunds, and our partners in the town.

"We are thrilled that this very special place, where the Shrine of St Edmund used to stand within the Great Abbey Church is recognised in this way.

“The Abbey Gardens team, Abbey Gardens Friends, Bury in Bloom, and West Suffolk Council should be congratulated on their fantastic work not only in a very challenging year but over the years in keeping the Abbey Gardens looking at its ‘jewel in the crown’ best for visitors and residents alike.”

The cathedral also featured in the top 10 free attractions in the east of England, while Ickworth House ranked as number five for the most popular paid attractions in the region.

East Anglian Daily Times: West Suffolk Council cabinet member for leisure and communities, Jo RaynerWest Suffolk Council cabinet member for leisure and communities, Jo Rayner (Image: Archant)

Jo Rayner, cabinet member for leisure and culture at West Suffolk Council, said the survey results are "great news".

She said: "The gardens in their historic setting are very popular and, in the past year or so, we have opened new tennis courts to encourage sport and activity, as well as a wildflower labyrinth which attracts bees and butterflies and adds to the beauty and enjoyment of these wonderful surroundings."

Ms Rayner congratulated park rangers, volunteers and the Friends of the Abbey Gardens for their support.