Right now staycations are super popular due to the Coronavirus pandemic throwing uncertainty over international travel. Many people are choosing to travel more locally or across the UK. Whilst there are loads of beautiful places in the UK, a favourite of mine will always be the Suffolk coast. I grew up in Ipswich and spent my childhood visiting various places across the county. So without further adieu, here are in my opinion the best things to do in Suffolk!
Aldeburgh Beach and Town
Aldeburgh is my favourite place in Suffolk. The stony beach brings such a sense of peace to me every time I visit. I have such fond memories from here as a child racing my little blue wooden boat against my brother’s red one across the boating pond by the ice cream hut.
The town is adorable, with pastel coloured seafront houses and little cottages dotted along the front. Most of these are holiday homes and are available to rent out. They are very popular in the summer months and look pretty nice! There are lots of quirky independent shops you can visit, selling clothes to groceries to antiques and artwork.
As well as shopping there is an abundance of eateries. You can choose between high end hotels for 3 course meals, cosy pubs, takeaway fish and chips to eat on the beach and lots of small local cafes to grab a coffee or an ice cream. There is also a delicatessen and a lovely wine shop if you want to grab some bits for eating later! Or if you fancy it, you can buy some freshly caught fish from the little fisherman’s huts on the sea front!
A few favourites of mine are the Brudenell hotel for a drink outside on their terrace, the White Lion for a nice meal, Munchies cafe for toasties and coffee and Cragg Sister’s tea room for delicious cake and an impressive selection of teas from across the globe. Plus you can’t beat the fish and chips, they are the best in the UK…
If you are into history the Moot Hall is now a museum which you can wander around, I have to say I don’t think I have been! Always too distracted by the boating lake next to it or the call of the sea or a coffee I guess!
If you visit Aldeburgh in mid-August, you may catch the Aldeburgh festival. There is a parade, and local houses and shops are invited to create themed windows to compete for prizes. There are fun fair activities for families and market type stalls along the front, which always has a nice atmosphere.
The beach itself is host to a large Lifeboat station, which you can often sea on training exercises or answering real calls. Plus you can go and look around the station and learn about the RNLI. There is also an enormous sculpture of a Scallop on the beach, which is dedicated to the composer Benjamin Britten, who lived here.
Aldeburgh beach is a great place for a stroll, on a bright clear day. You can see all the way to the House in the Clouds over in Thorpeness, which is my next recommendation. Why not walk here from Aldeburgh or vice versa? One of my favourite things to do in Suffolk is have brunch in one place then walk to the other for a drink or some food and then back!
Thorpeness Mere is about 2 miles north of Aldeburgh. It can be walked to straight down the beach, or driven/cycled via a road that connects the two.
The best thing here is the boating lake, where one can hire rowing boats and kayaks by the hour or half hour to go for a little adventure. The mere has loads of little offshoots rather than being one big open lake so it is good fun to explore. It is very popular during the summer months with people picnicking or visiting one of the few cafes by the mere. There is a greasy spoon type cafe right by the mere where you can watch the water birds and rowing families go by, which is reasonably priced and tasty.
Just up from the Mere by the sea is a great cafe called the Thorpeness kitchen. They have an alcohol licence and do things like mulled wine in winter, and cold beers in summer. They also carry a huge selection of fresh baked goods and ice creams, as well as doing a decent breakfast an lunch menu. As well as this there is an antique shop just behind it which you can browse. Plus I saw Tom Hiddleston here on Christmas Eve one year which was pretty cool. I believe he has family in Suffolk.
There is a pub called the Dolphin and a golf club nearby too, which I haven’t investigated. A lot of the houses round here are also rented out as holiday homes for seaside getaways. One that you can rent is on stilts and is known as the House in the Clouds as that’s what it looks like from a distance.
It is a great place to spend an afternoon messing around in rowing boats and paddling in the sea after some tasty food.
Lavenham is a quaint little Suffolk village full of boutique shops, country pubs and tea rooms. The streets are still largely lined by the medieval buildings dating back to the 1500s, which are mostly held together by wooden beams and look rather haphazard and wonky! The colours and vibe of the village give it great character and its a nice place to spend a bit of time on a Sunday afternoon.
A must do activity is grabbing a roast from one of the many pubs/hotels in the village. There are many to choose from, some of which have outdoor seating and all of which have decent reputations.
The Guildhall is actually a really good museum and has experience an amazingly varied number of uses over the years. From being the centre of East Anglia’s booming wool trade in the 1600s, it became a social club and restaurant for American troops in WWII. It’s now run by the National Trust and has one of the many great tea rooms that Lavenham hosts.
Its a great place to visit as a Harry Potter fan too, as one of the large beamed houses, the De Vere House, featured as Godric’s Hollow in Deathly Hallows Pt 1. You can even actually stay there! I of course have a picture outside, because nerd life and was very pleased with myself.
The church, St Peter and St Pauls in the village is also really beautiful and worth a wander up to. It is huge and houses beautiful stained glass windows. Plus there is a pub opposite for when you are finished looking around!
Southwold is another of Suffolk’s wonderful beaches. It has a more traditional seaside feel in a way, with having a pier that runs out into the sea and little beach huts lining the promenade.
Wandering along the pier there are amusements, cafes and little boutique shops, as well as a unique water clock which is very whimsical. You can get fish and chips of course, which in my opinion are always best enjoyed on the beach front. But there are plenty of benches to have a sit on and watch people go by and the seagulls soar.
There is more sand here than Aldeburgh (which admittedly has none!) so it is quite popular with families. A number of the beach huts are available for rent from the local council, but most are privately owned. A number of these however are also available for hire seasonally if you do not fancy the eyewatering price tag which reportedly comes with them!
The town itself is lovely to walk through as well. There are a plethora of little bakeries where you can grab a morning pastry or a lunch time pasty with your coffee. Lots of shops such as Joules, Fatface and Jack Wills adorn the high street, as well as a few seaside view pubs.
The highlight of Southwold for me however, was the Adnams distillery tour. If you are not familiar with Adnams, they started as a brewer back in 1345 on the same site they stand today! They have been big in Suffolk for a long time, and in 2010 they became the first UK brewer to also start operating as a distillery. Now they make their own Gin, Whisky and Vodka. Craig and I did this tour back in September on a visit back to see my parents, and it was great! We learnt lots about the distilling process which is actually super interesting, and then, more importantly, got to try lots of the finished product.
We were given a few of their gins, vodkas, whisky and their unique Broadside spirit, which is partially from beer so not quite a whisky, which is a taste experience for sure! The tour was £20pp which I think was very good value for the history and the tasting at the end. We also got a voucher for a free gin tinny and 15% off in the shop valid that day only, so we headed off to the shop to redeem that and get some of the alcohol we had just tried! I got some Lime and Habenero Gin which I am sad to say I have finished as it was a limited edition, but very tasty. They also do a brewery tour if that is more your thing. I would recommend you book in if you are partial to a tipple and in the area, you can check tickets out for yourself here.
I have always loved animals and so visiting the zoo was one of my favourite days out as a child. Still is as an adult, especially the London Zoo nights! There are a few bigger zoos in the area, like Colchester in Essex or Banham in Norfolk, but Africa Alive is rather good. As the name suggests, it is dedicated to animals one finds on the plains of the Savannah. Lions, lemurs, birds of prey, giraffes, zebra. It is a really good little themed zoo which is very educational and puts on plenty of feeding talks and displays as well as activities for children.
My favourite parts are the lion viewing platform which provides good views of the lions who are usually asleep, they have quite a few in a huge enclosure. I also love the walk through ring tailed lemur enclosure. Here you get up close and personal as they run rings around you! Very sweet and an awesome experience.
You can find more info on ticket prices, opening times and attractions here.
Sutton Hoo is one for both history buffs and those who like a walk, or a nice National Trust cafe. The site is an Anglo Saxon burial ground, with a fascinating exhibition hall which tells the tale of the massive Anglo-Saxon ship which was discovered here. It also showcases a number of the artefacts.
You can walk amongst the burial mounds on various trails, and enjoy the neighbouring sheep frolicking in the fields all the way down to the river. Or if you prefer a sheltered walk, the pine trail may be more your bag.
Then you can pop into the huge second hand book shop, or enjoy a light meal or cake pit stop in the lovely light airy cafe, which has a great terrace during summer.
You have probably actually heard of Framlingham Castle without knowing it. This is because it is the infamous ‘Castle on the Hill’ in the so titled Ed Sheeran song. Sheeran grew up nearby, and this Motte and Baillie styled castle served as his inspiration for that absolute banger.
Its a strange castle, in that it doesn’t really have a central Keep the way most traditional castles do. The walls protect a large Tudor style house now, but back in medieval times it was an open castle. with wooden buildings housing areas like kitchens.
There are thirteen large towers around the outside wall, guarded by a man made extensive moat. They don’t actually know exactly when it was built, although it is believed to be from the 1100s originally. Then at some point in the Tudor period, fancy chimneys were built in to the towers, most of which you can still see today.
The castle has a really interesting history having changed hands so much. Sadly when we visited most recently it was during covid restrictions where only out door activity is allowed. So whilst we could explore the walls and grounds, we couldn’t read the information or look at the exhibitions inside the main building. We did get a 25% ticket reduction though at least. You can book tickets to visit and learn more about the castle’s history on English Heritage’s website here.
I enjoyed my wander around the walls. It was fun to explore and imagine it under siege whilst walking the battlements, with the arrow slits and crumbled stair cases which would have lead to the tops of the towers. We were fortunate to have a nice sunny day for it too, and enjoyed a takeaway drink on the picnic benches which now occupy the castle lawn.
Bury St Edmunds
Far nicer to wander around than Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds is the other large town in Suffolk. A number of years ago they built a new open air shopping centre, the Arc, which is very pleasant and much nicer to brave than Ipswich High Street for shopping. There are plenty of restaurants and all the usual shops you would expect to find around a mid-sized town, as well as a large market at weekends.
The town itself is quite cute and has a lovely row of shops leading down to the old Abbey. It was a Benedictine Monastery, and is now free to walk around. It is a great fun place to run around as a child and a nice place for a picnic as an adult. They also run a huge Christmas market just outside the grounds usually, but I imagine that won’t be happening. Stupid Covid. It is a lovely market though so hopefully it returns next year.
One of my favourite little towns in Suffolk is Woodbridge. This town is situated on the river Deben and has a lot of charm and character. One of my favourite things about it is its many pubs.
One of my favourite Suffolk pubs, the Cherry Tree, is situated outside the town centre. They have a roaring fire, quirky quotes painted on the old rafters, board games and excellent food. I also love the Angel Inn up in the town square, which is an old orange walled, black beamed pub which serves a huge selection of gins. The Crown hotel also offers amazing upmarket food and has a nice little beer garden for a drink or two.
Besides the pubs there is a nice independent bookshop, a few antique shops and two of my favourite cafes in Suffolk. Christine’s Patisserie serves beautiful cakes and has a lovely little garden to relax in. Honey and Harvey serves excellent coffee and brunch and is a nice environment to do some work or enjoy reading the paper. I also love the East Coast diner for a spot of American style food when feeling indulgent.
So I grew up in Ipswich and frankly I have little love for it, but there are a few things worth seeing here if you are in the area.
Christchurch park is a huge park right by the town centre. It is famed for the huge Tudor Mansion, which you can visit. It is a nice place for a wander around, and there is a good pub called the Woolpack right by one of the entrances for a cosy pint after an autumn walk!
The waterfront is also a really nice area, having been done up in conjunction with the construction of the University of Suffolk campus there about 15 years ago. There are some lovely upmarket restaurants and bars, including the renowned Salthouse Hotel, and locals favourite Isaacs, which has large outdoor seating and shows sports on big screens. They even do barbecues in the summer, and is my favourite drinking spot in town.
The town centre itself has slightly improved since I left 10 years ago, with both of the shopping centres done up and new restaurants and bars moving in. But its isn’t the best or prettiest place to go shopping in the county by far, with Norwich and Cambridge not too far and Bury St Edmunds also near by, all of which are much nicer town centres.
Go for a hike
Suffolk is very flat, so it’s a great place to go walking if you don’t want anything too strenuous! There’s loads of countryside, I live right by the Finn Valley near Tuddenham so we often walk there. But there are thousands of routes and most of them require low fitness levels only!
And there you have my top things to do in Suffolk!
I will likely update this post from time to time if I go back home and revisit locations or go to those I had no pictures for etc so stay tuned for updates. However these were the ones that leapt out at me for now, with Aldeburgh being the firm all time favourite.
I hope you enjoy your trip to Suffolk and have found this post useful!