Within easy reach of both London and the Midlands, Suffolk is the smallest and gentlest of the East Anglian counties. Its biggest draw is perhaps its coast, which is home to two of Britain’s most alluring seaside resorts – Aldeburgh and Southwold – with the Minsmere RSPB Reserve and ancient settlement of Dunwich at the centre of some glorious stretches of marsh, heath and woodland.
People also come to Suffolk to visit ‘Constable Country’ – a string of bucolic villages straddling the Essex border that were famously painted by the English landscape painter. Meanwhile, further inland, the old wool towns of Lavenham and Bury St Edmunds are handsome destinations for a lazy weekend break. Even Ipswich has a spruced-up waterfront district and interesting attractions. All in all, Suffolk is an easily accessible and diverse region for a weekend break – or longer.
Explore our interactive map below for all the local highlights, and scroll down for our suggested day-by-day summary of the best things to see and do.
Start with an excellent breakfast just outside Ipswich at Milsoms Kesgrave Hall, followed either by a visit to the waterfront district and Christchurch Mansion in the centre of town – or in the opposite direction to Woodbridge, where you can wander the sights and shops of the riverside and the old centre, before heading to Sutton Hoo. Much better known since featuring in the 2021 film ‘The Dig’, starring Ralph Fiennes, the site is the burial ground of a warrior king who was interred in a forty-oar ship with a treasure trove of possessions in the early seventh century. You can see the main burial mound, as well as several others.
Have lunch at the Unruly Pig. It was ‘dining pub of the year’ in the 2021 ‘Good Pub Guide’ and regularly features among Britain’s top gastropubs, serving local and seasonal British classics with a twist, with local oysters featuring alongside Italian delights like crispy arancini and focaccia, bistecca alla Fiorentina and ossobuco. For more suggestions of the best restaurants in the area, see our guide.
Leave the pub and head up through the wilds of Rendlesham Forest to tiny Orford, with its castle and harbour – before heading to Aldeburgh. Here you can enjoy a walk along the seafront, followed by an ice cream at Ives or a cup of tea and a cake at the Two Magpies Bakery. Next, visit the home of local hero Benjamin Britten – The Red House – on the edge of town. You can tour the house itself, with its wonderful collection of 20th-century British art, it has a museum chock-full of artefacts relating to the composer, and you can also see the library, still filled with Britten’s and Pears’ collection of furniture, books and paintings, and the studio where he composed War Requiem and other late works.
After this, head inland to Framlingham – and its wonderful ‘castle on the hill’ – Framlingham Castle and the Tudor tombs at the church of St Michael. You can walk right around the 12th-century defensive walls, still topped with their Tudor-style chimneys, and enjoy fine views of the surrounding countryside.
For dinner, head to the Station Hotel, also in Framlingham. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a real foodie joint, with a regularly changing menu that features terrific, fresh and contemporary fish and meat dishes, and wood-fired pizzas Thurs–Sat.
Afterwards, stop for a pint at the King’s Head in nearby Laxfield. This ancient watering hole is unusual in that it has no bar per se – just a room full of barrels that staff disappear into to get your order, while you make yourself comfy in one of the pub’s wood-panelled rooms. For more pubs in the area, see our guide.
Afterwards, you could have fish and chips at the Flora Tea Rooms in Dunwich just behind the beach, have lunch in Walberswick at The Anchor, or cross the river on the foot ferry and stroll up to the excellent Sail Loft for a meal by the dunes. The latter is a beachside restaurant with an almost Mediterranean air: it has the feel of a funky seaside shack, with rustic furniture, bare floorboards and fresh fish dishes along with steaks and other house favourites.
Next, drive to Southwold – to explore its pier and take a stroll along the beach. Afterwards you can do a tour of the Adnams brewery – for famous Suffolk ales and gin – before heading inland to explore the towns of Beccles and Bungay. Tours of the brewery are regular and very popular, and they take about an hour to see the brewery’s main features and taste an ale or two.
On your way between the two towns, stop at Fen Farm Dairy to buy some locally made cheese and butter. It is home to perhaps the best cheese to come out of Suffolk in recent years: the creamy, golden Baron Bigod, made with unpasteurised milk from grass-fed cows.
You’ve definitely earned a pizza at Oakfired in Beccles. There are all sorts of exotic toppings on the menu, but it doesn’t get better than their simple margherita with proper mozzarella and a perfectly blistered crust.
To round off the day, catch the Big Dog Ferry for the pretty 5km river journey to the Locks Inn in Geldeston, a unique riverside pub that was recently rescued from extinction by the local community. There is live music, Sunday afternoon sessions, folk nights and a thousand other inventive offerings to lure you here. It feels very remote, and is one of the few pubs that is easiest to reach by river.
Don’t write off Felixstowe: beyond the container port, it’s a pleasant seaside resort that also encompasses the little-known riverside hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry. Even the port has its moments, with a wild beachside nature reserve, wartime fort (which you can visit), and the chance to take the ferry across to Essex or the Shotley Peninsula.
For a small county, Suffolk has more than its fair share of conspiracy theories. Rendlesham Forest is Britain’s ‘Roswell’, home to one of the country’s most infamous UFO sightings in 1980. Nearby Shingle Street was forcibly evacuated during the war: some say in anticipation of a German invasion, others claim it was to test new experimental bombs.
Peasenhall is a pretty village not far from the A12 and has one of the best village shops going – Emmets, which cures its own ham. Bacon and sells all manner of Spanish goodies.
Did you know?
Suffolk is home to over 500 medieval churches, the second largest concentration in the world. Only Norfolk has more.
The inception of Retreat East came from owner (and architect) Dominic Richards’s idea to offer a sort of second home in the countryside, without all the faff of admin, cleaning and upkeep. Guests who become members (there’s an initial purchase fee, followed by annual dues) are allotted at least 10 nights each year. Now, you can also stay as a one-off guest. Picture stylishly converted barns with beamed ceilings and freestanding tubs, walks you can take from your doorstep, a kitchen garden with superb seasonal ingredients, and a hot tub in a suntrap of a spot.
More places to stay
Occupying the prime spot on Ipswich’s impressive waterfront, the Salthouse Harbour Hotel mixes up the city’s maritime legacy with a unique modern style. Public spaces are enlivened by quirky modern sculptures and contemporary art – along with fanciful items picked up on the owners’ foreign travels. It’s a winning combination, which also respects the warehouse building’s heritage and makes the most of its wonderful location.
With a combination of enthusiasm and an irresistible eye for detail, Five Acre Barn’s owners have created the ultimate contemporary b&b in the grounds of their home in Suffolk. A world away from seaside guesthouses of old, it is a perfect base for seeing the best of the Suffolk coast. The style is hard to pin down, but the building itself has been shortlisted for various architectural awards and is relentlessly modern.
Doubles from £100.
The Sibton White Horse is a cosy village pub in a prime location, offering comfy rooms and a great deal of atmosphere. It’s most notable for its food, which is hearty, locally sourced and a cut above the norm. For long-standing lovers of all things Suffolk, the White Horse’s location is a great one: at the centre of a peaceful grouping of picturesque inland villages – Sibton, Peasenhall and Yoxford – but also just a short drive for the coast at Walberswick and Dunwich. For more suggestions of the best hotels in the area, see our guide.
What to bring home
Don’t leave without a bottle or two of Adnams beer – or a tipple from St. Peter’s Brewery. For seafood lovers, Pinneys Of Orford also sells a fine range of smoked local fish, pâtés and fresh fillets: available from its shop and restaurant, or delivered direct to your door. The Baron Bigod cheese and unpasteurised butter at Fen Farm Dairy near Bungay, and the home-cured bacon at Emmets in Peasenhall, are also both worth a considerable detour.
When to go
The great thing about East Anglia is that it is one of the driest – and sunniest – parts of Britain. Winter can naturally be a bit bleak in outlying villages and coastal resorts, but you are just as likely to visit on a bright, sunny day as a dreary one.
Summer can be busy along the coast and in the more touristy inland spots – Lavenham, for example – but the crowds are rarely over-powering, and getting off the beaten track is easy.
Know before you go
Suffolk is a small but unusually varied county, with a rural interior that gives way to a coastline that can feel quite separate from the rest of the county. Indented with creeks and inlets, it hosts a number of seaside towns and villages that are quite literally at the end of the road to nowhere, from Shingle Street and Orford to Aldeburgh and Dunwich.
Basically the A12 divides inland and coastal Suffolk, and to some extent forms the spine of the county – with the green fields and woodlands of rural Suffolk to the left, and the heaths and marshes of the coast to its right.
As with most English counties, public transport is sparse and if you want to see much you are going to need a car. But key towns are connected by train, with two lines spearing off from Ipswich in the south – one to Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds (and, eventually, Cambridge), and another to Lowestoft, with stops at Woodbridge, Saxmundham, Halesworth and Beccles providing feasible jumping-off points to the coast.
Suffolk has gained a decent reputation for food in recent years, with restaurants and other businesses making the most of its bountiful local produce – such as Blythburgh pork, Copella apple juice, Aspall ciders, and of course two of Britain’s biggest regional brewers: Adnams and Greene King. It has always had a great array of local pubs, some of them relatively unchanged and in picturesque locations, but many with a strong renewed emphasis on serving local, seasonal food. As such, you will never go hungry, or indeed thirsty, while you’re here.
Martin Dunford divides his time between East Anglia and London. He’s a big fan of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads and the Suffolk Coast, and is never happier than when following old footpaths between Medieval churches and ancient pubs.