Suffolk is an amazing area - perhaps not the first place you think of heading for a weekend away, but it is so full of hidden gems that we wish more people would make the trip to this area. We've written previously about locations like Rendlesham Forest, an amazing forest to visit in Suffolk. But we wanted to highlight some of the gems of Suffolk, including towns, villages, and more great things in the county which aren't talked about often enough. Let's get into the guide:
A very pretty little place, despite being a village there is plenty to see and do during your time in Orford. We've highlighted a few of our favourites below:
Orford Ness National Nature Reserve
This nature reserve is a fascinating visit for a number of reasons - considered to be one of the best shingle features in the world, it's an excellent place to spot rare wildlife. But it was also once used as a testing area for weapons (including atomic bombs) - we told you it was interesting! It's this combination of fascinating history and nature which attracts so many people to Orford Ness National Nature Reserve. If you want to hop on boat and explore the water then you can do so, but the circular walk around the peninsular is about 8 miles long and also a great way to take in the scenery. Learn more here - nationaltrust.org.uk
You can probably see from the photo that Orford Castle has quite a unique look - the tower keep is polygonal in shape and is one of the most complete keeps in England. Built in the 12th century, the castle is remarkably intact considering the age of the building. The design of the castle has been questioned and criticised for years, with many historians claiming that it created blind spots for the defenders, and that having the staircase in the corners weakened the walls against attack. But there is no denying the castle has stood the test of time.
Even if you're not based in Orford, you're only a short distance from Ipswich to the castle (about 10 miles). Learn more and plan your visit here - english-heritage.org.uk
Take a boat trip from Orford Quay
Taking you around the Nature Reserve, the boat trips from Orford Quay are definitely worth your time (although booking is essential). Departing from the town quay, you get around an hour to explore the area by boat. If you're an avid birdwatcher then bringing your bins is definitely recommended - expect to see avocets, egrets, and even greenshanks. Learn more and book your journey here - suffolkrivertrips.com
Darcy's Thorpeness Dog Walk
We wouldn't normally have an entire section about a dog walk, but this route is very popular with locals and visitors to Thorpeness so we thought we'd definitely include it! At only 4 miles long it shouldn't take you much more than an hour and a half to complete this circular route which starts and ends at Thorpeness Golf Club & Hotel, but following the walk is a great way to take in some of the lovely local scenery. The Golf Club & Hotel is a fantastic starting and end point because dogs are welcome in the patio bar and lounge area! The dog walk itself follows an old railway line along the golf course before crossing the Aldeburgh road and heading towards the beach. You then turn back towards Thorpeness and pass local attractions like the Thorpeness windmill. Learn more about Thorpeness Golf Club & Hotel here - thorpeness.co.uk
Lavenham is such a gorgeous place and certainly fits the bill when we talk about the gems of Suffolk. There is also a fascinating history attached to the place, which means there is plenty to see and do. Let's look at some of our favourites:
Now owned by the National Trust, the Lavenham Guildhall is an excellent place to visit and is considered to be one of the best examples of an English medieval timber-framed building. Dating back to the 15th century, this Grade I listed building was originally built as a meeting place for Catholic merchants, but throughout history has been used for a number of purposes including as a prison, a workhouse, and a social club for US troops. The Guildhall is now home to a fascinating exhibition which outlines the amazing history of the building and of Lavenham. It's also great for kids, with features like a bug hotel. Definitely visit this place during your time in Lavenham, learn more here - nationaltrust.org.uk
St Peter and St Paul’s Church
This Grade I listed church is seriously impressive - it is generally regarded to be one of the most important Wool Churches in England, and is one of the most visited churches in East Anglia. Much of the building dates back to the 14th century and is built in the late perpendicular Gothic style.
Guided tours of the church can be arranged and are well worth booking to learn the full extent of the history attached to this building. Learn more here - lavenhamchurch.onesuffolk.net
This small museum is an absolute gem - run by volunteers, it has a lovely atmosphere and is full of genuinely interesting artefacts relating to the local area and beyond. Based within a 14th Century Hall House, the museum is packed with items such as antiques, pictures, books, china and art. The building itself is very attractive and is definitely one of the best timber-framed buildings in the area. Plan your visit and learn more here - littlehall.org.uk
Dyehouse Field Wood
Regarded as one of the best kept secrets in Lavenham by locals, Dyehouse Field Wood is a great area to visit for a relaxing walk. In 2002, many trees were planted as part of the Lavenham Woodland Project - 20 years later, the result is the impressive Dyehouse Field Wood. It's only a short walk from the village and is well worth a look, learn more here - lwproject.wixsite.com
Wigwam® Holidays Maglia Rosso is located in the village of Hawstead, just four miles south of Bury St Edmunds. Choose from five Running Water Deluxe Wigwam® Cabins set in a five acre meadow in the stunning Suffolk coutryside. Maglia Rosso was the village pub but now operates as a cycling centre and licensed cafe. The site has a children's play area and ample space for family fun. Two of the cabins are dog-friendly and one has accessibility features for those with additional support requirements The site is the perfect spot for a Suffolk glamping holiday in the great outdoors. Take advantage of the peaceful, rural location and explore the local gems on your doorstep.
Often referred to as 'The Garden Resort of East Anglia', Felixstowe is a picturesque town and definitely worth a visit. Here are some of our favourite things to see and do:
Felixstowe beach (& pier)
If you're looking for a great beach to visit during your time in Suffolk then the beach in Felixstowe is a great option to go for. Stretching for 4 miles, this beach has a little bit of everything - the livelier South end is great for families. It has beach huts which can be hired, and is mostly sandy. It also has a number of cafes, and ice cream kiosks. If you're looking for a quieter trip to the beach then you'll want to head to the North end, which is mainly shingled but is great for walking.
This fort at the mouth of the River Orwell was originally built in the 17th century and was designed to guard the mouth of the river. The current fort which you can visit was built in the 18th century, and then modified in the 19th century. The fort played an important role in both World Wars as it was used to house anti-aircraft weapons. The fort was closed in 1956, but is you the public can now visit the fort which makes for a fascinating experience - walking around the rooms and passageways is a great trip into the past, and you can also visit the nearby Felixstowe Museum. This is a great day out especially for those interested in military history, plan your visit and learn more here - english-heritage.org.uk
Felixstowe Seafront Gardens
On the cliffs between the town and the beach you'll spot 8 gardens - these are Grade II listed and are definitely worth a look due to their interesting history and beauty. The gardens were originally planted during the Victorian period, when it was fashionable to have large garden areas for wellness purposes. The Gardens are a fine example of their type (early 20th century public garden) and part of the Gardens shows a good surviving example of 1920s design with lots of original character. Amazingly, a significant proportion of original planting has survived and can still be seen.
There is a Heritage Walk you can follow around the gardens which takes you around the 8 separated areas, many of which are quite quirky including the 'Pram Walk' area and the Octagonal Shelter.
The gardens stretch for almost 1km along the promenade. They're lovely to walk through and provide amazing views out to the sea.
If you'd like to visit the gardens, they're open 24/7 and can be explored at any time without needing to pay.
Harwich Harbour Ferry
Between April and October you'll be able to hop onto the Harwich Harbour Ferry, a ferry which has been connecting Harwich, Shotley and Felixstowe since the early 1900s. It's a great way to get between the areas, but if you're staying in Felixstowe then we'd actually recommend doing the round trip where youn stay on the ferry. This is a great way to take in the sights and get some sea air. The crew onboard are always super helpful and pleasant, plus dogs are allowed on board too. Book tickets and learn more here - harwichharbourferry.com
These small defensive forts dotted around Felixstowe date back to the early 1800s, and 8 of them can be found along the south-east coast from town towards Seaford. Originally built to help defend against potential invasions attempted by Napoleon Bonaparte, they're now fascinating structures to visit. Tower ‘P’ is based within Martello Park and is probably the most interesting to visit - during World War I the building was used as a signal station to intercept secret German radio messages.
Constable Country is the name given to the area on the Suffolk and Essex border. It is named after the renowned artist John Constable as this was where he was born, and the area is often visited by art enthusiasts and people who want to learn more about the life of John Constable. There are a number of interesting things to see and do in Constable Country, let's take a look at some of the highlights:
The Constable Walk
This 7 mile walk takes you through some of the scenery which was the inspiration for a variety of Constable's most famous paintings. Starting at the railway station in Manningtree, you walk through the Stour Valley towards Flatford Mill and then continue following the walk all the way to Dedham. The walk shouldn't take you longer than 4 hours, but on a nice day it's a lovely route to follow and well worth the effort. Learn more here - walkingbritain.co.uk
The Constable Walk will take you right past this mill, which was the subject of the painting by Constable called 'Flatford Mill ('Scene on a Navigable River')' which he painted in 1816. The mill is now managed by the National Trust and is very interesting to visit - it's Grade I listed and was built in the 18th century, but is remarkably well maintained. You can go on a boat trip along the river which is probably the most spectacular way to see the mill. Learn more here - nationaltrust.org.uk
Beth Chatto Gardens
Beth Chatto's Plants and Gardens doesn't have any direct link to Constable, but you'll find plenty of beauty and inspiration here. It's hard to imagine it now, but back in the 60s, this entire space was essentially a wasteland. Beth took it over and added plants which could flourish, and completely transformed the space into a world-renowned garden. Amazingly, the Gravel Garden was once a car park. The gardens are now managed by Beth's granddaughter, learn more and plan your visit here - bethchatto.co.uk
Aldeburgh is a town which often pops up in lists of the best places to head to for a peaceful getaway, and we think that is a fitting description. However, we don't want to give you the impression that there is nothing to do in Aldeburgh aside from relax, because that is not true at all. There is plenty to see & do during your time in Aldeburgh, here are our favourites:
You're spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches along The Suffolk Coast, but we really believe that Aldeburgh beach is one of the best to visit. It's a sand and shingle beach with lots of pebbles, which might not sound like a good start but we think it gives the beach a unique and very pretty look and makes it great for walking along. The lack of sand means it isn't really a sunbathing beach, which also means it is often very quiet, again making it excellent for a stroll. You can't really visit Aldeburgh without heading to the beach, so we'd highly recommend you do so!
The Red House
This farmhouse was the home of composer Benjamin Britten until his death in 1976, and is now the home of the Britten-Pears Foundation. Visitors to the house can learn about Britten's life and his musical influences, but even if you're not familiar with Britten's work it is still a fascinating place to visit. There is also plenty of information about Peter Pears, who is perhaps less of a household name but still a very interesting figure and someone with a good story. The gardens are especially enjoyable to wander around, and the café on site is excellent and reasonably priced. If you can join a tour of the building it is highly recommended as this is definitely the best way to explore The Red House. Learn more here - brittenpearsarts.org
Not far from the beach you'll spot this interesting building - this is actually the home of Aldeburgh Museum, and the building is regarded as one of the most important timber-framed public buildings still standing in England. The building is called Moot Hall, and is a Tudor building which was built in the early 1500s and is an astonishing place to visit. The building itself is an artefact, but inside the museum is also packed with fascinating items and exhibits - of particular interest are the Early History collections which include items such as flints used by early humans. Learn more here - aldeburghmuseum.org.uk
St Peter and St Paul's Church
If you've read any of our guides before you'll know we always like to recommend a church visit during trips to these towns and villages, and Aldeburgh is no different. St Peter and St Paul's Church is a Grade II listed building which mostly dates from the 16th century (although the church tower was built in the 1300s). For any fans of classical music, it is very interesting to note that Benjamin Britten is buried in the graveyard here, and there is also a stained glass memorial to him here which is very striking. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson is also buried here, the first every female mayor. The building itself is a joy to explore and very impressive, particularly from an architectural standpoint. Learn more here - aldeburghparishchurch.org.uk
Check out the Martello Tower (and maybe even stay there)
This impressive-looking coastal fortress is owned and managed by The Landmark Trust and was built in the early 19th century to defend against the threat of Napoleonic invasion. Incredibly, this has been converted into a holiday house of sorts which can sleep 4 people. The real standout aspect of the refurbished building is the roof terrace which provides stunning sea views. Learn more about the Martello Tower here - landmarktrust.org.uk
Watch a flick at the cinema
Looking at this building you might think this place is an old pub full of real ales on top, or perhaps a 19th-century hotel. It's actually Aldeburgh Cinema, and the unique look of the exterior is the tip of the iceberg. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the oldest and longest-running cinemas in the UK, having opened in 1919. What we love about the cinema is that it is quirky and shows a good mix of blockbusters and independent movies. If you're looking to kill a couple of hours during your time in Aldeburgh, definitely head to the cinema. Book your tickets and learn more here - aldeburghcinema.co.uk
Eat the fish and chips
It seems like every town in every part of the UK claims to have the best fish and chips around, but trust us, the fish and chips on offer in Aldeburgh are a bit special. We won't bore you too much with an explanation of what makes the fish and chips from the Aldeburgh Fish & Chip Shop especially good - they just are. Perhaps the brisk sea air is the cherry on top. All we know is that they're excellent. Learn more here - aldeburghfishandchips.co.uk