I always know I’ve entered Suffolk because it’s the moment I start to feel sick. This isn’t as bad as it sounds – Suffolk has no motorways in it, so without fail you will have to drive on windy, steep, bendy roads. And I have travel sickness. So every time I visit Suffolk, I know to bring the sick bag. But don’t let that put you off because Suffolk is definitely one of England’s most rewarding counties if you have the time to get off the beaten track a little bit.
Suffolk is a county which lies in England’s ‘heel’ on the east coast of the country. It borders Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. It’s an often ignored county, especially by tourists from overseas. This is largely because you can’t really get around it easily with public transport and so a car is essential to making the most of a visit. But for those willing to make the effort, Suffolk has everything from historic towns, to beautiful villages, grand stately homes, ancient castles and gorgeous beaches. It’s like England in a microcosm, but without the crowds.
Getting to Suffolk
Suffolk is in the east of England so if you’re coming from London it’s around a 2 hour drive from the capital. You can also get the train from London to Ipswich, the main city in Suffolk and then hire a car from there if you’re coming from overseas.
Driving in Suffolk is easy; there isn’t too much traffic on the roads so the only stressful thing about it is avoiding horses, tractors and overgrown hedgerows…oh and those windy sick inducing bends that pop up from nowhere until you’re hurtling around them heaving in to a bag (but hopefully that’s just me!)
Where to stay in Suffolk
There are lots of great places to stay in Suffolk. If you want a relaxing countryside retreat, then The Marquis at Upper Layham or Seckford Hall near Woodbridge are beautiful. If you want to be close to a city centre, then try out the Salthouse Harbour Hotel in Ipswich, complete with huge brass free standing baths. If you want a traditional English pub stay, with a touch of comfort then The Black Lion in Long Melford could be for you. If you want ye olde English style with timbered beams and four poster beds, then Lavenham (The Swan or Lavenham Priory) will be right up your street. And finally, if you do want to be beside the seaside with a good pint never far away, then The Swan at Southwold (owned by the local Adnam’s brewery) is a top choice.
Things to do in Suffolk
Suffolk has so much to see and do. It’s a county of natural beauty and a 50 mile coastline, but its attractions span far beyond the beaches. Here are some of my top picks of things to do in the county. To do everything in this list would take at least 5 days in the county, and I’ve linked to my other Suffolk posts throughout this list to give you more detail and potential itineraries.
1. Explore Bury St Edmunds and its cathedral
Starting in land with one of my favourite towns in Suffolk – Bury St Edmunds. Without doubt, its star attraction is its beautiful cathedral and gardens. The town itself also has some nice parts to stroll around, grab some nice food and watch the world go by. It’s the perfect spot to spend half a day and you can read more about the town in my full blog post HERE.
2. Marvel at the incredible houses in historic Lavenham
Historic Lavenham is one of the main tourist attractions in Suffolk – if you want old world English Tudor charm then this is the place for you. The houses here are absolutely incredible, with some dating back to the 1300s. The village is also famous as it’s home to the house used as Godric’s Hollow in the Harry Potter films which also draws a lot of visitors. It’s definitely worth getting here early because the crowds do flock here and the village is normally filled up by 10.30am with day trippers. To make the most of it, start here early and then head to Bury St Edmunds (no. 1 above) for lunch and the afternoon. Again you can read about Lavenham in more detail per my post HERE.
3. Discover ancient castles in Framlingham
Walk in the footsteps of the Tudors, and explore the incredible Framlingham castle – where Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen of England in the 1550s. The castle is still well in tact, and you can walk the walls, explore the meres surrounding the castle and visit the exhibition inside the keep. Once you’ve finished at the castle, you can stroll down to the market square, where there are often local markets running – or just grab a nice pub lunch from nearby. Framlingham in itself is a half day trip, and can be combined with Woodbridge and Sutton Hoo (below) to make a full day. You can read more in my post HERE.
The incredible castle
4. Meet the Anglo Saxons at Sutton Hoo
Sutton Hoo is one of the most famous sites in Suffolk as it’s where the Anglo Saxon burial ground was discovered in the early 1900s. The burial site belonged to a King, and dates back to around the year 624! The most likely candidate for being buried in the site is King Raedwald of East Anglia, the most powerful King in England, and the treasures found are the most valuable ever discovered on British soil!
5. Relax in Woodbridge
One of the prettiest places to explore in Suffolk is the market town of Woodbridge, famous for its tide mill. There is also a beautiful hotel/stately home called Seckford Hall which is great for afternoon tea or an overnight stay. Woodbridge also holds regular local markets, so is a good spot to browse for tasty local produce.
6. Eat fish and chips on Southwold pier
One of the most visited towns in Suffolk, Southwold is a gem of a British seaside resort. It’s ideal for spending a day in – there is a lighthouse you can climb, a brewery you can tour (and sample of course), a Pier you can enjoy, and a sandy beach to enjoy the English tradition of fish and chips in the sun on. Whilst in Southwold, you could also walk to the lovely village of Walberswick (including a little ferry trip), to see a striking church in the ruins of a bigger church and more nice coastline. You can read more about the Suffolk coast HERE.
7. Enjoy a stroll on Dunwich Heath
Dunwich Heath is a rare survival of coastal lowland heath, as most have now been built upon. The heath is mostly covered with heather, and is home to a wide variety of birds, animals and reptiles. The Heath is stunningly beautiful, and drops down on to another beach below which is another lovely area to explore. It was even the spot where the Spanish Armada was first seen, and played a pivotal role in planning the D-Day Landings
8. Explore Aldeburgh
Another postcard coastal town, Aldeburgh is another lovely seaside town, with lots of independent shops and a shingle beach nice for walking along. I think one of the nicest walks to do along the Suffolk coast is the stretch from Aldeburgh to Thorpeness (below) following the route HERE, which then loops back to Aldeburgh inland along the old railway line. Overall it’s a 10km walk so allow 3 hours to complete it.
9. Take a walk around Melford Hall and Kentwell Hall
Long Melford is a beautiful village right on the southern border of Suffolk, almost in Essex. It’s also home to two stately homes – Melford Hall and Kentwell Hall, both excellent examples of Tudor houses from the 1500s. We chose to visit Melford Hall mid-morning, then head in to Long Melford to stroll around and have lunch, walk up to Kentwell Hall and then complete the National Trust walk taking in the surrounding English countryside in a 10km stroll to burn off some of that lunch and make it a full day out, per my post HERE.
On the National Trust walk
10. Visit the Thorpeness Windmill and House in the Clouds
Thorpeness is easily walkable from Aldeburgh (above) and its star attractions are its windmill and the quirky house in the clouds. There is also a nice lake for boating, and some good restaurants making it a great lunch time spot to visit.
11. Ickworth Hall
Another lovely spot in Suffolk is Ickworth House, which was built between 1795 and 1829. It is an unusual house and as a result has often been described in pretty unflattering terms – with one English scholar deeming it ‘a huge bulk, newly arrived from another planet’. I think that’s wholly unfair as it’s absolutely beautiful. As well as the hall itself, Ickworth has a lot to offer in and around its grounds, with nice walks well signed, as well as den building for children, stunning walled gardens, an on site cafe and acres of woodland to enjoy.
It’s also worth strolling down to the little village of Horringer-cum-Ickworth which has a pretty village church and lots of thatched cottages to admire. Again you can read a bit more about this destination in my post HERE.
12. Discover Orford village and castle
Staying on the subject of pretty little villages, another thing to do in Suffolk is to explore some of the best the county has to offer. My favourite is Orford, which is packed with postcard worthy cottages, and it has a castle which was built between 1165 and 1173 by Henry III to consolidate royal power in the region and contain the threat of the Bigod family at Framlingham castle only a few miles away (see above). The well-preserved keep is a unique design and was probably based on Byzantine architecture. The castle is really well preserved; booking a tour to go inside is so worth it and the views from the top of the castle are incredible.
13. Go for a walk in the Forest
Away from the coastline, Suffolk also shared Thetford Forest with neigbouring Norfolk. If you’ve had enough of beaches and villages, then visiting the forest can be a really rewarding experience. You could choose to stay in a log cabin with a hot tub, or just visit for the day and enjoy hiking, Go Ape (zip wires and climbing in the trees), Segwaying or horse riding.
14. Visit quaint English villages
Suffolk is home to an abundance of traditional English villages with cute cottages and village greens. I’ve already mentioned Long Melford, Horringer-cum-Ickworth and Orford, but there are others – including Earl Soham, Coddenham and Kersey. It doesn’t get much more English than these beautiful places.
15. Explore Constable Country in Dedham Vale
Right on the southern border of Suffolk is an area not to be missed – Dedham Vale, home to the famous artist John Constable. The area remains largely unchanged in 250 years – you can explore Flatford Mill and Dedham itself, stroll along the River Stour and visit many gorgeous villages such as Stoke-by-Nayland and Polstead.
That completes my guide to visiting Suffolk, England. Has this post inspired you to visit? There are so many incredible places to explore in England, so I hope this post has given you a few reasons to add Suffolk to that list. If you are interested, you can read my more detailed Suffolk location posts here:
- Long Melford
- Suffolk Coast Itinerary
- Woodbridge and Sutton Hoo
- Bury St Edmunds, Lavenham & Ickworth
- Dedham Vale (post coming soon)
Stay safe and happy travelling everyone!