The Best Things To Do in Suffolk: A Visitor’s Guide
With a rich history, stunning heritage coastline and areas of outstanding natural beauty that are abundant in wildlife, Suffolk is the perfect British holiday destination. There are so many things to do in Suffolk to suit any and every visitor and our Suffolk guide highlights the very best of whats on in Suffolk to help you plan your trip.
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A Brief History of Suffolk
Many of the sights and sounds of Great Britain today are thanks to the occupation by the Romans from 43-410 AD and then the Anglo Saxons from 410-1066 AD. Suffolk is no exception. There is evidence of the Romans in the form of long, straight Roman roads and a burial site of a great Anglo Saxon king.
During the time of the Anglo Saxons, Dunwich was the capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles and one of the largest towns in England boasting 7 churches and a large harbour. It was an important trading town and connected England to other ports around Europe.
Incredibly, due to coastal erosion as a result of a series of great storms in the 13th century, there is almost nothing left and is now a tiny village with one remaining church, a pub, a fish & chip shop and the remains of a Franciscan Priory. Everything else has been lost to the sea. There is a myth that you can hear the bells of the lost churches toll at certain tides.
Amazingly, parts of Suffolk haven’t changed a whole lot in the last 50 years.
Tourism in Suffolk
Despite its charm and natural beauty, Suffolk has remained relatively undiscovered when compared to the likes of the Cotswolds and the Lake District. The pace of life is slow and you may even feel that you’re being transported back to the England of yesteryear.
I affectionately refer to it as sunny Suffolk because it seems to have its own micro-climate. It’s a beautiful place to visit in the summer as most of the things to do in Suffolk are outdoors, although you can’t beat a brisk winter walk along a beach.
The Prettiest Villages in Suffolk
The villages of Suffolk are quiet and quaint. These little villages are quintessentially British and are characterised by village greens or market squares and Suffolk pink houses with thatched roofs. In truth, there are just so many beautiful villages in Suffolk which is what makes Suffolk so special. Here are some of the most picturesque villages in Suffolk.
Lavenham is perhaps the most famous village in Suffolk with its colourful timber-framed medieval houses and its iconic black and white Guild Hall.
Framlingham is a beautiful market town with one of the best-preserved medieval castles in England. Random facts about Framlingham:
- Ed Sheeran’s song Castle on the Hill is based on Framlingham Castle because it’s his home town
- The BBC series The Detectorist was filmed in Framlingham
- I’m proud to call it my home town
Long Melford sits on the Essex border and its surrounding countryside is made famous by artists John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough. It has two beautiful 16th century stately homes, Melford Hall and Kentwell Hall.
East Bergholt is John Constable’s birthplace and where you’ll find the spots made famous by the artist (Flatford Mill, Dedham Vale and Willy Lott’s Cottage)
Other beautiful Suffolk villages are Cavendish, Polstead, Kersey, Codenham, Earl Soham and Westleton.
The Suffolk Countryside
Suffolk is predominantly an agricultural county with most of it being made up of undulating farmlands. When you think of Suffolk, you might think of the scenes captured by the artist John Constable in his famous paintings such as The Hay Wain, Flatford Mill and Dedham Vale. If it’s Constable country you’re after, head to East Bergholt and Dedham Vale.
Suffolk is also known for its rugged and unspoiled stretches of coastline. Head to Dunwich Heath for dramatic views all the way along the coast to Southwold. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see the lighthouse in Southwold. Suffolk is the most easterly part of the UK and if you’re up early enough, the beaches along the Suffolk coast are great places to watch the sunrise.
There are beautiful heathlands and forests where you are also unlikely to encounter too many people.
Suffolk Country Homes
Suffolk is home to a large range of country houses, ranging from Elizabethan to Tudor to Victorian. Most of them are open to the public.
Stowmarket, Suffolk, IP14 6EF
Dates back to 1510 and is a beautiful hall surrounded by a moat with stunning gardens. The hall itself is not open to the public but the gardens are and they run a varied programme of events.
Long Melford, Suffolk, CO10 9BA
One of the best examples of Tudor architecture in the country. Open to the public and hosts fun and interactive Tudor days.
Long Melford, Suffolk, CO10 9AA
Right next door to Kentwell Hall, Melford Hall is a National Trust property open to the public.
The Rotunda, Horringer, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP29 5QE
The Ickworth estate houses Ickworth House, an Italian palace in the heart of rural Suffolk. The house and gardens are a National Trust property and open to the public with various family-friendly activities throughout the year. It’s also home to a beautiful luxury family-friendly hotel, Ickworth Hotel.
Little Glemham, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP13 0BT
dates back to 1560 and is open to the public on certain dates through the year. There is also a varied calendar of events.
Lovingland, Suffolk, NR32 5QQ
One of the finest Victorian Stately Homes in the country with the finest gardens in East Anglia. The hall and gardens are open to the public.
The Best Suffolk Beaches
Suffolk has a 50 mile stretch of heritage coastline and is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The beaches in Suffolk are completely unspoiled. If you want long beach walks without meeting a soul, then Suffolk is for you. If you want traditional Victorian seaside towns, then Suffolk is for you. The beaches are predominantly shingle with a bit of sand. (If you want sand, head up to the beaches in north Norfolk). Here are some of the best beaches in Suffolk:
- Dunwich Beach – for long stretches of almost deserted beach and Fish & Chips at the Flora Tea Rooms
- Aldeburgh Beach – for beautiful Victorian seaside town charm and great Fish & Chips and the Scallop by Maggi Hambling
- Walberswick Beach – for crabbing with the kids. Remember to take a bucket, net and some bacon
- Southwold Beach – for the colourful beach huts, Southwold Pier and Adnams Brewery
- Covehithe Beach – for long walks along a deserted beach. Only accessible by foot
- Thorpeness Beach – for the quaint charm of a 1950’s holiday village and Thorpeness Meare
Suffolk Nature Reserves
Suffolk is home to a huge number of important nature reserves. Check the Nature Reserves in Suffolk for more information or visit Suffolk Wildlife Trust to see what’s going on during your visit. Some of the more well-known ones are:
- RSPB Minsmere
- Dunwich Heath
- Suffolk Broads
- Common Lands Sudbury
- Bradfield Woods
- Lackford Lakes
National Trust Suffolk
If you’re a National Trust member, make sure to visit the National Trust properties in Suffolk. For more information on visiting National Trust properties, check here. Even if you’re not a member, they’re all fantastic places to visit.
- Dunwich Heath
- Lavenham Guild Hall
- Melford Hall
- Orford Ness
- Sutton Hoo
- Theatre Royal
Things to do in Suffolk with Kids
We have a more detailed post on things to do with the family in Suffolk. Our favourite things are:
- Peter Pan themed boating in Thorpeness Meare
- Visiting Framlingham Castle and taking part in their family-friendly activities
- Taking long forest walks, especially when the rhododendrons are out in spring
- Solving the Southwold Maize Maze (open from mid-July)
- Visiting African animals at Africa Alive
- Meeting a Suffolk Punch horse at Easton Farm Park
Castles in Suffolk
Suffolk has a number of castles, some are better preserved than others.
The finest castle in Suffolk, and one of the finest in the country, is Framlingham Castle. Originally just a simple Motte and Bailey castle built in the middle of the 12th Century but the curtain walls you see today were built in the 13th Century. Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen of England here and Ed Sheeran’s song ‘Castle on the Hill’ is based on it as he grew up in Framlingham.
Built in the 12th century for Henry II, Orford Castle is an unusual polygonal tower and is remarkably intact. You’ll get spectacular views from the top. Make sure to check out some of the restaurant recommendations below in Orford.
The other castles in Suffolk are not so well preserved.
- Eye Castle
- Mettingham Castle
- Clare Castle
- Bungay Castle
If you like ruins, also check out:
- Dunwich Abbey
- Leiston Abbey
There are a number of small Suffolk museums telling the story of Suffolk from different angles. There are also a number of places to visit where you can learn about the history of Suffolk in fun and interactive ways.
Tranmer House, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 3DJ
Sutton Hoo is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of all time. In 1939, archaeologists discovered a ship buried under a large mound. It turned out to be the burial site of one of the most important Anglo Saxon kings who was buried along with his treasure. Several other burial sites were also discovered.
It’s a really fun and educational day out for the family. It’s especially great for primary school kids learning about the Anglo Saxons. Click here to find a great Anglo Saxon learning resource for kids.
Long Melford, Suffolk, CO10 9BA
Kentwell Hall is a Tudor house that comes alive with Tudor days throughout the year. It’s a really fun and hands-on day out. I remember my first visit with my school when I was 9. I made my own Tudor costume and joined in various Tudor activities in and around the house and gardens.
Icklingham Rd, Bury Saint Edmunds IP28 6HG
This archaeological site and open-air museum is a recreation of an Anglo Saxon village. It holds events throughout the year including a living history village, archery lessons and a dragon festival.
Arts and Culture in Suffolk
Snape Maltings is a leading UK centre of the arts and is set in an area of outstanding natural beauty. There are lots of family-friendly events through the year but the highlight is the Snape Proms during the month of August which offers a huge array of musical events.
The only Regency playhouse left in Britain. You can either catch a performance from their year-round programme of events or take a tour with the National Trust (although you need to call in advance to make sure they are open).
This is a fun and very family-friendly music festival held in the grounds of the Henham Estate. It’s usually held over the 2nd or 3rd weekend in July and has some large acts headlining.
Forests in Suffolk
One of our favourite things to do in Suffolk is to take a walk in the forests. There are three main forests in Suffolk where the canopy is so thick, you can take a walk in the rain and not get wet. Our favourite time of year to take a walk is during the spring when the forests are covered in blooming rhododendrons.
Located in an Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Suffolk Coast, Rendlesham Forest is a great place to cycling and walking. There are cafés and playgrounds, but Rendlesham is quite famous for something other than its natural beauty.
If you’re into UFO sightings, you may have heard of the 1980 sighting. There’s even a UFO trail for UFO enthusiasts.
Thetford Forest straddles the border of Suffolk and Norfolk. It is huge (the largest man-made lowland in the country). There are lots of walking and cycling trails. Make sure to visit High Lodge for more outdoor activities including Go Ape and other outdoor play areas. If you fancy staying in a luxury log cabin in the forest, check out Forest Holidays
Dunwich is our favourite forest because it is the most off the beaten track. You can spend the day walking through the forest and not see a soul, even during the peak summer season.
There are no cafés or playgrounds here, it’s all about nature. There are some beautiful wetlands and marshlands to discover here and you’re likely to spot a lot of wildlife on your walks.
Restaurants in Suffolk
Suffolk is known as the foodie county and there are so many choices for great dining experiences ranging from Michelin star to a packet of fish and chips on the beach. One of the great things to do in Suffolk on a sunny day is to relax in a pub beer garden, especially if you’re dining with kids. There are lots of family-friendly pubs in Suffolk. Some of the best restaurants in Suffolk and our favourites are:
Flora Tea Rooms – Dunwich
Aldeburgh Fish and Chips – Aldeburgh
Seafood huts along the shore at Aldeburgh
The Lighthouse – Aldeburgh
The Westleton Crown – Westleton
The Butley Orford Oysterage – Orford
The Ramsholt Arms – Ramsholt
The White Hart – Blythburgh
Maison Bleue – Bury Saint Edmunds
The Unruly Pig – Bromeswell
Milsoms – Dedham
Le Talbooth – Dedham
Great House Restaurant – Lavenham
Also, check out Pump Street Chocolate in Orford for a little sweet treat
Most Instagramable Places in Suffolk
- Pump Street Bakery – Orford
- Colourful Beach Huts – Southwold
- Sea Front – Aldeburgh
- The Scallop – Aldeburgh
- The House in the Clouds – Thorpeness
- Colourful houses – Lavenham
- Snape Maltings – Snape
Accommodation in Suffolk
There are lots of lovely places to stay on the Suffolk coast but here are a few of our favourites.
The Brudenell Hotel (Aldeburgh) – One of the best seafront locations in Suffolk
Wilderness Reserve (Sibton) – The ultimate luxury getaway in Suffolk. The only problem with this place is that you won’t want to leave!
The Crown (Framlingham) – stay in a four-poster bed within a few minutes walk from one of the best castles in the country
The House in the Clouds (Thorpeness) – One of the quirkiest places to stay in the UK
If none of these takes your fancy, you can take a look at Booking.com which has a huge selection of Suffolk accommodation.
Tips for visiting Suffolk
- Most of the best things to do in Suffolk are outdoor, so remember to pack your waterproofs just in case
- Suffolk is best explored by car. The public transport system in the more rural areas is not the best.