Big skies, flinty seas and picture-perfect towns and villages: there are many reasons to visit – and adore – Suffolk. Here’s where to go, what to see and where to stay on a Suffolk minibreak.
The Swan Hotel, Southwold
A mainstay of this perennially popular town since 1872, the Adnams-operated The Swan underwent a big refurb in 2017, transforming what was once a pleasant but staid grand dame into a super stylish and extremely comfortable hotel. The wood panelling in the large rooms is not the stuff of antiquated gentlemen’s clubs but instead given a fresh makeover in two-tone, doubtlessly artisan, paint. Even the four-poster beds are delivered into the 21st-century with their hot-pink tips. It’s the perfect place to stay, as well as eat; for the latter, the excellent The Still Room is sublime. Got children in tow? Rejoice, then, in the complementary buckets and spade in their rooms. Book it here.
The Crown, Southwold
Just a meander down the very pretty streets of Southwold lies the Adnams-operated sister hotel to The Swan: The Crown. More laid-back gourmet pub with rooms in vibe, it is a relaxed place to bed down on a coastal holiday, with children not just welcomed but fawned over. Plus, it is right on the high street, in all its 1740 Georgian glory. Book it here.
The Crown And Castle, Orford
Orford, just twenty minutes inland from the shingle coastland, is an idyllic spot, its winding pretty lanes in the shadow the 12th-century castle giving it two very firm ticks on the must-visit trail. It is also said to be teeming with ghosts; tales of a medieval merman who was captured and taken to the castle, and reports of haunted woodland abound. If folklore is your thing, then Orford is pretty much obligatory; and if it isn’t, but you so happen to like exquisitely pretty villages, then it is also a must. Any which way, do bed down for the night at The Crown And Castle. The bedrooms are elegant and well-appointed, and many have views of the eponymous fortress. Keep your eyes peeled for mermen wafting about at night. Book it here.
The Swan At Lavenham
Being in Lavenham, the village renowned for its wonky medieval buildings, it would be remiss of The Swan not to deliver in the crooked beamed stakes. Fortunately, it abounds with such cosy nooks and is permeated by the gloriously welcoming smell of woodsmoke; we heartily recommend it, and its Weaver’s Spa, which is complete with outdoor pool. Book it here.
The Anchor, Walberswick
If Southwold is the sublime seaside town of dreams, then the village of Walberswick, a few miles up the coast, is something even more fantastical. A long-standing favourite with celebrities including the likes of Richard Curtis, Keira Knightley and David Morrissey, who all own houses here, it is a quiet, tranquil and breathtakingly beautiful place, shot through with a little East Anglian eccentricity. Mark and Sophie Dorber established themselves at the White Horse in Fulham, the so-called ‘Sloaney Pony’, for many decades, long before the current vogue for craft beer and small plates took hold. They then upped sticks to Suffolk a little over a decade ago, reviving a tired and thoroughly dated village pub in Walberswick, The Anchor, and turning it into something special. All the pub classics are on the menu, each of them delivered to exemplary perfection. Book a table here.
Pump Street Bakery And Chocolate, Woodbridge
For a taste of the sweet stuff, head to Orford on Suffolk’s Heritage Coast to sample award-winning craft chocolate, all of it made by hand, as well as some exemplary naturally leavened bread. Housed within a 15th-cenury building, it is the labour of love of father-and-daughter duo, Chris and Joanna Brennan. Their hard work has paid dividends, with Pump Street chocolate making a nationwide name for itself, and rightly so. Discover more here.
No visit to the coast should be without a seafood feast. Regatta has been delivering just such a thing for many years – and in 2020, it went from good to great when local twins, Alex and Oliver Burnside, took it over, having both started their careers there more than a decade previously. In that time, it has been awarded an AA Rosette for culinary excellence. Book it here.
L’Escargot is a Soho institution. Now it has an outpost by the sea at Aldeburgh and frankly we can’t think of much nicer than devouring the likes of baked lobster with garlic butter and fries to the soundtrack of lapping waves. Sigh. Book it here.
The Harbour Inn, Southwold
For anyone in search of a proper fisherman’s pub, they don’t come more nautical or workmanlike – in a good way – than this. Expect seafood and Adnams ales – all right on the waterfront. An unalloyed joy. Book it here.
Widely acknowledged as the finest example of a medieval wool town, Lavenham is a veritable heaven for anyone with an interest in the period. Its crooked timbered houses and the lack of intrusion of modern additions ensure that it is like walking through history. It has, of course, also featured in many films and TV shows, from Downton to Harry Potter. Explore more via the National Trust here.
Don’t miss the early 16th-century Aldeburgh church, which has a fantastic modern stained glass by John Piper, in memory of the town's most famous resident: composer Benjamin Britten. The site, upon which a church has stood since at least the Domesday Book, has had its fair share of notable visitors. It is even said that a certain William Shakespeare performed here in 1573 as part of a troupe of travelling actors known as the Earl of Leicester's Men. Visit its website here.
Anyone with an interest in archaeology – or indeed who was enraptured by the beautiful film, The Dig, starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes – should not neglect to visit Sutton Hoo. The 255-acre estate stands on the site of one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time; visitors can wander the Royal Burial Ground and learn about the ship burial of an Anglo-Saxon king with all his possessions. Extraordinary. Discover more here.
If you fancy sampling some of the county’s award-winning wines, do make a pitstop at the lovely Shawsgate Vineyard in Framlingham. You can take a tasting tour around the vines, or simply pop into its excellent shop, which is open daily from 10am until 5pm. No visit is complete without a taster its most excellently named Frampaigne. Find more details here.
If you’ve ever gazed upon John Constable’s depictions of bucolic life and wistfully longed to capture that slow pace for yourself, do ensure you visit Flatford Mill in the heart of Dedham Vale. Largely unchanged since his day, it was the inspiration for many of his most famous paintings. Afterwards, wander along the River Stour and then stop in for lunch at the gorgeous The Sun Inn in Dedham. A perfect country day. Find more details here.
Southwold Sailor’s Reading Room
Built in 1864, this is an unspoiled testament to the sailors who kept Southwold going as a maritime destination for centuries. Originally intended as ‘a refuge for fishermen and mariners when not engaged at sea, as an endeavour to keep them out of the pubs and encourage them in Christian ideals,’ it is happily open to the public to meander around and marvel at. Even more happily, for the sailors, it is still very much operational as a place of solace to meet and swap stories from the high seas. Visit its website here.
Tim Hunkin’s Under The Pier Show
This extraordinary extravaganza draws children and adults alike – and with good reason. Automata and film are used to satirical and hugely enjoyable effect; if you’ve wanted to imagine life from the perspective of a fly, simulate an underwater adventure or bash greedy bankers (who hasn’t?), this one is for you. Visit the website here.
By Nancy Alsop
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