With wide open skies, beautiful countryside, rich history, pretty medieval villages and a stunning coastline Suffolk makes the perfect place for a UK staycation, weekend break or longer holiday away from the crowds. Suffolk has a lot to offer and makes a lovely countryside escape within easy reach from London. It’s my home county and I was born and brought up here so wanted to share my list of the best places to visit in Suffolk, from quaint villages largely unchanged since medieval times, castles and stately homes to seaside villages, rejuvenating walks, excellent museums and natural beauty spots that have inspired great artists, you’d easily fill a weeks holiday with the diverse range of beautiful places to visit in Suffolk.
I’ve also been a little cheeky and included two places which are just over the borders into the neighbouring counties but are still only 1 hours drive from Bury St Edmunds (where I live) and shouldn’t be missed when visiting the area.
While international travel is still difficult at least we can explore closer to home and see things that we used to take for granted with new eyes. So while I’m taking the time to connect to my roots and exploring closer to home instead of jetting off somewhere exotic I wanted to also share my insider tips for visiting Suffolk – my home county.
Tips for Visiting Suffolk
Where to stay: Ipswich is the county town of Suffolk and has plenty of hotels but Bury St Edmunds is a more charming town to explore and makes a more convenient base from which to explore all the best places to visit in Suffolk – everywhere on this list is only about 1 hours drive from Bury, my hometown.
Another option for a wonderful self catering holiday where you can feel more like a local and ensure distance from others is to rent a cute holiday cottage in Suffolk – there are many nice ones near the coast and often you can even bring your dog. Check out my recommendations for the best holiday cottages in Suffolk here.
How to get around: Suffolk is within easy reach of both London and the Midlands. The train takes only 1.5 hours from London, but to get the most out of your trip and to be able to explore all the best places to visit in Suffolk you’ll need your own wheels as the public transport system in rural areas is not the best so either bring your own car or take the train to Cambridge, Ipswich or Bury St Edmunds and rent a car. All the best places to visit in Suffolk are only about 1 hours drive from Bury St Edmunds.
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Here’s my pick of the best places to visit in Suffolk
Bury St Edmunds
My hometown! The small historic market town of Bury St Edmunds, offers plenty to do and a great base for exploring Suffolk. Bury’s motto ‘Shrine of a King, Cradle of the Law’ refers to it’s two most important moments in history. Bury’s most famous landmark is the Abbey Gardens; impressive, crumbling abbey ruins and delightful gardens that are best accessed through the imposing 14th century gateway tower from Angel Hill and overlooked by St Edmundsbury Cathedral, the only cathedral in Suffolk.
The abbey was built around a shrine to Saint Edmund – the Anglo Saxon King and martyred original Patron Saint of England. For centuries the abbey was one of the most powerful monasteries in medieval Europe and a famous place of pilgrimage. It is also the place where the Barons met and drew up the petition that formed the basis of the Magna Carta / swore an oath to force King John to accept the need for the ‘Magna Carta,’ the charter of liberties.
Bury St Edmunds is also home to the Greene King Brewery where you can take an interesting tour of the brewery and taste the beers. You can also visit The Nutshell Pub nearby – a tiny, quirky pub which is the proud record holder of Britian’s smallest pub. Bury’s Theatre Royal is the only surviving Regency playhouse in Britain where you can experience what going to the theatre was like in pre-Victorian times. My Mum often volunteers here too! There’s also a small museum, Moyse’s Hall, which displays local history and archaeology.
Just outside Bury St Edmunds Ickworth House, an Italiante palace and gardens, and West Stow Anglo Saxon Village and Country Park make a nice day out. I loved going on school trips to the Anglo Saxon recreation days at West Stow and I have fond memories of horse riding at Ickworth Park.
Lavenham and Long Melford
Villages don’t come more chocolate-box than Lavenham. Just 20 minutes drive south of Bury St Edmunds lies the best preserved medieval village in England and one of Britain’s most historic and picturesque places.
Lavenham was the prosperous center of Suffolk’s wool trade between the 14th and 16th centuries and has changed very little since then. The village is a treasure trove of crooked, pastel painted, timber framed medieval houses and 300 of the village’s buildings are listed. Some where even featured in the Harry Potter films and you can even stay in Godric’s Hollow, the birthplace of Harry Potter. (Book here on Air BnB and use this link to get £25 off)
You can spend a pleasant day wandering around this picturesque village, join the Lavenham guided walking tour, peruse the boutique shops and galleries, enjoy lunch in a historic pub (the most popular and famous is The Swan – it’s a good idea to make a reservation) or afternoon tea in one of the tea rooms.
Just 5 miles away is another quaint, historic village called Long Melford, home to two Tudor stately homes, many antique shops and the Holy Trinity Church, the most splendid church in Suffolk with fabulous 500 year old stained glass windows. Kentwell Hall is a beautiful moated Tudor house with magical gardens and hosts regular tudor re-enactment days – my favourite school trips! 500 year old Melford Hall has an eclectic history and is also worth a visit.
Newmarket is famous as the home or headquarters of horse racing. You can see the horse racing influence all over this unique town that even has pavements just for horses. If you drive through Newmarket in the morning you will see racehorses being exercised on the gallops and may have to stop at a horse crossing. The history of horse racing goes back to 16666. Anyone who is interested in horses and horse racing should not miss visiting Newmarket – the home of racing and one of the best places to visit in Suffolk!
Newmarket holds a special place in my heart as I worked at Newmarket Racecourse for many years. There are actually 2 racecourses in Newmarket and the racing season goes from April to October. The modern Rowley Mile Racecourses hosts Spring and Autumn race fixtures while the quaint July course hosts summer race meetings – a highlight of these are the Newmarket Nights that host live music from famous artists after the racing. Find out more information on the Newmarket Racecourses website here.
And it’s not just the racecourses, there are many more equine attractions in Newmarket including the National Horse Racing Museum and The National Stud. There are also a variety of Discover Newmarket Tours you can join where you’ll explore hallowed grounds such as the Jockey Club Rooms, Tattersalls – the world’s oldest auction house, trainers’ yards and the famed gallops. The fantastic National Horseracing Museum tells the story of horse racing from its earliest origins to the world-wide phenomenon it is today. It’s one of the best museums in Suffolk which also features an art gallery and chance to meet former racehorses. The National Stud is the only working commercial stud farm to run behind the scenes tours where you’ll get to meet the stallions, mares and foals and learn about thoroughbred breeding.
A post about the best places to visit in Suffolk wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Ipswich – the county town of Suffolk. To be honest, I don’t visit Ipswich all that much, it’s not the most beautiful or exciting town in the world but it does have it’s charms.
The vibrant, recently redeveloped marina and waterfront has many nice eating and drinking spots including the boutique Salthouse Harbour Hotel and is a lovely place to relax on a sunny day. From here you can also take a cruise along the River Orwell to the picturesque Shotley Peninsula, an area famous with birdwatchers.
Christchurch Park is a nice stroll and holds an excellent art collection at Christchurch Mansion displaying works of local painters like John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough in a fine 16th century Tudor mansion. Foodies will also want to visit the Suffolk Food Hall which showcases the best of local produce and visit the The Suffolk Craft Society to shop for interesting crafts, souvenirs and gifts.
A few miles from Ipswich is Jimmy’s Farm, which became famous from the TV show and has developed into a top attraction with an award-winning restaurant, farm shop, nature trail and hosts several family friendly festivals throughout the year.
Suffolk’s bucolic landscapes were made famous by John Constable’s paintings in the 18th century. As Britain’s foremost landscape artist of the time, Constable painted many idyllic views which are still recognisable today. Walk and explore the picturesque Stour Valley and Dedham Vale, the birthplace of Constable, where you can visit the famous Flatford Mill and Willy Lott’s House, the site of The Hay Wain painting, which is mostly unchanged since Constable’s days. Art lovers may also want to visit Thomas Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury.
The Suffolk Coast
Suffolk’s Coast is one of the most beguiling and mysterious in England dotted with charming and underrated seaside towns and stretches of natural beauty. Suffolk’s best seaside towns of Southwold and Adleburgh avoided becoming tacky seaside tourist towns and a largely unspoilt retaining much of their authentic and unique charms. Much of the Suffolk Coast has been declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty although most of the beaches are pebble and shingle not sand.
While heading across to the Suffolk Coast you could stop at the impressive and imposing 12th century Framlingham Castle. I still have fond memories of dressing up as a princess here on a school trips and more recently Suffolk’s most famous current resident, Ed Sheeren, wrote ‘Castle on the Hill’ inspired by this castle in his home town. If you want to know more about Ed Sheeren’s childhood in Suffolk there’s also an exhibition at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich.
Southwold is my favourite town on the Suffolk Coast. A serene and picturesque Georgian town with painted old houses and maritime inns and a lighthouse overlooking a shingle beach with a Victorian pier and colourful beach huts. Instead of tacky amusements, Southwold’s pier has a restaurant, cute little shops and vintage-style coin-operated machines that have helped win it “Pier of Year”. The lighthouse dates back to 1890 and is still working today. You can climb the 92 steps to the top to enjoy the views. Southwold is also home to the Adnams Brewery which runs tours. A pleasant 20 minute stroll over the common and footbridge/ unique foot ferry bring you to the quaint Georgian village of Walberswick – a popular spot for crabbing, painting, pub lunches and beach walks.
Take a walk along the wild Dunwich Heath and Beach and see if you can spot the church spires of the sunken village poking up from below the ocean. There’s not much to see nowadays but during the Anglo Saxon era Dunwich was the capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles and one of the largest towns in England with an important harbour and seven churches. Due to coastal erosion most of the town has fallen into the sea. There is a small but interesting Dunwich Museum that tells the story of the lost village.
Head further South down the Suffolk Coast to explore Adleburgh, an even more more low key seaside town. You can stroll along the long pebbly beach, see the famous Scallop sculpture and eat super fresh fish and chips straight from the boat. Adleburgh was famous as home to the Adleburgh music festival, founded by Suffolk-born composer Benjamin Britten, which is now held at nearby Snape Maltings.
Nearby is enchanting Thorpeness – purpose built in the 1920’s as a fantasy holiday village to recreate the medieval atmosphere of ‘merrie olde englande’ and inspired by Peter Pan. Enjoy the tea rooms and golf course, search for treasure in the eccentric emporium and splash around on Thorpeness Meere, a boating lake discovering islands like ‘The Pirate’s Lair’ and ‘Wendy’s Island’. If you book far enough in advance you could even stay in the famous House in the Clouds.
A little South from Adleburgh is another village vying for the title of the prettiest village on the Suffolk Coast. Orford is a gem with an impressive castle, cute cottages, pubs and a picturesque quay offering river cruises. The well preserved keep of 12th century Orford Castle soars over the town and offers views over Orford Ness and is home to the village museum. Orford Ness Nature Reserve is a ten mile long shingle spit with marsh, lagoons, waterways and an interesting, secretive military history. Sadly, the iconic Orfordness Lighthouse built in 1792 was recently demolished.
Tide Mill. This historic mill is over 850 years old and is one of the only tide mills in the world whose water wheel still turns and grinds wholemeal flour.Woodbridge is a pretty, vibrant, market town on the banks of the River Deben. Stroll along the riverside path and quayside to visit the
Nearby is Sutton Hoo, an Anglo Saxon burial site home to one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. The ancient burial mounds held the ship burial of an Anglo-Saxon king 1,400 years ago, probably Kind Raedwald, and his treasured possessions.
If you are a horse lover like me then visit the Suffolk Punch Trust that protects the oldest English breed of working horse which is now endangered. As well as meeting the horses and foals you can learn about the agricultural history of Suffolk in the Heritage Museum.
Lowestoft is another popular seaside resort in North Suffolk with a golden sandy beach, family fun and seafront amusements. It’s also close to family attractions like Pleasurewood Hills Theme Park, a family theme park where we used to go for childhood birthday parties, Africa Alive, a sprawling Africa themed wildlife safari park, East Anglia Transport Museum, the only place in the UK where you can ride on working vintage trams, trolley buses and narrow gauge railway and Somerleyton Hall one of the finest Victorian stately homes in the UK with the finest gardens in East Anglia.
Also don’t miss
OK, strictly speaking Cambridge is not in Suffolk but in Cambridgeshire, but it’s less than 30 mins from Newmarket and you shouldn’t miss visiting this historic and beautiful famous university town. Cambridge boasts ancient colleges, idyllic ‘backs’, lovely parks and pubs, world class museums and a lively student scene. The very best way to experience Cambridge is punting on the River Cam along the backs of the famous colleges. You can either join a tour or pack a picnic and some bubbly and try out punting yourself – it’s harder than it looks but alot of fun.
Back on dry land visit the bewitching and world famous Cambridge University buildings, a highlight is Kings College, one of England’s finest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture, and explore the Botanic Gardens. Cambridge also boasts fascinating museums including the Fitzwilliam Museum, which holds an impressive half a million works of art and antiquities, the Museum of Cambridge, where you can learn all about the city in a lovely 17th-century building, and discover world-class art and artefacts from all over the world at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Not far from Cambridge is also the Imperial War Museum Duxford – Europe’s largest air museum which houses over 200 aircraft and military exhibits and one of my favourite school trips.
The Norfolk Broads
I know! Another sneaky entry that’s not actually in Suffolk but over the border in Norfolk but it’s still only 1 hours drive from Bury St Edmunds and one of my favourite places in the UK. The Broads is a network of 127 miles of navigable, lock free waterways, rivers and lakes that twist through big sky countryside of reedbeds and marshland dotted with ruined windmills and picturesque villages.
The Broads were formed by the flooding of peat workings and are now a national park and a popular destination for boating holidays. You can hire a boat and cruise for a blissful week, rent out a boat for the day or join a tour. I went with Broads Tours. A good, if slightly tacky, entry point to the Broads is Wroxham which has many opportunities to get on the water. It’s also a terminus for the Bure Valley Railway, an 18-mile round trip on a steam locomotive. Oulton Broad near Lowestoft is another gateway to the Broads from Suffolk.
So there’s all my favourite places to visit in Suffolk from a lifetime of living here. If you are looking to getaway for a weekend break, staycation or holiday in the UK the countryside, historic towns and open spaces of untouristy Suffolk could be perfect and renting a holiday cottage in Suffolk could be an ideal accommodation option! For more information visit the official Visit Suffolk tourism website.
Have you visited Suffolk? Anything else I should add to my list of the best places to visit in Suffolk?