The perfect Suffolk holiday – East Anglia’s easygoing answer to the Cotswolds

Within easy reach of both London and the Midlands, Suffolk is the smallest and gentlest of the East Anglian counties. Its biggest draw, however, is perhaps its coast, home to two of Britain’s most attractive seaside resorts – Aldeburgh and Southwold – with Minsmere RSPB reserve and the ancient settlement of Dunwich set in glorious swathes of marsh, heath and woodland.

People also come to Suffolk to visit ‘Constable Country’ – a string of rural villages on the Essex border that were famously painted by the English landscape painter. Meanwhile, further inland, the old wool towns of Lavenham and Bury St Edmunds make for lovely weekend getaways. Even Ipswich has a well-kept waterfront estate and interesting sights. All in all, Suffolk is an easily accessible and diverse region for a weekend away – or longer.

For even more inspiration about Suffolk, check out our guides to the best hotels, restaurants, nightlife and things to do in the city.

In this guide

How to spend your weekend

If you live in the South East, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better weekend destination than Suffolk: easy to get to, less crowded – and less expensive – than the Cotswolds, and with a huge amount of variety packed into what is a relatively small county. Despite being less than two hours’ drive from London, the Suffolk coast feels cut off from the world in places, yet it’s also home to some of the most attractive seaside resorts on the east coast. There’s plenty of history too: Suffolk is home to over 500 medieval churches, the second largest concentration in the world. Only Norfolk has more.

If you have to choose one place to stay, choose Southwold, the county’s largest and fanciest resort, with lots to see and a good choice of places to stay, not least The Swan, a historic coaching inn that used to be recently renovated in contemporary style. Southwold itself has a good beach, a traditional pier with some unique attractions and is home to the Suffolk-based brewer Adnams, where you can visit not only the brewery but also the gin distillery.

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Southwold has a sandy beach and a promenade with colourful beach huts – Alphotographic

Then take a walk through the marshes towards the town’s ‘harbour’ – actually the mouth of the River Blyth – where you can catch one of Suffolk’s famous foot ferries to the seaside town of Walberswick, where there is another sandy beach and a good lunch option at the excellent Anchor in Walberswick. From Walberswick, Dunwich is easily reached via the coastal path, from where you can walk to the lagoons and marshes of the RSPB reserve at Minsmere, watch the birds and perhaps spot the odd otter among the reeds. Enjoy fish and chips at the Flora Tea Rooms just behind the beach, or dine at the excellent Ship Inn, right in the center of the village. Find more of the best things to do in the area in our guide.

The next town south, Aldeburgh, is one of the twin jewels of the Suffolk coast, with not only a bustling high street full of chic shops and restaurants – ‘Islington on Sea’, as some call it – but also a beach lined with huts selling fresh fish. Enjoy a stroll along the seafront, followed by an ice cream at Ives or a cup of tea at Two Magpies Bakery. Then stroll along the beach to see Maggie Hambling’s shell monument to Benjamin Britten, or best of all visit the composer’s former home – The Red House – on the edge of town, which has a museum full of Britten-related artefacts and a wonderful collection of 20th-century British art. Stay overnight at the town’s newest hostel, The Suffolk, on the high street, with boutique rooms and an excellent restaurant. Find more of the best restaurants in the area in our guide.

How to spend your week

If you have more time, head to the quaint, cool and very welcoming Five Acre Barn on the edge of Aldeburgh and explore more of the county from there. South of Aldeburgh is tiny Orford, another end-of-the-road Suffolk seaside town, with a castle and harbour from which you can take trips to both the Orford Ness National Nature Reserve and the RSPB reserve on nearby Halvergate Island.

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Sutton Hoo is one of the region’s most important Anglo-Saxon archaeological sites – OLI SCARFF

Outside Orford, explore the wilds of Rendlesham Forest, Britain’s ‘Roswell’ and home to one of the country’s most infamous UFO sightings in 1980, before heading to Sutton Hoo on the outskirts of Woodbridge. Much better known since the 2021 film ‘The Dig’, starring Ralph Fiennes, the site is the burial place of a warrior king who was buried in the early 7th century in a forty-oared ship with a wealth of possessions. Have lunch at the Unruly Pig, regularly crowned ‘Best Gastropub’ and ‘Pub of the Year’ in the ‘Good Pub Guide’, before enjoying a carefree stroll around Woodbridge itself. Recently voted Britain’s ‘Best Place to Live’, it’s a lively town with a neat old centre packed with restaurants and pubs overlooking a picturesque riverside district.

The next day, head inland to Framlingham to see Framlingham Castle and the magnificent Tudor tombs at St Michael’s Church. For lunch, head to Framlingham’s famous Station Hotel, a real foodie joint, with a regularly changing menu of great, fresh and contemporary fish and meat dishes, and wood-fired pizzas at the weekend.

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At Framlingham’s Station Hotel the venison comes highly recommended

Afterwards, stop for a pint at the King’s Head in nearby Laxfield. This old watering hole is unusual in that there’s no bar per se; just a room full of barrels where the staff disappear to take your order while you make yourself comfortable in one of the pub’s wood-panelled rooms. Find more of the best pubs in the area in our guide.

From here, head to Beccles on the edge of The Broads, where you can take the Big Dog Ferry for a scenic 3-mile river cruise to the Locks Inn in Geldeston, a unique riverside pub recently saved from extinction by the local community. Not far from Geldeston is Bungay, another quaint and welcoming Suffolk town: just outside, stop at Fen Farm Dairy for some locally made cheese and butter. It’s home to perhaps the best cheese to come out of Suffolk in recent years: the creamy, golden Baron Bigod, made with unpasteurised milk from grass-fed cows.

Insider tips


Don’t write off Felixstowe: as well as the container port, it’s a pleasant seaside town that also includes the little-known riverside hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry. Even the harbor has its moments, with a wild nature reserve on the beach, a wartime fort (which you can visit) and the chance to catch the ferry to Essex or the Shotley Peninsula.

Neighborhood watch

For a small county, Suffolk has more than its fair share of conspiracy theories. Rendlesham Forest is Britain’s ‘Roswell’, home to one of the country’s most infamous UFO sightings in 1980. Nearby Shingle Street was forcibly evacuated during the war: some say in anticipation of a German invasion, others claim it was to test new experimental bombs.


Peasenhall is a pretty village not far from the A12 and has one of the best village shops: Emmets, which cures its own ham. Bacon and sells all kinds of Spanish delicacies.

Did you know?

Suffolk is home to more than 500 medieval churches, the second largest concentration in the world. Only Norfolk has more.


The genesis of Retreat East came from owner (and architect) Dominic Richards’ idea to offer a kind of second home in the countryside, without all the hassle of administration, cleaning and maintenance. Guests who become members (there is an initial purchase fee, followed by annual dues) are allocated a minimum of 10 nights each year. Now you can also stay as a one-time guest. Think stylishly converted barns with beamed ceilings and freestanding bathtubs, walks from your front door, a vegetable garden with excellent seasonal ingredients and a hot tub in a sunbathing spot.

When to go

The great thing about East Anglia is that it is one of the driest – and sunniest – parts of Britain. Of course, winter can be a bit gloomy in remote villages and coastal towns, but you’re just as likely to visit on a bright, sunny day as you are on a gloomy day.

In summer it can get busy on the coast and in the more touristy inland spots – Lavenham for example – but the crowds are rarely overwhelming and it’s easy to get off the beaten track.

Where to stay

Best for romance

Tuddenham Mill has a beautiful rural setting and you can make the most of it from one of their quirkily named ‘Nooks’ – cosy huts for two where you can have breakfast overlooking the neighbouring meadows or sip champagne in your own private hot tub in the evening. The Packhorse Inn serves delicious food at reasonable prices and you can enjoy one of the deep pools overlooking the village green. Or – slightly less rural but with an equally relaxing atmosphere – try Milsoms Kesgrave Hall, just outside Ipswich, whose discreet, boutique country house atmosphere is just the thing for lovers.

The best for families

One of Suffolk’s grandest, but also one of its most family-friendly hotels is The Ickworth, set in the magnificent National Trust property of Ickworth House just outside Bury St Edmunds, where they have family rooms and apartments, lots of activities in the extensive grounds and kids can run wild; dogs are also welcome. Less grand but just as family-friendly is the Elveden Inn, which has a couple of family rooms and is close to the delights of Thetford Forest, where there’s a Go Ape and walking and cycling to your heart’s content.

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Retreat East is one of the province’s top addresses

The best for a day at the spa

An established Suffolk favourite, the Swan at Lavenham has modernised the old half-timbered building no small feat, with comfortable rooms, a cosy bar and a couple of nice restaurants, plus a delightful intimate spa, whose relaxing facilities offer the chance to step back in time as you escape the creaking corridors of the main hotel. Alternatively, try the spa facilities at the delightful Retreat East – a stunning collection of luxury barns and shepherds’ huts in the middle of nowhere that resemble a deconstructed country hotel. Failing that, try Newmarket’s Bedford Lodge: next to Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stables, the modern spa is housed in a separate building from the main hotel and has its own café, hydrotherapy pool and rooftop hot tub.

Find more of the best hotels in Suffolk in our guide. Alternatively find our top picks in Southwold, Aldeburgh and Lavenham.

What to take home

Don’t leave without a bottle or two of Adnams beer – or a drink from St. Peter’s Brewery. For seafood lovers, Pinneys Of Orford also sells a fine range of smoked local fish, pâtés and fresh fillets: available in the shop and restaurant, or delivered straight to your door. The Baron Bigod cheese and unpasteurised butter at Fen Farm Dairy near Bungay, and the home-cured bacon at Emmets in Peasenhall, are also both worth a detour.

Author biography

Martin Dunford divides his time between East Anglia and London. He’s a big fan of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads and the Suffolk Coast, and is never happier than when following ancient footpaths between medieval churches and old pubs.

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