The Muddy insider’s guide to Suffolk
Staycay the Suffolk way this summer. From amazing spas and quirky glamping spots to castles and some of Britain's best beaches, the Costa del Suffolk's a dream holiday getaway.
Whether you’re looking at staying in Suffolk as a tourist or live here and want to make the most of your own patch, we’ve rounded up the highlights of this stunning Eastern idyll. Suffolk has something to suit every type of tourist (ok, except for the mountain climbing types who might be best heading to Cumbria!). There are vast stretches of sandy beaches with chic coastal towns attached, miles of pretty countryside covered in heaths, nature reserves and ancient forests, and quaint market towns and bustling shopping cities for anyone who prefers a bit more action.
Read on for your Muddy guide to sublime Suffolk, with our top picks for where to stay, eat, visit and shop.
WHERE TO STAY
Whatever your staycation budget you’ll find a perfect option in Suffolk with an amazing array of five-star stunners, self-catering boltholes aplenty and cute camping options if you love the great outdoors.
If you’re looking for a coastal retreat our top picks include The Swan Hotel in Southwold, a chic boutique Adnams hotel in one of the poshest seaside towns in the country. If it’s booked out, The Sail Loft on the seafront has a Hamptons-vibe and a great restaurant. Further down the coast near Aldeburgh lies Five Acre Barn, an incredibly slick B&B with Farrow&Ball paint on the walls, polished concrete floors and Ercol furniture – it’s about as far as you can get design-wise from a dodgy seaside guesthouse.
Slightly further inland you’ll find fabulous country estates including stately Hintlesham Hall, near Ipswich, with 32 instagrammable bedrooms, a classy fine-dining restaurant, cosy bar, library, salon and beautiful Long Gallery lined with art work depicting local scenery. Nearer Woodbridge there’s Kesgrave Hall and the stunning Tudor Seckford Hall Hotel & Spa. Enjoy a slice of the city at Ipswich’s Salthouse Harbour Hotel on the boat-filled waterfront (book the incredible penthouse for the best views in town) and locations don’t get much more central than The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds, which has views over the abbey gardens.
Suffolk really knows a thing or two about serious high-end self-catering too. Wilderness Reserve is a one-of-a-kind country estate with everything from grand halls to cute candlelit cottages to book – all decked out in the most incredible interiors and with access to luxe facilities reached by rentable Pashley bikes. Retreat East is along the same lines, but with a focus on spa-ing and relaxing in a collection of beautifully renovated outbuildings.
In West Suffolk you can’t really ask for a more idyllic holiday setting than medieval Lavenham (it looks like a film set and has been used in many movies). The Swan in Lavenham is particularly gorgeous – with beams everywhere you look and a special occasion restaurant for romantic meals. In the beautiful Market Square there’s the foodie favourite – The Great House, with a French restaurant that’s so good you’d think you’re in France.
Just outside Bury St Edmunds is the idyllic Ickworth Hotel within the grounds of the National Trust’s Ickworth Estate, which is a really family-friendly option, but still smart enough for adults to feel like they’ve had a relaxing escape. The Northgate in Bury St Edmunds is a thing of beauty – a magnificent town house with to-die-for interiors and a fine-dining restaurant. Nearer the border with Cambridgeshire if you don’t want to travel too far east is The Bedford Lodge Hotel and Spa in Newmarket, which has a destination spa and Tuddenham Mill in the countryside, which is known for it’s amazing local food and has both contemporary hotel rooms as well as more rustic shed rooms to choose from.
If you’re not working with a champagne and caviar budget and fancy something a little more down-to-earth (but still absolutely gorgeous obvs) Suffolk has some beautiful independent hotels and pubs with rooms dotted around the countryside. The Crown in pretty Stoke By Nayland (on the edge of Constable Country) has a gorgeous garden just made for long summer evenings sipping wine and 11 stylish rooms to sleep the hangover off in.
In Broome, North Suffolk, there’s The Oaksmere, a charming country house with a walled garden where a lot of the food for the restaurant is grown. The Hog Hotel in Pakefield is a lovely coastal retreat with room for your four-legged friend. Then there’s the Guinness Arms in Icklingham near Thetford Forest, The Crown and Castle in Orford – a much-loved restaurant with 21 rooms, The Anchor Walberswick with its gorgeous garden chalets and the dreamy Westleton Crown for a beachside break far from the madding crowd.
Camping, glamping and self-catering
Look no further than self-catering gurus Suffolk Secrets for the best of the bunch when it comes to holiday houses in the county. The have something to suit every type of staycation, from party pads to romantic boltholes.
If you’re looking to save the pennies for all the attractions you’ll be visiting in Suffolk (see below…) then camping might be your best option. Suffolk is blessed with some of the best weather in the entire UK so it’s a good place to learn the (tent) ropes without catching pneumonia. Savage Glamping, near Framlingham, is a gorgeous place to stay with bell tents and proper luxury bathrooms, a kitchen and acres of pretty meadows. It would be ideal for a big group getaway with just six tents sleeping a max of 30.
Other options include The Lost Garden Retreat, which has four safari-style canvas lodges with funky furniture and wood-fired hot tubs dotted around a lake and woodland near Hintlesham. In Hartest, just outside Bury St Edmunds, cycling enthusiasts will love the Wigwams at Maglia Rosso (a bike shop and cafe). If you want to be nearer the coast, there’s Alde Garden, a magical campsite with yurts and fairy lights aplenty.
For more self-catering options click here.
Looking for something completely unique? How about staying in a Martello tower (that’s a small, defensive fort FYI) on the coast? Found Tower, near Woodbridge might look like a bit of a brute from the outside, but inside it’s a thing of beauty with a wow-factor circular room and roof terrace, cool circular kitchen and outdoor fire.
If that doesn’t light your fire, perhaps Dragon House (aka Belle Grove Barns) in Halesworth will! Arguably the coolest and quirkiest house in Suffolk with its dragon chimney, you can admire it from the just-as-quirky outbuildings, namely the Upper Barn, The Granary, The Coach House, The Gate House and The Stable.
If you like the idea of messing about on the river and bobbing to sleep in a floating room then Hippersons Boatyard, near Beccles is the place for you. This unique self-catering boatyard is full of houseboats and quirky glamping pods, including Secret Water (above), the first luxury floating pod in the UK!
Award-winning Maison Bleue in Bury St Edmunds is THE place to go if you want to splash out on fancy French-modern food. And exciting news for 2022, they’ve opened a shop next door on Churchgate Street called Léa, inspired by chef Pascal Canevet’s grandmother, where they sell their gorgeous French fare in pretty glass pots that can be microwaved in minutes.
And that’s just for starters in this charming West Suffolk town. If you’re staying in the Bury area make sure to pack roomy pants because there are plenty of other options for fab food, including: the historic splendour of Tuddenham Mill; more French fare at Lavenham’s The Great House; and 1921 Restaurant, where modern food’s served in one of Bury’s gorgeous period houses. In the countryside nearby there’s Theobald’s in Ixworth, a wonderful restaurant run by a talented couple where the food and service is first class.
A real hidden gem is Scutchers in Long Melford. Behind the doors of this unassuming period house you’ll find plate upon plate of some of the most delicious food in the county. We’re also rather partial to a posh lunch or dinner at The Jockey Club Rooms in Newmarket.
Pea Porridge in Bury is another gastronomic gem, which gained a Michelin-star in 2020 (Suffolk’s only one, congrats team!) and champions local produce that you’ll not just chance upon. It’s teeny weeny so be sure to book. Then there’s the brilliantly named The Unruly Pig near Woodbridge, which has earned itself a place in the country’s top 50 gastropubs; and finally Wyken Vineyards’ restaurant The Leaping Hare, a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide, where you’ll want to book a taxi so you can wash down the fresh seasonal food with bottles of the vineyard’s award-winning Bacchus wine.
For seafood you’ll want to be by the coast and Aldeburgh’s L’Escargot Sur Mer is a quality choice, while Sutherland House, a seafood restaurant in Southwold is always a delight. Sole Bay Fish Company serves five-star seafood in a slightly more rustic setting too.
For fish and chips like no other it has to be The Aldeburgh Fish & Chip Shop or sister restaurant The Golden Galleon. The queue often snakes on halfway down the high street, but the wait is worth it (The Golden Galleon was named as the fourth-best place in Britain to visit if you are by the coast by food critic Grace Dent and chef Ainsley Harriet in The Times in May 2022.
Where to start? Suffolk has so many gorgeous pubs you could live here your whole life and only scratch the surface. Some of our favourites though include the stylish Weeping Willow in Barrow, The Maybush Inn in Waldringfield (for its incredible riverside setting), The Crown in Stoke by Nayland (think gourmet gastro-pub food), The Westleton Crown (cosy and coastal), The Bildeston Crown 3 AA Rosettes, enough said), The Butt and Oyster in Pin Mill (river views as far as the eyes can see), The Freston Boot (award-winning country pub), The Sweffling White Horse (super traditional Suffolk alehouse vibes), and The Angel Inn Wangford (a lovely refurbished pub with 7 cute rooms).
Cafes, delis & farmshops
There’s a lot of green space in Suffolk (usually peppered with pops of pink thanks to all the pigs we have), so it’s safe to say we have more than a few fabulous farm shops and delightful delis. The big one is of course Suffolk Food Hall, a foodie heaven full of all sorts of local delicacies. Other farm shops we rate include Hollow Trees in Semer, La Hogue near Chippenham, Emmerdale Farm Shop in Saxmundham, Alder Carr Farm near Needham Market, Grange Farm Shop in Hasketon near Woodbridge and Maple Farm Kelsale.
If you’re after more of a deli vibe, you can’t go wrong with The Black Dog Deli, which has branches in Walberswick and Halesworth. We also swoon when we set eyes on the offerings in the windows at Two Magpies Bakery and Pump Street Bakery and Chocolate Shop in Orford.
If you’re after a hit of caffeine and fabulous food for breakfast or dinner then you’ll need one of Suffolk’s gorgeous cafes. Top of our list is Honey + Harvey. This stylish coffee shop has branches in Ipswich, Woodbridge and Melton and are well known for their incredible cakes and brunches.
We also love to stop off for a trip down memory lane in Bury St Edmund’s 1920s style cafe Harriets. Other cafes well worth a visit are Paddy and Scott’s for superior coffee, Earsham Street Cafe in Bungay, Twyfords in Bungay, The Secret Garden in Sudbury, Lavenham Blue in Lavenham and Fynn Valley Cafe Terrace in Witnesham. Gastono-me, on Bury’s Angel Hill is also an incredible place for lunch, although is probably more of a restaurant than a cafe these days and has just opened another branch in Cambridge.
There’s so much history in Suffolk it’s hard to know which pink thatched cottage lined streets to start with, but the headline attraction that gets the instagrammers flocking and the history buffs all excited is the medieval wool town of Lavenham. Every building is charmingly wonky and held up by ancient beams, in a rainbow of pastel hues. There’s the National Trust’s Guildhall at the centre of the town square and a really impressive wool church, plus you can have your picture papped outside Godric’s Hollow aka Harry Potter’s family home.
Ok, so the Suffolk coastline might not exactly be studded with crumbling old castles like Scotland or Northumberland, but we do have some pretty exciting historical defences worth a visit. Framlingham Castle is probably the most famous of these thanks to Ed Sheeran and is definitely worth a day trip and a guided walk around the battlements. English Heritage’s Orford Castle is an impressive and unusual keep, and makes for a perfect day trip if you’re staying on the coast.
FAMILY DAYS OUT
There’s so much to do with the family in Suffolk starting with some of the more famous attractions like Easton Farm Park, a farm turned kids’ dream with ride-on tractors, a soft play, a bouncy pillow and huge play area. Of course, Suffolk is also home to the Elveden Forest Centre Parcs – no need to say anymore on that one! In the forest there’s also a high ropes challenge Go Ape near Brandon. Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park – you know Jimmy off the TV – is great for a good wholesome family day out and history lovers will adore Kentwell Hall, where actors are dressed up and act out life in traditional Medieval Suffolk.
Too many crowds for your liking at these famous facilities? Try West Stow Anglo Saxon Village & Country Park, where you can step back in time to AD420. Hollow Trees in Mid Suffolk is a working farm with a farm trail and lots of things to play on like a Giant’s Chair, plus a cafe.
One of Suffolk’s major calling cards is its huge coastline lined with beautiful beaches. The Maldives it is not, but Suffolk beaches have a very special beauty of their own.
Haven’t heard of Southwold? Where have you been? This pretty seaside village is Chelsea of Sea and is rather posh darling, but still maintains its lovely Suffolk charm. The beach is sandy and has dunes to mess around in. The best way to enjoy this beach? Book one of the candy-coloured beach huts and pretend you’re rolling in it as people walk by jealously watching as you quaff champagne in your £100,000 shed!
Looking for somewhere a little less full of Chelsea tractors and Mulberry handbags? Try gorgeous Covehithe down the coast, which has eerie petrified trees poking out of the sand and is a much more rustic option. Aldeburgh might be pebbly, but it’s still rather lovely and has the famous Maggi Hambling Scallop to take a selfie by – we very much suggest the walk along the sea front to nearby Thorpeness. For bracing walks with your dogs in tow and stunning scenery, you can’t go wrong with Dunwich Heath beach.
Of course, there are the main towns of Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds for mainstream shopping, as well as Aldeburgh and Southwold (do not miss Two Magpies Bakery and the swoon-worthy clothes at Collen & Clare) for independent boutiques galore. But, if you want to flex your credit card somewhere a little more local and off the beaten track, these are the cute little corners of Suffolk you need to head to…
Snape Maltings is a music centre set in a gorgeous historical courtyard surrounded by food halls, gift shops, clothes boutiques, a kid’s shop, art galleries and eateries. You could easily spend a morning here shopping away and admiring the art before enjoying a well-earned lunch.
Book-lovers will want to browse the shelves at Aldeburgh Bookshop (it holds a literary festival in September) and Harris & Harris Books in Clare, while foodies will love the Suffolk Food Hall at Wherstead, an Aladdin’s cave of local produce and all things delicious, which also has a small garden centre and bouncy pillow for kids attached. The Leaping Hare Country Store at Wyken Vineyards is also a wonderful place to purchase some one-of-a-kind interiors pieces or gifts and of course some wine. Kersey Mill and Gardens (a wedding venue) has some lovely little shops to visit including The Bear Barn for kids, a glass and craft shop, The Suffolk Craft Shop, a clothing boutique, a florist, a cake-makers and a spa. We also love Stonham Barns Leisure and Shopping Village and Corn Craft shop at Bridge Farm Barns in Monks Eleigh, a lovely gift and interiors shop with a cafe.
The Gainsborough Spa just outside Cavendish is right in the heart of the Suffolk countryside, so silence while you have your treatment is guaranteed. It’s a gorgeous place to head for spa day and has a real Suffolk feel to it with the many beams and the al fresco countryside courtyard.
Nearer the coast you’ll find the small, but perfectly formed Potton Hall Spa, This boutique spa has seven acres of beautiful gardens to relax in, a glorious outdoor pool and offers a full range of therapies and treatments including Elemis bio-tech facials.
In Lavenham, don’t miss Weavers’ House Spa, hidden away behind the beamed houses. It’s a completely luxurious oasis with a stunning spa garden, right in the middle of the medieval town.
Bedford Lodge Hotel’s Spa, in Newmarket, is a real destination for lovers of a good pamper. The supersize spa is housed in it’s own swanky recently refurbished building and is an idyllic place to spend a day. There’s an onsite restaurant, so you don’t even have to take your robe off to eat.
Finally you’ll find a fabulous spa in the gardens of country estate Kesgrave Hall, where lounging around the outside pool is all part of the pampering.
While you’re shopping up a storm in Snape Maltings don’t miss the cultural potential of this world-class arts centre, home to the Snape Proms and the Aldeburgh Festival, as well as a huge amount of performances throughout the year.
It would be hard not to fall in love with new venue Thorington Theatre, an open-air amphitheatre built in a woodland near Southwold. The Cut in Halesworth is the place to head for the best art exhibitions as well as a brilliant programme of dance, world music and workshops. The Wolsey Gallery at Ipswich’s Christchurch Mansion is well worth a visit too. For a theatre experience like no other book yourself a show at Bury St Edmunds’ Theatre Royal, the sole surviving example of a Regency playhouse in the country. Marina Theatre Lowestoft doubles up as a cinema as well as putting on plays and has something for every type of theatre goers.
Suffolk is a twitchers paradise with many RSPB reserves including one of Chris Packham’s favourites along the coast – Minsmere. It’s not just birds you’ll see here, but red deer rutting if you’re lucky. You’ll also have a incredible day with binoculars in hand at Lakenheath, Carlton Marshes and Lackford Lakes. There’s also the chance to spy seals off the Southwold and Walberswick coast.