Staycationer’s guide to Suffolk
Put down that passport - with gorgeous five-star hotels and unique glamping spots to castles and a stunning coastline, the Costa del Suffolk is holiday perfection
Whether you’re looking at staying in Suffolk as a tourist or live here and want to make the most of the holiday appeal 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 staycationing in 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.
Slightly further inland you’ll find fabulous country estates including Kesgrave Hall which opened a new spa in 2020, 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 is a relatively new addition to the Bury St Edmund’s hotel scene and it 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 Oaksmere in Broome, North Suffolk, is 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. 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.
Headliners: Maison Bleue in Bury St Edmunds has just been voted one of best restaurants in UK according to Trip Advisor, and you can trust those savvy (and often brutal) Trip Advisor reviewers to tell you the truth. The fine dining French restaurant was awarded sixth place in the top 10 2019 Travellers’ Choice Restaurants Awards and is a must-book if you’re in the area. 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, fancy French fare at Lavenham’s The Great House, and 1921 Restaurant, which serves modern food in one of Bury’s gorgeous period houses.
In-the-know intel: Our absolute favourite hidden gem here at Muddy (and something we’re almost reluctant to share) is Scutchers in Long Melford. Behind the doors of this unassuming period house you’ll find plate upon plate 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 that champions local produce and 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 recently earned a place in the country’s top 50 gastropubs; and finally Wyken Vineyards restaurant The Leaping Hare, 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.
Headliner: 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.
In-the-know intel: 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, a makes for a perfect day trip if you’re staying on the coast.
FAMILY DAYS OUT
Headliners: 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.
In-the-know intel: 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.
Headliners: 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!
In-the-know intel: Looking for somewhere a little less crowded with 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 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…
Headliner: 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.
In-the-know intel: 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.
Headliner: 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. Read my full review here.
In-the-know intel: The Gainsborough Spa just outside Cavendish is right in the heart of the Suffolk countryside so silence while you have your treatment is guaranteed. This hidden gem is 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. 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.
Headliners: 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.
In-the-know intel: 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.