Characterised by olde-worlde towns, wildlife-filled waterways and postcard-perfect seaside towns, Suffolk is a scenic destination perfect for nature lovers, beach-goers, history buffs and food fanatics alike. From scaling Framlingham Castle to eating ice cream on Southwold Pier, here are just a few ways you can escape the everyday on a short break in Suffolk this autumn.
Stay in unique hideaways
Why not go completely off course and opt for a stay in a 19th-century windmill? Luxurious yet incredibly quirky, The Windmill in Lavenham combines futuristic design with traditional architecture. It’s got keypad entry and a marble free-standing bath, but the piece de resistance is the top-floor POD lounge, with awe-inspiring views over the Suffolk countryside. There’s even an external balcony for stargazing or for simply enjoying the sunset with a glass of bubbly.
That’s not the only vertical lodging you’ll find in Suffolk. Standing at 70 feet high, the House in the Clouds resembles something out of a fairytale. Formerly a water tank, this unusual accommodation overlooking Thorpeness Mere has plenty of room for the whole family. If heights just aren’t your thing, then the stylish, ivy-clad Angel in Bury St Edmunds may be more up your street. Ask to stay in Room 215 – it’s still home to the four-poster bed that Charles Dickens slept on during two separate visits.
Charming Southwold is a must-visit seaside town when in Suffolk. Take a stroll along the sandy beach, enjoy an ice cream as you wander past the colourful beach huts or go fishing on the town’s local landmark, Southwold Pier. Here you’ll find the eccentric Water Clock, a cheeky contraption known to make children (and adults) snigger every half hour. Fish and chips is a must here too, and there are lots of great takeaway options. If you’re looking for something special, you can’t go wrong with Sole Bay Fish Co, famed for their mouth-watering seafood platters as well as traditional battered fish.
North of Southwold you’ll find Lowestoft, with its wide, golden sands, musical fountains and family-friendly promenade. It’s also famous for being the first place to see the sunrise in the UK, thanks to its eastern location. And just south of Southwold is Aldeburgh, an elegant seaside spot where Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind was built. Discover the pretty pebble beach, fishermen’s huts, Georgian high street, and of course, lots of tasty fish and chips.
Leave the concrete jungle behind and discover medieval towns and villages across Suffolk. One of the most beautiful is Lavenham whose hallmark is its array of crooked, half-timbered buildings. Once one of the richest settlements in the country thanks to its wool trade, Lavenham is thought to be the best-preserved medieval town in England. Explore its winding narrow streets lined with more than 300 listed buildings, many of which now house boutique shops and cute cafés.
Venture back even further into Suffolk’s history to uncover stories of Anglo-Saxon settlements. Once home to around 700 people, West Stow Anglo Saxon Village is now a fully-functioning hamlet. The replica buildings give you a sneak peek into the lives of our predecessors and there’s even the chance to dress up as a villager. Continue your time travelling at Sutton Hoo. This Anglo-Saxon burial site tells the incredible story of an ancient king and his treasured possessions, many of which you can see at the site’s fascinating exhibition.
Swap traffic jams and sirens for the sounds of nature in Suffolk. River Blyth is one of the county’s unsung beauties and is the perfect place to fill up on fresh air. Departing from Southwold harbour, you can take a gentle boat trip down the river, surrounded by local wildlife – like herons, ospreys and even a resident seal or two.
Another natural beauty worth visiting is the Waveney Valley, part of the Broads National Park which extends over the border into Norfolk. Rent a boat in Beccles or a canoe in Bungay and navigate the wetland’s maze of rivers and waterways, bordered by marshes, medieval villages and miles of untouched landscapes. If you prefer being on solid ground, then the Havergate Island Nature Reserve is a must-visit. Located on a small island in the River Ore, the reserve acts as a haven for an assortment of wildlife, from barn owls to voles, ducks to brown hares.
Back in 1086, monks brewed ale on sites across Suffolk. Today, the county is home to no fewer than three big-name brewing businesses, including Aspall’s Suffolk Cyder. One of the most well-known is Adnams, based in Southwold, who started making beer in 1872 and has produced many of the UK’s most famous brews, like the famous Adnams Ghost Ship. You can book a tour of the brewery and distillery, where you’ll be immersed in all things Adnams. As well as getting a glimpse into what goes into making their products, you’ll round off the visit with a sampling of some of their signature beers, vodkas, gins and whiskies.
Or why not step inside the home of one of the UK’s most famous pub chains, Greene King. Founded in 1799 on a site in Bury St Edmunds, Westgate Brewery is designed so that gravity transfers ingredients down one floor to the next at each stage of the brewing process. As well as a nosey around the site, which includes heading up to the roof of the brewhouse for spectacular views across the town, the tour includes a tutored tasting of their most popular tipples. We’ll cheers to that!
Tipped as one of the top culinary counties in the country, Suffolk has a real reputation with food lovers. And with plenty of independent restaurants and farmers markets galore, it’s easy to see why. Stop for lunch at the Leaping Hare Vineyard Restaurant at Wyken, set inside a converted 14th-century barn. Using sustainable ingredients, this Bib Gourmand-accredited eatery whips up a blend of modern and traditional European dishes, like locally sourced ham hock terrine, roasted racks of Suffolk lamb and iced peach pavlova. Wash your meal down with some home-grown Wyken wine and burn off the extra calories with a stroll around the seven-acre vineyard.
For a true gourmet getaway, book a table at Pinneys of Orford for sumptuous seafood, including their acclaimed Butley oysters; indulge in field-to-fork dining at Queen’s in Bury St Edmunds, and slice into artisan bread and masterfully made chocolates from Pump Street Bakery.
Enclosed by an 800-year-old curtain wall and 13 individual towers, keep-less Framlingham Castle is so unique that Ed Sheeran even referenced it in his song Castle on the Hill. Scale the castle’s walls for breathtaking views of the Suffolk landscape, stand in the spot where Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen of England, and look inside Framlingham’s workhouse, the only remaining building inside the castle walls.
Mysterious castles are something of a trend in Suffolk, and Orford Castle is definitely one of them. Tactically positioned on the coast to protect the wool and lead exports to Europe, this fort built by King Henry II is one of England’s most complete and unusual keeps. Almost all of the polygonal tower is accessible, meaning you can wander a maze of passages that lead to a chapel, kitchen and other regal chambers, and check out the Roman brooches and medieval regalia in the Upper Hall.
Continue your outdoor escapades with a trip to one of Suffolk’s gorgeous gardens. Encircling an Italianate palace, the immaculate gardens at Ickworth add a touch of the Mediterranean to East Anglia. The calming pleasure grounds include corridors of manicured hedges, lush lawns and soft-coloured flora. Make sure you check out the Stumpery too. This magical corner is filled with the gnarled roots of stumps belonging to trees that were uprooted during World War II, when fields were sown to ‘Dig for Victory’.
Also well worth a visit are the Grade 1-listed gardens at Helmingham Hall. Discover arched tunnels through vegetable plots, a topiary garden filled with humorously shaped hedges and an Apple Walk bordered by trees that bear fruit throughout autumn. Beyond the perfectly pruned gardens, you’ll also find a whole host of wild flora and fauna – from blue tits to bumblebees, hedgehogs to toads and even a herd of red deer – making it one of the most diverse wildlife sites in the UK.
Feel your stress melt away on a spa day or spa break in Suffolk. Blending seamlessly into the woodland setting, Spa Kesgrave Hall is the epitome of luxury and wellbeing. Sink into the sauna with its panoramic windows, take a dip in the outdoor hot tub and soak up the sun on the south-facing deck before settling down for a facial or full-body massage in one of their five treatment rooms. You’ll leave feeling like a whole new person.
Other sensuous spas in Suffolk include the award-winning Bedford Spa Lodge in Newmarket, considered one of the finest spas in Suffolk. It’s home to a spacious hydrotherapy pool and a wealth of revitalising treatments from mud wraps to manicures. Or enjoy a proper pampering session with a visit to the Aqua Sana at Center Parcs, Elvedon. With 15 different spa experiences –Japanese salt steam bath anyone? – an outdoor heated pool and a menu of massage treatments, squeeze in some time for yourself to truly unwind.