The county of Suffolk in East Anglia isn't far from London — offering up Potteresque half-timbered villages, archery amid ancient forests, and postcardy seaside towns. We've selected 10 of the best things to do in Suffolk — some doable as day trips, others you can fold into a weekend break.
1. See an Anglo-Saxon burial site — Sutton Hoo
Train to Woodbridge, then 10 min taxi, 30 min bus or one hour walk
2021 Netflix special The Dig jogged our collective memory about the incredible story of Sutton Hoo — the Anglo-Saxon king buried in his ship replete with riches, unearthed by canny self-taught archeologist, Basil Brown. The guided tours of Sutton Hoo's various mounds provide a fascinating insight into how folks have actually been surveying/plundering the area since Tudor times — plus the on-site house of 1930s landowner Edith Pretty features archive footage of Brown's history-changing dig. Imho, the actual treasure displays themselves are a little underwhelming, not least because the British Museum is hogging lots of the good stuff. You can go see those for free another time. Woodbridge, by the way, where you'll arrive by train, is a picturesque spot worth spending time in. Sutton Hoo, from £15/£7.50
2. Ogle vintage vehicles — Ipswich Transport Museum
Train to Ipswich
So you've done all of London's transport museums (and even some slightly beyond), but are still hungry for more. Maybe it's time to visit Ipswich Transport Museum, where the sweet scent of oil hangs in the air, and you can coo over a collection of over 100 wheeled exhibits, including trolleybuses, fire engines, double deckers — plus agricultural contraptions like combine harvesters and lawnmowers (well, this is Suffolk, after all). Check the website for special event days, where you can bag free rides on heritage vehicles. Ipswich's Christchurch Mansion (free entry) is also worth a look-in, although it was just our luck that when we visited, they had an exhibition dedicated to Ed Sheeran. Ipswich Transport Museum, £7.50/£5
3. Explore a Potteresque village — Lavenham
Train to Sudbury, then 15 min taxi or 35 min bus
The medieval village of Lavenham is so Potteresque, it moonlighted as Godric's Hollow in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Over 300 buildings of this former wool-producing village are considered of 'architectural and historic interest', including its Guildhall, Little Hall (home to a museum that explains how Lavenham's wealth was built on wool and cloth), and the church of St Peter and St Paul. Frankly, the whole shebang is an Instagrammer's delight. Lavenham is somewhat out in the sticks, and a mish to get to if you're not driving. For a special occasion, consider staying at The Swan or De Vere House, which have some remarkably beautiful bedrooms (and prices to match). Or just brace yourself for a trip home, with a beer in the Swan's Airmen's Bar, which remembers Americans stationed in the area during the second world war.
4. Have a flutter on the gee gees — Newmarket Racecourse
Train to Newmarket
Horses are such an integral part of Newmarket that it's not unusual to see town centre traffic held up by long lines of them crossing the road (with riders, I might add). Newmarket Racecourse has been in action since 1636, and was particularly beloved of Charles II, who was often seen cavorting around here on a horse — their respective manes flowing in the breeze. Various race events throughout the season encourage you to don fascinator/top hat, and put down a fiver on the steed with the silliest name. They also put on concerts at the track (names for summer 2022 include Paloma Faith, The Wombats and Pete Tong). And visit the National Horse Racing Museum in town, to gen up on your gee gees. Newmarket Racecourse, various prices
5. Take a stroll along the pier — Southwold
Train to Halesworth, then 20 min taxi or 30 min bus
Southwold was once a quaint seaside town where we went on lowkey family holidays. Now, thanks admittedly in part to articles like this one, it's become London-on-Sea — a microcosm of bougie seasideyness, where a pint of the local Adnams Bitter costs almost as much as it does in the capital. The fact remains, Southwold is a truly lovely seaside town — its rugged harbour dotted with fishermen's huts selling fresh whiting and lemon sole; a pier installed with Tim Hunkin's screwball arcade machines; and colourful huts lined up along the promenade, pretty as you like. It's everything a Londoner could want from a day on the coast (just maybe don't buy a second home there). Nearby Walberswick, Covehithe and the mysterious Dunwich (the site of a medieval town which was washed away by the sea) make this part of Suffolk worth sticking around for the weekend.
6. Get Britten Fever — Aldeburgh and Snape
Train to Saxmundham, then 25 min bus (to Aldeburgh). 10 min taxi between Aldeburgh and Snape
The great composer Benjamin Britten lived with his lover Peter Pears in the Red House in the coastal town of Aldeburgh — and you can get a glimpse into their lives at the intimate house museum it's been turned into. The pair's great legacy in this neck of the woods, though, was the founding of the Aldeburgh Festival — a summertime bacchanalia of music and arts, now hosted in various venues in Aldeburgh, and at nearby Snape, where Britten oversaw the conversion of an old maltings into one of the country's finest concert halls. There's music and culture aplenty year-round, plus lashings of picturesque marshland — inhabited by otters, owls (and snakes!) for roaming.
7. Climb the battlements at Framlingham Castle
Train to Wickham Market, then 25 min bus
For your fix of moats, ramparts, battlements and the like, Framlingham is Suffolk's premier castle. It's a right old palimpsest, with Norman-era walls rubbing shoulders with decorative Tudor chimneys — plus the 17th/18th century workhouses, where the poorest locals from the nearby market town came to work, and sometimes live. A highlight is a walk along the castle's towering wall, from which you can gaze on the Framlingham Mere countryside. They put on fun half term events here, with Mary Tudor — proclaimed Queen of England at Framlingham in 1553 — sometimes making a 'return visit' for a Q&A sesh. Framlingham Castle, from £11.60/£6.90
8. Get back to nature — Thetford Forest
Train to Thetford, then 17 min taxi, or 48 min bus
Thetford Forest straddles Suffolk and Norfolk, though the central hub of the High Lodge is in the former. Here, you and the family can channel Robin Hood on the archery range; take a crash course in wilderness survival; brave the treetop rope bridges and zip wires of Go Ape; or simply get back to nature, by exploring the 45,000 acres of pines, heathland and broadleaves. In the summer, Thetford Forest also hosts concerts on a huge woodland-ensconced stage. While you're in the area, check out the Dad's Army Museum (it's free, although only open Saturdays). Thetford Forest High Lodge, various prices
9. See the place that inspired Constable — Flatford
Train to Kings Head, then 12 min walk
If Flatford looks familiar, you've probably seen it hanging in the National Gallery — well, a painting of it, anyway. Willy Lott's Cottage has changed little since Constable immortalised the thatched farmer's dwelling in The Hay Wain — in fact the entire hamlet of Flatford is achingly picturesque, from cottage to mill to farmhouse. There's also a free exhibition featuring some of Constable's works. The surrounding landscape of Dedham Vale has some beautiful walks, with the River Stour wending through it (boat trips are available, too), although the area has a dark history of witch trials, adding a frisson of eeriness. Flatford, free
10. Step back into Tudor England — Kentwell Hall
Train to Sudbury, 13 min bus to Harefield, then 20 min walk
The Tudor pile of Kentwell Hall in Long Melford declares itself one of the finest of its kind; it's certainly breathtaking, what with its tapestry-draped halls; functioning brewhouse, bakery and farm; a walled garden groaning with apples and pears; and a moat thrashing about with carp. Really, you want to hold off for one of the 'living history' days, when actors are strewn about the house and gardens in Tudor garb, and you and the kids can try your hand at calligraphy or serve the 'gentry' their venison pies. Long Melford itself is a trove of antiques shops, that you might want to dip into. And if you really love all this living history malarkey, have the Anglo-Saxon village at West Stow — also in Suffolk — on your radar too. Kentwell Hall, £16.75/£11.50