One of England's comeliest seaside resorts, Southwold is a veritable picture postcard — what with its Victorian pier, rows of beach huts, the cannon-studded escarpment of Gun Hill and that gleaming white lighthouse jutting out over the town. Here's how to explore on a day trip from London, or as part of a longer jaunt.
How to get to Southwold from London
Southwold doesn't have a train station (anymore) so getting in on public transport is faffy, though totally doable. You'll depart on the train from Liverpool Street station, headed either to Halesworth, Norwich or Lowestoft. From any of these, it's then a bus or taxi ride into Southwold. Time it right and you can do the journey in just under three hours, but it can easily take longer. This isn't a beach-day-on-a-whim kind of trip.
The other option is to drive from London to Southwold, which'll take you in the region of three hours.
Where to stay in Southwold
You can enjoy most of the town's treasures in a day, but if you'd rather not rush around (especially given how long it takes to get here), there are plenty of lovely places to stay, with the caveat that accommodation errs on the spendy side, especially during summer season. Rent out a fisherman's cottage from Suffolk Secrets, peruse various Airbnbs (and seek places just outside the town for cheaper rates), or check into one of the town's upmarket hotels: the Crown, the Swan or Sutherland House.
If all of the above seem steep, you can always pitch up at Southwold Campsite (located down by the harbour) for under £40 a night (two people). But! This site gets booked up reeeaaally early. Plan ahead.
Things to Do in Southwold
- The beach: Part sandy, part pebbled, Southwold beach lends itself to sandcastles and swimming in the summer, and brisk walks among the sand dunes/hunting for cornelians when it's chillier. Beach huts stretching alone the promenade can be rented by the day, though it'll cost you.
- Southwold Pier: This splendidly restored Victorian pier was once a landing pad for steamships chuffing in from London Bridge but these days is known for its screwball arcade machines (think 'Whack A Banker' and 'Buy a House or Die Trying') designed by crackpot inventor Tim Hunkin. He also created the Water Clock, towards the end of the pier. Elsewhere, you'll find more standard arcade games, eateries including Boardwalk Restaurant, and giftshops.
- Southwold Harbour: On the other side of Southwold, the rugged harbour is studded with fisherman's huts, some converted into bougie joints hawking lobster and chips (more of which later). Go crabbing with kids off a jetty (the Harbour Kiosk will fix you up with the gear), possibly nip into the Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum, and definitely nip in for a pint of bitter at the Harbour Inn.
- Southwold Sailor's Reading Room: This cosy seafront museum/library charts the area's seafaring heritage with fascinating old photos and various maritime trinkets. A friends tells us you can get membership to the pool room out the back for £20 a year, although if you're just visiting Southwold for a day, you'll have to play a lot of pool to get bang for your buck.
- Southwold Museum: Crammed into a cottage opposite the church, Southwold Museum is home to a cluttered curation that whisks you from pre-history, to the Battle of Sole Bay, to the days when Southwold actually had a train station (imagine!).
- Electric Picture Palace: If you're staying the night, see what's on at this former stables/cart shed — now a plush, pint-sized 70-seater picture palace.
- Brewery tour: It's all about the Adnams beer in Southwold; the brewery in the heart of town has established itself as a world player, and these days does guided tours/tastings for £25, which we've heard good things about. Or, you can craft your own gin.
- Coastal Voyager: Shoot out to sea in search of marsh harriers, herons — even seals — courtesy of these zippy boat tours.
- The lighthouse: Though the flashing talisman of the whole town, Southwold's lighthouse only opens to visitors on special occasions, so you'll likely be doing all your admiring from the outside.
The best pubs in Southwold
- The Lord Nelson: Many folks' drinking hole of choice, the Nelson serves a decent range of Adnams amid nautical gimcrack (and, for some reason, a lorry load of disused soda syphons). If there's no room at the inn, spill out onto the benches outside, or even the ones round the corner by the Reading Room, for which you can take in the sea views.
- The Red Lion: Another certified favourite among locals and holidaymakers alike, the Red Lion serves seasidey food (think prawn and crayfish sandwiches, fish and chips). In the summer, drinkers spill out onto the South Green.
- The Crown: It's all about having a cheeky pint in the snuggly wood-panelled back bar of this historical hotel, which has been here since the mid 18th-century.
- The Harbour Inn: A shipshape boozer if ever there was one, garlanded with knots, flags, ships in bottles — that kind of thing. An essential pitstop, should you be doing the circular route from town via the marshes/harbour/common — or walking to/from Walberswick.
- The Sole Bay Inn: Never actually been here in all my years of coming to Southwold, although it does occupy a prime spot right by the lighthouse — and it often looks busy — so perhaps I'm missing out.
Where to shop in Southwold
With its reputation as another London-on-Sea (and we'd like to get our hands on the b**tards pointing Londoners in Southwold's direction), a good deal of shops are of the ilk that sell nautical hipster togs (think Seasalt, Crew Clothing, Joules, Denny of Southwold). Otherwise, here's our pick of places worth a snoop:
- The Amber Shop & Museum: Does what it says on the tin. Ideal for romantic gifts.
- Methodist Church Hall: This small hall on Cumberland Road often hosts vintage/arts and craft sales.
- Southwold Gallery/Buckenham Galleries: If you're after salty landscapes/pictures of that lighthouse, this is where you'll end up. Or here.
- Harris & James: Posh chocs, coffee and the like.
- One St James Green: Happy to see this childhood sweetshop is still dishing out out sherbet flying saucers.
- Southwold Post Office: Also pleased to report this place is still stocked with all the beach balls, buckets & spades, crabbing gear etc you need for proper trip-to-the-seaside vibes.
- Adnams Store: Did we mention Adnams are based here? Here's where to stock up on their booze/merch — from beer mini kegs to t shirts. (Also, lashings of their own wine and spirits.)
Where to eat in Southwold
- Seafood: You're spoilt for seafood options. Demolish oysters and lobsters at Sole Bay Fish Company at the harbour. Scoff cod and chips at sister restaurant The Little Fish & Chip Shop, in town. Nibble on pots of whelks and prawns from Samantha K's (also in the harbour). Sutherland House does push-the-boat-out fish dishes, like gin-cured salmon and parma-ham-wrapped monkfish. For no-nonsense fish and chips, go to Mrs T's (again, in the harbour).
- Cafes and cakes: Feast on fry ups, salads and cakes at Cafe 51. Slurp reviving hot chocolates at Le Roc @ the Harbour Cafe. The Swan lays on a lah-de-dah afternoon tea in its drawing room, if you're in town to celebrate something big.
- Picnic: Stock up on pies and salads from The Black Olive and Adnams Broadside bread puddings from Two Magpies — then munch away on Gun Hill, South Green or the beach.
- Evening eating: Plump for a fillet steak at the Sail Loft. Try the crabcakes and prawn curry at the Randolph (technically in neighbouring Reydon, but easy to walk to). Enzo's Pizzeria has a marvellously focused (i.e. small) pizza menu. Of course, places like the Swan and the Crown provide posher dishes, should the occasion call for it.
Where to visit close to Southwold
- Walberswick: This pretty Georgian village lies just across the Blythe estuary from Southwold Harbour. You can get over here either by very short ferry trip, or shanks's pony. While over there, you can't not go to Black Dog Deli and the Anchor. There's also a chance you'll run into Richard Curtis, who's lived her for yonks.
- Covehithe: To the north of Southwold is the coastal village of Covehithe, with the idyllically decayed St Andrew's church. If you're up for a 10-mile hike, fill your boots, but knowing what the tide's doing when is essential.
- Latitude Festival: Late each July, this achingly middle-class festival pitches up at nearby Henham Hall, with revellers flooding into town for pre/post-Snow Patrol pints. Whether you use this as a suggestion or a warning, we'll leave up to you.
- Suffolk: We've also got a guide to 10 things to do in Suffolk (although Southwold's one of them, so make that nine).