Life is more interesting when you think outside the box…
Suffolk is full of beauty, from its vast skies and scenic coastline to chocolate cottages and rolling countryside. While it’s certainly quieter in terms of visitors compared to other UK tourist destinations, the usual hotspots, such as Aldeburgh and Southwold, are still packed on a sunny day.
My combined love of the outdoors and seeing new places means I’m always on the lookout for somewhere off the beaten path. As a mom of two, I started looking for new adventures, which led me to create my Instagram page @minisuffolkadventures. As many people opt for staycations and seek local inspiration, I’ve compiled a list of 20 lesser-known places and activities in Suffolk. These are my discoveries – from hidden beaches to new experiences, there’s something for everyone in this special county.
1 Henstead Exotic Garden, Henstead, near Beccles
Suffolk’s Secret Jungle is definitely worth a visit. The tropical oasis officially opens each July and features a wide array of exotic plants and trees, including bamboo and thorny yuccas. Next to it there is a Thai style water feature and pagoda. Refreshments are usually available.
2 Iken Beach, Iken
Embark on a lovely walk from the car park at the Iken picnic site down a winding path through the woods until you reach the tranquil banks of the River Alde. You can either rent a kayak/canoe from Iken Canoes or just bring a picnic and enjoy the peace.
3 Shotley Vineyard, Shotley
The vineyard opened a few years ago but continues to expand its offer. There are guided tours of the vines, including a narrated tasting, as well as a refreshments tent serving coffees and cakes.
4 Harkstead Beach, Harkstead, nr Lower Holbrook
I’m for a secret beach and this is one of the best. You can park on the village street or at the local pub, the Baker’s Arms, for a fee. Then follow the path through the fields and down to the river where you will be rewarded with a secluded pebble beach. There are trees to climb and a quiet place for a paddle.
5 Woodland Walk and Cafe, Levington
If you like walks in the forest but also near the river, this one could be for you. A parallel walk to Levington Marina provides that perfect juxtaposition. You can park right at the marina entrance and grab a coffee and cake at the cute independent cafe, Harborside Kitchen. There are plenty of tables and seats in its outdoor space. There’s a trail just beyond, which takes you through the woods alongside the Orwell, with the impressive yachts in view.
6 Blakenham Woodland Garden, Little Blakenham
Nestled in the depths of a small Suffolk village, a special garden is open from March until June 30. It comes into its own during the magnolia and bluebell seasons. With a series of pleasant trails, intriguing gates and an abundance of wildflowers, this is one place to keep on your bucket list for next year.
7 Covehithe Beach, Covehithe
This North Suffolk beach is only accessible by bike or on foot along a single track through a field. The charm of this national nature reserve lies in its wilderness, with a wide sandy beach and overhanging crumbling trees in the distance. There are no facilities (no car parks, toilets or refreshments) – this is a place to soak up the resulting peace and quiet.
8 Gardens of Otley Hall, Otley
This hidden historical gem is a real delight. Otley Hall, which is privately owned and is believed to be the oldest house in Suffolk, is set in 10 acres of beautiful gardens and surrounding countryside. You can enjoy a self-guided tour of the beautiful gardens, home to wildflowers, an Elizabethan-style knot garden and resident peacocks. Stay for a cup of tea or a bite to eat afterwards at Martha’s Barn Café. There are also tours of the 500 year old house. Check website for entry fees.
9 Nature Walk, Woodbridge
Tucked away at the end of the Notcutts Garden Center car park is a historic woodland and nature trail. This is a lovely place for young children as there are 10 wooden carvings to spot. There are benches scattered around where you can rest and listen to the sounds of nature. It is free and open during opening hours of the garden centre. Then head to the garden center for a walk or a refreshment at the cafe. notcutts.co.uk/gardencentres/woodbridge-naturewalk
10 Secret Sauna, Wainford, near Bungay
Perched on the banks of the River Waveney on the Suffolk/Norfolk border is a wood-fired sauna. You can rent the cabin for a private session and enjoy lazing around in the sauna, indulge in some wild swimming and then relax on the deckchairs by the river. You can also order a picnic. wainford.co.uk/secret-sauna
11 Old Knobbley, Mistley
This one is just across the border in Essex but too good to miss. Old Knobbley is an 800 year old oak tree with a trunk circumference of around 9.5m and only 4.3m tall, in the heart of the woods on Furze Hill, Mistley. Children will enjoy climbing it and there are also rope swings and other wooden play equipment in the area.
12 Workshop Wim Hof, Hintlesham
You may have been inspired by famous ‘Ice man’ Wim Hof in the recent BBC series Freeze fear and want to try for yourself. At LiveLong Wellness, a qualified instructor leads workshops teaching the Wim Hof method, in which cold water therapy teaches you how to better manage stress. Ice baths here we come!
13 Oulton Broad boat trip
Do you consider yourself a skipper? Then board your own boat and take a trip through the lesser-known Suffolk Broads. You can hire a boat for a few hours or all day and children are welcome. waveneyrivertours.com/dayboat-hire
14 West Stow Country Park, West Stow, nr Bury St Edmunds
There are plenty of family-friendly hiking trails through the site, including the Beowulf and Grendel trail where you’ll come across lots of fun creatures. Part of the walk runs along the Lark River and a beautiful turquoise fishing lake. There is also a playground and a cafe. Next to it is the Anglo-Saxon village.
15 river trips along the Alde et Ore, Snape and Orford
For the chance to get a special river scenery of our beautiful county, these two boat trips are just the ticket. Trips from Orford take you on a guided tour of the RSPB’s Havergate Island and Orford Ness. The Snape Maltings Boat Ride explores the gentle beauty of the Alde, surrounded by reeds and abundant wildlife.
16 Ax Throwing
Need to get rid of some aggression and try something different? East Coast Adventures runs regular ax throwing and archery workshops in Suffolk. They also organize many Stand Up Paddleboarding sessions if you prefer something more serene. Check the website for different locations and dates.
17 Landguard Nature Reserve, Felixstowe
While many of us may associate Landguard Point with Felixstowe Fort, the museum or a viewpoint over Felixstowe Harbour, just beyond is a haven of nature. Designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the reserve is home to 500 different plant species, as well as migratory birds, dragonflies and common lizards. Perfect for a pleasant walk by the sea.
18 Clare Priory, Clare
Clare Priory, one of England’s oldest religious houses, sits in the shadow of Clare Castle on the banks of the River Stour. It now serves as a parish and retreat center. Visitors are welcome to explore the pretty grounds, sanctuary and ruins.
For more information, www.clarepriory.org.uk
19 Beach Yoga, Felixstowe
Who wants to be in a stuffy studio when you could be looking out to sea and performing your Sun Salutations? Lindsey Franklin gives classes at Yoga Attic in Hadleigh, but in the warmer months she gives classes on the beach on Saturday mornings. Subscribe to his mailing list to learn more. theyogaattichadleigh.yolasite.com
20 Staverton Thicks, Rendlesham
Situated just outside Rendlesham Forest is Staverton Thicks. This ancient forest is said to be one of Suffolk’s best kept secrets (well, until now). There is the most wonderful collection of trees, in all different shapes and sizes. It’s great for walks, tree climbing, hide-and-seek, and general nature watching. You can park in the nearby parking area if there is space.