Things to do in Southwold – Postcard from Suffolk Seaside Town
One of England’s loveliest seaside resorts, Southwold is a picture postcard – with its Victorian pier, rows of beach huts, the cannon-studded escarpment of Gun Hill and that gleaming white lighthouse looming over the town . Here’s how to explore on a day trip from London or as part of a longer getaway.
How to get to Southwold from London
Southwold doesn’t have a train station (anymore) so taking public transport is faffy, although quite doable. You will depart by train from Liverpool Street station, heading towards Halesworth, Norwich or Lowestoft. From any of these it is then a bus or taxi journey to Southwold. Time it right and you can make the trip in just under three hours, but it can easily take longer. This is not a trip to the beach on a whim.
The other option is to drive from London to Southwold, which will take you around three hours.
Where to stay in Southwold
You can enjoy most of the city’s treasures in a day, but if you’d rather not rush (especially considering how long it takes to get here) there are plenty of lovely places to stay, with the caveat that accommodation errs on the spendthrift side, especially during the summer season. Rent a fisherman’s cottage at Suffolk Secrets, browse various Airbnbs (and look for places just outside of town for cheaper rates), or check into one of the town’s upscale hotels: the Crown, the Swan or the Sutherland House.
If all of the above seems steep, you can always pitch up at Southwold Campsite (located near the harbour) for under £40 a night (two people). But! This site is booked very early. Plan ahead.
Activities and leisure in Southwold
- The beach: Part sandy, part pebble, Southwold Beach lends itself to sandcastles and swimming in the summer, and brisk walks among the sand dunes/carnelian hunting when it’s cooler. The beach huts that stretch along the boardwalk can be rented by the day, but it will cost you.
- Southwold Pier: This beautifully restored Victorian pier was once a landing pad for steamboats arriving from London Bridge, but these days it’s 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, near the end of the pier. Elsewhere, you’ll find more standard arcade games, restaurants like the Boardwalk Restaurant, and gift shops.
- Port of Southwold: Across Southwold, the rugged harbor is dotted with fisherman’s huts, some converted into candle joints selling lobster and chips (more later). Go crabbing with the kids off a pier (the harbor kiosk will fix you gear), possibly visit the Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum, and stop for a pint of bitters at the Harbor Inn.
- Southwold Sailor’s Reading Room: This cozy seaside museum/library showcases the area’s marine heritage with fascinating old photos and various maritime trinkets. A friend tells us you can get a subscription to the pool room out back for £20 a year, but if you’re only visiting Southwold for a day you’ll need to play a lot of pool to get your money’s worth.
- Southwold Museum: Crammed into a cottage opposite the church, Southwold Museum houses a crowded conservation that takes you from prehistory, to the Battle of Sole Bay, to when Southwold had a railway station (imagine!).
- Electric Image Palace: If you stay the night, find out what goes on in this former stable/cart shed, now a lavish 70-seat photo palace.
- Visit of the brewery: This is Adnams beer in Southwold; the brewery in the heart of the city has established itself as a global player and now offers tours/tastings for £25, which we’ve heard good things about. Or, you can make your own gin.
- Coastal Traveler: Head out to sea in search of marsh harriers, herons and even seals with these speedy boat tours.
- Lighthouse: Although the city’s beating talisman, the Southwold Lighthouse only opens to visitors on special occasions, so you’ll likely do all your admiring from the outside.
The best pubs in Southwold
- Lord Nelson: Many people’s drinking hole, the Nelson serves up a decent lineup of Adnams amid nautical gadgetry (and, for some reason, a truckload of disused soda siphons). If there is no room at the hostel, take a seat on the benches outside, or even on those around the corner from the reading room, for which you can admire the view of the sea.
- The Red Lion: Another certified favorite among locals and vacationers alike, the Red Lion serves up seaside fare (think shrimp and crawfish sandwiches, fish and chips). In the summer, drinkers pour onto the South Green.
- The crown: It’s all about grabbing a cheeky pint in the cozy wood-panelled back bar of this historic hotel, which has been around since the mid-18th century.
- The harbor inn: A ship-shaped boozer if there ever was one, decorated with bows, flags, ships in bottles – that sort of thing. An essential pit stop, whether doing the circular route from town via the marshes/harbour/common – or on foot to/from Walberswick.
- The Sole Bay Inn: I’ve never been here in all my years of coming to Southwold, although it’s prominently located right next to the lighthouse – and it often looks busy – so maybe I’m missing something.
Where to shop in Southwold
With its reputation as another London-on-Sea (and we’d love to get our hands on the b**tards pointing Londoners to Southwold), there are plenty of shops selling nautical hipster outfits (think Seasalt, Crew Clothing, Joules, Denny of Southwold). Otherwise, here is our selection of places worth visiting:
- The Amber Shop & Museum: Does what it says on the tin. Ideal for romantic gifts.
- Methodist Church Hall: This small venue on Cumberland Road often hosts vintage arts and crafts sales.
- Southwold Gallery/Buckenham Galleries: If you’re looking for salty landscapes/pictures of this lighthouse, this is where you’ll end up. Or here.
- Harris and James: Chic shocks, coffee and more.
- A St. James Green: Happy to see that this childhood confectionery continues to distribute flying saucers in sorbet.
- Southwold Post Office: Also happy to report that this place is always stocked with all the beach balls, buckets and shovels, crabbing gear, etc. you need for a good travel atmosphere by the sea.
- Adnam Shop: Did we mention the Adnams are based here? Here’s where to stock up on booze/merchandise – from mini beer kegs to t-shirts. (Also, referrals of their own wine and spirits.)
Where to eat in Southwold
- Seafood: You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to seafood. Destroy oysters and lobsters at the Sole Bay Fish Company at the port. Enjoy cod and chips at sister restaurant The Little Fish & Chip Shop in town. Nibble on pots of whelks and prawns at Samantha K’s (also at the port). Sutherland House prepares fish dishes to take away, such as gin-cured salmon and monkfish wrapped in parma ham. For no-frills fish and chips, head to Mrs T’s (again, in the harbour).
- Coffees and cakes: Feast on fries, salads and cakes at Cafe 51. Sip invigorating hot chocolates at Le Roc @ the Harbor Cafe. The Swan serves afternoon tea in its lounge, if you’re in town to celebrate something important.
- Picnic: Stock up on pies and salads from The Black Olive and Adnams Broadside bread puddings from Two Magpies, then snack on Gun Hill, South Green or the beach.
- Dinner : Plump for a beef tenderloin at Sail Loft. Try the crabcakes and prawn curry at Randolph (technically in neighboring Reydon, but easy to walk to). Enzo’s pizzeria has a wonderfully focused (meaning small) pizza menu. Of course, places like the Swan and the Crown offer fancier dishes, should the occasion call for it.
Where to visit near Southwold
- Walberwick: This pretty Georgian village sits just across the Blythe Estuary from Southwold Harbour. You can get here either by a very short ferry ride or by Shanks’ pony. There, it is impossible not to go to the Black Dog Deli and the Anchor. There’s also a chance you’ll meet Richard Curtis, who lived it for years.
- Covéhithe: North of Southwold is the coastal village of Covehithe, with the idyllic Church of St Andrew. If you’re up for a 10 mile hike, fill your boots, but knowing what the tide is doing when is key.
- Latitudes Festival: At the end of each July, this sore, middle-class festival takes place at nearby Henham Hall, with revelers flocking to town for pre/post-Snow Patrol pints. Whether you use it as a suggestion or a warning, we’ll leave it up to you.
- Suffolk: We also have a guide to 10 things to do in Suffolk (although Southwold is one of them, so make nine).
Last updated June 17, 2022