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Discover a delightful and relaxing weekend destination that’s only a short train ride from the din and hubbub of London. Unwind and recharge your batteries as you explore the charming Suffolk town of Ipswich.

Ipswich-Marina-Wikipedia

As you sit on the quay sipping a frothy cappuccino, the bright April sunshine warms your face. You slowly slide into a deep sensation of calmness, becoming mesmerised by the dancing light on the gently rippling water and the rhythmic jangle of the rigging on the moored yachts. Your worries slowly drain from your tense muscles and suddenly the stress and strain of the city streets seem a lifetime away.

It’s fair to say that travellers mostly overlook the pleasant, easy-going riverside town of Ipswich when they start Googling for a weekend city break. Yet, this provincial town is most conveniently located on the London mainline with a travel time from Liverpool Street of just over an hour. The town’s handsome surroundings, friendly locals and its tempered approach to life make Ipswich a perfect weekend destination in which to rewind, relax and recharge.

PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA.com


The Footballing Legacy Of Ipswich

You’d be excused if you answered “Ipswich Town Football Club” if anyone asked you what you knew about this Suffolk town. No one would blame you for saying this because its townsfolk proudly bask in the undeniably prestigious achievements of their football team. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, under the expert stewardship of the late, great Sir Bobby Robson, “Towan” pulled off several amazing feats including winning both the FA and UEFA cups while playing entertaining, flowing football.  But Ipswich has more, much more, and it’s simply itching for you to visit and discover it for yourself.

So What Else Does Ipswich Have Besides Football?

As well as football,  this well-groomed and congenial Suffolk market town has a lively, modernised waterfront, the Neptune Marina. Here you will find an array of bars and restaurants to gratify even the most discerning city breaker. Nestling beside the River Orwell and surrounded by the glorious Suffolk countryside, with its vast skies and largely unspoilt coastline, Ipswich was the birthplace for the likes of George Orwell, Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Ralph Fiennes, Nick Kershaw and Nathaniel James Clarkson. More recently, the musician Ed Sheeran played with his school friends in the grounds of the Norman castle in the nearby market town of Framlingham, which became the subject of his hit single  “Castle On The Hill”.

TV’s Jimmy’s Farm, created and run by Jamie Oliver’s best mate Jimmy Doherty, sits on the leafy southern approaches of Ipswich.  As your train glides towards Ipswich keep an eye on the woods and fields beside the track and see if you can spot any of Jimmy’s famous free-roaming hogs.

Ipswich lays claim to being the oldest Anglo-Saxon town in England and has a rich and proud history. The ancient, treasure filled burial grounds of Sutton Hoo, now globally famous thanks to the blockbuster film “The Dig“, is just a short drive away. Ipswich itself was granted a royal charter in 1200, and has a proud industrial past thanks to its deep-water inland harbour and proximity to vast hectares of prime arable farmlands.

All this is just an hour from the hubbub of London by train, so what’s stopping you – give Ipswich a visit for a truly relaxing weekend break.

A Great Night's Sleep With A View

Salthouse-Harbour-Hotel-Ipswich

Photo: The Salthouse Harbour Hotel

If you’re like me you’ll ideally want a hotel that is peaceful, luxurious and reasonably priced yet is also within walking distance of the main attractions, shopping and restaurants. Ideally it should have a stunning view and serve a delicious breakfast. Your first choice, therefore, should be the Salthouse Harbour Hotel.

Set beside the picturesque Ipswich harbour and marina, the Salthouse is a stylish boutique hotel that ticks all the boxes for a lavish, romantic weekend away. Each of its exquisitely furnished rooms provides comfortable, spacious accommodation with even the standard rooms possessing an air of flamboyance.  If you’re looking for a treat then splash out on a romantic weekend away in one of the more exuberant Penthouse Suites with floor to ceiling windows affording panoramic views across the marina.

Start The Day With A Hearty Breakfast

Having sorted somewhere to sleep, the next day’s plan should be to wake refreshed and ready for a delicious cooked breakfast. You can eat like a king in the Salthouse, but on at least one morning of your stay I can recommend another, just as good alternative.

You wouldn’t want to stumble too far from the warmth of your cozy queen-sized bed to grab an amazing breakfast and The Grazing Sheep is just yards from the lobby.  It too has its own wonderful view across the marina and serves a delicious range of breakfasts, teas, coffees and smoothies (or they also do delicious brunches and lunches for the late risers).  All of the mouth-watering dishes are prepared on the premises using locally sourced produce, and you can sit and sip your cappuccino observing the sailors prepare their lines and rigging before casting off for a day at sea.  The “Full Monty Full English” breakfast option will provide all the sustenance you could possibly need for a day exploring all that Suffolk has to offer.  For the smaller appetite the chef’s version of Eggs Benedict or Eggs Royale are also delicious.

Recharge With CoffeE An ItalIan Would Love

Not long ago, it was tricky to get a decent coffee anywhere in Suffolk. That’s no longer the case, with many artisan independents offering a welcome alternative to the usual big brand coffee shops. My favourite is Applaud Coffee. This petite, independent café on St Peter’s Street has quickly established a reputation amongst locals and visitors alike as the best coffee you can get anywhere in the town. Applaud is set amongst a range of small, independent shops in “the Saints” quarter of the town and offers award-winning espresso blends and single-origin coffees. Drinks are served with the most delicious selection of home-made cakes and scones, baked right there on the premises.  In warmer weather, the quaint courtyard garden provides a relaxing space to kick back and enjoy the flavours and aromas of the roasted beans.  

A Romantic Dinner for Two

Mariners-Restaurant-IpswichIpswich has its fair share of the usual chain restaurants but, if you want something a little special then you have a small but adequate choice of independent, innovative restaurants. Beside the marina there’ is the quirky, if a little expensive, Mariners restaurant, which serves very good French style seafood. Mariners is atmospherically set on an old, somewhat rickety, boat, adding to the charm and romanticism.  There is something uniquely romantic about sitting amongst the ancient wooden beams and trusses, as the boat gently bobs up and down on the water as the waiter serves champagne cocktails and the most tenderly prepared lobsters.  If dining on a boat isn’t your thing, there are also several alternative and equally good bistros on the marina.

My second favourite place, maybe for your second night in town, is the impeccable At Twenty5. This laid-back bistro style restaurant can be found on St Nicholas Street, a short stroll from the marina. AtTwenty5 is a delightful little restaurant, with friendly, attentive and informative staff who are always willing to advise on their range of wonderful and varied menus. I can whole heartedly recommend the very tender lamb rump pasta dishes.

Enjoy A Pre-Dinner Cocktail

Like most British towns, Ipswich has an emerging cocktail bar scene, though these are mainly the mainstream brand offerings. Of these, the Cosy Club provides a lavishly presented bar and varied selection of drinks. The Cosy Club can be found in the Buttermarket precinct, beside the multiplex cinema. The bar also has its own outdoor terrace for those lazy summer afternoons sipping champagne cocktails in sun.  Sample the comfortingly familiar yet strikingly surprising smokey Butter Toffee Old Fashioned, or the sassy Mexican Maria or, if you’re looking for an exotic reminder of holidays gone by, try the Spiced Pineapple and Pear Daiquiri.

Sample Real Ales Til You Drop

Craft Beer and Real Ale enthusiasts should head to the Arcade Tavern, which is found on Arcade Street. In this little wooden-floored bar you’ll discover over a hundred different beers expertly selected from around the world.  There is always also a selection of locally brewed beers and the knowledgable bar tenders are always willing to recommend something. If the bar isn’t busy you may also get a fascinating insight into where and how the different ales were made.

Guided tasting tasting sessions are available, if you call to book in advance.  Whilst munching on a delicious board of local cheeses, sample a vast range of different beers and learn how to appreciate the layers of hoppy flavours and aromas.

Take In a Play At the Wolsey Theatre

The Wolsey Theatre is a modern theatre with a range of plays and shows ranging from travelling national productions to more local events.  If you’re looking for more contemporary acts and bands, the Regent Theatre has a rich schedule of bands, and appears to be a magnet for tribute bands if that’s your thing. For those who prefer the silver-screen, there is a multi-screen cinema in the Buttermarket area of the town.

Explore Ipswich Town Centre

Ipswich is a pleasantly compact town and it’s therefore easy to get around on foot.  You can also hire bikes from the railway station if you want to explore a little farther afield. 

The Ancient House

Whilst strolling contentedly around the less than busy streets, ensure you pop into the Ancient House on the Buttermarket (the street not the mall) which is a beautifully ornate Grade I listed building. The Ancient House dates back to the 15th Century and is  adorned with elaborate wooden carvings and plasterwork on the outside.  It most recently homed a famous housewares store, giving visitors the opportunity to casually wander around the maze-like rooms that would have formed the heart and soul of this merchant’s house in its heyday. Due to COVID-19 the housewares brand has given notice to vacate the premises and I really hope someone else takes it on that have the same dedication to maintaining its appearance.

The Giles Tribute

Giles-Statue-IpswichAfter a bit of shopping, walk to the end of the Buttermarket street and take a look at the Giles Statue in Queen Stree. This rather cute statue provides a tribute to the cartoonist Carl Giles, who lived and worked in the town for most of his career.  If you turn your back to the statue and look up to the windows above the coffee shop on the corner, you’ll be looking right at the actual office window where Giles would have sat, creating his humorous satirical artwork.

The Marina & Waterfront

It is really worth spending a couple of hours wandering the footpath that runs along the harbour and marina area around the Salthouse Hotel. Ipswich has a proud history of seamanship and ship building, and across the water remain a fair number of active shipbuilder’s yards. Much of Suffolk’s produce, such as crops, sugar and . The River Orwell is an extremely navigable river and despite Ipswich being fairly far inland, the river as generally allowed sea faring tradesmen and invaders easy access to the fertile lands of East Anglia. There are records of Vikings sacking the town via the Rover Orwell dating back to 911AD. In its heyday, Ipswich harbour was the largest inland harbour in the whole of England.

Today, negating decades of depravation and neglect, the harbour area has been renovated to a busy working marina, yet remains a peaceful and highly pleasant location for a gentle stroll. In the evenings the marina bars come to life and without being overly frantic or loud, provide a relaxing and safe environment for revellers of all tastes and levels of energy.

When The Sun Is Out

Sailing-Barge-Victor-Ipswich-HarbourAs well as enjoying a drink at one of the many marina front bars, have a walk amongst the lush greenery of Christchurch Park, calling in at the Arbetoreum before enjoying a picinic on the grass. In the summer, there are occasional concerts held in the park. If you want to explore more of Suffolk, book a boat trip along the Orwell or Deben rivers. Pause on the way for a pint of Adnams’ beer or the famous Aspall Suffolk cider at one of the quaint waterside pubs.  The popular Sailing Barge Victor, built in 1895, takes you from right outside the Salthouse Hotel along the River Orwell and the nearby coastal waters with daily cruises including some with meals and entertainment provided onboard. 

It's Pouring With Rain - What Shall You Do?

To be completely honest, when it comes to galleries and museums, Ipswich isn’t exactly overly blessed.  You do have the rather lazily named Ipswich Museum which is located amongst the pleasant greenery of Christchurch Park. The excellent Ipswich Transport Museum, which is located in an old Trolleybus Depot on the edge of town (grab a taxi or catch a bus). Here you can wander around a collection of over 100 exhibits from trams and what’s really great is the relaxed hands-on approach allowing you to clamber aboard the old trams, buses, and delivery lorries letting your imagination wander back to the heyday of public transport.

Beyond Ipswich - Suffolk's Unique Beaches

Sizwell-C-Nuclear-Power-Station-SuffolkIf you have more time on your hands, you may wish to travel slightly farther afield and sample some of the delightful coastal walks and seaside villages Suffolk has to offer. Please check my other posts for the best places to visit and some breathtaking coastal walks. There are buses that take you to many of the coastal towns, but the best way is to take the car, or maybe hire one for the day as this will get you to the more remote spots and provide more flexibility.

Fish & Chips By The Sea

As a rough guide, if you want arguably the best, freshest fish and chips in the world, go to Aldeburgh then walk off the calories consumed with an refreshing stroll along the shoreline to the quirky Edwardian resort of Thorpeness.  See my Aldeburgh to Thorpeness Walking Guide.  Woodbridge provides an inspiring river walk, independent art galleries and great food (especially at one of my favourite places the Turkish inspired Galley Restaurant). Woodbridge is 30 minutes from Ipswich by train or take the A12 and head north.

For absolute isolation, peace and quiet, head out to Bawdsey and Shingle Street, Sizewell Beach or Cove Hithe.

Southwold – a Quintessential English Seaside Town

Southwold provides a look into the glorious past of the Great British seaside. It remains unspoilt and yet provides everything a traditional seaside town should provide, with a beautifully restored pier, a bracing promenade walk and some excellent traditional pubs.  Not forgetting, of course, the inland Lighthouse (to protect it from the sea) and the Admans brewery which offers a well stocked shop as well as brewery tours (book in advance).

Tranquil River Walk to Ancient Pin Mill

If you hire bikes, or are feeling you need a slightly longer walk, head East out of town and along either bank of the Orwell River. The Orwell Country Park walks provide some wonderful river views and woodland trails. On the opposite bank, walk to Pin Mill and enjoy a water side pub lunch at the quaint Butt & Oyster pub.

The Castle on the Hill

If castles are your thing, there are two excellent examples at Orford (with the added attraction of three cozy pubs, restaurants and shops all selling the famous Orford oysters) and, of course, Ed Sheeran’s aforementioned Castle on the Hill, in the pleasant market town of Framlingham.

Getting to Ipswich

By Train

Direct travel from London Liverpool Street to Ipswich is available from Abellio Greater Anglia from as little as £10 each way (standard class), if you book far enough in advance. The journey from Liverpool Street will take just under an hour if you catch the Inter City, a little longer if you get the local train.  You can walk to the Salthouse Harbour Hotel from the station in about 15 minutes. Turn right once you exit the concourse and head down the hill, cross the busy road at the bottom and onto the harbour front, ensuring the river is on your right hand side. The town centre is also a 10-15 minute walk from the station, or you can catch the bus (some train tickets include a free shuttle bus into the town centre). Taxis are also available outside the station. Direct trains also arrive from Norwich, Lowestoft, Cambridge and Peterborough. 

By Car

By car, from London take the A12, from the West and Midlands the A14. Follow the signs for the Football Ground or the Railway Station to get you into the right part of the town centre. The hotel has limited parking spaces, so check with them in advance if you need to reserve a spot. Alternatively there are plenty of reasonably priced car parks, the station multi-story being the safest in my opinion, if a little more expensive.

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Comments:

  • Dave

    28 April 2021

    Thanks. A very useful guide.

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