Family Suffolk: things to do in Aldeburgh with kids
“It is easier to do nothing by the sea than anywhere else.” Or so the quotation* goes. I know I could happily while away hours listening to the crash of the surf, paddling in the breakers as the sun shines or racing full tilt along the shore as the wild wind blows.
And in picturesque Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk coast, the laid-back atmosphere makes it even easier to chill out, kick back and do nothing in one of the prettiest seaside villages around – especially when we visited, during the hottest May bank holiday weekend on record.
But if relaxation should top the list, there’s far too much to discover here to sit still all weekend. Most famous as the home of Benjamin Britten, you needn’t be a fan of opera either: as perfect for families planning a very different soundtrack to their holiday, I’ve found 13 other reasons to visit, with these things to do in Aldeburgh with kids.
Hit the beach
There’s more shingle than sand – but this is a beach to be explored, spotting huge anchors and brightly painted houses, paddling gleefully in the bracing waters and flying kites in the stiff breeze.
Once a major port, where 16th century shipbuilders were responsible for Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, there are still boats moored up as you wander along, and fishermen bringing their catch back in.
Spy curious buildings like the lookout tower, with artists in residence inspired by its views, or climb the sea wall and stroll past lifeboats. And if your heart is set on sandcastles? Head north to Southwold for a day trip to the closest sandy beach.
Spot the scallop
Inspired by Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, the scallop sculpture divided public opinion when it was unveiled, with petitions calling for it to be removed – and others calling for it to stay.
The more I read about Maggi Hambling’s creation, the more I like it: as well as a thought-provoking quote from the opera around the edge, it references different scenes as you view it from different angles, to show a silhouette of two men or one in a boat.
Or if you’re five, you can crawl underneath and clamber up on to one of the lower parts of the shell, dig through the stones to find the painted ones dotted all along this coast and play hide and seek, see weird and wonderful shapes in the undulating metal which shines silver and gold in the sunshine.
Eat fish and chips
With an award-winning fish and chip shop – Aldeburgh Fish & Chips – this is one seaside tradition that’s had an upgrade with fresh fish from the coast, chips made from local potatoes, fantastic scampi and kids’ portions.
There’s a sister restaurant and sit down option too: don’t be put off by the queues which move quickly – the finished result is worth waiting for! Wander along the beach and you’ll spy little huts selling fresh and smoked fish too, the catch of the day as it comes straight from the waves.
For fish with a twist, head to the White Hart pub, next door to the fish and chip shop where there’s wood fired pizza in the beer garden – my seafood version had huge melting chunks of fish alongside prawns. Plus plenty of other toppings if you prefer.
And ice cream
The only thing more traditional than chips at the seaside? Ice cream, of course. And while you’re not short of choice, two of the best face each other across the High Street. Which obviously means a taste test to pick your favourite.
Or that was the plan. The deliciously unusual flavours at Harris & James swung it, as did the gigantic size of the cone – from tiramisu to key lime pie and plenty of classic flavours, we all ended feeling happily stuffed after ours.
Across the street, Ives ice cream parlour has been serving up its flavours for almost 25 years, so save some room though.
Visit the museum
What do you do with a 16th century Tudor Moot Hall? In Aldeburgh, you keep using it for council meetings – something which pleased me enormously.
Wander downstairs and you can also discover the town’s little museum, with Roman and Anglo-Saxon finds, exhibits from Aldeburgh’s maritime past and some distinctly unusual odds and ends, including drawers full of collected butterflies.
Wander the pretty streets
With its pastel coloured houses, centuries of maritime history and lots of fascinating little details to spot, look beyond the high street and its lovely shops to explore further.
We went armed with one of the fantastic Treasure Trails which took us along the seafront and through the town, to the church where Benjamin Britten is buried – and, I discovered, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to openly qualify as a physician in Britain – as well as winding through the back streets.
Along the way, we spotted the Art Deco cinema, found a Blue Plaque and a canine celebrity, discovered more about the customs men whose boats were once kept busy by smugglers, and learned about submarine cables.
It’s not the first treasure trail we’ve done, having tested a few since our first in Topsham and I still love the quirky details you unearth as well as providing plenty of motivation for small legs to keep exploring. If a few clues were taxing for me, let alone my five-year-old (who also spotted one I’d missed), we only needed to text for help once. And then promptly spotted the object we had been searching for.
While it doesn’t lead you too far from the town centre, the loops of the trail meant we covered far more of Aldeburgh than we’d have done otherwise.
Go for a walk
Suggest to my five-year-old that we go for a two-mile walk, and there’ll be groans and grumps… but suggest we have a wander by the seaside and she’s first to pull on her sandals.
And with paths along the coast – or long stretches of beach you can wander along – that’s just what we did, strolling from Thorpeness back to Aldeburgh. Take a boat out on the Meare before you leave, or a short saunter through the village with its own picturesque houses, then amble through the gorse and along the grassy path with the sea behind a dune.
There’s a bus which runs between the two, albeit only every couple of hours, while in summer, a vintage bus connects them both more regularly.
Or head south from Aldeburgh to the Martello Tower, built in the 19th century to keep Napoleon out. In the end, despite the fear of invasion, they were never needed – and Aldeburgh’s has been converted into a very unusual place to stay.
Visit a castle
If you tire of playing pirates, you can always take a turn at being knights/princesses/dragons with two lovely castles nearby at Orford and Framlingham.
Orford Castle, the closest, was built in the 12th century by Henry II, and its unusual towering 90ft keep still stands guard over the village – while you’re there, don’t miss the Pump Street bakery with some fabulous cakes and breads. Take a wander down to the River Alde and you can try a spot of crabbing off the quay here too.
Or discover the spot where Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen as you walk around the walls and ramparts of Framlingham Castle, where the Dukes of Norfolk wielded power while dabbling in English politics – and their ancestor Earls made trouble for earlier kings.
Explore the Suffolk countryside
Beautiful though the coast is, the countryside here is equally lovely – head down country lanes to discover thatched roof cottages, traditional village signs and – especially for Harry Potter fans – the chance to visit Snape.
Stop in at Snape Maltings which has events and activities for families, as well as plenty of great places to eat.
Find buried treasure
Hidden below a hill lay a king, buried with his boat and his treasure – undisturbed for almost 1,400 years. It sounds like the start of a myth or legend, and discovering the treasure at Sutton Hoo is just as exciting – but very real.
With a children’s trail leading around the exhibition and grounds, the chance to dress up in a replica helmet and explore the recreated burial mound, as well as more hands-on activities at the Second World War-era Tranmer House – not to mention a play area with zipwire – there’s plenty to entertain, between eyeing up golden jewellery and listening to Anglo Saxon music.
Discover the machines
Suffolk’s green fields are enough to make you forget that the county has its own industrial history as well – and the Long Shop Museum is where you can discover it. Making engines, machines and vehicles, the site has been converted to a museum.
And along with dressing up, making pattern moulds in sand and more trails, kids can explore a van which workers sometimes slept in, as well as stories including that of Elizabeth Garrett, who was a relation of the factory owners, before going on to her own inspiring achievements.
Meet the animals
On our last visit to Suffolk, we ventured to Easton Farm Park to hug bunnies and shelter from some much worse summer weather in the indoor play areas. But there’s plenty to do when the sun shines as well: play + animals is a combination that’s always a winner with young kids.
Or discover the family activities and wildlife of the nature reserve at RSPB Minismere, including Wildlife Explorer backpacks to hire with spotter guides and a bug box.
Stay somewhere memorable
When you’re visiting somewhere with so much personality, who wants to stay in a soulless chain hotel? Especially when you could be checking into a gorgeous little cottage just minutes from the seafront and the high street, with comfy sofas to relax in after a hard day exploring (and a suntrap patio for when the weather is good), gorgeous seasidey decoration and a proper kitchen to self-cater when you aren’t picking up fish and chips.
Our little cottage from Best of Suffolk, called 6 Town Steps, was perfect for three (you could also have fitted a baby in, although with authentically steep stairs, I’d steer clear if you have a toddler).
Brightly coloured decor in my daughter’s single room and stylish reds in our double, a huge bath in the blue and white painted bathroom (plus an unexpectedly powerful shower in the corner of our bedroom), there were lots of chic little touches in the artwork as well.
Downstairs, the squashily comfy leather chair and sofa was just what I wanted to sink into after days out in the sunshine walking – we were steps away from the beach and High Street – while the welcome bottle of wine and shortbread were a perfect end-of-day treat.
And as fish and chips were only a 10-minute walk away, we didn’t use the well-equipped kitchen every night, but with a Co-Op even closer and all that fresh fish to buy, we were glad of the oven (and happily, a dishwasher too).
If there are more than three of you? You’re not short of choice throughout the town – and further afield. We spotted more than a few of the company’s seagull stickers in windows of very tempting cottages as we wandered on our treasure trail: enough to make a mental wishlist of where else we fancied staying when we came back.
Because with a spot as lovely as this, I’m already plotting another chance to do nothing by the sea.
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Disclosure: My stay was courtesy of Best of Suffolk, while our Treasure Trail was also free for the purposes of review. All opinions, choice of what to explore and competitive streak when it comes to finding clues are my own. Contains affiliate links*: any purchases you make are unaffected, but I may receive a few pennies.
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