Start in the north of the county, where Suffolk shares The Broads with its northern neighbour Norfolk. See our feature on sailing on the rivers and lakes of The Broads. Oulton Broad is the southernmost of the Broads and a lively tourist and watersports centre with plenty of cafés and pubs.
Hop south from Oulton Broad to the town of Lowestoft, in the suburbs of which you’ll the theme park Pleasurewood Hills, with thrill rides and rollercoasters, and an adventure playground. With younger kids, visit the town’s seafront glass East Point Pavilion, with its ocean-themed soft-play centre Mayhem. There’s also Africa Alive just outside town, where you can make a walking safari or take a road-train around the park to see lions, cheetahs, giraffes, rhinos, hyenas and hundreds of other African animals and birds, as well as pet and feed farm animals, be educated in the Discovery Centre and go mad in the Wild Zone indoor play area.
Discover other northern Suffolk attractions, especially the East Anglia Transport Museum at Carlton Colville, with working trams, trolleybuses and a miniature railway, and, north of Lowestoft, Somerlyton Hall & Gardens. This Tudor-Jacobean house offers lots of activities around its estate and around Fritton Lake just north of it (actually in Norfolk), including an adventure playground, a maze, a Viking fort, a children’s farmyard, pony treks, a cycle trail and ‘wellie walks’.
Head for Southwold and its part-shingle, part-sand beach and colourful beach huts. Ty to come off-season to fully appreciate its considerable charms. They include the Pier with its traditional amusement arcade and wacky handbuilt machines such as the Quantum Tunnelling Telescope, which allows you to see mermaids, shark attacks and even nuclear explosions out at sea. The Pier also has a traditional toy shop, a lifestyle store, a gift shop, and family-friendly dining, from full English breakfasts and fish and chips to cream teas and ice cream. Kids also love Southwold’s Gun Hill with its 16th-century cannons once used for warning off potential attackers and for local celebrations. After sitting astride them and looking out to sea, they’ll be ready for their own raid – on Squier’s, the old-fashioned sweet shop.
Take the ferry from Southwold’s harbour (or drive inland then back out to the coast) to Walberswick – similarly trendy with London media types (Richard Curtis, Emma Freud and David Morrissey have houses here), as well as being a great place for crabbing (take bacon, squid or fish bait on string and a bucket to collect the crabs before throwing them back in).
Jump along the coast to Dunwich, a tiny village that is all that remains of what was once the capital of all of East Anglia. There’s nothing to see, beyond a shored-up shingle beach, fenced-off crumbling cliffs a whole mile inland of where they were a few centuries ago, weather-worn fishing boats and a family-friendly tea-room (see below). But kids are enchanted by tales of what lies out to sea – the remains of one of Europe’s largest medieval ports, home to 3,000 people, 8 churches (with bells, according to local legend, that may still be heard at certain tides) and two hospitals. The little Dunwich Museum will fill you in on all this background.
Head for the odd village of Thorpeness, which began as a fishing hamlet but was bought in its entirety in 1910 by a rich Scot to be transformed into a fantasy holiday village. As well as many mock Tudor and Jacobean houses, it has a large shallow boating lake (the Meare) with features inspired by Peter Pan (JM Barrie was a friend of the investor), including a life-size model crocodile on an island. You can also hire canoes to go out on the water, and there’s a vast, uncrowded shingle beach. The House in the Clouds, a former water tower, is both a local tourist attraction and one of Britain’s most unusual family holiday accommodations.
Stray into the Minsmere RSPB Reserve, great for families as well as twitchers, with its birdwatching hides, nature trail, beach, visitor centre with wildlife displays, family explorer backpacks, seasonal events and tea-room.
Proceed to Aldeburgh just to the south, another characterful seaside resort well worth a stop, not least for its fish and chips (some of the best in the UK; see below) and fishermen’s huts selling fresh fish on the Blue Flag shingle beach. Actual sights are low-key: the RNLI lifeboat station is open to visitors and has a fund-raising gift shop, while the little Aldeburgh Museum in the well-preserved Tudor Moot Hall has displays on local shipbuilding, fishing and witches – and also on the Napoleonic-era Martello defence tower that stands just outside town (available to rent for up to 4, from the Landmark Trust). Kids also like the giant (4m-tall) stainless-steel Scallop sculpture on the beach, dedicated to Benjamin Britten, who founded the Aldeburgh Festival (see below). You’re allowed to climb and sit on the sculpture. Before you come here, read Katherine Hale’s classic Orlando the Marmalade Cat: a Seaside Holiday, set in Aldeburgh (renamed ‘Owlbarrow on Sea’).
Dip back inland and then out to the coast once more, for the chocolate-box pretty village of Orford. As well as a great place to eat (see below), it’s home to the imposing Orford Castle, Henry II’s polygonal tower-keep; kids get an activity sheet to bring it alive. Boat trips run from Orford’s harbour around Orford Ness, a spit that was formerly a secret Ministry of Defence military testing site and is now designated a National Nature Reserve.
Dive into Rendlesham Forest, Britain’s most famous UFO site – in 1980, unexplained lights were seen here by servicemen at nearby military bases. Capitalising on this history, the Forestry Commission has created a UFO Trail taking in the main locations of the incident, including the clearing where a spacecraft is alleged to have landed. The Rendlesham Forest Centre also has other walking and cycling trails, a cycle park, a picnic area, and – best of all – the Out Of This World play area made up of large wooden play structures dotted throughout the trees, including a crashed bomber and a UFO landing zone. For the Orchard Campsite with its UFO-themed events, see below (Stay).
Head inland to see the pleasant marina and boatyard and 18th-century tidal mill of Woodbridge. This market town is best known, however, as the nearest town to Sutton Hoo, where fabulous royal treasures were unearthed in the massive ship grave of an Anglo-Saxon warrior king. Though the various artefacts were taken to the British Museum in London, the exhibition hall here borrows things back for its changing displays, and there’s a full-size reconstruction of the burial chamber and grave goods. The grassy mounds themselves are atmospheric, while the surrounding 99-hectare estate of woods and heather is a great place for wildlife/nature walks with estuary views. Other offerings are themed, living-history and family events, behind-the-scenes tours, open-air theatre, and kids’ activities and trails.
Find out lots more about life in Roman Suffolk in the Ipswich Museum in the county town just south of Woodbridge. The museum is also home to galleries of British birds, mammals including foxes, hares, rabbits and seals, plenty of local fossils, rocks, and minerals from the region, and Egyptian deities and mummies. There are plenty of history- and wildlife-based activities, including the likes of making a Saxon torc, fossil identification, and reptile- or insect-handling sessions.
Head north again, to Framlingham Castle inland of Aldeburgh and Thorpeness, where Mary Tudor waited to find out if she would become Queen. Though there’s not too much left of the structure, kids love exploring the steeply moated grounds and taking the vertigo-inducing walkway around the top of the curtain wall, peering through the slits used by archers in days gone by. Seasonal events such as Halloween trails are particularly good times to come, but year-round there’s a free activity sheet for kids, as well as a family audio-tour, chess and other giant games to play, and historical displays.
Have an excellent day out at Easton Farm Park, especially with younger kids, with pony rides, small animal petting and feeding sessions, an adventure playground, a mini-train, and plenty of seasonal activities. The farm also has six self-catering cottages to let, some on-site, others in nearby villages, including Thorpeness, and has its own campsite and 'cowshed' glamping.
Meet the animals at the Oasis Camel Centre, north of Framlingham near Halesworth. Along with camels and related animals (llamas, alpacas and guanacos), there are smaller creatures to pet, paddock walks to meet and pet pygmy, Saanen and Anglo-Nubian goats and other animals, two adventure play areas, a maze, a land train and other attractions.
Head an hour inland to get to Ickworth House, a National Trust neoclassical country house (in the East Wing of which lies the family-friendly country-house pile the Ickworth Hotel). Whether you stay here or not, the house is a great place to visit with kids, with waymarked walks through park- and woodland, a family cycle route, a play area, and seasonal events and activities.
Discover the Tudor village of Lavenham with all its half-timbered buildings including a remarkably preserved Guildhall of Corpus Christi where kids can learn about medieval times by getting stuck into the dressing-up boxes. Combine a visit with a trip to the Baylham House Rare Breeds Farm, a working farm and cattle-breeding centre, with feeding sessions (there are also pigs, pygmy goats, poultry and sheep) and picnic spots by the lake and river.
Tour the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village & Country Park with items discovered in a village excavated here, within a reconstruction featuring Anglo-Saxon houses, sometimes brought to life by living-history events. There’s also a visitor centre and a play area.
Back on the border with Norfolk, far to the west this time, have a roam around Thetford Forest, home to Brandon Country Park, the High Lodge Forest Centre with walking and cycling trails and play furniture, and picnic and BBQ facilities, and a Go Ape! treetop adventure course.