Well my own reason for going to Aldeburgh was more about finding somewhere for a Spring break on the Suffolk coast and very little about the town itself. I wanted to explore Suffolk, a county I don’t know, and also wanted to be by the sea. So I searched for places to stay from Southwold down the coast and came across a nice-looking pub with rooms – The Cross Keys – in Aldeburgh, which backed on to the beach. It seemed perfect; just what I was looking for. And, indeed, it was. And once I started researching the area I was travelling to, the prospect became increasingly exciting.
How to get there
I drove from SW London, which took about 3 hours, but you can get a train from London’s Liverpool Street Station – either to Ipswich and then change to Saxmundham from where you can take a bus, which takes 19 minutes, or some trains from London go direct to Saxmundham.
Where to stay
I stayed in The Cross Keys pub, which was great, but it only has three rooms so early booking is essential. The pub also has a restaurant so it’s worth eating there even if you don’t stay. There are a few hotels along the seafront and quite a few places to rent: I saw posters in windows of places owned or rented by various holiday companies.
Aldeburgh – Music & Art
I hadn’t known of the composer Benjamin Britten’s long association with Aldeburgh when I booked my holiday but I soon discovered he and his legacy play a huge role in the town. Britten (1913-1976) was a Suffolk man, born in Lowestoft, and he lived in the county most of his life, mainly in Aldeburgh. He and his lifelong partner, the singer Peter Pears, originally lived in the centre of town, Crag House on Crag Path, overlooking the sea – only a few doors down from where I was staying.
Later they moved to The Red House on the outskirts of town. I visited the house one morning – it was a half hour’s walk from the centre of town but there was also a bus option.
It was a lovely house and felt very lived in – although it’s not now but conserved as it was in Britten’s day – so was great to visit and didn’t really feel like a museum. It costs £8.50 to get in but that buys you an annual pass so you can return anytime in the following year. It opens at 11 a.m. and you can just go in and look round the ground floor, where there are helpful volunteer guides happy to tell you all you want to know. You can book on to one of the guided tours and go upstairs too. A lot of music continues at the house with a Composition Studio, an Archive and Library, and while I was there I heard and then saw little toddlers singing and then coming out from a music session. (Click here for more info of my visit.) There’s also a little cafe in the garden – kiosk really – where you can buy good coffee, cake and snacks.
About 10 minutes into the walk to The Red House you come across the 14th century church of St Peter and St Paul where Britten and Pears are buried. It’s quite a large church and there’s a glorious stained-glass window designed by the artist John Piper, a friend of Britten’s, which is definitely worth seeing. And you can see the men’s graves in the churchyard, which are quite modest affairs and I had to ask a gardener for directions. (Click here for more.)
Britten and Pears founded the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948, an arts festival devoted mainly to classical music. The festival is held in June – so while I was there – and many of the concerts take place at the Snape Maltings (just outside Aldeburgh), where the couple were responsible for the building of a concert hall large enough for operas and full orchestras.
Another Britten connection, but this time art, is the Maggi Hambling sculpture of The Scallop, a memorial to Britten, that’s on the beach – just 10-15 minutes walk from the centre.
It’s quite a controversial piece of art, disliked intensely by some locals, but I thought it was wonderful. It’s huge and cut into the top of the structure are the words ‘I hear those voices that will not be drowned’ from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.
Other artists associated with Aldeburgh are JMW Turner, who sketched there, and Eric Ravilious whose ‘Aldeburgh Beach Huts’ I’ve admired for some time. You’ll also see a number of art galleries around the town.
Aldeburgh is quite small and so you can walk anywhere within a few minutes. It’s become a popular holiday destination, particularly during the Festival, and I was told that 40% of properties are second homes. However, it’s not what I would describe as ‘touristy’ and the general vibe is of a slightly sleepy, relaxed and friendly town. For me, it was definitely a place to slow down and unwind.
It’s a pretty town and you’ll see pastel-coloured houses everywhere, even along the high street where they are interspersed with shops. The shops themselves indicate Aldeburgh’s gentrification as I recognised a few popular high street names. Adnams, the well-known local brewery based in Southwold, has a shop too; there are cafes and restaurants, an independent bookshop that has a lively schedule of book activities, and other independent shops, like this newsagent that opened at 5 a.m. every morning.
I couldn’t help wondering who got there that early! Maybe the local fishermen? Do be aware that a lot of places don’t open until 10 a.m. and many close at 4 p.m., so the town doesn’t operate on London hours.
I didn’t actually go into the local cinema – pictured below – but it was fun to see. I’ve never seen a cinema like this before.
Another highlight is the 16th century Moot Hall, which is now the town’s museum and its oldest building.
The building was originally located in the centre of town but is now on the seafront and not far from the sea, showing how the coastline along this part of Suffolk has suffered a lot of erosion.
Where to eat
If you like a morning coffee then one of the best places to go to is Libardi’s Ice Cream Kiosk, run by an Italian family who serve great coffee and gelato. There are plenty of benches nearby or just take your coffee or gelato on to the beach.
I liked Munchies, which I went to one morning, in the high street.
There’s The Two Magpies bakery and cafe, also in the high street, and the Aldeburgh Market, a restaurant and not actually a market, where I saw good coffee being served, though they opened a bit late for this early bird of a blogger. You might also like to look at the hotels along the seafront which have outside seating for their bars and restaurants with a sea view.
For lunch, one of the most popular choices is to take some fish and chips onto the beach. I did this a couple of times, buying them at Aldeburgh Fish & Chips, at the far end of the high street, which seemed to be the most popular choice with its queues and many people carrying their bags of lunch to the beach (click here).
There are also fish shacks right by Moot Hall selling fresh fish and locally smoked fish. You can buy fish to eat straight away or take back to wherever you’re staying to eat or even cook.
If fish isn’t your thing, or not every day you’re there, you can also get lovely takeaway food, including vegan and vegetarian, at Aldeburgh’s most popular deli, Slate.
I had lunch at the Aldeburgh Market one day, sitting in the sun outside. I only wanted a snack but another time I’ll go back in the evening as their menu looked great and they have a very good reputation. The Cross Keys has a lunchtime menu, although I didn’t actually eat lunch there, and there’s outdoor seating at the back.
For dinner: I discovered there are some very good restaurants in Aldeburgh. I ate at The Cross Keys two nights (click here), the Michelin-rated The Lighthouse (click here), and the AA Rosette Regatta Restaurant (click here). Restaurants get booked up early, so it’s best to book anywhere you’re keen to eat at before you go. While I was eating lunch at Aldeburgh Market, I heard someone confirm an evening booking they’d made three weeks before.
I didn’t venture far as I was only in Aldeburgh for 4 days. I parked my car and didn’t move it again until I left. However, apart from my walk to The Red House, I walked to Thorpeness one morning (click here).
Another time I’d like to go to Orford Ness National Nature Reserve, managed by The National Trust. Ranked among the most important shingle features in the world, this shingle spit is cut off from the mainland at Aldeburgh by the River Alde. There’s also a castle there.
I was tempted by a tour at the Fishers Gin Distillery, based just along the seafront, but that’s for another time too. I did bring some of their gin back though! I’d also like to go to Snape Maltings, not just for the concert hall mentioned at the beginning of this post, but as there are shops, cafes, galleries and lots of wildlife to enjoy. It was a bit far to walk to from the centre but apart from car, there’s a bus. I was told Woodbridge is nice too, and I saw buses going to Ipswich.
Aldeburgh turned out to be an unexpected delight, with so much to do and discover, and I’m already planning to go back. For me though, despite all that lovely food, friendly people and great walks, the thing I loved the most was enjoying the beautiful beach early morning or in the evening after eating, when it was so quiet and peaceful and it felt like just the perfect place to be.