when should we go
Aldeburgh’s long shingle beach is one of Suffolk’s best known, the coastline so vast and dramatic that it inspired the music that made resident Benjamin Britten one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.
With its fisherman’s huts selling freshly caught fish and pretty pastel buildings, Aldeburgh makes for a serene weekend. In the height of summer, the beach and upscale main street filled with shops are popular, but they tend not to be so busy that they seem overcrowded. Visiting at other times of the year has its merits too, the coastline looking bleak and deserted in winter, and most shops and cafes are open all year round.
Visit the Aldeburgh Literary Festival in the spring (usually March, sometimes May), the 24-day Aldeburgh Music and Arts Festival in June or the Documentary Film Festival in November. The Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival takes place this weekend, with top chefs, masterclasses and over 100 food and drink producers from across the Suffolk region selling produce ranging from organic vegetables to beer and street food.
How to get there
Situated to the north of the River Alde, Aldeburgh is known for its views both out to sea and following the river inland towards Orford. The nearest station is at Saxmundham, about seven miles northwest. There are buses between Aldeburgh and Saxmundham station (522, 64, 64a, 65, 65b); the journey takes around 30 minutes and costs around £2. They also connect the town to other parts of the Suffolk coast and inland to Ipswich and Woodbridge. A taxi from the station will take around 15 minutes, with an average price of £18. See suffolkonboard.com for timetables and transport information.
Once in town, it’s small enough to walk around, with daily life concentrated on the main street. If you decide to visit Snape Maltings, with its shops, galleries and concert hall, it will take you around three hours to walk through an area of outstanding natural beauty, following the marked Seaman’s Path. Bus 65 connects the two via Saxmundham.
Where to stay
A stay at the Brudenell brings you closer to the beach like any coastal hotel, with double rooms from around £150 B&B. Dogs are also welcome.
At the other end of town, but still on the waterfront overlooking the fish shacks, is the cozy and comfortable The White Lion Hotel. Doubles from £116.
The Suffolk Restaurant is on the High Street and has just been refurbished, with rooms coming soon.
Standing with the sun
Start the day walking a mile along the coast and seeing Aldeburgh’s ‘Scallop’ sculpture rising from the shingle beach. The 4m high stainless steel artwork, a memorial to Benjamin Britten, who lived in Aldeburgh for the last 30 years of his life, was created by local artist Maggi Hambling in 2003. Although Although it was not universally popular among locals, author Susan Hill, who lived in Aldeburgh and wrote five novels there, called it ‘a glorious thing of power and beauty’. Then, cross the road for a cup of tea at Two Magpies Bakery, which opens at 8am.
The main street is full of independent shops. The 72 year old Aldeburgh bookshop has a great selection and friendly, helpful staff. Specialty cheese shop and delicatessen Slate is full of artisan British and European cheeses.
Visit Fishers Gin Distillery, a beautiful modern space overlooking the beach and the closest distillery to the sea in the UK. Blend your own botanicals, many harvested along the Suffolk coast, and enjoy a cold gin and tonic. The distillery is open for pre-booked tours throughout the year, from £30 per person.
Time for a sunset
The White Hart Inn is a cozy old pub with a relaxed atmosphere and particularly popular with beer lovers. From Easter to summer, he opens a wood-fired pizza oven in his beer garden. In winter, the open fireplace keeps the wood-panelled pub cozy.
Sea Spice offers a delicious menu of local vegetables, fresh fish and coastal produce used to give Indian dishes a Suffolk touch. The ginger garlic pepper scallop and achari bhuna king prawns stand out.
go to the beach
Spread out your towel anywhere along the shingle beach, and come lunchtime, buy fish and chips from Aldeburgh Fish and Chips or The Golden Galleon.
Six miles from Aldeburgh, Snape Maltings sits on the bank of the River Alde, surrounded by an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is a heritage site from the Aldeburgh Festival, founded by Benjamin Britten in 1948, and home to independent shops and galleries, restaurants and performance venues. Take a walk or take a boat trip on the river (which departs from the quay at any time of year) to watch the resident birds (£12, 45 mins).
Visit Harris & James for top notch ice cream. It sells many unusual flavors as well as traditional dishes, from key lime pie to Harris & James chocolate.
Three things you might not know about Aldeburgh…
1) In 1908, it became the first British city to elect a female mayor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.
2) Two of Sir Francis Drake’s most famous ships, the Greyhound and the Golden Hind, were built here.
3) The name Aldeburgh derives from the word ‘ald’, which means old, and ‘burgh’, which means strong. The Domesday Book (completed in 1086) states that this part of Suffolk was one of the most heavily populated in the country.