Southwold is a classic English seaside town on the Suffolk Coast that’s well known as a ‘staycation’ destination for British holidaymakers, but it’s not generally known for it’s good value. I’ve been going to Southwold on family holidays since I was tiny and, in recent years as an impoverished student, have done exhaustive research into the cheap or free activities available in this picture-postcard town. I’ve put together a list of top tips for cheap and brilliantly British pastimes that will give you wonderful memories of a great time at the seaside, without that terrible sinking feeling when you check your bank-balance afterwards.
- Harbour Walk
Looking at the sea, turn right and head down the beach until the River Blyth gets in your way, before turning right and heading up past the life-boat station, turning right just after the Harbour Inn (stopping for a light refreshment if you fancy) to head back to town past the water tower. This walk gives you beach, river, ramshackle fisherman’s huts, plenty of boats to look at and the marshes on the way back. This route is also a great morning run for the more energetic amongst you.
- Mrs T’s Fish and Chips
If you’re a fish and chip fan, these are the cheapest and the tastiest in town, with the best atmosphere. Look for the ‘Mrs T’s’ sign hanging on one of the larger ex-fisherman’s huts. Just make sure the seagulls don’t purloin your chips while you’re distracted by the lovely view.
- Pub Crawl Extraordinaire.
This is my favourite pub crawl in the world, and an excellent afternoon/evening’s entertainment. Head out past the water tower towards the harbour, cross the bridge over the Blyth and follow the path around. You’ll eventually come into the village of Walberswick, home to both the Anchor and the Bell, both of which are more than worth a visit. After sampling some of the local offerings at these two establishments, head back towards the river and catch the ferry across (if it’s running- £1 a head), or take the short walk back up to the bridge, before doubling back on yourself and ordering a drink at the Harbour Inn. From here it’s back to town, where you can take your pick of classic English pubs, my personal favourites being the Lord Nelson and the Red Lion. It’s a hard life.
As well as pubs, Walberswick has a beach that boasts more sand than Southwold can, a couple of sweet tea shops, a few gift shops that sell more seagulls on sticks than you can, well, shake a stick at. I think it probably also qualifies as world class crabbing territory, but you’ll have to stake a claim to a good spot pretty early in the day in the summer time before the crab-crazed hordes descend. For the price of a bit of bacon and a crab line you can have an entire day of fun!
- Charity Shopping and Window Shopping
Southwold is jam-packed full of lovely shops, but most, in my opinion, are horrendously overpriced. There are however, three charity shops which often contain a few gems, as the area is pretty wealthy and so charity-shop donations are good quality. You often come across pieces that were clearly on sale in a shop down the road for five times the price the year before, and have hardly been worn! Two of these charity shops are chains and so have hoicked their prices up slightly, but ‘Break’ (next to Joules, between the Swan Hotel and the Lord Nelson) is independent and it’s prices are still at rock bottom.
If the sun isn’t shining and you want to while away a bit more time in the shops, the pricier independent shops make for excellent window shopping and often have great sales on, so you might be in luck! ‘Daddy Long Legs’, a quirky shoe shop, is my personal favourite.
- Under the Pier Show
This is an absolute must for anyone visiting Southwold. The creator, Tim Hunkin, can only be described as a genius. This room on the pier is crammed with wacky and wonderful machines, with everything from ‘Whack-A-Banker’ to ‘Mobility Masterclass’, for those who need some zimmer frame training. Have a peek at the delights in store here.
- The Arcade
What seaside experience is complete without a go on the 2p machines?! Find the arcade at the start of the pier.
- Pitch and Putt
Down by the pier, this pitch and putt has recently been revamped but is still very reasonable and is a great way to spend an afternoon. The worse at it you are, the more entertaining it is.
- Beach Hut Spotting
A stroll along the prom is one of the most quintessentially British seaside activities, rain or shine, and Southwold’s colourful beach huts are a beautiful sight. Can you decide what you’d call a beach hut if you had a spare £150,000 to buy one?
Between the water tower and the harbour, just before the golf club, you’ll find the tennis courts. Rent one out for an hour and work off the fish and chips and pints of Adnams, the beer brewed in central Southwold and served in all of the too-tempting pubs in the town.
- BBQ on the Beach
In the summertime, the sand dunes to the left of Gun Hill provide shelter from the chilly evening winds and are a lovely spot for a BBQ. Wind breaks might still be necessary though, this is England after all. We’ve invested in a fire pit to keep us warm, but with a disposable BBQ (and a source of light once the sun goes down) you can cook yourself up a feast with a view, without the price tag.
If you’re feeling energetic, a few miles walk further down the beach from Walberswick you’ll find Dunwich, a tiny village that is all that remains of a once great city, long since washed away by the North Sea. Either bring a packed lunch or treat yourself to something from the cafe by the beach. A little museum in the village explains the area’s dramatic history. Either walk back along the beach or head slightly inland and through woodland and reedbeds. Make sure you take a map!
Southwold is full of pricey Bed and Breakfasts and expensive rental properties, but there are now a few lovely properties on Airbnb for prices that are a bit kinder on your wallet, including amazing deals during the winter! The campsite down by Southwold Harbour is also an excellent budget option. Happy Southwolding!
Have you ever been to Southwold? Have you discovered any gems I should know about? Please comment!