Seaside fun at resort perfect for families: The visitor's guide to Felixstowe
- Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN
It's one of the sunniest spots in the country and one of the driest, too, with a five-mile coastline that provides plenty for families to enjoy - and is a magnet for holidaymakers and day-trippers.
Felixstowe is in the midst of a multi-million pound major regeneration project that has seen its historic seafront gardens restored to their former glory, a new pier entertainment centre built, a new seafront park created, and a beachside shopping and eating out complex launched, and more.
Here's everything you need to know about visiting the resort.
What is Felixstowe famous for?
Felixstowe has a unique place in the country's history - being the last place England was invaded by a foreign force. That was back in 1667 when 2,000 Dutch soldiers landed and attacked Landguard Fort, attempting to scale its walls with cutlasses drawn. Capt Nathaniel Darell and his men fought them off.
Today though the resort is best known for an invasion of visitors throughout the summer as tens of thousands of people enjoy the hustle and bustle of the resort, sunbathing and relaxing on its beaches, splashing around in the sea and playing on the seafront amusements.
Its annual events include a carnival weekend, Art on the Prom, Felixstowe Book Festival, and the Ipswich-Felixstowe Historic Vehicle Run.
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Water sports are a big draw too - with sea swimming daily, people paddle boarding, windsurfing, jet-skiing, kite-surfing, and sailing.
The resort also has one of the oldest golf clubs in the country, the hugely respected Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club with its links courses, and one of the oldest tennis clubs, Felixstowe Tennis Club which was founded just seven years after the first Wimbledon and has hosted the East of England Tennis Championships for more than a 120 years.
Where is Felixstowe and how do I get there?
Felixstowe is on the Suffolk coast - the southern-most tip of its shoreline. It's easy to get to - it sits at the start of the A14 in Suffolk - the dual carriageway runs from the Port of Felixstowe to the M1/M6 junction near Rugby. It's around 12 miles from Ipswich, the nearest large town. People heading from the Midlands just stay on the A14, while those from London head up the A12 and turn off for Felixstowe onto the A12-14 and A14 at the Copdock Interchange.
Visitors can also travel by train - changing at Ipswich station, which has main line links to London Liverpool Street and Norwich, and routes to Ely and Peterborough.
How much is parking in Felixstowe?
Several of the car parks around the town have a 30-minute free parking period. Charges are clearly displayed and where they apply people can pay by cash at most car parks but always via the East Suffolk Council RingGo mobile phone parking service. The RingGo app allows drivers to locate a parking place before starting their journey and receive navigation to it, pay for their parking session and even extend it should they need to. Find out about registering and using the RingGo service here.
Typical costs of parking are two hours for £1.50; and up to four hours £3. Long-stay car parks also offer an option of over four hours £4.
Throughout the resort there is plenty of available free on-street parking.
What shops are in Felixstowe?
Hamilton Road - once known as Mellow Lane back in the 1800s - is Felixstowe's high street with the town centre hub completed by Orwell Road and Crescent Road.
It features a range of shops, a mix of independents and national chains. From a quirky art gallery to craft shops, book shops (such as the independent Stillwater Books and the amazing second hand bookshops Treasure Chest and Richard's Books, both warrens of miles of shelves of fiction and non-fiction), a memorabilia shop and a vinyl record store, charity shops, plus antique shops. There are clothes stores such as Peacocks, Bon Marche and Russell Smith, and chains include Boots, Savers, WH Smith, Superdrug, Iceland and Poundland, and the town centre has both a Tesco Express and an East of England Co-op supermarket.
Away from the town centre there are two Lidl supermarkets and a large Morrisons.
Where is there to eat and drink in Felixstowe?
Felixstowe has a wide range of places to eat - tea rooms, takeaways, cafes, pubs, hotels and restaurants. There are more than 25 in the town centre alone, including Vietnamese, Indian fusion, Turkish, and Chinese, with many more in the seafront area.
Among the most popular restaurants are The Alex café bar and brasserie, Bencotto focussing on Mediterranean food, Prezzo, the Blue Naan, Steak and Lobster, Ruby's Kitchen, Fish Dish, the Grosvenor, Greenhouse Café and Gulliver's Wife.
A wonderful treat is a visit to the Viewpoint Café in Viewpoint Road at Landguard - a chance to sit inside or outside and watch the shipping and boats in Harwich Harbour. Enjoy an amazing variety of excellent breakfasts and fish and chips too.
There are fish and chips in abundance too - as you would expect from a seaside town. Among nearly a dozen takeaways are Orwell Fisheries, the Regal, Pier Fish Co, Bounty Fisheries, Saltwater Fish and Chips, and Hamilton Fish and Chips, and a short excursion to Gulliver's at nearby Trimley St Mary is also well worth it.
Where is there to stay in Felixstowe?
Felixstowe is blessed with a wide range of places to stay - from traditional seaside guest houses offering bed and breakfast, small hotels, holiday parks and larger hotels.
The Orwell Hotel in the town centre has been a part of the resort since Edwardian times and features 60 guests rooms and also hosts events, conferences, weddings, and has restaurants.
The Best Western Brook Hotel bar and restaurant in Orwell Road also hosts weddings and conferences, and there is a Premier Inn on Undercliff Road West.
Felixstowe Beach Holiday Park has just had a £750,000 refurbishment of the Walton Avenue park's bar, entertainment and reception complex. The complex also boasts plenty of on-site activities including an indoor pool with flumes, adventure playground area, and family-friendly activities throughout the summer months. The company also runs the Suffolk Sands Holiday Park, off Carr Road.
Peewit Caravan Park in Walton Avenue is set in 13 acres of landscaped parkland. As well as offering static caravan holidays, the popular site also welcomes tourers and campers.
What entertainment is there in Felixstowe?
The Spa Pavilion is the home of live entertainment in Felixstowe - featuring a packed programme of shows throughout the year. The 900-seater seafront venue aims to appeal to a wide audience with its line-up having plenty of variety, from musicals to comedy, drama to dance, and lots of music. The Spa also boasts two dining experiences - both with expansive seaviews. The Lounge is upstairs in the theatre and The Terrace on the ground floor alongside the prom.
The Palace Cinema opposite The Triangle in the town centre has two screens showing the latest blockbusters plus a bingo hall.
What are the big events in Felixstowe?
The events calendar traditionally kicks-off on the May Bank Holiday weekend with the Ipswich-Felixstowe Historic Vehicle Run. More than 20,000 people visit the promenade in the afternoon to enjoy a seafront stroll looking at more than 500 vehicles - including cars, commercial and military vehicles, motorcycles, and buses - from across the decades. Entries usually date back to the 1920s (and sometimes even further into the past with a steam-powered vehicle) and then forward through the years to the 1980s - a real afternoon of memory-jogging nostalgia and a great chance to chat to the enthusiasts who care for these wonderful machines.
On May Bank Holiday Monday, the Spa Pavilion is the place for the start and finish of the annual Rotary Club of Felixstowe Charity Run, with the spectacle attracting around 600 entrants, many in fancy dress.
June sees the annual Felixstowe Book Festival. Held at a number of venues across the town, the festival features talks by well-known fiction and non-fiction writers, workshops and readings, plus special events for a younger audience.
The biggest event of the year is Felixstowe Carnival weekend in July - with a host of exciting events that get under way on the Friday night with a Last Night of the Proms-style open-air concert, followed on Saturday by the big procession of decorated floats on a theme through the town, live music in the afternoon and evening, and then on Sunday more live music during the day, culminating in a fireworks display over the sea. The event - part of the resort for more than 60 years - also features a funfair, children's entertainment, charity stalls, a refreshments village and more.
Art on the Prom ends the big summer events on the first weekend of September when around 20,000 people again pack the prom and adjacent gardens to enjoy more than 100 exhibiting artists working in all sorts of art media, art installations, workshops, street entertainers and music.
Felixstowe's top attractions
The resort's five-mile coastline between the estuaries of the Rivers Deben and Orwell caters for a diverse range of pursuits from sunbathing to birdwatching, walking to water-skiing, and fishing to history.
At the Deben end there is the picture-postcard fishing hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry, virtually unchanged for a century. A foot ferry can be caught to cross the river to Bawdsey and Bawdey Manor, where the radar which helped win the Battle of Britain was developed. Felixstowe Ferry has a small pay-and-display car park next to the Ferry Café - renowned for its fish and chips - and the Ferry Boat Inn also has some parking for customers, but the best way to visit this delightful setting is to park at Clifflands in Old Felixstowe and walk the mile along the coastal path.
Beaches between Clifflands and Cobbold's Point are firm and sandy. Overlooked by 1,000 beach huts this area is a place for families to spend a quiet day relaxing and playing, swimming and paddling and building sandcastles.
Walking from Cobbold's Point towards the pier, people can explore Felixstowe's nationally-acclaimed Edwardian seafront gardens, which were recently restored to their original glory in a £4.8million lottery-backed project.
The main Blue Flag beach - the only one in Suffolk - is the main seafront and the south beach. The main activities are centred around the pier - with the new pier-head having a busy entertainments centre including a bowling area, family arcade and adults' casino machines area, plus kiosks and the Boardwalk restaurant on the pier overlooking the sea.
Alongside the prom there is a leisure centre with swimming pools and fitness suite, and also children's entertainments and rides at Ocean Boulevard, and further along Sea Road there is the Manning's Amusement Park and the smart new Beach Street shopping and eating venue created from shipping containers. The amusement park also features a regular market and other outlets.
Martello Park alongside the prom features children's play areas for all ages, an active water play area, kiosks, picnic areas and history to explore with a Napoleonic Martello Tower at its centre and an underground Cold War nuclear attack observation bunker. A new £1.5m contemporary design café is currently being built at the park entrance and (set to open summer 2021) will be run by the Dedham Boathouse Group.
One of Felixstowe's biggest attractions is Landguard - where there is enough to keep a family occupied all day and still come back for more.
The peninsula - sandwiched between the sea and the Port of Felixstowe - is home to an 80-acre nature reserve which is one of the most important coastal sites in Britain and includes rare fauna and flora. More than 375 different species of plants have been found on the reserve and one-third of all British grasses. Rare plants include sea pea and kales, yellow-horned poppy and the endangered and aptly-named stinking goosefoot, which grows in only three places in England. In spring this Site of Special Scientific Interest is speckled with the fluttering shapes of dozens of different kinds of butterfly, and attracts a host of migrating birds. Sometimes areas are fenced off to protect vulnerable plants and breeding birds.
Landguard is also home to Landguard Fort, which has a wealth of material illustrating the fort's life from Tudor times to the Cold War with some fascinating exhibits and stories to tell. There is also a viewpoint from which to watch the enormous ships going to and from Britain's biggest container port and being unloaded, and an excellent café.
Is there a museum in Felixstowe?
Felixstowe Museum is also at Landguard. The museum is housed in the fort's Ravelin Block - originally home to a submarine mining unit - and features more than a dozen rooms exploring the resort's rich history from prehistoric times, its Roman settlement, through world wars, the flying boat station, up to modern times.