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Things to do in Ipswich, Suffolk

New apartments in the Waterfront district.
Waterfront District ©Shutterstock /Dariusz Gora

Ipswich is on the estuary of the River Orwell, in Suffolk. 43 miles south of Norwich. With a population of over 122,000 it is the third largest settlement in East England.

Wharfside regeneration project in Ipswich, Suffolk
Wharfside Regeneration ©Shutterstock /Ron Ellis

The name Ipswich is thought to have come from the River Gipping, the non-tidal part of the River Orwell. The name of the town gradually changed from Gippeswick to Ipswich over time.

Ipswich is one of the oldest towns in England and geographically was at the centre of many rural towns and settlements; all linked by the Gipping and Orwell rivers that provided transport.

In Roman times a fort was built at Walton and a large Roman villa, probably an administrative centre, was located in north west Ipswich at Castle Hill.

The discovery of a ship-burial on nearby farmland showed the area was inhabited by Anglo-Saxons from the 7th century and replicas of treasures from both historic sites are on display in Ipswich Museum.

17th century timber framed houses in Ipswich
Medieval Houses ©Shutterstock /Ron Ellis

In the 8th century Ipswich Dock was of great importance commercially with trade to Scandinavia and Europe.

The town had a mint and coins had "Gippes" embossed onto each coin, the abbreviation for Gippeswick.

In the Middle Ages, the Marion shrine was a place of pilgrimage and even Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon paid homage there, before the Dissolution of the Monasteries of course.

Ipswich was mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was born in the town and centuries later, artist Thomas Gainsborough lived and worked in Ipswich.

The Lord Nelson Inn in Ipswich
Lord Nelson Inn ©Shutterstock /Mike J Roberts

Present Day Ipswich

Ipswich's waterfront has undergone extensive restoration turning the former industrial dock into a residential and commercial centre.

Half timbered orange coloured building in Silent Street, Ipswich
Silent Street ©Shutterstock /Ron Ellis

It is now overlooked by luxury apartments, restaurants and Suffolk University College buildings.

The harbour is used mainly for leisure boats and luxury yachts.

The town has many cobbled streets, narrow passageways and half-timbered buildings.

It has several historic breweries including the Tolly Cobbold Brewery which was founded in 1746 and was recently taken over by Ridley's.

Orwell Bridge, Ipswich, Suffolk
Orwell Bridge ©Shutterstock /Dariusz Gora

The quaint town has many historic buildings and noteworthy architecture.

Old inns, stables, breweries and an 18th century coach house can all be found in the town centre.

In contrast, the glass-clad Willis Building was completed in 1974 and became the youngest building ever to be Grade I listed just 15 years later.

Things to do in Ipswich

Explore the historic town on a walking tour and discover the Unitarian Meeting House, Christchurch Mansion, the Ancient House and Isaac Lord Merchant's House.

St Mary-le-Tower Church in Ipswich
St Mary-le-Tower Church ©Shutterstock /Ron Ellis

A line of lombardi poplars at Sutton Hoo
Lombardi Poplars, Sutton Hoo ©Shutterstock /Colin D Young

Sutton Hoo was an important 6-7th century Anglo-Saxon burial site with an undisturbed ship burial. It was excavated in 1939 and found to be one of the most magnificent discoveries in England with helmets, silver bowls, swords and personal decorative items.

The National Trust now operates a Visitor Centre at the site, although most of the archaeological treasures are in either Ipswich Museum or the British Museum.

Visit Christchurch Park to see the monument erected in remembrance of the Ipswich Martyrs who were burned at the stake for their protestant faith between 1538 and 1558.

Art lovers will enjoy a trip to Flatford Bridge, immortalized by Constable's painting of the mill, or visit the lovely historic home and gardens at Sudbury, Gainsborough's birthplace.

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