Southwold, on the Suffolk coast, is the British seaside your grandparents will remember. It has all the charm of a genteel seaside town, with its colourful beach huts, pier and award-winning beach. You can fly a kite along the beach in the morning and watch a Punch and Judy Show in the afternoon.
There’s everything you need here for a good old-fashioned beach holiday. Along the Pier you can play the slot machines or have a cream tea. You can search for amber among the shingle and climb the lighthouse for the best views in town. There are lots of small, independent shops to browse for souvenirs and it even has its own brewery.
Here’s a list of the best things to do in Southwold for families.
Build a sandcastle on the beach
You’ll find both sand and shingle along the coast here. The coarse sand is perfect for building sandcastles and the shingle is a great place to start that all-important first collection of pebbles.
Southwold Beach is ideal for families: it’s been awarded a Blue Flag for its water quality, beach safety and cleanliness. It’s a great stretch of beach whether you want to swim in the bracing North Sea, splash around in the waves, fly a kite or go for long walks along the shore, admiring all the colourful beach huts.
Eat fish and chips
It’s virtually compulsory to have fish and chips at the seaside and the best place is at the Beach Café next to the Pier. Take a seat in one of the booths or wooden tables overlooking the beach and enjoy the fresh battered fish. Large portions cost only £1 more than the small and are massive: two pieces of fish and loads of chips.
Walk along the Pier
Southwold Pier opened in 1900 as a stop for the Belle Steamers that took their passengers between London and the seaside. It has been beautifully restored and it’s a wonderful place to linger. Walk right to the end and see if you can spot seals and porpoises in the North Sea.
There’s an old-fashioned penny arcade at the entrance, a restaurant and a café where you’ll be served tea and cakes with pretty china teapots. One of the highlights for children is Tim Hunkin’s mechanical Water Clock. Every half hour the bathing couple squirt water at each other and the cheeky boys drop their trousers to have a pee.
Don’t miss the wonderfully eccentric Under the Pier Show where you can play what have to be some of the world most fun and unusual slot machines, like Art Apocalypse where you ‘shoot’ at modern art, Crankenstein the wind-up monster and Whack-a-Banker!
Climb to the top of the lighthouse
Children will recognise the lighthouse from the TV show, Grandpa in My Pocket. Southwold Lighthouse was built in 1887 as a coastal mark for passing ships and a guide for vessels sailing into the harbour. It’s still a working lighthouse today and there are some great views over the town from the top.
You can take guided tours to learn all about the lighthouse and its history. The tours are 25 minutes long and take place between 2 and 4pm on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Arrive early to be sure of getting a place. In the summer holidays, the tours run from Wednesday until Sunday, 11am until 1pm and 2 to 4pm. Adults, £4; children, £3. Children must be 1.1 metre tall.
Look for amber on the beach
The shingle beaches between Felixstowe and Southwold are known as the Amber Coast because they’re such great places to look for amber. The amber found here is the fossilised resin which originated in the ancient forest, now the Baltic Sea. Most of the stones are 30 to 40 million years old and if you’re really lucky you might find one with an insect inside.
You’ll have to have a keen eye though: it’s hard to spot. Raw amber looks like a dull, brown stone, nothing like the beautiful colour of the polished gemstone.
If you want to find out more about amber, visit the Amber Museum. It’s the only museum in the UK dedicated to the history of the gemstone. You can see the huge 2.2kg stone here, the largest example of amber found on the English coast, as well as lots of artefacts, carvings and jewellery.
The Amber Museum, 15 Market Place, is open every day from 9am until 5pm, from 11am until 4pm on Sundays. Entrance is free.
Watch a Punch and Judy Show
There’s a great British tradition of Punch and Judy Shows at the seaside and we all loved watching the show in Southwold with the Pier in the background. There’s a Punch and Judy show on most weekends and sometimes during the week during school holidays. Showtimes are at 12pm, 2pm and 3.30pm.