10 things to love about Ipswich
Words by Harriet Cooper
Ipswich has much to offer, whatever your interests. Set on the River Orwell, its regenerated waterfront is a hive of activity, lined with cafes, shops and galleries. Indeed, the town is a cultural haven with a thriving creative arts scene and museums showcasing its maritime history.
There’s plenty for foodies, too – don’t miss Suffolk Food Hall – and the outdoorsy will appreciate the town’s many parks. But don’t take our word for it. Hop on a train and discover Ipswich for yourself…
1 A cultural hub
From modern dance and cutting-edge theatre to big-name bands and must-see exhibitions, Ipswich ticks all the culture boxes. The Regent Theatre, the largest in East Anglia, has just celebrated its 90th anniversary and continues to offer a wide-ranging programme, in particular touring productions and artists; while the smaller New Wolsey Theatre has a diverse repertoire of drama, comedy, contemporary theatre and quirky musicals.
Jerwood DanceHouse is home to DanceEast, which champions dance in many forms. And then, of course, there’s the Corn Exchange for world-class comedians and musicians, not to mention a wealth of galleries across town.
2 Festival fever
Ipswich is home to SPILL, which bills itself as "an international festival of contemporary arts and activism", highlighting the work of mixed media artists from around the world. Created in 2007 by artist Robert Pacitti, festivalgoers can experience artworks and live performances – sound and music, film and video – many of which are free.
Other festivals worth noting are PULSE, which promotes new and innovative performances across a variety of genres, and the Ipswich Maritime Festival packed with historic vessels, a funfair and stalls.
3 Make a splash
From 1842 until the 1970s, Ipswich Waterfront was a bustling place and was known as "the biggest enclosed dock in the kingdom". It is now a lively stretch of restaurants, bars, shops and offices (though the handsome 19th-century Old Custom House remains) as well as the home of the University of Suffolk.
After exploring the quay, grab a table at the boutique Salthouse Harbour Hotel, order a cocktail and drink in the views across the water. Alternatively, try Mariners, a floating restaurant on an old warship. The waterfront is also where you can hop aboard the Orwell Lady for a cruise along the river.
4 History lesson
The oldest Anglo-Saxon town in England, Ipswich is steeped in history. Over the years, it has survived being captured by the Vikings in 869AD, an outbreak of the plague in the 17th century, and zeppelin raids during the First World War. However, it is not all doom and gloom – granted a royal charter in 1200, it became a flourishing wool town and the building of Ipswich Dock in the 19th century saw it continue as a thriving centre for trade.
Its architecture matches its illustrious past, with almost 600 listed buildings lining its streets, including Christchurch Mansion, a stunning Tudor building. Gen up on the town’s rich maritime history at the Windows Museum.
5 Market time
There’s been a market in Ipswich for more than seven centuries, with the first one trading on the Cornhill in 1317. These days, there are a number to visit. The Ipswich Market is next to the Corn Exchange and Town Hall, selling fresh produce, homemade goodies and flowers four days a week.
There’s also a farmers’ market on the first Sunday of every month, with a good selection of the region’s food and drink. The many independent businesses in The Saints quarter of town put on unique, indie markets several times a year with carefully selected food and craft vendors.
6 Where the art is
Wolsey Art Gallery, located within Christchurch Mansion, is home to the largest collection of paintings by two of Suffolk’s most famous painters – John Constable (1776–1837) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88) – outside of London.
Gainsborough grew up in Sudbury, while Constable was born in nearby East Bergholt, and both were fascinated by the bucolic Suffolk countryside, capturing it in their beautiful landscapes, many of which you can see here, as well as Constable’s possessions, including his wife Maria’s wedding band, his paint brushes and palette.
7 A memorable museum
Ipswich Museum first opened in 1881, purpose built for the education of the working classes in the natural sciences. Fast forward 130-plus years and it continues to enthrall visitors.
Meet wild animals in the Victorian Natural History Gallery, from gorillas to lions and even a rare species of giraffe; head for The Ipswich Story to learn about when Ipswich was once a vast area of grassland and our ancestors used stone tools; and step back 70 million years in the Geology Gallery.
8 Park it
Residents and visitors to Ipswich have access to over 500 hectares of green space and wildlife habitats. Alexandra Park is in the centre of town, Chantry Park has grass tennis courts, Orwell Park sits on the banks of the river and Holywells Park offers seasonal water play facilities, a bowling green and a state-of-the-art children’s play area. All of them offer up an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
9 Have a ball
Visit on an Ipswich Town FC match day and you’ll be surrounded by a sea of blue, the club’s traditional home colour, earning the team the nickname The Blues. First formed as an amateur football club in the late 19th century, when they moved into their current home of Portman Road, the club turned professional in 1936 and has since had a chequered track record – a heyday being under the management of Bobby Robson.
If you’re travelling to watch Ipswich Town home games, you can save money and avoid any ticket office queues by buying your ticket in advance.
10 In good taste
Suffolk is often referred to as the Foodie County – and for good reason. Its fertile land and sparkling coastline has seen a proliferation of artisan food and drink producers in recent years. For a taste of the county’s finest wares, head to Suffolk Food Hall, which offers a cornucopia of quality, local food with all its provenance. There’s also a restaurant, with a fresh, seasonal menu and a packed programme of foodie events. If you enjoy a drop of real ale, Ipswich is home to a number of microbreweries, including Calvors, Briarbank Brewing Co and Bildeston Kings Head.