National Trust in Suffolk – Top five properties


Posted by Ed on 1st October 2018


Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

The National Trust manages some of the best-known historical landmarks in Suffolk and East Anglia. What will you discover on your next trip to this less explored part of England?

Unusual and interesting are two words we’d use to characterise Suffolk. There’s a very good chance that the places you will visit on your trip are not like any other in the country or in virtually all cases, abroad either With many exuding a rich and colourful history, offering plenty of intrigue, here is our selection of must-visit locations within the Suffolk National Trust’s collection of inspiring properties…

The five best

Orford Ness is a nature reserve with a twist because for years it was one of the nation’s most restricted zones. Ickworth is a unique country home with an imposing rotunda and lovely gardens; the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds is the only surviving Regency performance auditorium in the UK; one of Beatrix Potter’s former haunts is the beautiful Melford Hall; and the most celebrated attraction included on this list is the Saxon long-ship at Sutton Hoo.

Here is a guide to our favourite National Trust destinations in Suffolk to visit on your holiday.

Orford Ness

Orford Ness is one of those unusual places that you feel the need to tell all your friends about. So obscure and unearthly is this nature reserve and former top-secret military base, you almost feel as if you’re in on the secrets it still seems to hide. A 20-mile long peninsula, visitors can only reach the public part of Orford Ness by ferry which is run by National Trust operatives once or twice a day (this stems daily human impact on the delicate habitat). The remote reserve comprises of a huge cuspate shingle spit, which supports an eco-system of plants, insects and small birds. Throughout the majority of the 20th century, Orford Ness was an atomic and radar test site. Prototypes for new munitions were undertaken at the site and it’s also the base of the shadowy Operation Cobra Mist and others that remain redacted or top secret. Many of the buildings from its days as a military zone are still standing in various states of dereliction. There is a very basic visitor centre in Orford Ness where the National Trust’s (decommissioned) nuclear missile can be seen! There is a distinctive lighthouse on Orford Ness, as well as the places with eerie names like the Black Beacon, the Pagodas, and the BBB (Bombs Ballistic Building). It is worth going to Orford Ness if you like experiencing remote and strange places.

Go to Orford Ness if you love birdwatching, open spaces, political intrigue, human endeavour returning to nature, lighthouse, unspoiled coast, oceanscape, 20th century military history (the Cold War), Pripyat, and Dungeness.

Facilities include public toilets and drinking taps at the basic visitor centre. Orford Ness is a protected SSSI and nature reserve, therefore, it has not been adapted as a visitor attraction. Please take a picnic, lots of water, good walking shoes and a hat, as the shade is limited. Wheelchair access is very restricted because of the ferry, and the vast distances along unadopted concrete and shingle roads and paths.

Ickworth House, Bury St Edmunds

Sold to the National Trust in 1998, the former residence of the Marquess of Bristol, Ickworth House has to be one of the most distinctively designed stately homes in the country. This is largely down to its magnificent Rotunda – a wide-diameter, three to four storey, conical design topped off with a domed roof. The centrepiece of the house is enhanced by acres of lovely, landscaped gardens including walled gardens and natural meadows. This 18th century marvel is home to some very impressive collections of silver finely-crafted Huguenot refugees, and portraits by Thomas Gainsborough and others.

There are tours of the gardens and some parts of the house like the servant’s basement. On your visit, you’ll discover the unusual life story of the man who built Ickworth House, the 4th Earl of Bristol; you could also coincide your visit with a Living History Day, Conservation Day and cookery courses in the old kitchen. Kids are welcome and there is a children’s pack providing entertainment primers to keep them happy.

Facilities include the West-Wing Restaurant, café, gift shop, public toilets, disabled toilet, garden centre, parking, limited house tours, regular grounds tours, responsible dog owners and dogs on leads welcome, disabled access (visit here for details).

Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

The Theatre Royal in the heart of Bury St Edmunds is a true spectacle. One of the oldest continuous-running theatres in Europe, it holds the distinction of being the sole surviving performance auditorium from the Regency era ( 1795 – 1837).

Since its light restoration, this Grade I listed theatre is attractive to those looking to experience a 19th-century-style theatre outing. The management showcase a year-round programme of drama, music, comedy and dance from some of the UK’s leading touring houses. Tours are available in the day times and the National Trust welcome visitors to see the auditorium between performances. 

Facilities include a licensed bar, gift shop, guide dogs allowed in Dress Circle Boxes during performances, disabled toilet, wheelchair access to some Dress Circle Boxes – click here for details.

Melford Hall

This striking country house is a firm Suffolk favourite, and that’s largely due to its potted history; the fact that it has endured beautifully despite a devastating fire, and its tenuous connection to the life of famed author Beatrix Potter, who was a frequent visitor

The hall has been managed by the National Trust since 1960 and has since hosted an annual Guy Fawkes Night called ‘The Big Night Out’. Coincide your visit with the LeeStock Music Festival too if you love live music. Beatrix Potter was a regular visitor to Melford Hall because her relations owned the property for many years. The house contains a handful of her sketches in its collection of assorted objets d’arts.

Facilities include a tearoom, gift shop, parking, public toilets, tours, disabled access and welcomes responsible dog owners and dogs on leads, visit here.

Sutton Hoo

Suffolk’s most famous attraction is, for the most part, invisible. In the 1930s, the imprint of a colossal Saxon burial ship was excavated along with a veritable treasure trove.  Priceless Anglo-Saxon artefacts unearthed at the site are on display in the British Museum in London and amongst the treasures were dress work fittings in gold and gems, a shield and sword, a lyre, and silver plating from Byzantium and a ceremonial helmet, famously reproduced and mounted above the door to the visitor centre. The finds were gifted to the British Museum by the landowner, Mrs Edith Pretty, and at the time it was to be the largest bequeathment by a living person.

The site, which encompasses Tranmer House, has been managed and owned by the National Trust since the 1990s. Today visitors can walk around the Sutton Hoo park and see the original burial site, and other ancient cemeteries. There is an exhibition hall where you can learn about the exhumations and see some of the unearthed curios. For opening time and prices, visit here.

Facilities include a cafe, gift shop, public bathrooms, level pathways, partial wheelchair access, car park, cycle racks, pannier lockers, second-hand bookshop, adapted toilets (at visitor reception). Grounds - partly accessible, slopes, uneven paths, undulating terrain. Maps of accessible routes are available. Burial ground tours not accessible for visitors in wheelchairs or PMV due to uneven and undulating ground. Two single-seater PMVs available for use, booking essential. Dogs on leads are welcome everywhere except for inside Tranmer House and the Visitor Centre.

Also managed by National Trust in Suffolk

Other National Trust properties in Suffolk – Laveham Guildhall, Kyson Hill, Thorington Hall, Darrow Wood, Flatford, Dunwich Heath and Beach, Wicken Fen and Grange Barn to name about a third of them. For a complete list visit here.

Holiday in Suffolk

We have some lovely holiday cottages near National Trust properties throughout Suffolk. From country cottages, restored farm buildings, town apartments and suburban home-from-homes, there is something for everybody. Why not visit our collection to inspire your next exciting holiday in Suffolk?

Suffolk cottages