Felixstowe – a motorhome visitors’ guide

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Felixstowe WAS one of our favourite destinations on the Suffolk coast. It’s one of the first places we ever visited in our motorhome and is somewhere we always enjoy returning to.

WAS? Read on for changes made to parking for the larger vehicle!

On this page we’re going to look at what is on offer in this seaside resort.

We’ll dip into the history, look at the best things to see and do here, as well as point out the easiest places to park (if you’re visiting in a motorhome these will be few and far between unfortunately).

So, let’s find out about one of our favourite places…

VW motorhome at the Port of Felixstowe

A German friend of ours, visiting Felixstowe for the first time, said that the seafront reminded him of a “mini Las Vegas”; the flashing lights, the coin-gobbling machines, the varied fast food outlets… 

But this is England, ‘Sleepy Suffolk’ no less. Las Vegas has nothing to fear, thank goodness!

‘Sleepy Suffolk’ is an apt misnomer – the term was originally ‘SELIG SUFFOLK’ meaning religious Suffolk due to the high number of churches in the county.

But in Felixstowe, it is Charles Manning’s amusement park and accompanying arcades that gives you a shot of 1950s seaside entertainment in this otherwise genteel Victorian/Edwardian town.

However, this is only one facet of Felixstowe, a sweet-tasting layer. There is much more to see and do…

Felixstowe – the Port of Britain

We’ll start off in the south of the town, beginning at what we’ll call area 1: The Port of Felixstowe and Landguard Point.

Felixstowe Port is known as the Port of Britain. Indeed, it is Britain’s largest and busiest container port and one of the biggest in Europe.

Every day, you’ll see rows of cars lined up with people just sitting there looking out across the waters, watching the ships come and go. Ship spotters, perhaps? We’ve done it ourselves.

We still marvel at how these massive vessels float at all! Try counting the containers on the bigger ones! Some can carry 23,000 units. Yes, 23,000. Britain’s roads would be even more crowded with trucks if it wasn’t for these super cargo carriers.

The History of Felixstowe Port

In the Port area is Landguard Fort (known historically as Langer Fort) and Felixstowe Museum. Both hold plenty of historical interest and are well worth a visit. Allow a good 2 to 3 hours for each. You’ll need to park a motorhome in Manor Terrace now rather than by the port and fort.

The building of the fort was initiated by Henry VIII in 1543 with many later additions. England’s last seaborne invasion happened at Felixstowe in 1667 when Dutch soldiers tried – and failed – to capture Landguard Fort. 

During both World Wars, Felixstowe was important offensively and defensively. The RAF built and tested sea planes and flying boats here during WWI and beyond.

During the Second World War, it was the first base to attack German E-Boats and convoys, troops and equipment were loaded onto vessels for the Normandy Landings, and in 1945, German Naval Commanders from occupied Holland surrendered their boats to the Royal Navy in Felixstowe docks.

VW Cree motorhome at Landguard Viewpoint, Felixstowe, Suffolk

Spring high tides at Felixstowe

Away from wars and invasions, we can thoroughly recommend the View Point Café at Landguard Point. The breakfasts are a firm favourite of ours. Sometimes we’ll take a scone to share back in the van.  

As you walk away from the docks along the beach, you reach a sandy wildlife reserve with board walks. Depending upon which path you take, you may see gun emplacements and ruined bunkers.

Inland are raised grassy ridgeways which appear to be man-made – we assume – as sea defences erected after the 1953 floods that devastated the east coast.

Winter 2019 saw us Hobos soaked to the skin by a Spring high tide…and we loved it! This happens most years when the alignment of the sun and moon’s gravitational fields raises the tide above the norm.

Dodging ten-foot waves crashing over the promenade and threatening the trembling beach huts, we whooped with delight – unheard over wind and water – whilst breathing icy, salted air that lingered as a crust on our lips and clothes.

With the rivers Orwell and Stour converging and the high tide slamming into the sea defence walls, we were covered by sea-spray. The huge container ships docked at the port barely moved in their moorings – looking out at us with a calm contemplation of the stormy seas ahead of them.

Spring high tides, Felixstowe, Suffolk

Felixstowe seafront and amusement arcades

Now onto area 2: the seafront and amusement arcades…

On the dock and fort side, there’s Martello Park. This is a great play park for the kids. And the promenade continues right the way to the newly restructured Felixstowe pier and beyond. It makes an excellent gentle stroll on a warm summer’s day. Or a bracing battle against the cruel east wind during winter. Either is enjoyable for its own reasons!

The pier and seafront have coin operated amusement arcades and gambling machines. Also ice cream, chips, hotdogs, sweets – like any self-respecting English resort which is aiming to grab your attention and your pennies at the same time!

During the summer season there is plenty to amuse the youngsters! Attractions such as crazy golf and a small train to ride on; always a firm favourite for Grandparents too.

You could try a game of “guess the selling price” of the imaginatively named and brightly coloured beach huts (they sell for thousands) or simply enjoy the well-tended gardens and seating areas right the way along the main front and cliffs.

Felixstowe town centre

Uphill from the seafront’s sandy beaches, you’ll reach what we’ll call area 3: the town centre.

The town has a large range of chains and independents to shop from. There are tea-rooms and cafes and a couple of marvellous secondhand book shops – including what Gav thinks is the best secondhand bookshop ever.

There are over ten charity shops if you’re keen on doing some bargain hunting and supporting charity at the same time.

Walk to the far end of the High Street to the railway station and admire the Orwell Hotel. Each December we take a motorhome-less break here for a night or two. A touch of old-fashioned luxury!

Old Felixstowe

It is possible to walk nearly all the way on the beach or prom from the Orwell/Stour estuary (at Landguard Point) to the River Deben at Felixstowe Ferry, save for a few sea defence areas in the form of granite boulders.

So, you’ll need to go past the main pier, up a steep hill toward the town centre then along the coast road where you’ll eventually come to what we call area 4: Old Felixstowe…

Old Felixstowe is the place where Walton Castle once stood. A fortified shore fort, built by the Romans, it was claimed by the North Sea in the 18th century, though parts can still be seen to this day at very low tides.

We’ll often park the van here and look out across the sea, once enjoying a spot of schadenfreude whilst watching a small boat stuck on the sandbanks until the tide came back in. Clifflands car park here is designated as a motorhome friendly park. If you’re lucky, you may find a roadside space on the sea front between here and the town centre.

VW Cree motorhome at Old Felixstowe
Cree looking out to sea at Old Felixstowe

But why Walton Castle rather than Felixstowe Castle?

Simple enough…

During Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Medieval times, Walton was actually the larger settlement. Felixstowe only rose to prominence because of the Victorian penchant for sea-bathing.

Rail links were built, the port basin was dug out, and the docks extended. Walton is now merely a suburb.

Felixstowe Ferry

You can park the van at Clifflands car park, Old Felixstowe up on the cliffs and walk the 3/4 of a mile past the golf course to Felixstowe Ferry, what we will call area 5. (Of course, you can drive on the road if you prefer!)

By walking you’ll see brooding Martello Towers, built between 1805 and 1812, to defend these shores against the possibility of Napoleonic invasions along this low-lying coastline. There are five such towers left in Felixstowe (named P, Q, R, T, and U) with others lying along the coast. Towers N, O and S were also at Felixstowe but have been lost – O was taken by the sea, N was buried under the Felixstowe dock expansion and S was close to R and was demolished.

This small settlement – Felixstowe Ferry – is golfing, sailing, fishing and crabbing territory and there are a couple of cafes here and an ‘olde-worlde’ smugglers’ den of a pub called the Ferry Boat Inn which serves excellent dishes.

Down a little path beside the river, you’ll find a homemade produce box by one of the boat houses. We always have a look and often come away with some fresh veg, delicious chutney or jam. Highly recommended!

The road runs out here as it reaches the river Deben. You’ll have to turn round and head out the same way you came in. Though, you can continue over the water via a small foot ferry at weekends to Bawdsey Quay, which is well worth a look.

Motorhome parking in Felixstowe

So, now that we’ve looked at the different areas of Felixstowe and listed some of the things to see and do here, we need to address the issue of parking.

This is something that all motorhomers want to know when visiting new places, especially town centres with their annoying height barriers.

Since this page was first published, there seems to have been a crackdown on motorhome use in Felixstowe…

East Suffolk Council actually banned all vehicles longer than 5.5 meters (that is 18 feet) from their car parks. Yes, ALL of them!

Naturally there was an outcry from motorhome users…and naturally the council offered some compromises. (Trudi is awfully cynical and suspects that this was always going to happen).

The following are the only places that you may park a motorhome over 5.5 meters (but less than 8 meters) in a Felixstowe car park. No overnight sleeping/camping allowed anywhere.

The Grove, Felixstowe, IP11 9GA (designated bays)
Garrison Lane, Felixstowe, IP11 7SH (in designated coach bays) 
Manor Terrace, Felixstowe, IP11 2EN (designated bays) 
Clifflands, Felixstowe, IP11 9SJ (designated motor caravan area)

Wild camp in such areas at your own risk!

Area 1: The Port

Landguard Point parking had been free (for years) up until November 2020. Motorhomes are now moved on by parking attendants.

We wonder how this new parking charge and motorhome ban will affect the cafe’s profits.

There are no large signs stating that motorhome parking is banned but there is small print! Search for Sites list this area as parking, possibly sleeping. You can cross it off now!

Some fellow motorhomers contacted us to say that they had been asked to move on despite having bought a ticket. The attendant said they should have looked online before buying a ticket! Are we supposed to read the council website before parking these days?! We noticed a sign in another car park which stated that only cars and motorbikes had permission to park.

This new ticket system now applies to Manor Terrace – well signed and accessed via some residential roads just before the road to Landguard. This also used to be free to park, but at least Manor Terrace is listed as having motorhome permissions.

Pass the height barrier-restricted car park on your left – pausing to cast an angry glance at it – then continue to the end of the road. Toilets here are often locked but your luck may be in.

Area 2: The Sea Front

Parking along the seafront can be easy out of season – the roadside has no restrictions. Nor did the main car park, but like other car parks in Felixstowe, the 5.5 metre rule now applies.

There are side roads without restrictions so look around. Or go to Garrison Lane and walk to the front. This is the page that we assume motorhome users are supposed to read!! It was heralded as “Good News” for us.

Frankly it feels like motorhome users are being discriminated against all over the country.

RELATED CONTENT: Vanlife vendetta: why are motorhomers arch enemy number 1?

Area 3: The Town Centre

The town centre car parks are all ‘Pay and Display’ and have no height barriers and usually have plenty of spaces.

Both the main ones have public toilets. However, neither are listed as having permissions for larger vehicles so you may find it impossible to park or be moved on.

Garrison Lane car park is in the vicinity of the town centre and has designated coach parking (which can be used by motorhomes).

Area 4: Old Felixstowe

At Old Felixstowe is a cliff top ‘Pay and Display’ or Ring-Go car park without barriers, called Clifflands. There are lovely sea views if you get a front spot, as shown in the picture above.

In the summer, the adjoining field is opened which lends itself to sitting outside the motorhome for a bit of sunbathing or picnicking. You can’t sleep overnight here – we got a tap on the door when parked at 5pm advising us that we would be reported if we tried to stay all night. Good heavens!

Area 5: Felixstowe Ferry

At Felixstowe Ferry there’s a small free car park near the pub – if you’re lucky to find a space – and a slightly larger ‘Pay and Display’ car park a bit further on.

Space is limited at weekends when many people park their cars before heading out on their sailing boats. It is not likely that you would be able to park here then. We have wild-camped a few times in the small space between the pub and the road – it is not owned by anyone yet!

Felixstowe - spring high tides
Spring high tides at Felixstowe

Felixstowe: summary

If we’re not on our longer road trips and pilgrimages, Felixstowe – easily accessible along the A14 – is our go-to place. OR IT WAS…

The new parking restrictions may change our opinion somewhat. Just be mindful about parking if you’re in a larger motorhome.

In summary, we’d say that the best things to see in Felixstowe are…

  • Landguard Point where you can eat at the View Point Café and watch the ships coming and going as well as visit the Fort and Museum. (You can also get a ferry across to Harwich here but it’s quite expensive)
  • The walks along the sandy beaches and the wildlife reserve areas (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) – with the possibility of seeing spectacular Spring high tides in January and February
  • The mini ‘Las Vegas’ seafront amusements for a spot of 1950s slot machine fun and the newly rebuilt pier
  • The second hand book shop and charity shops in the town centre
  • The Orwell Hotel for an old-fashioned luxurious night or two away
  • Clifflands car park at ‘Old Felixstowe’ where you can park up and look out across the North Sea
  • Felixstowe Ferry for fresh fish, ice cream, a great meal at the pub and the chance to hop on the foot ferry across to Bawdsey Quay

2023 Update: 70 years after the Felixstowe floods

Imagine a horror film where a wall of water suddenly sweeps across a town towards single storey buildings during the bitter cold of a January night. People drowning in their homes or swept away by the invincible force of raging water.

Hear the cries of desperate parents with young children huddled on roofs, wet clothing their only protection against the freezing gale. Feel the fear of those on upper floors, watching the sea trying to reach them with its angry fingers, closing in stair by stair.

This chilling scene was Felixstowe on January 31st 1953. A scene repeated along the East Anglian coast and across the North Sea in the low countries.

70 years to the day, we attended a service at the Langer Road Flood Memorial Garden. We returned later for a hauntingly poignant torchlit procession, stopping at places where people lost their lives for respectful remembrance.

What caused the 1953 floods?

Days before, meteorologists noticed a deepening low-pressure system building near Iceland. It roared down the East coast of Britain, funnelling into the narrow English Channel as a ten-foot high surge.

Felixstowe had sea defences, but the water gushed into the river Orwell. At 11:30pm, the river burst its banks and broke the retaining wall. A 7-feet high wall of water surged across Trimley marshes with unstoppable force towards streets of sleeping people, some in single storey prefabricated homes.

Some drowned in their beds.

Gav showing the depth of the flood water in the Langer Road area.

Families who were fortunate enough to escape their inundated houses waited on the roof in the bitter cold for rescue. For at least one little girl, that help came too late. Others drowned, too old or infirm to avoid the flood. Many pre-fabs were torn from their footings, killing their owners as they crashed together, driven by the raging water and gale force winds.

Those in two storey terraced houses woke in the dark to sea water completely filling the ground floor.

Anyone unfortunate enough to be out in the storm, often attempting rescues, ran the risk of being swept away by the sheer force of the current.

41 people died in Felixstowe, mainly in the Langer Road area. Along the East Anglian coast, 307 lives were lost, and many more died on the low-lying continent. In all 1836 people died due to the flooding – with thousands of acres of farmland rendered unusable and loss of livestock too. Many homes were abandoned forever.

Let us know what you think of Felixstowe

We’d love to know what your thoughts are on Felixstowe. Did you enjoy your visit or did the parking put you off? Let us know in the comments section below or contact us here direct. It’s certainly more than just the Port of Britain!

Make sure to check out other places we recommend on your travels in Suffolk including the city lost to the sea, the forest where a UFO was spotted in 1980, and the resting place of Suffolk folklore’s devil dog, Black Shuck.

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2 thoughts on “Felixstowe – a motorhome visitors’ guide

  1. Mrs Pamela Chappell says:

    We have being have been going to Languard point
    For many years in our car and our 2 birth motor home, we went there yesterday, got a ticket, and was just going to get a bite to eat at the cafe, when a parking attendant told us that we could not park our camper there, we said we have been coming there for years , he said it says on the Suffolk web site that they have stopped any campers parking there, we asked where are the signs saying that we couldn’t park there he said it’s on the website, not something you do every time you go somewhere iit! Very dissatisfied and disappointed.

    • motorhomehobos says:

      Hello Pamela, thank you for getting in touch.
      This is very disappointing news.
      Like you, we visit Landguard Point and have enjoyed meals in the cafe there. We were annoyed when Suffolk Coastal Council saw fit to invite a private company to manage its car parks, making a profit from newly introduced charges.
      However, we were not aware that Ringo were actively ejecting motorhomes from that car park. We see that motorhomes over 5.5meters in length are “permitted” to use certain car parks. This was after initially banning them from ALL Suffolk Coastal car parks. https://www.eastsuffolk.gov.uk/news/larger-campervans-to-be-allowed-in-12-car-parks/

      “Campervans which are less than 5.5m in length can park in any of East Suffolk’s car parks, within a marked bay.”

      This is a current page, 7th May 2021. So if your two-berth vehicle exceeds 5.5 meters, then the guy has a point! But that would be a pretty large two berth van! And no, there are no signs on site to that effect.
      The company seems to be taking a hard line on motorhomes – we were at Clifflands car park in Felixstowe a few days ago. We had a ticket, we were sitting reading and looking out at the sea. Lovely. We still had an attendant knock at the door to ensure that we would not be staying overnight. It is almost harassment.
      If you would like to give us further details, write to gavandtrudi@motorhomehobos.com . We are going to be following this up. We will be visiting that car park in our motorhome sooner rather than later to see if we can engage Ringo in a deeper discussion.

      We feel that motorhomes are being unfairly discriminated against in many parts of the country.

      Thank you again, Trudi and Gav Motorhome Hobos

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