Felixstowe is one of our favourite destinations in Suffolk. It’s one of the first places we ever visited in our motorhome and is somewhere we always enjoy returning to as there’s so much to do here.
A German friend of ours, visiting for the first time, said that Felixstowe reminded him of a “mini Las Vegas”. The flashing lights, the coin-gobbling machines, the varied fast food outlets…and the noise!
But this is England, ‘Sleepy Suffolk’ no less.* Las Vegas has nothing to fear, thank goodness!
Charles Manning’s amusement park and accompanying arcades 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…
On this page we’re going to look at what else is on offer in Felixstowe.
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 your motorhome.
And to make it even easier to follow, we’ve divided the town into five separate areas to explore.
So, let’s find out about one of our favourite places – the Suffolk seaside town of Felixstowe…
Felixstowe – 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 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.
Spring high tides
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.
Our friend who likened the town’s amusements to Las Vegas also saw it at its blustery best during one Spring high tide..
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.
Felixstowe seafront and amusement arcades
Now onto area 2: the seafront and amusement arcades…
We will often leave the van parked up at Landguard and walk the mile and a half along the beach to the main seafront area.
You’ll pass Martello Park – a great play park for the kids – and the promenade continues right the way to the newly restructured Felixstowe pier and beyond. It makes for 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, 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 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 go 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 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!
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, leaving the town centre and heading back toward the seafront, you’ll 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.
But why Walton Castle rather than Felixstowe Castle?
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 docks extended. Walton is now merely a suburb.
So, you can park the van at Old Felixstowe up on the cliffs and walk the 3/4 of a mile past the golf course to Felixstowe Ferry, what we 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 four such towers in all.
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, so 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.
The good news is that Felixstowe has ample parking for even the largest of motorhomes.
There are a couple of car parks along the seafront and nearer the amusement arcades that do have height barriers, but apart from that all five ‘areas’ that we’ve mentioned on this page have space for your van.
That being said, “NO OVERNIGHT CAMPING” signs are starting to breed along back streets and in car parks, probably due to complaints from locals unable to park their own vehicles.
Wild camp in such areas at your peril as you will most likely be reported and moved on.
Parking in each area…
Landguard Point parking is free. There are no signs preventing overnight camping and this area is listed on Search for Sites. However, we’d advise you to stay away from the ‘Viewing Area’ close to the ships at night as it’s a meeting place for boy-racers, especially at weekends.
There is another free car park suitable for motorhomes on the port side of town – Manor Terrace – well signed and accessed via some residential roads just before the road to Landguard. 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. There are toilets here but these are sometimes locked for some reason, even during the daytime.
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.
At Old Felixstowe is a cliff top ‘Pay and Display’ car park without barriers. 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.
At Felixstowe Ferry there’s a small free car park near the pub – if you’re lucky – 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.
Felixstowe best bits
In summary, we’d say that our favourite spots 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 book shops and charity shops in the town centre
- The Orwell Hotel for an old-fashioned luxurious night or two away
- 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
Whatever you do, we’re sure you’ll enjoy it!
Let us know what you think of Felixstowe
We’d love to know what your thoughts are on Felixstowe. Let us know in the comments section below or contact us here direct. It’s certainly more than just the Port of Britain!
And just to clear up that asterisk at the start of this page…
*’Sleepy Suffolk’ is an apt misnomer – the term was ‘SELIG SUFFOLK’ meaning religious Suffolk due to the high number of churches in the county. Just thought we’d mention it!
Make sure to check out other places we recommend you visit on your travels in Suffolk including the city lost to the sea – Britain’s Atlantis – the forest where a UFO was spotted in 1980, and the resting place of Suffolk folklore’s devil dog, Black Shuck.