With its history dating back to a Roman settlement and its development to Anglo-Saxon times, in the 7th and 8th centuries, Ipswich can claim to be one of the oldest towns in England. As a non-metropolitan district, Ipswich retains a concentrated degree of local charm while being culturally dynamic and, more recently, undergoing extensive rebuilding and gentrification.
Ipswich is busy enough to be really diverting but it’s location in the heart of Suffolk makes it an ideal spot to explore if you’re staying in holiday cottage accommodation.
Maritime Ipswich and the Waterfront
While Ipswich has had a working port since Saxon times, the town’s waterfront has more recently become the centre of a thriving restaurant and bar scene. This rejuvenated area has plenty of places where you can eat and drink and is also home to some architecturally significant buildings, such as the Old Custom House and the modern Waterfront Building.
The Old Custom House is home to the Ipswich Port Authority and dates back to 1845 and its brick façade was designed in such a way as to imitate stone.
The University of Suffolk’s Waterfront Building looks out over the marina and is an imposing architectural presence. This was built in 2008 and adds a whole new modern dynamic to the location.
The quayside is rich in atmosphere, dotted about with bistros, bars and restaurants. There are also monthly waterfront markets, and the annual Ipswich Maritime Festival attracts up to 70,000 visitors, combining food, street entertainment, live music and markets.
There are also regular sightseeing boat trips running from the waterfront, including a river cruise restaurant, the Allen Gardiner.
An Independent Town Centre
Running between the town centre and the waterfront, The Saints is a flourishing fashionable retail area of Ipswich. The road structure including St Peter’s Street and St Nicholas Street itself dates back to Saxon times, but it is in recent years that The Saints has developed as a hub for intriguing independent shops and an eclectic choice of restaurants.
There’s also a periodic popular vintage and craft market at St Peter’s Street, and the arts and heritage centre at St Peter’s Church, home to the contemporary Ipswich Millennium Tapestries.
On the east of the town centre are the historic remains of the Blackfriars Monastery, and Blackfriars is also the name of the surrounding area, in which there is a great choice of places to eat and drink, and shops to visit.
Cultural highlights in Ipswich include Christchurch Mansion, a Tudor-era property set in beautiful grounds of Christchurch Park; the Ipswich Museum; and also the independent, volunteer-run Ipswich Film Theatre, in the town’s corn exchange.
In June and July there is the annual Ip-Art Festival, with its focus on the performing arts; and the Ipswich Arts Association organises its concerts and lectures throughout the year.
The Wolsey Art Gallery, based inside Christchurch Mansion, houses the largest collection of paintings by Constable and Gainsborough outside London; and the university’s UCS Waterfront Gallery is home to a changing collection of contemporary art.
Ipswich is a town with real character, both historically resonant and forward-looking.