Ipswich is the county town of Suffolk. It's former reputation of being a depressing, crime-ridden industrial backwater is slowly disappearing with new developments such as the Waterfront entertainment district, the University Campus Suffolk and new shopping developments are under construction.
Ipswich was one of the most prosperous cities in the UK since Saxon times. During its heyday it was a major trading port, being located on the estuary of the Orwell River on the East Coast. Ipswich fell into rapid decline after the opening of the new ports at Felixstowe and Harwich and stayed that way until the 1970s when much of London's financial services industry used Ipswich as a hub for their secondary offices with names such as Royal Bank of Scotland, Willis & Faber, Norwich Union and AXA opening shiny new skyscrapers in a new CBD development just north of the river. Most recently, the brand new University Campus Soffolk brought on rapid development along the waterfront area with lots of trendy new bars, restaurants and apartments lining the east bank of the river.
Anyone expecting a typical, small provincial town will get a little culture shock when stepping out of the train station as 1960s tower blocks, Saxon half-timber cottages, Victorian townhouses and shiny new high-rise developments sit side-by-side.
By Air Ipswich has good connections to both London Stansted and Norwich International airports. From Stansted, there is an express bus service (X5) which runs between Ipswich Old Cattle Market Bus Station and Stansted Airport Coach Station every 2 hours, 24 hours a day; taking approx. 90 minutes. Expect to pay around GBP75 for a prebooked minicab and over GBP100 for a metered taxi.
Norwich Airport can be reached in approx. 1-1.5 hours. From the airport, take a local bus or a taxi to Norwich Railway Station and from there it's about 40 minutes by train to Ipswich. A taxi will be about GBP50-60.
By Train Ipswich Station is located on the West Bank of the Orwell River on the intersection between Princes St, Burrell Rd and Ranelagh Rd, about 1 mile from the town centre. There are frequent (every 20 min) services towards London Liverpool Street (1hr20min), Norwich (every 30 mins - 40min journey time), Cambridge (every hour - 1hr15min journey time), as well as infrequent services to Lowestoft and Peterborough, and an hourly railbus shuttle to Felixstowe. Tickets must be purchased from the vending machines (credit cards accepted) or the customer service windows in the entrance hall of the station. Taxis and local buses depart from the station's forecourt.
There is also a smaller station called Derby Rd. Ipswich, located on Derby Rd in the eastern suburb of Rose Hill. It is unstaffed and has an hourly service between Ipswich and Felixstowe. It's not recommended to take a train from here at night as there are no staff and very little lighting or CCTV.
By Bus and Coach Old Cattle Market bus station on Falcon Street serves all regional and long-distance bus services. Frequent regional buses run to Stowmarket, Sudbury, Woodbridge, Felixstowe, Colchester, Framlingham etc, while National Express services run to London (3 times per day), Liverpool (1 per day), and Stansted Airport (every 2 hours). Rural bus and minibus services run to surrounding villages, although some are very infrequent. There is no ticket office at the station, so tickets should be bought on board (change is usually available but drivers will be reluctant to change large bills), except for National Express services, which must be prebooked by phone or over the internet. Electronic signboards display the next 20 or so departures and which gate they will depart from. Schedules are displayed at each departure gate.
By Car Ipswich is conveniently located on the intersections of the A12 (London - Great Yarmouth) and A14 (Felixstowe - Birmingham) highways with several exits along both routes. Driving into the city can be slow as traffic congestion is heavy, and the local drivers have a tendancy to be more aggressive than in other similar-sized towns. Also, a very confusing one-way system runs around the edge of the city centre, feeding drivers into the rabbit-warren of small streets. Maps and sat-navs are a bit useless once you're past the inner ring-road so allow plenty of time. Parking is very limited and expensive (in an underground or multi-storey city centre car park expect to pay about GBP9.00 for 3 hours) although some parking areas close to the inner ring-road will charge around GBP2.50 for one day, although they are not as secure. Alternatively, Park & Ride bus services run from 3 parking sites on the edge of the city close to the A14, costing GBP2.80 per day including free bus travel to the city centre. Look out for the blue Park & Ride signs (displaying a letter 'P' alongside a bus) when approaching Ipswich on the highway.
By Bus Local urban bus services are provided by Ipswich Buses and First Eastern Counties and radiate from the Tower Ramparts Bus Station. The green and white Ipswich buses cover most urban routes and link to surrounding suburbs and retail parks. Most services run every 10-20 minutes during the day time and every 30-60 minutes in the early morning and late evening - most services start around 5:30am and finish around 11:00pm. There's a flat fare of GBP1.70 which is paid into the farebox next to the driver - if you don't have exact change you'll be issued with a voucher that can be used as part-payment on your next journey or can be refunded at the Ipswich Buses customer service office at Tower Ramparts bus station. Day passes, weekly and monthly tickets are available, as well as a rechargable smart-card for regular travellers. First Eastern Counties services are less frequent except for #66 which runs every 15 minutes between Bourne Bridge and Martlesham and runs 24 hours a day. Fares on First buses are charged by distance and return tickets are available - change is also given but drivers are reluctant to change anything bigger than a GBP5.00 note. Tickets are not interchangeable between operators.
A useful service for tourists is the #38 which loops the town centre and is free of charge - useful for getting to know your way around. An open-top sightseeing bus runs a circuit of nearby tourist attractions during the summer months.
By car Driving around Ipswich is not recommended - traffic is often heavy, Ipswich drivers are renowned for being aggressive, the rabbit-warren of one-way streets is confusing and parking can be expensive. However, a car is more useful if you're staying in the suburbs or plan on travelling to some more remote attractions away from the town.
By taxi Taxis in Ipswich are cheap by British standards. Metered taxis can be found at taxi-stands outside the train station, the Old Cattle Market bus station and on a side-street beside Debenhams just off Crown Street - hailing a taxi in the street is not recommended as most taxi drivers will wait in a taxi rank rather than cruise for passengers. Phone-booked minicabs are cheaper and will take you to more inaccessible locations, but can be hard to book late on Friday and Saturday nights. Note that if you want to travel by taxi to a nearby town such as Felixstowe or Stowmarket, local minicabs in those towns will usually be cheaper than those in Ipswich.
On Foot Ipswich town centre is very compact and much of the town-centre is pedestrianised so walking is often the fastest and most pleasant way of getting around. However, walking at night is not so fun - walking beyond the town centre usually involves passing some unpleasant areas and walking through the public underpasses that cross the 'inner ring' or along by the river can sometimes be unsafe - take a taxi instead.
By bicycle Ipswich is relatively cycle-friendly - most arterial roads have cycle lanes or shared pavements, there's plenty of places to lock up your bike in the town centre and the town is relatively flat. Cycling into the surrounding countryside is also very pleasant. Unfortunately, beyond the 'inner ring' (the major roads that encompass the town centre) the bike lanes disappear, the pavements become more crowded and the traffic is heavy so if you plan on using a bicycle to explore the town centre only, then think again. Most trains entering/leaving Ipswich carry bicycles EXCEPT the peak hour stopping trains between Ipswich and London Liverpool Street.
Note however that the building is in commercial use and so is not as such open to the public.
Ipswich is nothing special when it comes to shopping - there's little in the way of specialist private retailers and plenty of big high-street chains. A long pedestrianized street (Northgate Street, Tavern Street, Carr Street) runs right across the town centre and is lined with big-name stores such as Debenhams, Boots, Marks & Spencer etc. A few smaller pedestrian streets house some smaller retailers and is the best place to find small, independant retailers. There are 2 main indoor shopping malls (Buttermarket Centre and Tower Ramparts Shopping Centre) although neither are anything special and both currently have large amounts of empty units thanks to the economic recession causing many UK retailers to go out of business.
The south-eastern part of Norwich Road is a good place to see Ipswich's vibrant ethnic community and the street is lined with shops and restaurants selling food, snacks and local products from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, India and elsewhere.
Many locals now prefer shopping in out-of-town retail parks and superstores. Copdock Interchange retail park close to the intersection between the A12 and A14 highways in the southwest of Ipswich is one of the largest with a 24-hour Tesco Extra superstore, Toys R Us, PC World, Currys (electronics and appliances) and several fast-food chains including Burger King, McDonalds and Pizza Hut (take Bus 13 from Tower Ramparts and get off at the last stop - by car it's close to the A12/A14 Copdock Interchange and at the end of the A1214 London Road from Ipswich town centre - free parking). Anglia Retail Park in the northwest of Ipswich close to the A14 highway is also popular and has an Asda superstore, B&Q home-improvement and the usual furniture and appliance stores, plus a McDonalds and a KFC (Bus 8 from Tower Ramparts - get off at the last stop - by car it's close to the Ipswich/Bury Road exit of the A14, at the top end of Norwich Road from the town centre).
The main supermarket serving the town centre is Sainsbury on Upper Brook Street. There is a larger Sainsbury on Hadleigh Road close to the train station, and there's a small branch of Somerfield on Carr Street in the town centre. Most other supermarkets are located out of town in large retail parks - the two largest are listed above. Convenience stores such as Martins, Co-op, Spar, Tesco Express and Premier can be found everywhere - most are open from 6AM-11PM, although many petrol station convenience stores are 24-hour.
St Nicholas Street in Ipswich has several restaurants. You can eat Greek, Italian, French, Thai, Chinese and Indian food in Ipswich. Besides the large number of restaurants you may also want to opt for a takeaway in Ipswich. For those on a budget it's an attractive way to try some of the food Ipswich has to offer. Typical meals range from £8-£16 for a meal for two.
Despite the sensationalized news reports about the Suffolk Murders and the nightclub shootings in Ipswich, crime is no more rampant here than in any other similar-sized town. Avoid getting into confrontations, particularly in bars, as things get a bit nasty. There are several no-go areas at night - most noteably Chantry, Gainsborough and Greenwich, as well as the residential areas around Norwich Road, although the average tourist will find no need to go to these areas, and if you stick to the main arterial roads you'll be safe. Avoid using Derby Road train station at night as it's poorly lit, isolated and unstaffed. Be careful of parking your car in quiet residential streets at night, or leaving your car in a privately run 'budget car park' such as the one at the waterfront, as car break-ins and car-thefts are common - use a town-centre car park operated by Ipswich Borough Council or NCP instead.
There's a strong rivalry between Ipswich Town FC and Norwich City FC - on match days avoid wearing football colours or saying things that may provoke a football-related confrontation. That said, the rivelry here is not as serious as it is between for example Birmingham City and Aston Villa in Birmingham; or Chelsea and Arsenal in London and football hooliganism is rare.
Ipswich sits in a beautiful area of East Anglia - "Constable Country". In fact, the setting of Constable's most famous painting, "The Haywain", is only a few miles down the A12 road (heading towards London) in nearby Flatford - click here to see how the site looks today. There is a National Trust centre in Flatford that is worth a visit, if only for the good home-made cakes on sale. Dedham nearby is worth driving onto.
About the same distance - i.e. less than ten miles - out of Ipswich is the attractive market town of Woodbridge (located on the A12, heading out towards Lowestoft). Woodbridge was once a major port, in Tudor times, and the town is still popular today amongst sailors, with a high population of retired City types who have settled in this part of the world to "mess around on boats". You can also reach Woodbridge via train from Ipswich, although the service is far from frequent. Woodbridge has many antique shops, tea shops and old pubs, and is mainly pedestrianised. Worth a visit, especially if you are, or are travelling with, someone elderly. On the outskirts is a mill (clearly signposted from the A12), the only survivor of the 10 or more which used to feed the soldiers barracked in the area during the Napoleonic wars. Places to eat: "Spice" on the main street "the Thoroughfare" or the Captains Table. To drink: the Kings Head on the town square.
Just outside of Woodbridge is Sutton Hoo, an Anglo Saxon burial ground of royal princes, buried alongside priceless treasures in ship graves. The National Trust exhibitor centre can be found here: website. In all honesty, although the site is doubtless of great historical interest, the exhibition itself is somewhat thinly stretched. (If you want to see any of the treasures found here, you'll have to go to the British Museum in London.) Worth going to if you are in the area, anyone travelling some distance to the site could be disappointed.
On the way to Woodbridge, the villages of Waldringfield and Newbourne, both off the A12, have pubs offering good food and, in the case of Waldringfield, an attractive view over the River Deben.
Five miles outside of Woodbridge is Rendlesham Forest, site of possibly the only authenticated UFO landing in the UK (!) but also good for cycling round, with bikes available to hire in the Easter / Summer school holiday periods.
Levington - between Ipswich and Felixstowe - sits on a river estuary, and features preserved wetlands which house many migratory birds. The pub there ("The Ship") does wonderful food - liver and bacon and any of the seafood especially recommended - no bookings taken. Their wine's pretty poor though. Have a quick walk before or after visiting the pub down to the river - footpath just opposite the pub, which is the only place to park in the village.
Further out of Ipswich, Orford Castle (12 miles outside Woodbridge, on the B1084) is worth a visit in good weather - the castle is over 800 years old, in good condition for a building of that age, and Orford itself is an attractive village, with good fish and chips available from pubs and restaurants at the far end of the village.