Great Britain

Why Ipswich deserves its place on TripAdvisor's emerging destinations list

Call off the ski season and cancel Marbs because the algorithms have finally lost the plot: Ipswich, county capital of Suffolk, has been crowned king of destinations for 2020. 

That is to say, this sleepy historic town (no, we’re not a city) has somehow snuck its way onto TripAdvisor’s emerging destinations list for 2020 – the only UK entry to make the cut. In the words of Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis addressing the crowd at Portman Road in the summer of 2006: “Ipswich? Where the f*** is Ipswich?!”

I’ll tell you. First, let’s jump on the bumpy A12 and follow the tailbacks eastwards to a land where Danish goods containers go to die on the A14 slip road because the Orwell Bridge is closed due to high winds. You’ll know when we’re close from the sounds of the tractor horns competing with the Jack Wills-clad helicopter mums on their way back from doing the school run. 

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We’ve got Ed Sheeran, we had Thomas Cromwell (until he was beheaded by Henry VIII), we’ve got a new nine-screen cinema in the Buttermarket shopping centre – and all the chain restaurants that ever offered a 2 for 1 deal on the back of a ticket stub. When Wagamama came to town in 2016 it made the front page of the Ipswich Star: this is the metropolitan hub where townies and farm hands meet to break bread.

Historically, Ipswich has a lot going for it. Said to be the oldest existing town in the UK, it’s been inhabited since Anglo-Saxon times – ask anyone here about their primary school field trip to Sutton Hoo, the famous Saxon ship burial site, and they’ll get misty-eyed. 

We’ve had Romans, we’ve had Vikings, we’ve had Tudor royalty come to stay in our number one rated attraction, Christchurch Park and Mansion. Let’s look at the most recent TripAdvisor review. “Avoid – hills everywhere,” says Dougie13. “Recently vited [sic] the park ...DISASTER!!! Hills were overwhelming and over sized. Disappointing.”

Yes, the park is a bit hilly – didn’t expect that from the flats of East Anglia, did you? All the better for rolling down on Ipswich Music Day, the UK’s largest annual free music festival. And the mansion? “Generally underwhelming,” says Traveler22028039749. “Amazing collection of Constables and Gainsboroughs in a single room. Apart from that the house is pretty tedious.”

Ipswich has plenty of historical buildings (Getty Images)

Traveler22028039749 has high expectations – those original paintings by the 18th-century landscape and portrait artists John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough are indeed amazing, as is the museum and gallery they’re housed in. Come for the original 500-year-old painted closet, stay for the enormous and incongruous portrait of Ed Sheeran next door. We’re very proud.

No doubt your cultural appetite has been whetted by this point – which is good because there is more, so much more, in Ipswich Museum, home to Suffolk’s finest collection of taxidermied animals. It’s also home to Ipswich’s most famous resident (no, not Ed, he lives in Framlingham), the life-sized woolly mammoth replica Wool.i.am (name chosen by public vote in 2014).

Ipswich's waterfront has undergone extensive redevelopment (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“We don’t know what Will.i.am thinks of it yet, but he’d be more than welcome to visit us,” a museum manager told the BBC at the time. 

Will.i.am has never visited, he’s on the drag, as a proper Suffolkian might say (Google it). Did you know we have our own language? See that 15th-century building there, Sparrowe’s House – it’s a Lakeland shop now – it’s slightly on the huh. See what I mean?

Time for a drink – and Ipswich does have a marvellous selection of country pubs. Enjoy a pint of local Adnams at the Thomas Wolsey, or an Aspall’s cider at The Greyhound. Open mic night is still going at the Steamboat Tavern – just don’t fall into the dock on your way out. Years ago the pollution and abandoned shopping trolleys might have killed you, but these days it’s more likely to be a million-pound yacht. Ipswich Waterfront has undergone a serious redevelopment over the past decade and, on a sunny day outside Isaacs on the Quay bar and restaurant, well, you could almost be in Saint-Tropez.

Fancy a show? We’ve got two theatres, the Ipswich Regent (currently showing a Neil Diamond tribute band) and the Wolsey Theatre (yes, Wolsey again – we do like to throw his name around).

Then it’s time to hit the tiles – and there’s only one place to go! No, really, there’s only one nightclub. But the sticky floors of Unit 17 (formerly Liquid) hold strong. If you’re lucky you might meet a Tractor Boy – Ipswich Town Football Club are on the up, after all. It’s 18 years since they made the premier league, but Ipswich: this could just be our season.