Like many Suffolk coastal towns it was of some importance as a port and fishing village in the Middle Ages. It still has a fine mediaeval castle, built to dominate the River Ore.
The main geographical feature of the area is Orford Ness, a long, wide shinglespit at the mouth of the Ore. Orford Ness has in the past been used as an airstrip testing facility and in the early 1970s it was the site of a powerful radar station as part of the Cold War defences against low-flying attacking aircraft; today it is a nature reserve run by the National Trust.
Orford quay viewed from the Orford Ness ferry dock.
Orford provides the only point of access to the nature reserves of Orford Ness and Havergate Island. Both sites can only be accessed via ferry boat from Orford quay. The Orford Ness ferry runs on selected days between April and October and the Havergate Island ferry on selected Saturdays.
The population of Orford greatly increases during the summer months due to its flourishing sailing club. As well as the Castle, Orford's attractions include river cruises, three pubs, a traditional post office which sells fresh bread, a traditional bakery, a smokehouse and a restaurant; the Butley-Orford Oysterage.