Welcome to 20 things to do in East Sussex! Situated on England’s south coast, East Sussex is home to a wide range of attractions. From the free-spirited metropolis of Brighton to the tranquillity of the rolling hills of the South Downs, East Sussex has something for everyone. The county is known for its country villages together with its castles, traditional pubs and beaches. The fact that it’s a short drive or train trip from London, makes it a popular destination for visitors from the capital. Without further ado, here are 20 things to do in East Sussex.
1) Take a Hike in South Downs National Park
South Downs National Park consists over 1600 square kilometres (617 square miles) of rolling hills together with ancient woodland, valleys, heathland and country villages. It is criss-crossed with hiking trails galore including the epic 100-mile South Downs Way. Starting at Winchester in Hampshire, the trail crosses the entire South Downs National Park before concluding at Eastbourne. The most impressive stretch of the trail is the coastal stretch between Seven Sisters Cliffs and Beachy Head. The views of the white chalk cliffs and English Channel are spectacular indeed.
2) Spend a Day in Brighton, England’s Coolest Seaside City
Brighton is traditionally known for its pebble beach, pier and fish n’ chips. However, there’s more to the seaside city than meets the eye. Home to artists, bohemians and eco-warriors together with the largest gay population in the UK, Brighton is no ordinary seaside city. Confirming its status as being forward thinking, Brighton boasts the country’s first Green Member of Parliament, first gay marriage, an annual naked bus ride and a long-established nudist beach. Indeed, this small metropolis is proudly unconventional. Brighton is also home to some of the best live music venues in the south, an abundance of restaurants and bars together with a plethora of indie shops.
3) Go Camping at Blackberry Woods
This small, family-run camp/glamp site is located in the hamlet of Streat which is snuggled at the foot of the South Downs National Park. Although a mere seven miles from the metropolis of Brighton, the site has a rural vibe and provides a tranquil eco-friendly countryside hideaway. Blackberry Woods is no ordinary campsite. Accommodation options include Higgledy and Piggledy Treehouses, a gypsy caravan, a bus, helicopter and fire engine. More conventional options include cosy cabins and tent pitches. Each of the twenty pitches has a secluded glaze of its own with a firepit.
4) Take a Trip back in History at Bodiam Castle
With its iconic moat and beautiful setting, Bodiam Castle is one of the most popular castles in England. Located near Robertsbridge, the castle was originally built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a knight of King Edward III. Its purpose was to defend potential attacks by the French in the Hundred Years War. A quintessential English castle, Bodiam and the surrounding grounds are fascinating to explore. Although the exterior of the castle appears relatively intact, the interior is in ruins. Nevertheless, as you wander through, it’s not difficult to conjure up thoughts of what life may have been like at the castle in bygone days.
5) Pay a visit to the Artist’s Retreat of Charleston
Charleston Farmhouse, near the small village of Firle, was a gathering place for the artists, writers and radical thinkers known as the Bloomsbury Group. During the first half of the 20th century, the house was owned by artists, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. The couple painted every surface of the house, transforming it into a living work of art. Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf, who lived nearby at Monk’s House, was a regular visitor, as were writers, E.M. Forster, T.S Eliot and Lytton Strachey. Guided tours are available of the house and gardens and it’s intriguing to learn all about the lives, loves and work of the bohemians who once gathered there.
6) Stroll the Streets of Historical Hastings
This medieval seaside town offers traditional seaside pursuits, but is also brimming with history and cool independent shops. A more recent addition on the seafront has been a cutting-edge art gallery, Hastings Contemporary. The narrow lanes of Hastings atmospheric Old Town are full of traditional pubs, intriguing specialist shops and historical buildings. Tiny stores trade in antiques, art and curiosities. Adjacent to Old Town, the tall black fishing huts and colourful boats set a striking scene. With some interesting architecture along with a scattering of quirky museums, Hastings offers plenty to keep everyone entertained.
7) Enjoy a visit to Medieval Rye
Rye is a historical enclave set atop a hill, with oodles of charm and mystique. It was once the haunt of highwaymen and smugglers and its cobbled streets are lined with medieval inns, restaurants and independent shops. A labyrinth of narrow passageways (known locally as twittens) are hidden off the main street. The hilltop was, in fact, once surrounded by the sea and in times gone by the town played an important part in the defence of the coastline. It’s an enthralling place to explore and there’s no shortage of tempting taverns. The Rye Waterworks is a micropub situated in a building that was a water pump house for 300 years and then a soup kitchen in the 1890’s.
8) Visit Batemans, Home of Rudyard Kipling
Home of Rudyard Kipling between 1902 and 1936, this Jacobean house is crammed with Kipling’s personal belongings and memorabilia relating to his life. There are original illustrations for The Jungle Book and an outbuilding houses Kipling’s 1928 Phantom 1 Rolls-Royce. Not only it the house a wonderful tribute to the author, but the house itself is fascinating. Dating back to 1634, Batemans was built using sandstone from a nearby quarry. The tiles were made using local clay and the beams were constructed from oak trees which grew in Sussex.
9) Have Lunch at a Traditional Country Pub
East Sussex is known for its many traditional country pubs. Indeed, there’s nothing like a hearty lunch and a pint in a beer garden on a sunny day in the heart of the English countryside. There are far too many to list here, but here are a few for starters: 1) The Tiger Inn in the village of East Dean has an open fire together with low beams and serves a wide range of real ale. Outside seating looks over the village green 2) The Griffin Inn at Fletcher is known for its sprawling gardens. The pub overlooks the River Ouse Valley, with views of Sheffield Park and the South Downs 3) The Sussex Ox in Polegate is a classic country pub which serves organic meat from their own farm. The Garden Room has panoramic views over the Cuckmere Valley.
10) Follow in the Footsteps of Winnie the Poo
A.A. Milne used to holiday at his parents retreat, Cotchford Farm near Hartfield, back in the 1920’s. It was in Ashdown Forest and the surrounding area, that his son Christopher Robin went on adventures with his beloved teddy bear. His father wrote about their explorations in what became some of the most famous children’s novels of all time. These days, it is possible to visit the scenes of many of A.A. Milne’s stories including the iconic Poohsticks Bridge (or Posingford Bridge as it is officially known) and Eeyore’s Sad and Gloomy Place. Additionally, Pooh Corner in Hartfield is a tea room and shop which sells a wide range of Winnie the Poo souvenirs.
11) Explore Elegant Eastbourne
Nestled against the rolling countryside of the South Downs and the chalk cliffs of Beachy Head, Eastbourne is an elegant Victorian seaside resort known as the ‘Suntrap of the South’. The town stands on the ruins of the Roman city of Anderida. However, nothing remains of the ancient city with the exception of Pevensey Bay Castle five miles to the east. Eastbourne’s main draw is its pebble beach and charming seafront. Lined with hotels, the seafront has a number of attractions such as its famous carpet gardens and Eastbourne Pier together with the Wish Tower and bandstand. Eastbourne is also known for its international pre-Wimbledon tennis tournament which takes in June.
12) Spend a Day at Camber Sands
Most of the beaches in Sussex are pebble, but Camber Sands is one of the exceptions. A ten-minute drive from the medieval town of Rye, Camber is a sprawling beach with sand as far as the eye can see. Backed by grass-fringed dunes, it is particularly busy on summer weekends. In winter, it is popular with ornithologists when harriers and short-eared owls can be spotted in the dunes. Camber Sands is a good swimming beach. However, at low tide, it is necessary to wade through the shallows for a few minutes in order to swim. Additionally, there is a kitesurfing school on the beach which offers lessons on the sands.
13) Visit the scene of England’s Most Famous Battle
The Battle of Hastings took place around a thousand years ago in 1066. Although there is not much remaining of the scene, those with an interest in history will nevertheless find a visit to the grounds interesting. In addition, the quaint town of Battle nearby, is home to several decent pubs and cute independent shops. You can either wander across the battlegrounds yourself or take an audio tour. The ruins of Battle Abbey, which were built by William the Conqueror, are an evocative sight and there is a plaque where King Harold was famously hit in the eye by an arrow.
14) Take in the view at Beachy Head
Beachy Head is one of England’s most well-known landmarks. Chalk cliffs, 530-foot high, dramatically overlook a red and white striped lighthouse. Due to ongoing wind erosion, the cliffs maintain a pure white appearance. It’s a beautiful area for a walk, especially on a calm bright day when the sea sparkles under the sun. Although it’s a popular tourist attraction, there is also a dark side to Beachy Head. Since the 1600’s, it has been a notorious spot for suicides. In fact, over 500 people have taken their lives there since 1965. Some deaths have been accidental. People have lost their lives when posing for photographs too close to the edge, or stumbled when walking dangerously near the precipice. If you do head up to this spectacular spot, take great care.
15) Experience Bonfire Night in Lewes
Lewes, an ancient market town with narrow steep streets, was once the capital of Sussex. It is home to a variety of historical buildings from Tudor houses to flint dwellings. On November 5th annually, the town host the largest celebration of Guy Fawkes Night in England. The event kicks off at 5.00 pm and concludes at 1.00 am. Steeped in tradition, countless processions intermingle with one another in the streets.
Members of over thirty bonfire societies, attired in historical costumes, carry flaming torches and burning crosses through the streets. Effigies of public figures, which are later burned, are also carried along and a grand parade takes place at 9.00 pm. There is a rawness (and disregard for healthy and safety!) at the event which is rarely experienced in modern times. Indeed, witnessing Guy Fawkes Night in Lewis is akin to being transported back to medieval times and is a unique and immersive experience.
16) Check out the Wildlife at Druisillas Park
A visit to Druisillas Park is one of the best days out for the family in East Sussex. Not only does the park have a zoo, but there are a wide variety of play areas and rides for children. Kids can match their speed, sounds and abilities at ZooOlympics and collect stamps for the Animals Spotter’s Book. Although the zoo doesn’t have any large animals, there are a wide variety of fascinating small creatures. As well as an abundance of monkeys, there are sloths together with penguins, red pandas, meer cats and capybaras, not to mention many other interesting residents. The enclosures are imaginatively designed and there are lots of fun facts on display for kids. With the Oasis Café and Mungo’s Trading Post Shop, there is plenty to keep the whole family happy.
17) Explore the Ruins of Pevensey Bay
The history of Pevensey Castle harks back to the fourth century when it was built by the Romans. In fact, although much of the castle is in ruins, two thirds of the original tower walls still stand. Famously, it was also the landing place of William the Conqueror’s army in 1066. His arrival led to the defeat of the Anglo-Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings. The castle is situated on what was once a peninsular, which projected from the Sussex coast.
The castle is quite atmospheric, especially the dungeons, and it is easy to imagine what it must have been like in medieval times. Nearby, the Smuggler’s Inn, dates back to 1527 and has retained much of its character. With its oak beams and low ceilings, it has an old-world charm rarely found these days. What’s more, it’s known for its hearty pub grub and receives consistently good reviews from customers.
18) Go on a Wine Tasting Tour
There are no fewer than eight vineyards in East Sussex including Court Garden together with Ridgeview, Oxney Organic Estate, Hidden Spring and Rathfinny. The chalk that is prevalent in East Sussex is the same as that in the Champagne region of France. In fact, these days the Sussex vineyards are producing sparkling wines to rival the French versions. The wine is primarily made from the grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Indeed, taking a tour is a great way to experience the vineyards, allowing you to relax and enjoy sampling as many glasses of wine as you wish!
19) Take a Train Trip on the Bluebell Railway
The Bluebell Railway offers passengers the chance to take a journey back in time through the scenic countryside of Sussex. One of the first preserved heritage lines in England, the Bluebell Railway has one of the most impressive collections of steam locomotives and carriages in the country. The railway has, in fact, been featured on an array of tv shows and movies including Downton Abbey, along with 102 Dalmations. The track runs between East Grinstead and Sheffield Park, making stops at Horsted Keynes and Kingscote. Onboard, passengers can partake in lunch, afternoon tea or dinner in lavish surroundings.
20) Go Ghost Hunting at Michelham Priory
This medieval priory was once the home of Augustinian monks and was featured on the TV show ‘Most Haunted’. The most prolific of the ghosts to be seen at the priory is the Grey Lady. She has been spotted many times next to the bridge and gatehouse as well as staring into the moat where her daughter was thought to have drowned. Other ghosts include a hooded monk together with a kitchen boy and maid. There is also reported to be poltergeist activity. A moat encircles the priory, which dates back to 1229. After the dissolution of monasteries during the Tudor period, the priory was transformed into a country house for farming families. The interior is full of furniture and artefacts from across the ages and the attractive gardens are perfect for a stroll.