2020 has become the year we’ve really taken a moment to appreciate what is on our doorstop. And in the UK, it’s fair to say we have dozens of beautiful corners across the country to explore. But one area which is particularly close to my heart – having grown up there – is Sussex. This is a beautiful county directly south of London which is a fantastic region for both day trips or staycations. And so, I thought I’d put this guide together which covers all of the best places to visit in Sussex.
The best things about Sussex, in my opinion, are: its proximity to London (most places are just 1-2 hours by car or train), its arguably better weather and the fact it offers beautiful countryside, excellent beaches and charming villages. I’m biased of course, but I do think it’s one of the best parts of the country for sure. Most of us know Sussex for the cosmopolitan and world-renowned city of Brighton, but there’s plenty more on offer. Read on to find out more!
Don’t forget, we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic. Social distancing should be adhered to in all of the below destinations, as well as common sense following government regulation. A local lockdown may be re-introduced to any part of Sussex over the coming months.
Best Places to Visit in Sussex
The county of Sussex is formally split into East Sussex and West Sussex, each side packed with charming, medieval towns, glorious beaches and magnificent countryside. For this reason, it made sense to list the best places to visit in Sussex by East and West. However, Brighton sits in the heart of the county, and the beautiful South Downs National Park straddles the whole of the south, so I thought I’d include the two here:
Submitted by Jessica from jessicapascoe.com
Easily one of the best things you can do in Sussex is to spend a day in alternative, vibrant Brighton. There are so many awesome restaurants, vibrant independent shops and typical seaside activities to experience.
One of the most well-known attractions is the Brighton Palace Pier, with old fashioned cotton-candy, fairground rides, fish and chips and plenty of slot machines. It’s a great place to take a stroll and enjoy views of the famous Brighton seafront. The beachfront itself has two levels worth exploring; including the promenade and the beachside arches, where you’ll find fantastic galleries, independent shops, bars and restaurants.
Away from Brighton seafront, check out the Royal Pavilion, a summer seaside pleasure palace built by King George IV which is now a museum. The Royal Pavilion is also located on the edge of the famous ‘Brighton Lanes.’ These historic, cobbled alleyways are full of unique shops, independent restaurants and cafés, another must-explore area of Brighton.
If you’re looking for a funky coffee shop, visit Marwood, and if you’re looking for lunch or dinner then you absolutely have to visit the affordable and delicious Ristorante Donatello. I have been visiting this Italian restaurant with my parents for 29 years.
South Downs National Park
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You cannot skip the incredible South Downs National Park when you are looking for the best things to do in Sussex.
It is well connected with major transport hubs such as London, Portsmouth, Brighton and Southampton by regular buses and trains. The breathtaking view of countryside backed by the coastal sprawl will leave you speechless. Generally, the spring, summer, and autumn months are the best months to visit the National Park when the weather is pleasant. Although at the same time, it can be crowded during weekends.
There is a long list of things to do, with one of the most famous spots being the iconic Seven Sisters in Eastbourne. These famous cliffs were formed around 80 million years ago.
If hiking or walking is your thing, you must hike the Devil’s Dyke. It is a fairly easy hike and the entire trail through the valley is truly impressive. You can also enjoy paragliding here and see the picturesque countryside from the top of the Dyke. But the best way to explore the South Downs National Park is to discover the South Downs Way, a 100 mile long National Trail. It stretches from Winchester to Eastbourne, but can be split into short sections and completed by foot or bike. While visiting the South Downs National Park, you must sample a local ale or wine and delicious food at a countryside pub in your itinerary. The UK is not a cheap European country, but surprisingly you will find here many affordable pubs that serve award-winning wines with delicious dishes.
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Chichester is a great city for shopping. It’s small enough not to feel overwhelmed, yet the high street seems full and interesting too. All the top High Street names are here.
The best thing about Chichester though is the pedestrianised cobbled streets and beautiful Chichester Cathedral – it’s definitely one of the most characterful cities in the UK. The Georgian city has a long and interesting history, dating back to anglo saxon times.
If you like to explore a new place through its history then you’ll love the Fishbourne Roman Palace. Here you can see a palace from AD75 in its treasured glory. There’s also the Weald & Downland Living Museum where you can see more than 50 historic buildings across 40 acres.
Back in Chichester centre, you can see the Chichester Cross on the point where the two Roman streets converge. The fantastic Perpendicular Gothic monument makes for a great meeting spot in the city in among the listed buildings.
If you’re looking for something to eat, I like the Pass Street Food Cafe for burgers, and Field & Fork if I’m feeling fancy. Fancy a few drinks? Head to the Boat House Cafe at Chichester Harbour. You can’t beat a gin and tonic while admiring the boats in the harbour.
There are all kinds of festivals and celebrations in Chichester year round so keep an eye on the listings for your proposed dates. The Culture and Arts Festival is a particular highlight.
Priory Park is especially popular in the summer – so bring a picnic and enjoy the open space and the south coast sun.
West Wittering Beach
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As any Brit knows, a sandy beach is a much-coveted luxury on our shores. Which is why West Wittering beach is so popular with holiday-makers and day-trippers alike!
Situated close to the entrance to Chichester Harbour, West Wittering is a Blue Flag beach. In summer months, it’s also patrolled by lifeguards, making it popular with families. Barbeques are allowed on the beach too, so there is no excuse not to spend the whole day there then sit and watch the sun go down over the Isle of Wight in the distance.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hire kayaks and paddleboards. Or, if you’re staying at one of the many campsites or B&Bs that fringe West Wittering Beach estate, why not hire bikes and explore the Salterns Way cycle route that goes all the way up to Chichester?
As you can expect, traffic and parking in the school holidays and summer months can be a bit of a nightmare. Our advice is to get in your car as early as possible to beat the majority of the traffic, and the roads in and out of West Wittering are mainly small country lanes. Luckily, extensive (paid) parking is available right near to the beach.
Our best advice to leave the crowds behind is to park up and then head east for a little while. This part of the beach is a lot quieter, as many people tend to set up camp as close to the car park as possible, so you’re more likely to have some space to yourself! Just keep in mind that the toilets are all located nearer to the main hub of the beach.
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Arundel isn’t just a hidden gem of West Sussex, but of England. It makes for a perfect day trip from London, but Arundel somehow doesn’t get half the visitors you’d expect! Its lesser-known status totally plays into your hands, however, because you can spend an ideal day out in the town without having to deal with the tourist hordes!
Arundel Castle immediately grabs the attention as you approach the town. Although parts of it might not be quite as old as it seems (there’s been a castle on this site since 1067, but it was heavily damaged during the Civil War), it makes a perfect stop for history lovers. There’s dungeons, winding spiral staircases, and even a legendary sword – what more could you want! Neighbouring Arundel Cathedral is also thoroughly worth a visit.
If you’re more interested in looking around the town itself, then there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Arundel specializes in antiques, and most of the shops in town are charmingly disorganized – it’s treasure trove stuff, and you’re more than likely to pull out an absolute gem that everyone else has completely missed. With everything from books to militaria to jewelry, you certainly won’t want for choice!
Arundel also doesn’t disappoint when it comes to eateries, with a couple of outstanding Italian restaurants, and a plethora of traditional tea rooms – Belinda’s Tea Room on Tarrant Street is particularly renowned by locals. While you’re there, be sure to check out Castle Chocolates next door – everything inside is handmade by a longstanding local family business, and it’s all utterly delicious!
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Located in the sleepy town of Petworth, Sussex, Petworth House and Park has belonged to the same family for generations. Part of the house and its extensive deer park and gardens are open to visitors all year round.
The house is actually well known for housing what the National Trust calls the ‘finest art collection in its care’, but the property has so much more to offer than that.
Our favourite thing to do is to make up a picnic, grab a blanket, and head out into the 700-acre deer park to find a shady tree to sit under. The park is home to a herd of about 700 fallow deer, so if you’re lucky you could be joined by them for lunch!
Parking is provided onsite. There are two car parks; one nearer the house, and one further into the deer park. Follow the brown road signs for ‘Petworth House’ for the main car park, or the signs for ‘Petworth Park’ for the other car park.
Alternatively, make a weekend out of it and stay at one of the beautiful B&Bs in and around Petworth town, then simply walk there. We adore Petworth and would recommend spending time exploring the town as well as Petworth House and Park. It’s not easily accessible by public transport (the nearest train station is Pulborough, which is about 6 miles away), but the surrounding areas are great for exploring by bike if you were spending longer in and around Petworth itself.
West Dean Gardens
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One of the best things to do in Sussex on a sunny afternoon is to visit West Dean Gardens near Chichester.
Take your time to wander around the estate and immerse yourself in everything the gardens have to offer. These 90-acre gardens are stunningly beautiful and feature a walled garden, spring garden, sunken garden and a 300ft pergola complete with climbing roses, honeysuckle and jasmine.
In the walled garden you will find fruit trees, cutting flowers and glass houses; typical of the Victorian era. In the sunken garden enjoy views out and across to the Sussex Downs from one of the quaint thatched shelters that are dotted around the gardens.
Walk through the 300ft restored pergola, the longest in the UK, and enjoy the scents of the flowers weaving their way around the trellis. Head to the spring garden with its flint bridges crossing the River Lavant that runs through the estate and rest awhile in one of the cute seating areas to enjoy the flowers and foliage all around you. Several sculptures can be seen in this area, a nod to the connection the original owner had to artists such as Dali and Magritte.
If you are feeling energetic then you can walk the 2.5-mile circuit around West Dean’s Arboretum for sensational views of the Sussex countryside before returning back to the restaurant/café for a cup of tea and a slice of homemade cake. The perfect way to finish your day at West Dean Gardens.
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20 miles outside of Brighton sit the imposing white cliffs known as Seven Sisters. Perched on the edge of the English Channel, the chalk cliffs are often confused with the more famous White Cliffs of Dover. In fact, they stood in for the White Cliffs of Dover for the Hollywood blockbuster Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.
Seven Sisters is a popular spot for hikers. You can walk along the top of the cliffs and then down to the public beach Cuckmere Haven. The best way to experience the whole cliff range, which stretches from Cuckmere Haven along to Birling Gap, is to hike the coastal trail from Seaford to Eastbourne. The views of the cliff make this walk one of the best walks in the UK.
The walk across the cliffs is a flat surface but of course, there are steep climbs as the cliffs go up and down. Some decent walking shoes should be enough to get you along the cliffs but beware as you are right on the coast the wind can be very strong and the weather can change quickly.
Seven Sisters is also a popular location for photographers. The cliffs can be photographed from different angles thanks to their accessibility. The easiest point to start is by coming in from the nearby town of Seaford. There is a car park here that is a 15-minute walk away from Cuckmere Haven. From this direction, you can get the best views of the striking white chalk of the cliffs.
Although not as famous as the White Cliffs of Dover, the chalk of the cliffs is whiter. The lack of construction in the area has kept the striking white colour of the cliffs which makes this such a beautiful area.
Rye and Camber Sands
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For the chance to explore two contrasting destinations in East Sussex for the price of one, visit Rye & Camber Sands.
Nurture your inner history buff, by starting your day in Rye. This medieval English town, studded with Georgian townhouses, haunted inns and wonky timber-framed Tudor houses flanking cobbled streets, and featuring a castle, will set your imagination on fire.
Check out the fine selection of small independent shops and the galleries selling work by local artists. For a birds-eye view of the town, climb the tower of the 12th Century St Mary’s Church, after which you will deserve a calorie-laden cake in one of Rye’s excellent cafes.
When you have finished exploring Rye, head to Camber Sands, an easy three-mile walk along the clearly signposted National Cycle Network Route 2. If you are using public transport, bus #102 links Rye and Camber Sands every 30 minutes. For those arriving by car, there are three pay-and-display car parks at Camber Sands.
With its seven miles of golden sand and rolling dunes, the beach at Camber Sands gives many of those in the Caribbean a run for their money. Just add sunshine. Top up your vitamin D level, paddle in the rock pools, collect seashells or try build sandcastles. If you are feeling more adventurous, why not try your hand at kitesurfing?
If you are London-based, Rye is an easy one-hour journey by rail from the capital. Take a train from London St Pancras International and change trains at Ashford International.
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Historic Hastings is a large and vibrant seaside town located on the English east coast of Sussex (only 90 minutes on the train from London). Boasting a beautiful beach and picturesque renovated pier that stretches into the sea, Hastings is a classic coastal town. The old town has all the traditional trappings including a cobbled high street, narrow streets, antique shops, numerous inns and pubs, plus several delicious seafood and fish and chip shops to choose from.
There are many things to do in Hastings including riding the UK’s steepest cliff funicular railway, which allows you to easily get to the top of the cliffs for stunning views looking down on the resort as well as the nearby protected coastal parks. It also takes you to the ruins of Hastings Castle which was built during the Norman Conquest of Britain and dates back to the 1070’s.
The history of Hastings is most evident at the coastal area known as the Stade, Europe’s oldest fishing beach. This spot is often used as a filming location in TV and movies (particularly for period dramas), the Stade consists of colourful fishing posts, old fishing huts and seafood stalls selling fish that have come out of the sea earlier that day – can you get any fresher than that?
The town also has a thriving arts scene with several museums. The Jerwood Gallery is a great spot to view some contemporary modern art, plus there are many independent galleries selling local photography and paintings.
Submitted by Victoria from familytravelwithellie.com
Battle is a small and beautiful town in the district of Rother, East Sussex. Most famous for the stunning abbey located in the centre of the town, and of course the battle of Hastings which took place here in 1066, when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold.
Battle is a wonderful travel destination for all ages. It effortlessly combines legend, history and extraordinary architecture, with modern restaurants and boutique shops.
A visit to Battle Abbey provides a wealth of education particularly on the events of 1066. When we visited, my children were fascinated by the history as we explored the grounds, learning new facts as we went. We were able to enjoy a lovely walk around the battlefield and It was particularly enchanting and slightly eerie, to see the exact spot that the famous battle took place.There is a lovely area for picnics, with a play area and a very well equipped gift shop with A lovely choice of purchases for all budgets.
There are some particularly lovely coffee and brunch shops in Battle, if you choose to grab a bite out instead of taking a picnic. They offer mouthwatering choice of homemade salads, baguettes and cakes.
Another “ must see” place to visit if you journey to Battle is the book shop in the centre of town. It’s one of the few original book shops still open. We all love to go there, where we enjoy taking our time whilst We look at new books on offer.
The great thing about the location of Battle is the close proximity to the coast, particularly Hastings – approximately 6 miles/10minutes by car!
Pooh Bridge in Hartfield
Submitted by Susan from thriftyafter50.com
For fans of Winnie the Pooh and all his friends, a major reason for visiting Sussex is the chance to walk to Poohs Bridge and “play a little pooh sticks on the way!” Just make sure you take a friend because as piglet says “It’s so much more friendly with two.”
Pooh’s Bridge can be located by driving through the village of Hartfield, past the Pooh Corner Gift Shop & Tearoom and then left down Chuck Hatch Rd at the giant tree. From there you take a right at the sign for Marsh Green and then right again into the Pooh Car Park. From the car park just follow the signs through the woods.
Depending on the weather the path can be very muddy, so make sure you “always watch where you are going. Otherwise, you may step on a piece of the Forest that was left out by mistake.”
As you walk through the forest, remember to collect some sticks off the ground for a game of Pooh Sticks. There are very few sticks near the bridge, as well as signs requesting that you don’t pull sticks off the trees – so do pick them up on the way.
If you aren’t sure how to play Pooh Sticks it’s very simple, just lean over the edge of the bridge and drop your stick into the water then rush to the other side to see whose stick comes out first.
Once you’ve run out of sticks, head back to Hartfield and finish your adventure at Pooh Corner Tearoom with “a little smackerel of something” because you are probably like Pooh and are a little rumbly in your tumbly!
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Away from the coastline and busy Brighton, the East Sussex town of Lewes is full of history, character and some great pubs, too. Lewes is the county “capital” of East Sussex and you’ll find the law courts and other buildings here along with great connections to London, Brighton and other towns around Sussex and beyond. Trains connect Lewes with London Victoria, Hastings and Brighton or you can take a bus if you’re coming from closer by. The train station is an easy 5-10 minute walk into town.
In Lewes you’ll find beautiful old streets and houses dating as far back as the Tudor period against the backdrop of the rolling South Downs. One of the main attractions is Lewes Castle, which you can climb up (entrance fee applies) for lovely views over Lewes town. The Norman keep of the Castle is nearly 1,000 years old. For history lovers there is also the house of Anne of Cleves (fourth wife of Henry VIII who managed to keep her head) – this house was given to Anne as part of her divorce settlement from Henry VIII and is a beautifully preserved Tudor House. Other notable places to visit in the town include the Needlemakers, which is a converted 19th century candle factory, now home to a variety of arts and handicrafts which you can buy.
For those in need of refreshment, Lewes has some great pubs, bakeries and cake shops too. We highly recommend the Pelham Arms at the top of the high street, as well as the Flint Owl bakery with its lovely courtyard garden for tea and cake any time of the day.
Lewes is the perfect town to explore for history lovers or for those who just feel like savouring Sussex’s town culture – there’s plenty to keep you busy here for a day, a weekend or more with lots of walks nearby!
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The village of Burwash lies on a ridge in the High Weald of Sussex. Stretching along its high street, Burwash overlooks a beautiful landscape of rolling hills where fields are bordered by tight hedgerows. The old village features a few half-timbered houses and quaint old oasthouses. In fact, many buildings on the High Street have been given listed building status by English Heritage.
The village Church of St.Bartholomew’s is believed to be the oldest building in the village – parts of the Norman porch tower date back to 1090. An unusual war memorial stands at a crossroads near the church. It lists the names of 56 residents of Burwash who were killed during World War I. Designed in 1920, the Burwash War Memorial is topped with a lantern that is lit on the anniversary of each death.
Burwash owes its fame to novelist Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) who wrote The Jungle Book (1894) and The Man Who Would Be King (1888). From 1902 until his death in 1936, Kipling resided in Bateman’s, a beautiful Jacobean-style mansion dating from the 17th century. The interior has been kept in its original state of the time of Kipling, and includes a personal collection of 5,000 items: his Nobel Prize, oriental items purchased in India, paintings, etc.
Burwash is a pleasant spot for a few days’ relaxation outside the hustle and bustle of city-life. The village is also a great base for exploring the surrounding countryside (the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and its rich heritage: Bodiam Castle (8 mi) or Battle Abbey (10 mi).
Bateman’s in Burwash
Submitted by Susan from thriftyafter50.com
As mentioned above, one of the highlights for literature buffs travelling through the county of Sussex is the opportunity to visit the home of famous writer and Nobel Prize winner, Rudyard Kipling.
Bateman’s, a beautiful three story Jacobean house along with its 33 acres of fields and woodland, provided Kipling with the perfect solitude and inspiration required to write Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies.
Visitors to Bateman’s can take a tour the house, including Kipling’s study where it is said that he paced up and down humming to himself while he wrote. The 17th century sandstone building has mullioned windows and vines creeping over the exterior, while inside there are oak beams and timber panelling.
The house still contains many of the original family furnishings with an exhibition hall set up to display an extensive collection of the family’s personal belongings.
The gardens and woodland where Kipling drew so much of his inspiration can be explored during your visit. The walled garden includes rose bushes, a herb and vegetable garden, a water feature and orchard. There is pathway that leads across a timber bridge and alongside a babbling brook to a mill and mill pond where Kipling had a turbine installed to provide electricity to the house.
Also available for viewing is the garage where Kiplings Rolls Royce car is stored. It is said that he was a keen motorist and enjoyed exploring Sussex.
There is plenty of car parking space for visitors, as well as a gift shop and cafe. Bateman’s is a National Trust Property and is open for viewing between April and October.
Submitted by Annabel from smudgedpostcard.com
If you can only visit one castle in England, Bodiam Castle should be the one. Set in typical rolling East Sussex countryside, Bodiam Castle has everything you could want from a medieval castle. Even the journey to the castle is spectacular: the Kent and East Sussex Railway runs a steam train from the nearby town of Tenterden to Bodiam.
Bodiam Castle, run by the National Trust, was built in the late 14th century for Sir Edward Dallingridge. Any self-respecting knight needed an impressive pile in which to protect their family and entertain their guests. Bodiam Castle is part status symbol and part defensive fortress. The castle is surrounded by a moat and protected by an impressive portcullis, one of the few remaining original examples in England.
Although much of Bodiam Castle is in ruins, it is a great place to explore, particularly if you are visiting with children. There are two towers to climb which offer lovely views over the surrounding countryside: with oasthouses and English vineyards visible from the battlements. We enjoyed exploring the Great Hall, the galleries and kitchens, imagining how life must have been at Bodiam hundreds of years ago.
There are pleasant walks in the grounds of the castle and the National Trust has a café in which to refuel before you hop back on the steam train. As with other National Trust properties, you can expect delicious coffee and cakes. Bodiam Castle is located 10 miles from Tenterden and 12 miles from Hastings.
Best Places to Visit in Sussex
So there you have my guide to the best places to visit in Sussex. From the cosmopolitan city of Brighton to the charming destinations of Chichester, Arundel and Lewes. There are some glorious beaches to spend long sunny days at, as well as an abundance of important historical sites. With its close proximity to London and all the major airports, Sussex is definitely an excellent county in the UK to visit. And as always, if your Sussex trip is blessed with pleasant weather, it can be almost better than going overseas!
I do hope this guide has been helpful and inspires you to explore more of the UK this year! Please, as always, do let me know if you have any questions!
Disclaimer: This guide has no involvement from the local tourism board or a hotel.
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