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East Sussex England Complete Travel Guide

East Sussex, England Travel Guide-Where to Visit & Things to Do

Nestled in the vibrant heart of South East England, East Sussex offers breathtaking landscapes, historic sites, and a lively cultural scene. During my stay, I explored charming villages, rugged coastal paths, and rolling hills, discovering places beyond the usual tourist paths. This guide highlights the best spots like the iconic cliffs of Seven Sisters and the quaint streets of Rye, complete with practical tips for each adventure. Whether you’re into history, nature, or cute villages, East Sussex provides a deeply personal travel experience that caters to all.

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Complete Travel Guide to East Sussex, England

Why Visit East Sussex, England?

Hastings in East Sussex

East Sussex is an ideal destination for those looking to explore the English countryside while remaining within easy reach of London. The area boasts stunning landscapes, from the dramatic cliffs of the Seven Sisters to the lush, rolling hills of the South Downs.

Charming towns dot the region, offering quaint streets lined with unique shops and historic sites. East Sussex offers a diverse array of attractions, combining natural beauty, history, and culture in one accessible locale. Whether it’s for a quick getaway or an extended stay, the region promises a rewarding experience for all who visit.

Find a great place to stay in East Sussex on Expedia!

I spent a month living in East Sussex and found it to be a very interesting region of the country. I had only ever been to the Cotswolds previously, and found the southeast of England to be just as charming.

Best Places to Visit in and Near East Sussex

1. Rye

Mermaid Street in Rye

Rye is a quintessential English town that feels like stepping back in time with its cobbled streets and medieval buildings. This small town not only boasts a rich history but also offers stunning views over the marshes. It’s the perfect spot for photography, leisurely walks, and soaking up centuries-old English culture.

  • Top Sights:
    • Mermaid Street: Famous for its old timbered buildings with quaintly named houses like ‘The House with Two Front Doors’.
    • Rye Castle Museum: Offers insights into the local heritage and the town’s medieval past.
    • St. Mary’s Church: Climb the church tower for panoramic views of the town and beyond.
  • Where to Stay:
    • The Mermaid Inn: A historic inn that dates back to the 12th century, known for its period charm and tales of smugglers.
    • Waggoner’s Cottage, Peasmarsh: Ideal for a peaceful retreat, offering beautiful country views and cozy accommodations.
  • Tips for Visiting:
    • Parking: Car parking can be limited within Rye itself. Consider using the public car parks located just outside the town center.
    • Timing: Visit during the weekdays or early mornings to avoid the crowds and fully enjoy the town’s serene atmosphere.
    • Local Cuisine: Try the local seafood, particularly the Rye Bay scallops if you’re visiting in season (February).

Rye’s enchanting atmosphere is further enhanced by its vibrant community of artists and its array of galleries and antique shops, making it a compelling destination for anyone visiting East Sussex. Whether you’re exploring its historical landmarks or enjoying a meal in one of its traditional pubs, Rye offers a charming and enriching experience.

To learn more about Rye, check out my complete travel guide here!

2. Hastings

Hastings Town

Hastings is renowned not just for its pivotal role in British history, but also for its vibrant modern culture and natural attractions. This seaside town is famous for the historic Battle of Hastings in 1066 and today offers a perfect blend of historical sites and contemporary arts.

  • Top Sights:
    • Hastings Castle: The ruins of the first castle in England built by William the Conqueror, offering breathtaking views of the English Channel.
    • The Old Town: A charming area with narrow streets, half-timbered houses, and antique shops.
    • Hastings Pier: A great place to stroll, enjoy live music, and partake in community events.
    • East Hill Lift: The steepest funicular railway in the UK, providing access to Hastings Country Park which is ideal for walks and nature trails.
  • Tips for Visiting:
    • Travel: Consider the Hastings Smartcard for public transport; it offers good value for both buses and trains around the town.
    • Explore Beyond the Coast: Don’t miss the Hastings Country Park for a nature escape featuring cliffs, woodlands, and glens.
    • Dining: Try the fresh catch of the day at a seafront restaurant, and don’t miss out on enjoying a traditional British fish and chips.

Hastings combines its historical legacy with a lively, modern vibe, making it a must-visit for anyone traveling to East Sussex. Whether you’re here to explore its rich past or enjoy the creative present, Hastings caters to all ages and interests.

3. Camber Sands

Camber Sands is a stunning stretch of sandy beach at the eastern edge of East Sussex. Known for its expansive dunes and picturesque views, it is a popular destination for beach lovers, wind surfers, and kite flyers due to its wide, flat expanse and favorable winds. The beach’s fine golden sands and shallow waters make it ideal for both sunbathers and families with children.

  • Tips for Visiting:
    • Timing: Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and catch the best tides for water activities.
    • Facilities: Make use of the ample parking and on-site facilities, including cafes and restrooms, to ensure a comfortable day out.
    • Safety: Be aware of strong winds and currents, and always check the local weather and tidal forecasts before you go.

Camber Sands offers a perfect escape to nature’s beauty, providing a serene beach experience away from the bustling city life.

4. Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters at Beachy Head

Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters offer one of the most iconic coastal views in England, with stark white chalk cliffs and unspoiled countryside stretching along the coastline. This area, part of the Seven Sisters Country Park, is perfect for cliff-top walks with spectacular views over the English Channel. I loved visiting this spot as a day trip, enjoying the natural beauty and the extensive network of footpaths.

  • Tips for Visiting:
    • Wear Comfortable Shoes: The terrain can be rugged, so sturdy footwear is essential.
    • Check the Tides: Visit at low tide to explore the beach below the cliffs safely.
    • Weather Conditions: The weather can change quickly; layered clothing and wind protection are recommended.
    • Preserve Nature: Stick to the paths and help preserve the natural erosion process.

Whether you’re looking for breathtaking photo ops or a peaceful hike, Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters at Beachy Head are must-visit destinations.

5. Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle in East Sussex England

Scotney Castle is not just a single building but a unique ensemble of two houses set in a beautiful country estate. The romantic 14th-century ruins of the old castle sit on an island in a small lake, surrounded by lush woodlands. Above the old castle, the 19th-century mansion provides stunning views and displays an eclectic mix of architectural styles. The gardens, particularly in spring and autumn, offer a breathtaking display of colors and are ideal for leisurely walks.

  • Tips for Visiting:
    • Explore Seasonally: Visit in spring for the rhododendrons and azaleas or in autumn for a stunning display of fall colors.
    • Photography: The picturesque setting is perfect for photography, especially early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the light is most magical.
    • Guided Tours: Take advantage of the guided tours to learn about the rich history and the stories behind the estate.

Scotney Castle provides a tranquil retreat with its historic charm and scenic landscapes, making it a perfect spot for a day out in East Sussex. Whether exploring the ruins or enjoying the manicured gardens, visitors are sure to find peace and beauty.

6. Dover Castle

Dover Castle, known as the “Key to England,” dominates the skyline above the White Cliffs of Dover with its imposing structure and extensive history dating back to the 11th century. This iconic fortress offers a glimpse into centuries of British defense strategies, from medieval times through World War II. The castle’s labyrinthine warren of secret wartime tunnels particularly highlights its strategic military importance. Its grandeur and panoramic views over the English Channel make it a must-visit historical site.

  • Tips for Visiting:
    • Allow Plenty of Time: There’s a lot to see, from the medieval Great Tower to the underground operations center used during the Dunkirk evacuation, so plan to spend a full day.
    • Wear Comfortable Shoes: Expect a lot of walking on uneven surfaces as you explore the extensive grounds and battlements.
    • Check Event Schedule: Look for reenactments and guided tours that can enhance your visit with historical insights and live action.
    • Weather Preparations: The site is exposed and can be quite windy, so dress in layers and be prepared for changeable weather.

Visiting Dover Castle is like stepping into a page from a history book, with its rich narratives and breathtaking views offering a full day of exploration and discovery.

7. Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle in East Sussex

Bodiam Castle is one of the most picturesque and beloved castles in England, encapsulated within a classic moat. Built in the 14th century, this quadrangular castle is a perfect example of a late medieval moated fortress, complete with its original wooden portcullis and imposing stone towers. Its fairy-tale appearance makes it a favorite among historians and photographers alike. The interior, although now largely ruins, still sparks the imagination about medieval life.

  • Tips for Visiting:
    • Capture the Reflection: The moat surrounding Bodiam Castle offers stunning reflective views, perfect for photography, especially on clear days.
    • Picnic: Bring a picnic to enjoy on the castle grounds; there are plenty of scenic spots to relax and take in the view.
    • Guided Tours: Opt for a guided tour to learn about the castle’s architecture and history in greater detail.
    • Footwear: Wear comfortable walking shoes as the ground is uneven in places, typical of historic ruins.

Bodiam Castle not only offers a visual journey into the past but also provides a serene setting to appreciate the simpler pleasures of nature and history combined.

8. Eastbourne or Brighton

Eastbourne and Brighton are quintessential British seaside towns known for their historic piers, vibrant cultural scenes, and extensive beaches. Eastbourne’s pier, with its Victorian elegance, offers a quieter, more refined atmosphere, perfect for those seeking relaxation and a touch of old-world charm. Brighton, by contrast, is buzzing with energy, famous for its eclectic Lanes, arts scene, and the iconic Brighton Palace Pier packed with amusement arcades and funfair attractions.

  • Tips for Visiting:
    • Stroll the Promenade: Both towns feature lovely seafront promenades ideal for walks. Brighton’s promenade is lively and well-suited for people watching, while Eastbourne’s is more laid-back.
    • Explore the Piers: Don’t miss the traditional arcade games, fish and chips, and the chance to watch a sunset from the piers.
    • Cultural Sites: In Brighton, explore the Royal Pavilion, an exotic palace with a rich history. In Eastbourne, take in a show at the Bandstand, a unique venue with regular live music.
    • Beach Day: Pack a picnic and spend a day on the beaches; Brighton Beach also offers a nudist area for those so inclined.
    • Weather Prep: Being on the coast, both towns can be quite windy and changeable weather-wise; layers are recommended.

Visiting these towns provides a perfect mix of seaside fun, cultural explorations, and historical insights. Whether you’re riding the ferris wheel on Brighton’s pier or enjoying a quiet stroll along Eastbourne’s promenade, these coastal gems offer memorable experiences for every traveler.

Best Things to Do/Experiences to Have in East Sussex

East Sussex offers a plethora of activities that cater to all interests, from the historical enthusiast to the nature lover. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in local culture, enjoy natural beauty, or indulge in traditional British customs, this region promises a rich tapestry of experiences.

  1. High Tea with Scones, Cream, and Jam: A quintessential British experience, enjoying a high tea in the countryside or at a seaside cafe is a must. Savor freshly baked scones paired with clotted cream and local jam as you take in the scenic views.
  2. Visiting a Local Pub: No visit to East Sussex is complete without a stop at a traditional English pub. Enjoy local ales, hearty meals, and the warm, welcoming atmosphere that these establishments famously provide.
  3. Visiting Castles: Explore the rich history of East Sussex through its many castles. From the ruins of Bodiam Castle surrounded by a moat to the historical fortress of Hastings Castle overlooking the English Channel, each castle tells a story of a bygone era.
  4. Train Ride: Take a scenic train ride through the countryside.
  5. Garden Tours: The region is dotted with exquisite gardens, from the landscaped grounds of Scotney Castle to the exotic plantings at Sheffield Park. A garden tour is a peaceful way to spend an afternoon.
  6. Chalk Cliffs: The Seven Sisters Country Park presents some of the most stunning coastal scenery with its dramatic white chalk cliffs. A walk along the cliff tops offers panoramic sea views and fresh sea air.
  7. Fisherman Villages: Visit picturesque fisherman villages such as Rye and Hastings Old Town. These charming villages offer a glimpse into the maritime heritage of the region, with cobbled streets, quirky shops, and fresh seafood.

How to Get Around/Transport Options

Driving in Rye

Getting around East Sussex is most conveniently done by car. Renting a car provides the flexibility to explore the scenic countryside, coastal areas, and charming towns at your own pace. Public transport options like buses and trains do serve the main towns and tourist attractions but having a car will allow you to discover off-the-beaten-path gems more easily.

Book your rental car in East Sussex on RentalCars.com using the form below!

Once in the small towns such as Rye, Hastings, or Lewes, most attractions are accessible on foot. Walking not only gives you a closer view of the town’s historical and cultural sights but also offers the chance to stumble upon quaint cafes, antique shops, and local markets that might otherwise be missed.

Best Time of Year to Visit

The best time to visit East Sussex depends on what you’re looking to get out of your trip. Each season offers unique attractions:

  • Spring (March-May)
    • Pros: The countryside is lush and vibrant; ideal for garden tours.
    • Cons: Cooler temperatures and occasional rain.
  • Summer (June-August)
    • Pros: Warm weather and the best time for beach visits.
    • Cons: Crowded attractions; higher prices.
  • Autumn (September-November)
    • Pros: Beautiful fall colors in the parks; fewer tourists.
    • Cons: Early sunset limits day activities.
  • Winter (December-February)
    • Pros: Cozy pub experiences; scenic winter walks.
    • Cons: Very cold; some attractions are closed.

Each season offers its own charm, making East Sussex a great year-round destination. Choose the time that best suits the experiences you’re looking for.

Tips for Visiting East Sussex, England

Tips for Visiting East Sussex England

Visiting East Sussex is an enjoyable experience, especially when you’re well-prepared. Here are some practical tips to help you make the most of your trip:

  1. Get Connected with Airalo e-SIMs: An e-SIM card from Airalo will help you stay connected without incurring roaming charges. Easy to install and compatible with most smartphones, it’s perfect for international travelers.
  2. Use Omio for Trains and Buses: Omio is a handy app that lets you book tickets for trains, buses, and planes across Europe. It’s especially useful for comparing different routes and finding the best prices in East Sussex.
  3. Rent a Car for Flexibility: To explore remote areas and villages, renting a car is highly recommended. It gives you the freedom to discover the county at your own pace.
  4. Pack for Changeable Weather: The weather can be quite unpredictable. Bring layers and waterproof clothing to adapt to sudden weather changes.
  5. Explore Local Markets: Don’t miss the local markets in towns like Lewes and Battle, where you can find everything from fresh produce to antiques.
  6. Stay in Historic Accommodations: Enhance your experience by staying in historic hotels or B&Bs like The Mermaid Inn in Rye, which offer unique charm and a deeper connection to the region.
  7. Check Pub Hours: Pubs usually serve lunch from noon to 2 pm and dinner from 6 pm to 9 pm, but times can vary, especially in rural areas.

These tips will help you enjoy a smooth and memorable visit to East Sussex, making sure you experience the best the county has to offer while respecting its heritage and environment.


East Sussex offers a rich tapestry of breathtaking landscapes, historic sites, and vibrant culture. From the iconic cliffs of Seven Sisters to the quaint streets of Rye and the majestic castles like Bodiam, this county combines natural beauty with deep-rooted history. Pack for changing weather and immerse yourself in the local scene.

If you’re an American like me, England might not seem the most exciting place to visit. But it’s lovely nonetheless. Each corner of East Sussex promises unique discoveries and memorable experiences, ensuring your visit is nothing short of extraordinary. Embark on a journey to one of England’s most enchanting regions.

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