On the southeast coast sits East Sussex with its rich history, culture and beautiful landscapes. This is the place where the decisive Battle of Hastings took place and William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England, built his first castle.
East Sussex, with its unique dramatic coastline, breathtaking sea cliffs, green hills and stunning beaches is one of the most popular destinations in the UK. The county is also home to some of the prettiest villages and towns in England.
As you can imagine, there are many beautiful places to visit and things to do in East Sussex and it can be hard to choose where to go. So, I have put together a list of the best places to visit in East Sussex to help you plan your trip.
You can also read: Best Lodges with Hot Tubs in Sussex
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Brighton, the largest city in East Sussex, is one of the most charming and lively places in the UK. This English seaside city with a blend of modern culture and exotic architecture might not be known to many people abroad but it is a beloved destination for many British travellers.
Brighton is ideal for a day trip or weakened gateway, but keep in mind that on sunny days, it can be packed. You can drive to Brighton, but taking a train from London is the fastest way to get here.
In the heart of the city, you will find unique, vintage and independent shops selling second-hand furniture, vintage ornaments and clothes. Not far from there, you can visit The Royal Pavilion, an impressive palace with a combination of Indian and Islamic styles.
Undoubtedly, most tourists travel here for the Brighton seafront, where you can take a stroll, play basketball or rent a paddleboard and paddle along the water. One of the best things to do in Brighton is to hang out in the Palace Pier, the most iconic sight.
The charming fairy-tale town of Rye is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England and it is one of the most beautiful places in East Sussex. It is located less than a 2-hour drive from London, which makes it perfect for a weekend holiday or a day trip. This small picturesque English town offers visitors plenty of fun things to do and attractions to see.
Rye has an interesting history. It started life as a small fishing community since it is surrounded by water. When Normandy was returned to the French in 1205, Rye went with it and wasn't reunited with the English Crown until 1247.
The most popular part of this town is Mermaid street, which is considered one of the most photographed streets in England. It is easy to see why.
At the end of Mermaid street, you will find St Mary’s Church which was built 900 years ago, it is also known as the "cathedral of East Sussex”. You can climb the church’s tower and have a great view of the town.
3. Camber Sands
Camber Sands is one of the most unique places in East Sussex, and it is a popular destination during the summer. Unlike most beaches along the Sussex coast which are armoured with pebbles and shingles, Camber Sands features five miles of unspoilt golden sand beach. Plus, it is home to the only sand dune system in East Sussex, which is also one of the longest ones on the south coast.
The best and the most popular part of the beach is the western end, by the mouth of the River Rother. There are so many things to do here, you can go for a stroll along the beach, relax, or participate in some water sports and activities. Camber Sands is one of the best places on the south coast for taking lessons in kitesurfing.
Camber Sands is just a 10-minute drive away from Rye. This means you can visit Rye and Camber Sands beach on your trip. The most convenient way to get around is to drive, but if you are looking to use public transport, the nearest train station is in Rye, and from there, you can take a local bus to Camber sands.
Sitting on the eastern side of the South Downs National Park, Eastbourne might not be as popular as Brighton, but it is indeed one of the most charming places in East Sussex. Eastbourne, known as one of the sunniest UK towns, with its three miles of pebbles beach can be a great place for a family break or even a day trip from London.
There are direct trains running from London Victoria to Eastbourne that take just 90 minutes. Driving can be another option to get here.
There is a large selection of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars in the town centre, but if you are looking for some fresh sea air, head to the Victorian pier where you can find seafront cafes.
You will find the main resort beach between the Eastbourne pier and the Wish Tower where you can hire sun loungers and relax, or go for a swim. Not far from Eastbourne’s main stretch, you will find Royal Parade beach, a popular place for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Just right behind the beach, there is a wide promenade, a great spot for cyclists, skaters and runners.
5. Beachy Head
Just a walking distance from Eastbourne city centre, You will find Beachy Head, the highest chalk cliff in the UK, rising to 530 feet (162 metres) at its highest point above sea level. Beachy Head with its dramatic white cliffs is one of the best sightseeing spots in East Sussex and it is heaven for those who like to walk or cycle.
You can walk to Beachy Head from Eastbourne since it is just 3 miles away, but if you don’t fancy walking, you can take the 13X bus which will take you to the top of the cliff in less than 20 minutes. If driving, there are several car parks around.
My favourite part of Beachy Head is where you can have a view of the 43-meter-high red-and-white striped lighthouse at the foot of the cliff. Take extra care and don’t walk close to the cliff edge, since the white cliffs are made of chalk and they are pretty soft.
Located on the south coast between Eastbourne and Brighton, Seaford offers around four miles of pebbly beach stretches. While Seaford is less than a half-hour drive from either Brighton or Eastbourne and shares the same coastlines, it doesn’t get crowded.
Seaford beach is one of the best places to visit in East Sussex for those who are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of life. The beach is quiet and plain, perfect for sunbathing and walking. There are only some coffee shops and refreshment huts along the beach. The car park next to the beach is free of charge.
There are restaurants, shops and bakeries in the town centre, just a short walk from the beach. You can buy some food there and have a picnic at the beach.
7. Birling Gap and Seven Sisters
Located at the foot of the South Downs, Birling Gap is a gorgeous enclosed pebble beach set below the dramatic backdrop of the world-famous Seven Sisters cliffs. To get to the beach you need to climb down a steep set of steps.
If going to the beach is not a priority, you can take a walk from Birling Gap to Beachy Head and see the red-and-white striped lighthouse. The other option is to park up at South Hill Barn car park and take the amazing coastal route offering breathtaking views of Seven Sisters. If you haven’t heard of them before, Seven Sisters are seven chalk cliffs and one of the most beautiful natural sights in the UK.
Birling Gap and Seven Sisters are just a short drive away from Seaford and Eastbourne, and there are a number of car parks in the area. The closest place to stay overnight is East Dean, a pretty Sussex village.
8. Bodiam Castle
Bodiam Castle is certainly one of the best castles to visit in England and a perfect place for a day trip. This beautiful 14th-century moated castle is one of my favourite places in East Sussex, offering hundreds of years of history.
Bodiam Castle was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, known as a knight of Edward III. He initially wanted to build himself a manor home, but later he decided to build Bodiam Castle to protect his people from the French invasion during the Hundred Years' War.
What makes this castle pretty unique, is, probably, the moat. Whilst the moat looks beautiful today, it used to be a sewer for the castle. As you can imagine, the smell might have not been that great at the time.
Hastings is an attractive seaside town and a working fishing port in East Sussex. The town gave its name to the Battle of Hastings of 1066, the most crucial event in English history that in fact took place only six miles away.
Hastings Old Town is the most lively part with a distinct look since it is snuggled between two hills. It is small enough to explore on foot but there is plenty of things to do here to keep you entertained and busy during your visit.
To have the best views over the town, you can take the funicular at East Hill Cliff, which is the steepest funicular railway in the UK. On top of the west hill, you can visit the ruins of Hastings Castle and the Smuggler’s Adventure caves.
Lewes is famous for its bonfire festivals that take place in November, transforming the peaceful town of Lewes into an interesting playground. It is indeed wonderful to visit Lewes during the festival, but this beautiful town with its ancient ruins and medieval streets is a great destination all year round.
Lewes is one of the most beautiful towns in Sussex, and it can be easily explored on foot. The main attraction here is Lewes Castle, one of the oldest castles in England, which was built more than a thousand years ago after the Battle of Hastings.
Driving out of Seaford towards the north, you will find Alfriston, one of the oldest villages in England. It was founded in the Saxon period and became a market town in the Middle Ages.
Alfriston is one of the most popular villages in Sussex, and for good reason. It is located in a picturesque valley formed by the River Cuckmere. To get here, you can drive since there is a free car park just a few minutes’ walk from the village. In the centre, you will find pubs, medieval buildings and boutique shops, and you will feel like you stepped back in time. The most famous building here is Clergy House, the first property to be bought by the National Trust in 1896 for £10.
There are many walking paths and cycling trails around the village, here is a perfect place for a day trip and weekend getaway.
12. Pevensey Castle
Just a short drive away from Eastbourne, you will find Pevensey Castle, a great place for a family day out in East Sussex. The history of the castle goes all the way back to the Roman invasion of England. It used to be a former Roman Saxon fort and it was the landing place of William the Conqueror’s army in 1066. Over the centuries, the castle had been reinforced and modified several times.
It must have been an impressive castle back then, and there is enough left to visit and learn. Now, Pevensey Castle is a secluded monument under the remit of English Heritage and you need to purchase a ticket to enter it.
There are several walking paths around the castle, including a 5-mile circular walk passing through the outer walls of the castle, and Pevensey Haven.