Detailing 6 of the best towns to visit in East Sussex. From flashy Brighton to quaint & photogenic Rye.
Over the years, myself and my husband have spent a lot of time in East Sussex. You see, Paul (said husband) was born and raised in Brighton and so is a fountain of knowledge on the best towns to visit in East Sussex. He helped me put together this list, so the list features some unique local knowledge that the guidebooks won’t have. One of my favorite towns in East Sussex is Rye primarily for the very photogenic Mermaid Street. Whereas Paul is biased and loves Brighton because there is so much to do there!
Is East Sussex nice?
East Sussex is a gorgeous county and is home to many popular places like Brighton; South Downs National Park; Hastings and Ashdown Forest. It combines gorgeous beaches with historic cobbled-street villages. There’s fantastic shopping to be done in the larger towns of Brighton, Hastings & Eastbourne. Plus there’s lots of great places to stay and yummy restaurants to eat in.
Now, let’s explore the best towns to visit in East Sussex.
Easily the most famous town in East Sussex and maybe the most famous seaside town in all of Britain. True, Brighton is more city than town. Brighton is a popular weekend haunt for Londoners, stag and hen parties and for couples looking for an escape.
Brighton is a city of extremes from its crowded stony beach, to the tourist trap that is Brighton Pier to the quirky hipster-filled North Lanes. On first look, it may seem like a typical English city but it’s filled with the weirdest characters. People you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world. But that’s why we love it. The restaurants are cool, the bars are cool (even the ‘old man’ bars are cool),the coffee shops are cool. Cool.
A locals tips for Brighton
My husband Paul is from Brighton and I’ve asked him his top recommendations for his hometown. He says stroll through the Lanes; then, grab a coffee in Pelicano on Sydney Street or Bond St in the North Laines. Take a long walk along the seafront and try your luck at the slot machines on the Pier. Then, hit the Marina for dinner, or if you want to stay in the city for food – try Casalingo on Preston Street (his favorite restaurant) for authentic Italian food. End the day watching the sunset over the West Pier. A great way to try out the best food in the city is on a Brighton Walking Food Tour which includes 4 food and drink tastings!
Stanmer Park about a 15 minute drive from Brighton is also well-worth a visit, mainly just to explore a little on foot and take photos. There’s also a little tearooms here if you fancy a snack.
BEST ACTIVITIES IN BRIGHTON – see the spectacular views from the British Airways i360 tower; see the best of Brighton on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour and get out into nature on a Seven Sisters and South Downs Tour.
Paul’s family relocated to Bexhill from Brighton a few years ago, so, when we go back to the UK for a vacation this is where we spend most of our time. Bexhill is a seaside town, next to Hastings. In fact, you can walk between the two towns on a lovely coastal walking route. Bexhill is famous for the De La Warr Pavillion a very modern building right on the seafront hosting art exhibitions also with a restaurant/ cafe on the top floor with views out to the ocean.
There’s a great selection of yummy restaurants in Bexhill from Picasso Italian Restaurant on Devonshire Road to Bears Bar & Grill also on Devonshire Road. If you fancy some fish & chips then I highly recommend a takeaway from Athena’s on Western Road and eating them on the seafront (just watch out for the seagulls).
We’ve managed to catch some great sunsets on Bexhill beach, so, we highly recommend hanging around for this if you can. To bide your time why not have a few beers or cocktails at The Italian Way on the seafront.
Getting to Bexhill from Brighton | catch the train direct from Brighton train station to Bexhill, the train takes approximately an hour.
WHERE TO STAY | Cooden Beach Hotel in nearby Cooden Beach or The Driftwood on Sackville Road. If you want a luxurious stay close to Bexhill, then I highly recommend one of these gorgeous lodges each complete with a hot tub.
A traditional market town just a 20 minute drive from Brighton – Lewes is all narrow alleyways and crooked buildings not dissimilar to Diagon Alley. Lewes is set in the gorgeous South Downs National Park, so there are lots of scenic countryside walks you can take from here.
Lewes is also famous for something a little more unusual its bonfire celebrations on November 5th, people come from all over for the bonfire celebrations and fireworks.
Have a pint in cosy, wood-panelled Lewes Arms hidden down an alleyway. It gets pretty busy here with locals so arrive early in the evening.
A great tour for wine lovers is this small group wine tour which visits wineries in East Sussex and Kent.
Getting to Lewes from Brighton | catch the train from Brighton train station to Lewes, which takes 17 minutes or hop on the 28 Bus which takes 28 minutes.
A tiny picturesque village in the valley of the River Cuckmere about a 30 minute drive from Brighton. There are two historic pubs in the village – The Market Cross a former smugglers haunt during the 18th century and The Star Inn dating as far back as the 15th century.
Also, well worth a visit whilst in Alfriston is Clergy House a thatched and timbered built way back in the 14th century. In fact, the Clergy House was the first building to be acquired by the National Trust in 1896.
Getting to Alfriston from Brighton | the quickest way is to catch the train from Brighton to Seaford and then hop on bus 126 or 26 to Alfriston. This bus leaves from Morrisons in Seaford.
EXTRA TRAVEL TIP | The Seven Sisters are a series of stunning chalk cliffs in the South Downs. It is popular for a number of outdoor activities including hiking, bird-watching, cycling & canoeing. Whilst in the Alfriston area we highly recommend exploring the Seven Sisters.
Known for the Battle of Hastings, which most of you will remember from history class at school and one of the most crucial events in British history. Hastings is a Victorian seaside resort popular with tourists looking for a cheaper coastal getaway.
Whilst in Hastings, be sure to explore Hastings Old Town for its quirky antique shops and coffee shops. Hastings also has two funicular railways rattling up and down its sandstone cliffs, the West Hill Lift serves Hastings Castle and the East Hill Lift serves Hastings Country Park. If you have more time in Hastings, why not spend some time walking Hastings Country Park and explore its 660 acres of ancient woodland, cliffs and heathland.
Tourists often wonder whether they should visit Hastings or Eastbourne or both. Well, I’ll let you know what I think as to whether Hastings or Eastbourne is better. Hastings is more historic – it’s the home of the famed Hastings battle of 1066. It has castle ruins and an old medieval town. Eastbourne is larger and has more stores & restaurants. Plus, Eastbourne has a lovely long seafront. It’s also closer to the very photogenic Beachy Head.
If you’re planning to visit the 1066 Battle of Hastings site it may be worth purchasing an English Heritage Pass for Overseas Visitors which gives access to over 100 historic sites across the UK.
Almost every weekend during the Summer months there’s an event going on here – from the Seafood & Wine Festival held in mid-September. And the Jack in the Green event held at the beginning of May.
Getting to Hastings from Brighton | catch the train from Brighton train station direct to Hastings, this takes 1 hours & 17 minutes.
Rye is a quaint market town just a 30 minute drive from Hastings. The poster child for Rye is Mermaid Street with its storybook charm. Mermaid Street is a winding cobbled street with great views with slightly wonky stone & timber houses. Sort of Harry Potter-ish if you’re into that sort of thing. Be sure to pop in to the cosiest pub in prime position on the street – The Mermaid Inn for a pint or some afternoon tea.
In Rye, why not stop for a coffee at Cafe des Fleurs on Station Road, or if you fancy the most amazing hot chocolate then you can’t miss Knoops.
If you have more stretch your legs out to Camber Sands a long stretch of golden sand a 20 minute walk from Rye. If you can catch a sunset here even better, the sky sure did put on a show for us when we visited last in October.
For the best view of Rye you need to climb up the Bell tower at St Mary’s Church to see this historic town in all its glory.
Getting to Rye from Brighton | it’s quite a long distance from Brighton to Rye so we recommend driving if you can. The quickest way via public transport takes about 2 hours – catch the train from Brighton to Hastings & change here for the train to Rye.
WHERE TO STAY | The Mermaid on Mermaid Street
OUSE VALLEY VIADUCT
Another good photo opportunity is Ouse Valley Viaduct also known as the Balcombe Viaduct which carries the Brighton-London train. It’s located close to Haywards Heath town and is known by locals as the most elegant viaduct in the whole country. It’s also very instagram-worthy.
Thanks for reading, Aimee
Phew, and there you have it 6 of the best towns to visit in East Sussex. Plus some unique travel facts about East Sussex not found in any guidebook. Where’s your favorite town on the list? Mine still remains Rye – I could spend hours walking up & down quirky Mermaid Street. But Brighton does have the X-factor, there’s so much to do here, so many great cafes & restaurants and a wide selection of fantastic hotels.
We hope you enjoyed our picks, as always if there’s any town we missed be sure to let us know in the comment section below.
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