Rye is one of my favorite towns in East Sussex if not all of England, it’s full of historic stone buildings, winding cobbled streets and plenty of fun things to do! In fact, I have to be honest I first visited Rye to get some photos of famed Mermaid Street but quickly fell in love with the rest of the town. We visited Rye from the quirky seaside town of Brighton (where my husband is from) – about 2 hours away by train!
Some of my favorite things to do in Rye include having my favorite hot chocolate from Knoops, hopping on a wine tour to nearby East Sussex and Kent and catching the sunset at Camber Sands beach. For families there’s loads of fantastically unique activities – there’s a School of Wizards and Witches (big Harry Potter vibes) and a Detective Mystery Trail, which requires some serious problem-solving skills!
In this blog, I list 13 of the very best things to do in Rye East Sussex!
What are the Best Things to do in Rye East Sussex?
- Cast some spells and become a a Witch or Wizard at the interactive School of Witches and Wizards
- Spy some rare British birds at Rye Harbour Coastal Reserve
- Visit Camber Castle – Henry VIII’s former home
- Go on a boutique wine tour through East Sussex and Kent
- Be a detective for the day on the Rye Detective Mystery Trail
- Join in the celebrations at Bonfire Night, held in November
- Climb the Bell Tower at St Mary’s Church for the best view of Rye
- Try some yummy hot chocolate at Knoops
- Spend the night at the historic (and haunted?) Mermaid Inn
- Test your speed at Lydd Karting
- Satisfy your inner photographer at pretty Mermaid Street
- Go for a walk on the golden sands of Camber Sand Beach
- Pay a visit to Lamb House – the former home of writer Henry James
Most popular Things to do in Rye with Children
There’s loads of kid-friendly activities in Rye – the best things to do with children include becoming a Witch or Wizard at the School of Wizards and Witches where kids will learn spells and solve a magical mystery. Also, a lot of fun for the whole family is the Detective Mystery Tour a self-guided tour in which you will have to solve a smuggling case. Of course, Knoops Hot Chocolate is always a treat and a firm favorite with kids.
1. Become a Witch or a Wizard at the School of Wizards and Witches
The School of Wizards and Witches is a theater experience where your little ones will be taught how to make spells and all the other ins and outs of being a magical Witch or Wizard! As a group (typically group sizes of 12) the children will be tasked with solving a bunch of magical mysteries to save the magical world. On their quest the children will come across dark forests, dungeons and castles. This unique experience is led by actors and all the masks, puppets and scenes used have been created by professional movie and prop makers. Of course this exoerience isn’t just for kids – adults can join in the fun too.
The School of Witches and Wizards is located at The World of Legend, 55 The Mint. You can book your magical experience here. Please note this experience may be closed due to Covid restrictions, please check before booking!
2. See rare British birds at Rye Harbour Coastal Reserve
At the Rye Harbour Coastal Reserve spot amazing wildlife like the Marsh Frog and more unique species like the Spangled Button Beetle and the Medicinal Leech along this long coastal path which also has five bird hides where you can truly get up close to the native birds. The most common birds seen here are Terns (Little, Common & Sandwich),, Oystercatchers, Redshank, Lapwing and many more.This area is known to be one of the most important nature reserves in the country and is home to approximately 4,355 species of plants and animals including 300 that are rare or endangered.The walk begins from the Discovery Center, which also contains a shop and Cafe with fabulous views.
3. Visit Camber Castle
Camber Castle once the home of Henry VIII is one of the most important historic sites in Rye. It lies within the nature reserve between Rye and Winchelsea. It is an unaltered artillery fort which was built in 1539 to protect Rye Harbur. You can’t drive to the Castle, instead it is reachable only by a mile-long footpath from Rye.
Did you know – Camber means safe haven (you could safely anchor a vessel behind the castle). The word is derived from the French word ‘chambre’, which means bedroom.
The Castle was abandoned in 1637 and is now managed by English Heritage who have made updates to the structural work of the Castle. You can visit the outside of the Castle any day of the week – here’s where the walk to the Castle starts but guided tours of the Castle’s interior usually occur on the first Saturday of the month in Summer. On a tour of Camber Castle you can expect to see the flower like shapes on the curtain wall and the brick-vaulted tunnels.
4. Go on a Wine Tour
A wine tour may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of England but believe me this full-day wine tour is worth booking. On the tour you will get to visit two small wineries set among the glorious East Sussex countryside. Here, you will learn all about the wine-making process |(in this unique climate for wine-growing) and of course get to taste the wines. Towards the end of the tour you will visit a local brewery and try some craft beer and cider
Pick up and drop off for this tour is available from Rye Train Station.
P.S. another very popular tour in the East Sussex area is this Seven Sisters and South Downs Tour which departs from Brighton! The tour is approximately 6.5 hours in duration.
5. Become a Detective for the day on the Rye Detective Mystery Trail
On this self-guided Detective Mystery Trail you will be searching high and low through historic cobbled streets for clues. It looks as though smuggling is still rife in Rye and the latest crimes have baffled local police – they can’t find the offender but think that the crimes are related to a well-known gang of 18th century smugglers! Can you help the police to find their culprit?
The self-guided tour starts at the Heritage Center and is great fun for the whole family (believe me 0 this will test your thinking skills). You will also learn loads about the history of Rye along the way.
6. Have fun at the Bonfire Night Celebrations in November
The Annual Bonfire Night Celebrations in Rye are typically held around the 13th of November. Part of this event is the naming of the year’s Rye Fawkes (a play on Guy Fawkes whom Bonfire Night in England is in commemoration of). The title of Rye Fawkes is awarded to the highest bidder and has been since 2009 prior to that it was given to a range of Celebrites including Spike Milligan and Vic Reeves.
On the night – huge crowds of people will process through Rye with flaming torches, drum bands and floats eventually ending at the Salts where an enormous bonfire is lit, followed by a spectacular firework display.
Other popular annual events in Rye include the Bay Scallop Week held in February and the New Mayor Making Ceremony held in May.
7. Climb the Bell Tower for the best view of Rye
The bell tower is located at St Mary’s Church in Church Square and it offers the best view in all of Rye. In fact, I’ve been told it’s a very popular spot for marriage proposals – the views are that stunning! On the way up you will see the 8 church bells, which weigh a shopping combined weight of 5 tons. These are not the original church bells, these ones were re-cast in 1775. The original bells were in fact stolen in 1377 by French invaders and brought to France – thankfully they were recovered the next year.
There is a small fee to access the bell tower.
8. Have the best hot chocolate in East Sussex at Knoops
If you see a large queue snaking down Tower Forge you’ve found Knoops. One of the best chocolate shops in the country.
The Knoops concept is based on a carefully curated percentage menu which offers chocolates to suit every taste and mood. In store, try out the different % chocolates and flavours in a process the staff call ‘Knoopology’. This process is simple; choose your chocolate %, milk, and extra flavours like sea salt, orange zest or chilli to be made into a hot chocolate, milkshake or iced chocolate. Delicous!
There are now 6 Knoops Stores in the country – one in Brighton and several dotted throughout London. You can buy your own Knoops chocolate in store to bring home and try to make yourself.
For your coffee fix visit – Cafe des Fleurs on Station Road,
9. Stay at the historic Mermaid Inn – a former Smugglers pub
Seeing as there’s so much to do in Rye why not extend your stay there with an overnight stay at the 600 year old Mermaid Inn. The rooms here have sloping ceilings, creaky floorboards and the hallways in the hotel have several winding staircases – all adding to the unique-factor! It is also believed the hotel is haunted – so keep an eye out for ghosts or other supernatural occurrences! Some people love that sort of thing and traveler specifically book into the Mermaid Inn in the hope of seeing a ghost! The Mermaid Inn is extremely popular and tends to sell-out quick so book early!
Not only is this a hotel it’s also a very popular Restaurant and Bar. One of the best seats in the house is at the Giant’s Fireplace Bar – it’s full of history as a local gang of Smugglers in the 1730’s frequented the bar.
There’s a secret passageway into the bar – can you spot it?
Book your stay at The Mermaid Inn here, rooms start from £130 per night
The owner offers Guided Tours through the 600 year old Mermiad Inn, providing a walk through time. These tours are held on the last Sunday of each month, commencing at 4pm and 5pm. Book the tour on the website.
10. Try go-karting at Lydd Karting
A 20 minute drive from Rye is Lydd Karting, the ideal activity for the petrol-head in your life! The 1040 meter circuit here is the fastest in the region and one of the fastest in the country.
The hire kart fleet here ranges from Bambino karts through to senior twin engined prokarts. And prices start at just £20 for 15 minutes. You can choose from a 15 minute; 30 minute; 45 minute and 60 minute session. All safety equipment is provided and the activity is suitable for children from the age of 6.
11. Take a stroll along Camber Sands beach
A 3 km walk from the center of Rye will take you to one of the best golden-sand beaches in the country. Camber Sands is 5 miles long and can get quite windy, so, it’s very popular for wind surfers and kite surfers. The Western End of the beach next to River Rother is the most popular section of the beach with locals and is especially pretty! It’s safe to swim at Camber Sands but beware of fast-moving tides that can drag you out to the deep very quickly.
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.
12. Take lots of photos of pretty Mermaid Street
The poster child for Rye is Mermaid Street with its storybook charm. Mermaid Street is a winding cobbled street with great views and slightly wonky stone & timber houses. Sort of Harry Potter-ish if you’re into that sort of thing. The best spot for a photo on Mermaid Street is to stand in the middle of the cobbled street just outside The Mermaid Inn (like I have done in the photo below). The best time of day to photograph Mermaid Street is at dusk – because little lights light up the houses down the street making it seem very magical (and a little like Diagonal Alley from the Harry Potter movies). It’s also quieter at this time of the evening, beware it does get very busy here during the day and is especially busy at weekends.
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.
13. Visit Lamb House the former home of writer Henry James
Once home to writer Henry James as well as E.F Benson – Lamb House is now owned by the National Trust. And is a must visit for any literature fans. To the rear of the house is one of the largest gardens in Rye – filled with lillies and roses and even contains the graves of Henry James’ dogs. Inside the house there’s a varied collection of unique art works and sculptures. When visiting Lamb House you will learn all about its history as well as its famous past occupants.
It costs £8 to visit Lamb House and is open Friday – Tuesday every week, 11am-5pm.
How to get to Rye East Sussex
Getting to Rye from London – Rye is located 76 miles (122 kms) southeast of central London. The easiest way to get to Rye is to drive the A21 road which passes Royal Tunbridge Wells. There are also regular trains that head to Rye from Charing Cross in London – you will need to change trains at Ashford International Station. I highly advise spending a couple nights in London before coming to Rye – there’s loads of amazing things to do in London!
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.
Getting to Rye from Hastings – Hastings is the largest closest town to Rye at just a 30 minute drive away. You can drive the 12.5 miles via the A259 or catch the train direct which takes 20 minutes.
Where to Stay in Rye
- Of course the historic (and haunted?) Mermaid Inn is top of the list with its quirky rooms – book this one early!
- With river views, a large patio and a central location (just a few minutes walk from Camber Castle) the Heart of Rye is a stylish three-bedroom house ideal for families
- Extraordinary Huts is a quirky hut-style accommodation that still has all the features of a comfortable hotel room. This is one of the most unique properties in Rye!
- A Grade II listed building in the center of Rye – Whitehouse Rye is top of my list for a luxurious stay in Rye. There’s a restaurant and award-winning bakery onsite.
- Just 4 miles from the center of town this large Grade II Georgian building is one of the biggest properties in the area. Flackley Ash Hotel has a spa, restaurant, heated indoor swimming pool, sauna and more!
There’s over 100 accommodation options in Rye and surrounding area, you can check them all out here!
Is Rye worth visiting?
In short yes, Rye is definitely worth visiting! Not only is it undeniably pretty and photogenic – just look at Mermaid Street but there’s lots of unique family-friendly things to do like the School of Witches and Wizards; go-karting in nearby Lydd and a self-guided detective tour. There’s also lots of free things to do in Rye too – like walking the golden sands of Camber Sands beach, exploring Mermaid Street and Rye Harbor Coastal Reserve to see some native birds. I recommend spending at least a couple hours in Rye, ideally spend the night at one of the many great hotels in Rye to truly get a feel for this fairytale-like town!