With beautiful countryside, charming coastal haunts and some great cities and culture (with London itself just a short train ride away) Sussex is full of surprises. But with all the history, culture and landscapes of both East and West Sussex to explore, how do you know where to start? Luckily, our fantastic Sussex travel guide is here to steer you in the right direction whether you’re looking for the top sights, unforgettable activities or just some well-earned R&R – and our luxury cottages in Sussex make the perfect place to stay while you’re making the most of this beautiful county.
Londoners seeking an escape from the hubbub of the city head straight to Sussex, and with good reason. England’s far south is characterised by gentility, which means that the quaint, historic villages possess an appealing old-world atmosphere that’s all but extinct in the sleek, modern capital, while its stunning coastline and gently rolling inland hills make it an ideal spot for those needing to recharge in the countryside. Its proximity to London makes it easy to access, and its varied range of offerings mean it will appeal to all kinds, whether you head for the happening haunts of bohemian Brighton or for the serene hills of the South Downs.
- Brighton – Party in the cosmopolitan seaside resort and stroll along the famous fun-filled pier.
- Seven Sisters – Picnic on top of the chalk cliffs, which overlook the English Channel.
- Bodiam Castle – Climb the towers of this 14th-century moat-encircled fortress.
- Arundel – Wander the streets of this fairytale town and visit the cathedral and castle.
- Rye – Explore the attractive streets of this medieval riverside town.
- Chichester Cathedral – Step into the vaulted marble halls of this stunning historic church.
When to visit
Sussex, unlike other quieter counties in the UK, opens most of its attractions throughout the year, so your decision on when to go is entirely dependent on your hopes for weather and crowds. As with the rest of the country, it’s almost a direct trade-off. The colder it gets, the fewer people there are. In the peak school holiday months of summer (July and August), the sun is out and it’s often so hot you’ll forget you are in the British Isles, but sun-seekers and parents with bored children know this too, so the beaches (and roads leading to them) fill up quickly.
For a combination of nice weather and quieter places, visit in June or September. Perhaps the best time to visit Sussex, however, is in May, when the days are getting warmer before summer truly hits, and Brighton comes to life with its annual festival of concerts, comedy, parades and fireworks.
- Airports: There are many airports that are all within easy reach to Sussex, these include London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Shoreham (Brighton City) and Southampton Airport.
- By train: Sussex’s proximity to London means that there is a comprehensive network of train lines heading to most towns, especially in the commuter district (which is most of it). Check National Rail for times and fares. Southern Railway offer daysave tickets for unlimited travel or Groupsave offers for combination travel.
- By car: Hire a car for access to the more remote areas of Sussex, particularly within the South Downs National Park. Use one of the major rental services which operate out of Brighton, Portsmouth and London.
- On foot: The South Downs are the home of over 3,300 kilometres worth of walking trails, including the South Downs Way, a long distance route around 160 kilometres long.
- By bike: Speeding around the Sussex countryside by bike is a joy. GPS Routes have listed many of the different cycling trails you can take in the county.
- Sussex’s lengthy coast ensures that, at some point, you’ll reach your very own sliver of paradise with uninterrupted seas views. Head away from the main towns and resorts, and venture instead to the wetlands of Chichester Harbour, which offers several idyllic spots for a quiet beach day. The secluded sand and shingle of Norman’s Bay, near Bexhill, is similarly quiet.
- Uncover the mysteries of the Long Man of Wilmington. No one knows how this chalk figure ended up carved into the hillside outside Eastbourne, but it certainly makes for a unique sight. Nearby is Pevensey Castle, another historic attraction that comes with a collection of stories, as it was the first stronghold of William the Conqueror.
- The old defences of Newhaven Fort are a destination in and of themselves, with historic tunnels and a military museum to be explored. But its atmospheric sea-facing location also doubles up as an unusual events venue and has been used to host cinema screenings, open-air theatre and classic car shows – check ahead to see if any are happening while you’re in Sussex.
- Herstmonceux Castle Estate, less well-known than its equivalents in Bodiam and Arundel, is a spectacular red-brick, multi-towered structure surrounded by a moat. The building itself is impressive, but explore its grounds and you’ll discover more than a fascinating heritage attraction. Hidden in the complex is the Observatory, a fascinating and oft-overlooked science museum containing several historical telescopes, which you can peer through.
- The South Downs are well-known for their popular walking routes, but for a lesser known patch of natural wonder, head to the High Weald in East Sussex. Tramp across mysterious woodlands and along sunken lanes carved out by the Saxons, stopping by castles hidden deep in the forests. Steam railways, historic gardens and climbing crags further add to the appeal of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Sussex is so frequently associated with retired folk and commuting workers that you might start to question what the region holds for children. But, with loads of child-friendly beaches, family events throughout the year and plenty of nature to let kids run wild in, Sussex is more than capable of keeping children happy. And happy children means a happy family holiday.Take a family bike ride along the coast or chug through the South Downs on a steam railway instead.
You can join them in trying water sports or learning a new craft, swimming outdoors or playing a round of adventure… Play areas, flying experiences, aquariums and some of the country’s best indoor museums round out the already healthy list of options. We’re willing to bet that by the end of your holiday, your biggest problem will be tearing the kids away from a place they’ve come to love.
And lest you need more convincing, just take a look through our selection of kid-suitable activities below! If you want even more information on fantastic day trips, have a read of our guide to Sussex’s best family-friendly activities!
The Best Family Friendly Activities in Sussex
- There’s a ton to explore in Sussex, though you might be hard pressed to see it all, or take it all in – get the most out of your visit by booking a tour to keep everyone in the family informed and entertained, and there’s a huge number to choose from to suit all sorts of interests!
- Chichester Tour Guides can get you right to the heart of this eclectic and lively Sussex city, which has a wealth of history to explore – the kids might particularly enjoy their tour of the city’s Roman past.
- One family activity that always goes down well is a bike ride. With its surprisingly diverse range of landscapes and terrain, grabbing a bike is a great way to explore everything Sussex has to offer.
- Want something a little more manageable than the whole of Sussex? Brighton Bike Tours can show you the most interesting bits of Brighton in a fun and entertaining way, and tours are private so you don’t have to worry about the kids holding everybody up.
- There are plenty of theme parks and activity centres in Sussex, so if you feel like taking a day out to enjoy one the problem may well be choosing which one appeals to everyone in the family most!
- You can avoid any potential arguments by taking everyone to Fisher’s Farm Park, which not only offers visitors all the fun of a farm park (including cute animals to meet!) but also gives kids the opportunity to enjoy and off-road bug safari and a spooky underground ghost tunnel.
- But for what’s possibly the ultimate Sussex experience, you need to take to the air. Boultbee Flight Academy offers a thrill like no other – heading up into the wide blue yonder in a Spitfire and taking a flight over the English Channel. One package even lets you fly as part of a formation!
The Best Family Friendly Beaches in Sussex
- Is someone in the family a big fan of sandcastles? East Wittering Beach is a good choice, but make sure you pick the right time. The best sandcastle sand is only found at low tide – at high tide all you’ve have to work with is shingle!
- Bognor Regis beach is, of course, an absolute classic when it comes to family days at the beach, with everything you’d expect from donkey rides to fish and chips.
- Littlehampton Beach has some safe water for paddling, and the adjacent theme park means there’s always something new to do if the kids start getting cranky on the sand.
- Though you might have to keep an eye out for kite-surfers when the wind is up, Camber Beach has some of the nicest sand of any beach and Sussex – as well as the county’s only dunes.
Hidden in the sleepy villages and rolling hills of Sussex lies the opportunity of adventure. Here, you can realise your dreams of driving exceptionally fast, or live in your nightmares on a ghost tour. Sussex also offers the chance to learn how to sail a catamaran, try your hand at falconry and compete with your friends at throwing axes.
Of course, if all of this sounds a little too much and you prefer a more relaxing experience, then Sussex is perfectly equipped for that too.
Settle into the slower rhythms of the region and you could find yourself floating lazily along canals (in a boat, of course) and sightseeing in historic towns. Large groups of out-of-towners who decide to shack up in Sussex for a weekend, week or longer, will find plenty to keep them occupied. Here are just a few ideas for starters, and you can always check out our full list of great group activities in Sussex if you need a bit more inspiration!
Adrenaline Fuelled Activities in Sussex
- Though it’s got its fair share of beaches and coasts, don’t miss out on Sussex’s woodland and inland landscapes – they make for a great day’s rambling, or you can hire a bike and get some exercise while you’re taking in the green and pleasant lands.
- Or perhaps you fancy getting even closer to nature? Axe and Paddle Bushcraft run a series of workshops that’ll teach you and your friends everything you need to know about surviving in the wilderness, from building your own fire to catching and preparing your own dinner.
- Another way you can enjoy the countryside is by seeing it from the seat of a car – but not any old car. Why not rent a classic car and feel the thrill of speed as you tear around the countryside?
- Alternatively, try your hand at a spot of real racing at Mithril Racing, which gives you and your friends the chance to tackle Goodwood Motor Circuit in a range of classic cars
- If you prefer your adventures to be based more around nature than machinery, you might enjoy a trip to Sussex Falconry. You can either sit back and enjoy the aerial acrobatics or get up and close with the owls, hawks and kites and fly them yourself.
- But it’s not all high-octane thrills and getting back to nature – parts of Sussex can really give you the chills. A tour around Arundel Jailhouse is a candle-lit exercise in atmosphere as the grisly past of the Georgian prison is revealed.
Laid Back Activities in Sussex
- Sussex is stuffed with history and attractions, so you can be sure you’ll find loads of tours available – everything from historical and cultural excursions to vineyard and foodie experiences can be arranged.
- For something a bit more fun, head for Sussex’s most vibrant city and tackle the Only in Brighton tour. This lively and fun tour tells you all about the unique side of Brighton, from terrible kings to the town’s surprising connection to Mount Everest.
- There’s plenty of waterways to enjoy in Sussex too, so whether it’s off the coast or along one of the county’s rivers and canals, why not look into hiring a boat and enjoying a little time on the water with you and your friends?
- Solar Heritage‘s tours explore the marshland around Chichester harbour, and they’re not only beautifully engaging but ecologically responsible – your boat is solar powered, meaning you won’t be disturbing the wonderful wildlife that makes the marshlands its home.
- Maybe you and your friends are more into crafts and hobbies? DIY Shabby Chic run a workshop that can tell you everything you need to know about restoring old furniture, so you might be heading back home with a couple of projects in mind!
The inhabitants of Sussex undoubtedly enjoy the finer things in life, and while you’re there, you should too! There’s no singular Sussex cuisine as such; the region instead prefers to draw influences from all around the world and pick the best that each nation has to offer. What is consistent across the region is a commitment to quality produce, whatever the meal. Words like organic, local and seasonal are everywhere – and are all signs that you are about to enjoy some very good food.
One way to make the most of Sussex’s superb food and drink is to seek out the smaller places, like independent producers and quiet country pubs, which will add a personal touch to your dining experience. Explore micro-breweries run almost solely on passion or learn to cook from enthusiastic chefs who love to share their skills. Find the people who care, of whom there are many in Sussex, and share in their commitment to making excellent food and drink.To save you from scouring the depths of Trip Advisor, we’ve already combed through the best eating and drinking experiences in Sussex – here’s what we’ve come up with. Fancy a nibble on a bit more information? We got lots more tasty tidbits over at our blog on the best foodie experiences in Sussex!
The Best Restaurants in Sussex
- The Ambrette in Rye is famous for its fusion of locally sourced ingredients and delicious Indian cuisine, but you can put any thoughts of poppadoms and pints from your mind. This is top-class cuisine of the highest order, and the Ambrette’s tasting menu is a gastronomic odyssey you won’t soon forget.
- The award-winning coast of Sussex isn’t just about days at the seaside – the seafood’s well worth the trip too. Head to The Little Fish Market in Hove, which (as the name suggests) started out as a fish market and now serves the seafood instead of selling it. It’s very popular and quite small, so booking ahead is advised.
- For somewhere that has all the welcoming atmosphere of a country inn but the cuisine of a high-end restaurant, try The Earl of March in Lavant. This takes pub eating to the next level, with dishes such as pork with honey roast pumpkin and pan fried sole with pomme anna gracing the menu.
Dishes to Try in Sussex
- It’s getting increasingly hard to find, but the oddly named Sussex Pond Pudding is definitely worth trying if you see it – it’s a suet pudding with an entire caramelised lemon inside it, and makes for a hearty dessert (so leave some room!).
- Huffed chicken is a pasty make with chicken, apple and walnuts – like the pond pudding, it’s getting increasingly rarer on menus but is well worth a try if you find it.#
- Sussex is also the home of one of the UK’s only sparkling wines, Nyetimber. British sparkling wines are getting a better and better reputation as time goes on, so get in early and dine out on eth fact you were drinking it before it was fashionable.
- And if you’re at the seaside, don’t forget to pick up a stick of Brighton Rock!
The Best Foodie Activities in Sussex
- There’s never been a better time to sharpen your baking skills, so why not take a trip to Brighton’s Angel Food Kitchen? They do a huge range of lessons and workshops, and you can choose between joining a larger group session or a private lesson where you and your friends can choose which skills to learn.
- Fond of your ales and have a day free? Head for The Dark Star Brewery in Partridge Green. You can take a tour of the brewery itself and enjoy tasting afterwards, but make sure you rock up on a Saturday or Sunday – they’re the only days on which you can take tours.
- Are you the kind of person who can never have too much chocolate? Chocolate Ecstasy Tours in Brighton can put that to the test! This is a tour where you’ll be tasting chocolate all day at a variety of locations, so make sure you turn up hungry (and clean your teeth when you’ve finished).