Super Cool East Sussex: 20 Things to do on a Weekend Break

Posted on 15th Aug 2023. In , , ,

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East Sussex is a county big on activities and attractions; so you’re not going to be short of things to do when you head here for a weekend break.

If you’re a lover of the great outdoors, East Sussex has you covered. This impeccable region has miles of coastline, along with an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – The High Weald – that runs into Kent next door and the white cliffs of the South Downs. Rolling green downs, weald-lands, chalky hills and dramatic coastline mean you can hike, swim, cycle, run, or simply meander across its beautiful painting-like landscape to your heart’s content. 

If you’re a sucker for history, hold on to your armour. This is 1066 country, with towns blitzed by Norman invasions and castles wrecked by bloody conflicts. Juicy stuff that’ll keep your heart thumping as you regale the stories and legends. Then there are the energetic seaside resorts, including trendy Brighton, promising 24/7 glitz and glam, as well as more sedate musts like Eastbourne, where families have been kept smiling for generations.

In short, you won’t fall short of things to do in East Sussex. But you may have trouble fitting it all in. 


 

Disclosure: All products are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something, we may earn an affiliate commission.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

1. Explore Brighton’s buzzing beachfront

Brighton is known for its pebble beach, but it’s also one of the most lively seafront destinations in the whole of the UK.

Stroll along its four-mile promenade and hidden arches and you’ll find beachfront bars, restaurants serving everything from ice cream to high-end seafood, galleries in the Artists’ Quarter and rides and arcades to keep the whole family entertained.

Don’t forget to snap the haunting remains of Brighton’s West Pier, which famously burnt down in 2003 and is now an iconic landmark of the city. If you want to see the seafront, as well as everything else Brighton has to offer, go on a Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour to really get your money’s worth.

And if you happen to be a Soho House member, the seafront is where you’ll find their only house by the sea, Brighton Beach House, with a banana-shaped swimming pool that overlooks the pier.

You might also like: Top 10 Weekend Beach Breaks in the UK


 

Things to do in East Sussex

2. Sauna by the sea with Beach Box Spa 

If a wood-fired sauna on the beach sounds like your idea of heaven, book a session at Beach Box Spa. Located on Brighton Beach, this year-round ‘beach spa’ claims to be the sauna-bathing experience you didn’t know you needed – and it’s easy to see why.

With incredible sea views from each of the three saunas and direct beach access, it’s the perfect place to take a sea dip then warm up again, even if you visit in winter.

There is also an ice bath (extra charge), plunge pool, fresh water showers and changing rooms on site.

Guests can upgrade their experience with handmade, natural in-sauna body treatments. Check out their new spa menu to see what’s on offer. Private parties can add their very own Sauna Master (an expert trained in steam wafting and leaf whisking), should they wish.

Beach Box Sauna is open from 8.45am to 8.45pm every day apart from Tuesdays, when they are closed. Ticket prices start from £25 per person for a 90-minute experience in a shared sauna.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

3. Stay in a boutique treehouse 

Just an hour from London, high above the trees, you’ll find two luxury East Sussex treehouses hidden amongst five-acres of private woodland: Tinker’s Treehouse (ideal for couples) and Oakey Koakey Treehouse (built for families).

Tinker’s Treehouses is a romantic bolthole for two with a downy king-sized bed, modern kitchen and enormous rainfall shower. The sun-trap decking area is made for sundowners. Oakey Koakey is a bigger family-size treehouse, sleeping 2 adults and 2 children. Prices start from £175 per night.

If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, Downash Wood is also home to four luxury cabins, some of which come with freestanding baths and their own cinema rooms. All are perfect for two.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

4. Go on a wine tasting vintage bus tour

The south of England is renowned for its world-class sparkling wine, so it would be rude to visit for the weekend and not explore at least one award-winning vineyard.

Book a Sussex Vineyard Tour on a Vintage London Bus (£125pp) and you can enjoy not one, but two award-winning vineyards. You’ll also enjoy a picnic lunch and two tasting sessions. Best of all, you won’t have to worry about driving as you’ll be chauffeured around the leafy East Sussex countryside in a vintage mini coach.

Day trips run from central Brighton. The vineyards included are the pretty Court Garden Farm near the South Downs and Bluebell Vineyard Estates on the edge of the bluebell-strewn Ashdown Forest, the real-life inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh.

Other notable vineyards in the area are Ridgeview Wine Estate, Rathfinny Wine Estate, Bolney Wine Estate and Nyetimber Vineyard.

You might also like: Corking Welsh vineyard tour at White Castle Vineyard


 

Things to do in East Sussex

5. Splash about in the UK’s only Grade-II Listed Lido

Built in 1938, English Heritage calls Saltdean Lido ‘The Seventh Wonder of the English Seaside’. A little further along from Brighton Marina, it is the only Grade II-listed coastal lido in the country – so is definitely worth a detour on your East Sussex short break.

The community-led space was set to be filled in with concrete in 2010 to make way for apartments, until locals saved it. Now it is slowly being restored to its former Art Deco glory and plans are afoot to add a cafe, exercise centre, library, arts and activities space – and even a ballroom.

Serious swimmers are best to book ahead, with prices starting from £6 for adults and £3.50 for children aged 3 and over. Infants swim free.

You might also like: Take a stylish splash at Thames Lido


 

Things to do in East Sussex

6. Wander around up-and-coming St Leonards-on-Sea

St Leonards-on-Sea is a town and seaside resort in the borough of Hastings in East Sussex. You’ll find it to the west of Hastings, a seaside town that like so many others, has had a resurgence in recent years. St Leonard’s is very much the yin to Hastings’ yan. A bit cooler, arty, and full of places that are better known to locals than tourists.

Head here for independently-owned art galleries, such as Big Yin, Project 78 and the Lucy Bell Gallery. The brilliant Hastings Contemporary, further into town, is also worth a visit.

Vintage treasures can be found on Kings Road. Stop off for a drink with a view at Goat Ledge, which has deckchairs for guests to use, or Grazing on Grand. Foodies should make a beeline for Heist, a dog-friendly indoor food market featuring local indie businesses.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

7. Head to Ashdown Forest, the real-life Hundred Acre Wood

You can’t head to East Sussex and not visit Ashdown Forest – the real-life setting and inspiration for the Hundred Acre Wood from the Winnie the Pooh stories. Find it just south of East Grinstead, about 35 minutes from Crawley and under an hour from Brighton and Eastbourne.

This magical woodland is where Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Tigger and Eeyore roam in the books, created by AA Milne who lived at the edge of the forest, in a house called Cotchford Farm.

Not just for kids, visitors from around the world come to Ashdown Forest in search of beloved spots like Pooh Sticks Bridge, Roo’s Sandy Pit, Heffalump Trap and the Enchanted Place where Christopher Robin says farewell to his friend. There are two walks at Ashdown Forest that take in the main Pooh sites mentioned in the novels, so choose one (or both) and make your own stories as you wander through the 10-square mile site that sits within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

We recommend stopping at the iconic Pooh Bridge for a game of Pooh Sticks – just don’t snap any branches off the trees to do so. Not cool.

You might also like: 5 woodland escapes in the Forest of Dean


 

Things to do in East Sussex

8. Drink up sensational views at the South Coast’s highest bar 

Ever wondered what the spaceship-like structure is that moves up and down on the Brighton coast? It’s the i360, an observation tower that doubles as the highest bar on the South Coast (at a whopping 450ft). And definitely an attraction to put on your things to do in East Sussex list.

The views at the top roll on for miles; you can see from Brighton’s famous pier out over the South Downs, and even see landmarks such as the Seven Sisters Cliffs and the Isle of Wight. Book a 30-minute experience to drink up the views, then wash it down with a glass of something local at the Nyetimber Sky Bar inside.

‘Dine with a view’ meal packages along with events such as Yoga In The Sky happen regularly here. And Daredevils can also climb, abseil or walk on the edge of the i360 tower. i360 Sky Bar Flex start £31.95pp.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

9. Walk a pretty part of the world’s longest coastal path

Back in 2020, plans were announced to open the England Coast Path, a 2,800-mile long walking route that runs the entirety of the English coast in partnership with Natural England. The world’s longest coastal path has been opening in sections ever since, and visitors to East Sussex can walk along the county’s super-pretty stretch right now.

The East Sussex section, which opened to the public in summer 2022, is 33-miles (53km) long and runs from Telscombe to Eastbourne Pier. Along the way you can take in the wondrous sights of Seven Sisters Country Park and Beachy Head, the highest sea chalk cliff in Britain.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

10. Treasure hunt amongst Brighton’s bohemian Lanes

Put Brighton on your list of things to do in East Sussex and make a beeline for the city’s famous shopping lanes – known simply as The Lanes.

A quirky labyrinth of narrow alleyways and hidden squares, The Lanes are a tumble of independent shops, galleries, and eateries – and are also home to a legendary jewellery quarter. Parts of The Lanes date back to the late 16th Century when Brighton was a small fishing town called Brighthelmston. Even if you’re not shopping, they’re worth a visit just to soak up the unique, bohemian vibe – quite different from the rest of Brighton.

To see some of the quirks on offer in The Lanes and get a comprehensive overview of the city, booking this Brighton Walking Tour that takes you from Brighton Palace Pier to The Lanes, stopping off in the historic Old Town and at the city’s Royal Pavilion along the way.

 


 

Things to do in East Sussex

11. Go pub hopping in delightful Rye

Rye is a historic town in East Sussex that’s is as idyllic as it sounds. Find it nestled between Hastings to the west and Dungeness to the east, where the English Channel is at its most narrow.

Regularly voted one of the prettiest places to visit in the UK, and just over an hour from London by train, it’s a cluster of medieval streets and ancient buildings built around a sandstone hillside. Naturally, visitors love Rye; and thirsty visitors love Rye’s pubs. We have a soft spot for the 600-year-old Mermaid Inn, once a famous smugglers’ pub that is said to be haunted. You can also stay the night if you dare.

Other pubs definitely worth checking out include The George In Rye (also a hotel), the award-winning Rye Waterworks Micropub and locals’ secret, The Ypres Castle Inn, which has a beer garden overlooking Rye Castle (note they are closed Mondays-Wednesdays). For late night cocktails and live music head to The Grapevine, a champagne and jazz bar open until 1am every night.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

12. Walk the dunes at beautiful Camber Sands

If the sun is shining – or at least if there’s no rain – one of the best things you can do in East Sussex is take a day trip to Camber Sands.

Used as a location in many films and TV shows, such as The Crown and Ricky Gervais’ After Life, Camber Sands is one of the best beaches in the UK without doubt. Its unspoilt sands run on for almost 5 miles and it features one of the purest and longest dune systems on the South Coast, and the only one to be found in East Sussex.

You can walk to Camber Sands from Rye in about an hour; alternatively, take the car and it’s a 10-minute drive (just beware of the narrow roads to the car parks that get clogged up in peak season).

For those on a dog-friendly weekend, Camber Sands welcomes dogs on some areas of the beach all year round. Exclusion zones apply from 1 May to 30 September.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

13. Visit a fairytale castle or two

As the gateway into England, many a defensive fortress can be found on the Sussex Coast and there are a fair few still standing today that are well worth a visit.

A must is Hastings Castle – Britain’s first Norman castle built by William the Conqueror in 1067. Here you can wander the ruins and discover all about the Norman invasion of 1066 (entry is £6.25 for adults). Top tip: buy a handy 3-in-1 ticket to combine your trip to Hastings Castles with a visit to Smugglers Adventure and Hastings Aquarium.

Rye Castle, also known as Ypres Tower, makes another wonderful pit-stop (entry to castle is £4, the museum is free) thanks to its fascinating, eclectic history: it’s been a stronghold in battles with the French over the years, as well as a private dwelling, a prison, and a court house. Afterwards, pop into the locals’ favourite The Ypres Castle Inn for a drink and bite to eat.

National Trust-owned Bodiam Castle is one of Britain’s most picturesque ancient monuments with its own moat, plus a tearoom that looks out over the River Rother (entry is £11 for adults).

If you’re after a seismic shot of Bridgerton vibes, head to Hertmonceux Castle Estate (pronounced herst-mon-zoo) in the beautiful East Sussex countryside. Also home to a moat, this 15th-century red-brick masterpiece is 300 stunning acres of castle, themed and formal gardens, woodland trails, lakes and meadows (entry is £8 for adults).

PS: remember to check opening times before you visit, as some castles only operate during warmer months, while others are open all-year round.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

14. Explore the former home of Rudyard Kipling

If famous stately homes tickle your fancy, a visit to Bateman’s – the East Sussex former home of author Rudyard Kipling – is well worth an afternoon or day trip.

Surrounded by the wooded landscape of the Sussex Weald, this 17th Century Jacobean manor with pretty gardens was snapped up by Kipling and his wife Carrie in 1902 after they fell in love with the house at first sight.

At this point Kipling was a world-famous author, with The Jungle Book an international success, and Bateman’s became his sanctuary. A few years after moving in, Kipling cemented his literary success by being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

After her husband died in 1936, Kipling’s wife signed the house over to the National Trust, and care has been taken to keep as much of it as if the Kiplings had just popped out. Entry is £14 for adults and £7 for children.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

15. Paddleboard on the South East’s largest reservoir

Bewl Water is the largest open stretch of water in the South East. Open all year round, it’s an 800-acre site set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and offers a wealth of water-based fun, including paddleboarding, rowing, its own water park or wild swimming.

As well as watersports, Bewl Water parkland has miles of scenic natural pathways to walk, cycle, run or hike – ideal for adventurous weekenders. There’s an array of wildlife to spot here too and kids will love the open-air laser tag on site also.

After a paddle or a walk, stop off at the Waterfront Cafe for a coffee or spot of lunch. You can even turn your trip into a holiday and camp on site, stay in one of their Yurts, or hideout at nearby Downash Wood in one of their gorgeous cabins or treehouses.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

16. Enjoy a guided walk through gorgeous East Sussex countryside

The East Sussex countryside has more than enough beauty to fill your time. A guided tour through some of its best bits with a local tour guide is a must if you’d like to learn a little more about its charming villages and landscapes as you go. And we recommend booking a tour with Sussex Walks.

Host and local resident Kathryn offers some fascinating walks, including a circular tour of Arundel and a 3-4 mile Tree Tunnel and Windmill Walk.

Starting north of Chichester in a traditional country pub, you’ll pass a local vineyard and cross into the South Downs National Park before reaching Halnaker Windmill, where you’ll have time to admire the 360-degree view from the top. On a clear day you can see as far as the Isle of Wight. History buffs will love learning about Boxgrove Man, the oldest human remains ever found in England.

The walk last 2-3 hours and is easy to moderate. Prices start from £13.60pp (depending on group size).


 

Things to do in East Sussex

17. Feast at one of the 23 Michelin-approved restaurants

With its close proximity to both the sea and the countryside, East Sussex offers a great hub of quality foodie experiences when you’re looking for things to do. There are currently 23 Michelin-approved restaurants in the area. Not all have Michelin stars – some have been awarded prestigious Bib Gourmands for their fabulous quality food and value for money.

For responsible fine dining, head to Tillingham wine estate in Peamarsh; the restaurant was awarded a Green Michelin Star in 2023 and is well worth a detour.

Other restaurants noted by Michelin include Burnt Orange in Brighton, The Royal in St Leonards-on-Sea, The Bell pub in Ticehurst and The Star in Alfriston.

Alternatively, if you fancy yourself as a bit of a chef, book a Gourmet Cooking Class at the private Sussex home of a restauranteur. Prices start from £74pp.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

18. Journey back in time on the Bluebell Steam Railway

Journey through the East Sussex countryside in style with a ride on the Bluebell Steam Railway in Brighton. This vintage lunchtime tour starts from the Bluebell Railway Museum, where you’ll learn about the station and see the restoration sheds where trains and carriages are being restored.

After your tour, your locomotive arrives and you’re taken on an hour journey through the Sussex countryside. After you’re back at the station, you’re driven to Bluebell Vineyard Estates for a special cheese-tasting lunch awaits prepared for you by High Weald Dairy.

After lunch, an expert guide will take you on a tour of the vineyard and winery to learn how English sparkling wine is made, explaining the process from grape to glass. This is followed by wine tasting on their sun terrace.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

19. Wakeboard or water ski at Newhaven

Strap in for an adrenaline-fuelled afternoon in the water at Newhaven, 30 minutes down the road from Brighton. Here, Maverick Boat Adventures (MBA), based in Newhaven marina East Sussex, run wakeboarding, water skiing and inflatable rides.

The fully-trained, professional watersports instructors take great care of you, helping you find your feet if you’re a beginner or progress your skills if you’ve. Of course, if wakeboarding or water skiing isn’t for you hop on an an inflatable and enjoy the thrill without worrying about the skills.


 

Things to do in East Sussex

20. Boat tripping to Seven Sisters cliffs

The Seven Sisters are a series of dove-white chalk sea cliffs on the English Channel coast – and, undoubtedly, one of the most iconic sights to add to your list of things to do in East Sussex. You can easily walk along the cliffs on one of the most popular routes from Seaford to Eastbourne.

However, for a unique and rare look at Seven Sisters you can’t beat a leisurely boat trip on a small-group tour. The tour leaves from Newhaven via Tide Mills, Seaford Bay, Splash Point, Hope Gap and Cuckmere Haven. It gives you a chance to see the beautiful cliffs up close, spot dolphins, seals, and kittiwakes, plus you learn about the area’s smuggling past on the way.

You sail with a local guide, who’s descended from smugglers, and discover exactly what life was like for pirates in the 18th century.

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Claire Robinson Founder of Weekend Candy
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