We moved down to East Sussex over a year ago now and have been busy exploring our new part of the world. I absolutely adore it here. There's still so much to discover, but I wanted to share the current favourites, as I get asked quite often about the best places to visit. You will notice a strong bias towards the coast - it has been our dream for many, many years to live by the sea….
- Cuckmere Haven
- Seaford Head
- Birling Gap
- Seaford Beach
- Camber Sands
- Alfriston (and the walk to it from High & Over)
- Eastbourne seafront
- Merriments Garden
You will notice that Brighton's not on the list. I love Brighton, but I figured everyone knows about it already and there are tons of guides already written, so I thought I'd focus on some of the other places.....
1. Cuckmere Haven
This just had to be no.1 - it was the place that sealed the deal for us moving out here - we fell head over heels the first time we visited.
Cuckmere Haven is an area of flood plains where the river Cuckmere meets the English Channel. It has a lovely shingle beach with magnificent views of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. The beach is split in two where the river meets the sea and you can access it from either side. The most popular way is to follow the path alongside the river from the Seven Sisters Country Park - it is very accessible and very popular with tourists. My favourite side is the other side - smaller and quieter. You can drive and park at South Hill Barn on the outskirts of Seaford and walk 10 minutes or so down to the beach. The 360 degree views along the way are so beautiful.
On the left you have the lush green South Downs, with the river Cuckmere snaking its way down to the sea, and on the right you have sheer cliffs and the sea. It feels wild and peaceful. If you are feeling energetic, you could walk from Seaford along the cliff path and enjoy beautiful views all the way. In fact, if you have a lot of energy you can walk from Seaford all the way to Eastbourne.
2. Seaford Head
The cliff path that leads to Cuckmere Haven starts at Seaford, at the eastern end of the beach. In just a few minutes you can climb high up on the cliffs to wonderful views of the Seven Sisters. I love coming out here to get away from it all. It’s the perfect place to come and clear your head. It’s also a nature reserve - I’ve seen lots of butterflies here in the summer and it's popular with bird watchers. It's also a beautiful area to kayak around (especially when the sea's all sparkly) - the perfect way to access hidden coves.
3. Birling Gap
The Birling Gap is a stunning shingle beach in the middle of the Seven Sisters, in the care of the National Trust. It is accessed via a metal viewing platform and steps. It’s the kind of place to make you feel humble and in awe at the power of nature and the sea. Coastal erosion is a big issue here - as much as 0.7 metres are eroded every year with frequent cliff falls. The NT visitor centre shows photos of the area in years past, and you can see the row of cottages perched on the edge of the cliff diminishing in number.
There is so much to look at and enjoy here - when the tide is low, vast swathes of white chalk rock are exposed. As well as walking on the beach, dodging the waves and marvelling at the tall cliffs above, I love to walk on the cliff paths.
In one direction you can walk to Cuckmere Haven, and in the other, to Beachy Head and on to Eastbourne. The walking is pretty strenuous, though, with massive undulations as you climb and descend the brows of the Seven Sisters. For more information on walking in this area have a look at the Walking Club website and the Beachy Head website.
It makes a lovely spot for a picnic and there is also a National Trust cafe here which serves food.
If you do come out here to visit, may I plead with you to stay away from the edge of the cliffs - the drops are sheer and the cliffs are very crumbly….I see so many visitors posing for photos perilously close to the edge - it just isn’t worth it.
4. Seaford Beach
Well, I just had to mention Seaford beach! This is my local and I love it here. At the eastern end are a cluster of pretty pastel beach huts - if you follow me on Instagram I’m pretty sure you will have seen lots of photos of them! The area is wonderfully undeveloped (just a couple of coffee places) and parking is free - a rarity in today’s age. There is a concrete path that runs the entire length of the beach all the way to Tide Mills, the New Haven end of the beach and another nature reserve. It’s always popular with dog walkers and usually a few fishermen and sometimes kayakers and paddle boarders. It gets very busy in the summer at the weekends, but I guess that’s true of every beach! Nevertheless, we enjoyed some deckchair lazing at the height of summer :)
5. Camber Sands
Camber Sands is a vast sandy beach at the easternmost end of East Sussex, near Rye (another lovely place on our "to visit" list) and is the only sand dune system in the county. So it’s the place to come if you need a sandy beach fix and a change from all the shingle (another lovely alternative sandy beach is West Wittering in West Sussex - a firm favourite of ours). It’s a huge open space and reminds me of Saunton Sands beach in Devon.
Alfriston is a lovely, small historical village in the middle of the South Downs. It’s a popular stop off for walkers and cyclists and is full of tea shops. It has a beautiful bookshop called Much Ado (closed until 4th Feb) with a lovingly curated selection of books, including lots of crafty numbers. It also stocks Flow Magazine, a personal favourite of mine. There is a beautiful walk you can do from High and Over (a viewpoint looking over the Cuckmere Valley, with a car park) via Litlington, and along the river, which is just lovely.
Bexhill is a seaside town in-between Eastbourne and Hastings. It has some beautiful art deco architecture and is home to the De La Warr Pavillion, an art gallery with a theatre and a cafe. It’s a nice place to come for a stroll along the seafront, a leisurely coffee and cake overlooking the sea, and a wander around the exhibitions.
Lewes is a wonderful town to visit, with a good range of independent shops and lots of antique shops, cafes and restaurants. It’s also lovely to wander around the steep cobbled lanes (the Twittens) off the High Street and peer at all the interesting houses. There is a castle if that is your thing and there are also the lovely public (free) Southover Grange Gardens, a little off the beaten track.
9. Eastbourne seafront
Eastbourne’s seafront is a lovely place to stroll along with its famous victorian pier. I’m particularly fond of the Holywell end, which is much quieter and usually very popular with dog walkers. You can also pick up the cliff path at Eastbourne and walk towards Beachy Head and onwards to the Birling Gap. For more info on walks have a look at the National Trails website, the Beachy Head website, or the Walking Club website for the entire route.
10. Merriments Garden
I had to squeeze one garden into the list! Merriments is located near Hawkhurst, not far from the Kent border. It’s a lovely garden, packed full of flowers with lots of curves and different viewpoints. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed visiting it throughout the seasons. The cherry blossom near the Monet bridge was rather spectacular in spring, shedding clouds of white petals into the Tulips beneath.
So that’s it for now. Hopefully I’ll be back with more recommendations once we’ve done some more exploring (including some for nearby West Sussex and Kent). I’d love to hear what your favourite places to visit in East Sussex are….