If you’re planning to explore a little more the UK this year, a trip to Eastbourne in the South of England could make the ideal British holiday destination. There are so many amazing things to do in Eastbourne and the surrounding area!
You could find yourself hiking in the south downs, or delving into British history at one of the many nearby castles.
Visit some of the quaint villages in the region, climb to the top of the iconic Beachy Head, or simply relax at a pub with some delicious local fish and chips. And, of course, there are plenty of beaches to enjoy!
Whatever you get up to, Eastbourne is the perfect British seaside holiday destination.
This post was originally written in conjunction with Visit Eastbourne for their #BreatheItIn giveaway. However, it’s been recently updated with lots more info. The original competition is now closed.
Where is Eastbourne?
Eastbourne is a small seaside town in East Sussex on the south coast of England. Often overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, Brighton, this town is a bit of a hidden gem.
It’s also surrounded by some stunning coastline and picture-perfect landscapes like the South Downs. So this is an ideal place to make the most of the lovely English countryside. Below you’ll find some of the very best things to do in – and near – Eastbourne. All are recommended by me and other local travel bloggers.
Things to do in Eastbourne: Map
8 Best Things to do in Eastbourne
Recommended by: Sophie and Adam, We Dream of Travel
Of all the things to do in and around Eastbourne, a stroll over the iconic cliffs of Beachy Head should perhaps be top of your list. These sheer white cliffs are the highest chalk sea cliffs in the UK. At 162m above sea level, they boast remarkable 360° views.
Located within South Downs National Park, Beachy Head provides a tranquil haven away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby towns. As part of the South Downs Way walking and cycling route, it is the perfect place for a walk or cycle. There are ample routes available of varying difficulty. Or for the more adventurous it is a popular spot for hang-gliding!
There are also two lighthouses along Beachy Head that add to this magnificent scene; Beachy Head Lighthouse and Belle Tout Lighthouse. While the red-and-white-striped Beachy Head Lighthouse may be more famous, it’s possible to actually stay the night at Belle Tout Lighthouse!
Explore the Historic Pier
Recommended by: Eric, Recipes from Europe
You can’t stop by the seafront in Eastbourne and not take a stroll down the historic pier. Built back in the 1870s, the Eastbourne Pier has had quite the history from grand events to making it through war and even surviving a devastating fire.
These days, visitors can enjoy the Eastbourne sunshine by walking the wooden boardwalk all the way to the end. There are plenty of stunning views out to sea – with the white cliffs at Beachy Head visible in the distance. Looking back towards the shore, the pier is a great vantage point to appreciate Eastbourne’s colorful seafront hotels and heritage buildings.
Elsewhere on the pier, there are many places to just sit and relax. You’ll also find a number of small shops where you can buy souvenirs.
If you get hungry, you can grab some classic fish and chips at “The Chippy”. Or, sit down for a Victorian Tea in the Tea Rooms. If you visit in the evening, there’s also a Jazz Bar and Kitchen located at the end of the pier.
Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters
Recommended by: Ellie, Ellie’s Travel Tips
Eastbourne’s most notable characteristic is its beautiful and dramatic coastline. Nestled nine miles away from Eastbourne, Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters tower over and offer impressive cliff views of the ocean below.
The Seven Sisters Country Park is home to seven chalk hills giving this must-see Eastbourne attraction its name: Haven Brow, Rough Brow, Short Brow, Flagstaff Point, Went Hill Brow, and Bailey’s Brow.
These Seven Sisters hills and cliffs welcome visitors from around the world. Here, guests can walk or discover rock pooling—all while soaking up the relaxing sunshine. Birling Gap offers some of the top coastal walks in the United Kingdom open year-round.
When visiting Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters, stop in the visitor center to learn about the area’s geographic history. Managed by the National Trust, Birling Gap is one of the best things to do around Eastbourne.
Whether fossil hunting on the beach, walking the wonders of the Seven Sisters, or rock pooling, there is no shortage of fun activities at Birling Gap.
You can’t have a list of the best things to do in Eastbourne without mentioning the beach! With its brightly painted beachhuts, iconic Victorian pier, and eclectic mix of historic seafront buildings, Eastbourne is every bit the quintessential British seaside town.
There’s a wide, four-mile long stretch of shingle beach directly in front of the town. The beach features designated swimming areas, and is monitored by lifeguards during summer. Of course, this beach can get pretty busy on nice days. So you might want to venture along the coast in search of one of these quieter alternatives.
Recommended by: Antoine and Marielle, Offbeat Escapades
The Eastbourne Redoubt on Royal Parade was built in the early 1800’s as part of a chain of defenses against the invasion of the French Army. It’s one of three remaining Napoleonic Garrison Forts in England.
Today, it stands as an important, historical monument to the Anglo-French War. The fort’s 200-year history also encompasses World Wars I and II, where it was used by troops to protect the Sussex Coast.
Today, it is one of the best things to do in Eastbourne for history enthusiasts. From walking around the fortress and pavilion to visiting the museum full of military memorabilia, the Eastbourne Redoubt tells a captivating story of the site all the way from the Napoleonic Wars until the present-day.
It is home to three notable military collections related to Britain’s history. Namely, the Royal Sussex Regiment, the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, and the Sussex Combined Services.
There are also various events throughout the year in the Redoubt’s courtyard. These include movie screenings, exhibitions, markets, and stargazing hosted by the Eastbourne Astronomical Society.
Eastbourne Lifeboat Museum
This small museum on Eastbourne seafront is one of the best things to do on a rainy day. It’s also a great way to support an important British charity! The musuem is filled with memorabilia and artefacts from historic lifeboats.
Information boards share stories of various rescues operation throughout history. Some of these have been pretty impressive – for example, the Eastbourne lifeboat “Jane Holland” was one of 19 lifeboats that took part in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk.
Towner Art Gallery
Founded in 1923 as an “art gallery for the people”, the Towner Art Gallery has a long history as a centre for contemporary art. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Eastbourne, especially if you’re on the hunt for a bit of culture.
The gallery was moved to a new premises in 2009, into the largest purpose-built gallery in the South East. And in 2019, this striking building became a work of art in its own right. German artist Lothar Götz painted the exterior with an enormous and brightly coloured mural, made up of shapes and angles which draw on the building’s unique architecture.
Catch a Show
Speaking of culture, why not catch a show at one of Eastbourne’s many theatres?
- Royal Hippodrome Theatre – historic Victorian theatre hosting a range of shows.
- Printers Playhouse – independent venue hosting comedy nights, contemporary theatre and live music from local bands.
- Devonshire Park Theatre – a small Victorian theatre with an ornate interior.
- Congress Theatre – a Grade II listed building and the largest theatre on the south coast.
- Winter Garden – a small Grade II listed theatre built in 1875.
7 Best Things to do Near Eastbourne
Marvel at the South Downs National Park
Eastbourne is the gateway to the UK’s newest national park, the South Downs. Stretching from Eastbourne to Winchester, the park covers 1,600km2 and is filled with diverse landscapes. The South Downs is ideal for a weekend getaway – especially for hikers, walkers, and ramblers.
There’s the 100-mile-long South Downs Way for those that love a challenge. Closer to Eastbourne, there are many shorter walks and day hikes in the Park. Some are listed towards the end of this post. Boasting over 3,300km of footpaths, bridleways and byways, South Downs National Park really is a walker’s paradise!
Explore Bodiam Castle
Recommended by: Sarah, In Search of Sarah
Just 45 minutes from Eastbourne is one of Britain’s most ancient and recognizable monuments: Bodiam Castle. This 14th-century medieval castle was originally built by a former knight of King Edward III. It was intended to defend the surrounding area of East Sussex from the French during the Hundred Years’ War.
Bodiam Castle almost appears as though it’s out of a fairy tale. It looks like a sandcastle sitting on a picturesque landscape, complete with its own impressive moat, three drawbridges, and original wooden portcullis.
The structure of the castle is well-preserved, but the interior has fallen into ruin. You’re able to climb up the towers’ spiral stone staircases for stunning views of the property. this also gives an impression of what castle life was like back in the 1300s.
Gifted to The National Trust in 1925, Bodiam was owned by many families over the centuries. It was even left abandoned for almost 200 years. More recently, the castle was used as a filming location in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Doctor Who.
There is an on-site tea room and beautiful trails surrounding the property, making it a wonderful spot to escape to nature and soak in the medieval splendour.
Picnic on the Rathfinny Wine Estate
Recommended by: Joanna, The World in my Pocket
The South East is one of England’s best sparkling wine-producing areas. This region enjoys similar weather conditions to the Champagne area in France. And one of the best ways to experience the English sparkling wines is by having a picnic in one of the vineyards in East Sussex.
Rathfinny Wine Estate is a 600 acre vineyard located between Alfriston and Seaford. In summer, they offer the opportunity of having a picnic among the vines. Each group is allocated a space in the vineyard, where there’s a table with an umbrella to shade from the sun. You’re free to bring your own blanket if you prefer to sit on the ground. If it’s raining, the picnics are moved in the panoramic Tasting Room, overlooking the vines.
When you book a picnic, you are sent the menu from which you can choose the main course and any extras you might like, such as oysters or a charcuterie board. You can also pick the wine, so it’s chilled and ready for you when you arrive. The food is outstanding, crafted by highly skilled chefs to please the most sophisticated palettes.
Visit the Village of Alfriston
Recommended by: Claire from Stoked to Travel
Alfriston is a charming village just 10 miles from Eastbourne, nestled within the beautiful South Downs National Park. The best way to get there is by car. You can either drive the stunning coastal route towards Seaford, or head through the gorgeous Sussex countryside to Alfriston.
The historical village dates back to the 11th century, when it was included in the Domesday book. Alfriston also held an important position for pilgrims on their journey from Battle Abbey (near Hastings) to Chichester Cathedral in the mid-1300s. Pilgrims would often rest here before continuing their journey the next day.
Other parts of the village also date back to the 14th century, such as the parish church, the Alfriston Clergy House (which actually became the National Trust’s first property), as well as the characterful pubs lining the village high street.
Alfriston is the perfect example of a quintessential English village. Expect quaint cottages, perfect gardens, and traditional Weald architecture. This is easily one of the best places to visit in Sussex. Along the main high street, make sure to browse the boutique stores or stop for afternoon tea. My favourite tea room is Badgers Tea House, which has a quiet and delightful garden to sample the most delicious tea and scones!
Meet Kipling at Bateman’s
Recommended by: Sarah, In Search of Sarah
Bateman’s should be on everyone’s list of things to do near Eastbourne and makes for a perfect day out. After a short 40-minute journey by car to Burwash, you’ll arrive at a beautiful 17th-century property. Bateman’s was once the home of the journalist, poet, and novelist Rudyard Kipling, best known for The Jungle Book and Just So Stories.
The three-storey sandstone mansion was built in 1634. It sits on a gorgeous sprawling 3-acre National Trust estate. The grounds are filled with vegetable gardens, orchards, a rose garden, a water lily covered pond. There’s a creek flowing through the property, and even an old flour mill you can tour.
Enjoy a quiet afternoon pot of tea and a scone at their cosy tea room. Don’t miss their beautiful gift shop, where you can buy a selection of Kipling’s novels for just £5.
Tour through the home, which has kept its original furnishings and personal belongings – including Rudyard’s Rolls Royce in the garage! Once you meander through the scenic property and visit his beautiful panelled study overlooking the garden, you’ll see why Rudyard fell in love with the property and found the inspiration to write his novels.
Enjoy the Gardens at Herstmonceux Castle
Recommended by: Claire from ClairePins Travel
The gardens and grounds of Herstmonceux Castle are a fun and affordable place to visit near Eastbourne. Located only a 25-minute drive north of Eastbourne, they make an easy afternoon out.
This red-brick castle dates from the 15th century. It’s surrounded by a moat and several themed gardens – as well as 300 acres of woodlands.
Highlights include the Elizabethan Gardens, which are the largest on site, and the Sundial and Rose Garden. Here, the large sundial sculpture serves as a reminder of when the castle was used by the Royal Greenwich Observatory. There is also an apothecary herb garden, and the dedicated butterfly-friendly Lower Garden where you might even see a peacock roaming around!
The main castle building itself functions as an international university campus for part of the year. However, tours can be booked in advance online. This site also hosts public and private events throughout the year, most notably a medieval festival every August.
While a walk through the woodland area is enjoyable at any time of the year, the gardens are most spectacular during the peak season of late April to early September. You are welcome to bring a picnic, the site is dog-friendly and the main gardens are wheelchair accessible.
Get Active in Friston Forest
Last but by no means least, Friston Forest is one of the best things to do near Eastbourne if you’re looking for a hit of nature. Set within the spectacular South Downs National Park, this expansive beech woodland offers up some excellent views of the sweeping downs.
The forest boasts two walking strails, as well as several cycling and horse riding trails. It’s known as a bit of a mountain biking paradise so if you fancy a challenge, this is ideal. But it’s also a great spot if you’re in need of some rest and relacation, with numerous picnic spots, as well as bbqs available to hire.
Cycling in Eastbourne
Recommended by: Mansoureh, Travel with Mansoureh
Cycling is not only one of the most fun activities in Eastbourne, but it is one of the best ways to explore the city and surroundings.
If you are travelling with South Western Railway to Eastbourne, you are allowed to take your bike on the train. But if you don’t like to carry your own bike, there are a few bike rental shops in the city. You can hire a bike hourly, daily or even for a week.
There are various cycling routes for all levels of fitness in Eastbourne. However, cycling on the most parts of the seafront is not allowed. To appreciate the sea view, you can take the paved path to Beachy head and cycle to the famous lighthouse. This path is not suitable for beginners as it requires good fitness.
If you are looking for an easy path, you can cycle from the centre to Redoubt Fortress. From there, press onto Pevensey Bay Beach and Pevensey Castle before turning back. The route is paved and takes around 2 hours to complete.
With over four miles of unspoilt beach, and some gorgeous coastline stretching either side of the town, Eastbourne has plenty of ways to take to the water.
It’s an ideal spot for sailing, and you can take lessons with Eastbourne Sovereign Sailing Club. There are also RIB cruises to explore the South Downs National Park from the water.
More active travellers can try Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking and canoeing, windsurfing, and even raft building. There’s something for everyone!
Hiking Near Eastbourne
- South Downs Way – 90-miles from Eastbourne to Winchester
- Eastbourne and Beachy Head Circular – 5 miles
- The Cuckoo Trail – 14 miles (cycling and walking path)
- Butts Brow to Birling Gap – 6.5 miles
- Wilmington and the Long Man – 7.5 miles (optional shorter 6 mile route)
- Seven Sisters Challenge – 10 miles
- Eastbourne to East Dean – 6.5 miles (East Dean has a market on Wednesday Mornings)
- Sussex Coastal Culture Trail – “18 miles along seafront promenades and quiet beaches”
Are there any other brilliant things to do in Eastbourne, or nearby, that I’ve missed from this list? Scroll down to leave a comment with your favourite suggestions!