Travel a straight line for 50 miles directly south from London and you’ll hit Sussex. Once the historic kingdom of the South Saxons, Sussex was cut in half into East and West Sussex in 1888. Encompassing both coast and countryside, Sussex is home to a variety of natural landscapes, as well as picturesque villages, charming towns and historic cities. The natural habitats across the county include some of the greatest expanses of forest in the country, so much so that it accounts for 15 percent of the UK’s total land cover, while on the coast you can discover both quiet beaches and bustling seaside resorts.
The name, Sussex, is derived from the name of the tribe who once lived in the region called the South Saxons, or Suth Seaxe. By the time the Domesday Book was compiled it was documented within as Sudsexe. However, its history dates back much further than Saxon times, with Bronze Age and Iron Age sites scattered throughout the county. Sussex was also home to significant Roman settlement, and visitors can still see Roman road and excellently preserved buildings, such as the Fishbourne Roman Palace, today.
One of the most famous fights in the history of Britain occurred in the county and that’s the Battle of Hastings when the Normans, led by William the Conqueror fought King Harold I in 1066. The altar of Battle Abbey is said to be built on the spot the latter fell in battle. Today, you can visit the town of Battle to learn all about the events of that day in 1066.
After the kingdom was taken over by the Normans, the area was split into five baronies, with each home to its own castle – these castles can still be seen today. Sussex really began to come into its own in the 18th century, when sea bathing for health became fashionable among the wealthy, leading to the birth of the several seaside resorts we know and love today.
Towns, villages and cities
Whether you’re looking to explore pretty villages, lively towns and cities or scenic coastal resorts, Sussex has it all.
Hastings Old Town
Sussex is home to some of the South Coast’s most popular seaside towns, including Bognor Regis, Eastbourne, Bexhill and Hastings. Hastings is a hit with many – split into three sections, it offers something for everyone. First, there is the old town, with its castle, cliff railways and fishing huts, before the main town centre, packed with shops and restaurants, and the Victorian quarter of St Leonards. Camber, close to the Kent border, is extremely popular with beach-goers, as it’s home to Camber Sands, one of the only sandy beaches in Sussex.
Learn more about Camber Sands
Within Sussex’s countryside, you’ll also find some other wonderful places to visit, including Burwash, the home of Rudyard Kipling, and Lewes. Not only is Lewes home to Glyndebourne, one of the country’s best opera houses, but it’s also renowned for its traditional bonfire night celebrations.
Brighton Royal Pavilion
Finally, there’s also some fantastic cities to visit and explore. Chichester, in the west, is great for lovers of history and architecture, with its spectacular cathedral, city walls and guildhall. Brighton is also home to some iconic buildings of its own, including the Pier and the Royal Pavilion, as well as an excellent nightlife scene and a whole host of independent shops.
Attractions for all
Sussex has a variety of days out which are sure to entertain kids big or small. Come rain or shine, the county offers endless things to do with the kids, whether it’s a ride aboard the Bluebell Railway, a round of crazy golf at the seaside, making some furry friends at a zoo or a farm park or exploring the towers of Bodiam Castle.
Find a fab family day out
Arts and culture
For those seeking a little culture, Sussex is also a great destination. Year-round, there are arts and music festivals showcasing the best of local artists, while the region’s entertainment venues and art galleries are also sure to inspire and get you thinking. Among the highlights are Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion and Hastings’ Jerwood Gallery.
The Jerwood Gallery in Hastings
Discover our cultural highlights
From stunning landscaped gardens to gorgeous castle grounds, Sussex is also home to some beautiful gardens that make the most of their countryside backdrops. These include the 300 acres of woodland and themed gardens at Herstmonceux Castle, as well as the award-winning Borde Hill.
Borde Hill Gardens
Explore the gardens of Sussex
Throughout the countryside and at the heart of historic towns you’ll find Sussex’s much-loved castles, including Bodiam Castle and the previously mentioned Herstmonceux Castle. There are also some equally splendid National Trust properties to visit, including Bateman’s, the home of Rudyard Kipling, and Petworth House, where the Trust’s largest picture collection can be found.
Sussex is well connected to the rest of the country by a very good road and rail network. The main artery into the county is the M23 that leads to the London Orbital M25 which filters traffic in from all across the south east. The A27 runs parallel to the coast from east to west, serving Eastbourne, Chichester and all in between.
The rail network is very comprehensive and you can be in Brighton from London in around 90 minutes, or Hastings in a similar time. You can reach all the coastal towns and many of the inland towns with ease from outside the county. There is also a comprehensive Stagecoach operated bus service across the county, with National Express coaches stopping at most major towns and some villages.
OUT IN THE OPEN
Spanning almost 1500 square miles, Sussex is a vast area with a myriad of natural landscapes and wonders to explore.
Nature reserves and woodlands
For those looking to see wildlife in their natural habitat, Sussex is perfect as it’s home to a number of nature reserves, with many cared for by the Sussex Wildlife Trust. Among them is Rye Harbour, a coastal reserve spanning shingle, saltmarshes and reed beds, one of the UK’s most important conservation sites. For a woodland wander, Ashdown Forest, the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood, can’t be beaten.
By the sea
Lined with pebble and shingle beaches, Sussex’s coastline is a dramatic one, with amazing views out over the English Channel. The shingle and sandy beaches of The Witterings are popular with surfers, while Camber Sands is loved by families for its vast stretches of sand. There’s also plenty to see if you walk along the coast – in the Seven Sisters Country Park for instance, you’ll be able to see a series of striking chalk cliffs. Beachy Head, a famous beacon with its own lighthouse, is well worth visiting too.
The Seven Sisters
South Downs National Park
Sussex is home to the UK’s newest National Park, the South Downs covers 628 square miles of landscape, comprising of chalks and a series of sandstone and clay hills in the western Weald. The South Downs Way winds its way through the Park for over 100 miles, connecting Eastbourne on the south coast to the city of Winchester in neighbouring Hampshire – the perfect way to soak up the National Park’s scenery.
With so much to see, Sussex is the perfect destination for a walking holiday. As well as all the other great locations already mentioned, there are a whole host of country parks and footpaths to take a trek on. Hastings Country Park promises excellent views up over the Old Town, while new sections of the England Coast Path will be opened in Sussex over the coming years.
The views from Hastings Country Park
Dogs are welcome at many top attractions across Sussex, and with so many fantastic places to explore allowing dogs, it’s the perfect place to visit with your four-legged friend by your side. Alongside the several beaches which welcome pets year-round, there are country parks to explore, days out to be had, including learning the history of the Battle of Hastings at Battle Abbey, and pubs to relax in.
Find out more about dog-friendly Sussex
FOOD AND DRINK
Being both coastal and forested, Sussex has surf and turf options in abundance. Hastings is the largest fishing fleet in the county although several other towns have smaller fleets like Rye Harbour. Keep an eye out for some good steak and seafood restaurants during your trip to the county. Credit for the invention of banoffee pie can also be attributed to Sussex with the dish first developed at The Hungry Monk in Jevington. Local delicacies also include the intriguing Sussex Pond Pudding and Sussex Plum Duffs.
Sussex has many breweries and microbreweries producing ales and lagers, including Harveys, Longmans, Langhams and West Sussex to name a handful. The Sussex Beer and Cider Festival takes place once a year where you can investigate all that the county has to offer. Wine connoisseur Oz Clarke named Sussex as his special place for wine and the county’s reputation for producing fine wine is on the rise. Most vineyards are open to the public and welcome novices and experts alike.
Check out our favourite Sussex vineyards
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT SUSSEX
- Joseph Hansom, architect of Arundel Castle, also designed the London black cab
- England’s first onshore casino opened in Brighton in 1962 at the Metropole Hotel
- Chichester Cathedral is the only example of a cathedral with a hospital attached (St Mary’s)
- John Logie Baird first demonstrated television in 1926, in a house in Hastings
- Bexhill on Sea hosted Britain’s first motorsport racing event in 1902
- Fishbourne is the largest excavated Roman site in the UK covering six acres
- The world’s oldest bell can be found at St Botolph’s in Hardham
- Author, playwright and wit Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Ernest in Worthing
Experience everything in this guide and more with a wonderful holiday to Sussex – a great staycation destination all year round. Whether you’re after a holiday by the sea or a break in the heart of the countryside, you’ll find your perfect break among our collection of cottages.