Home to miles of spectacular coastline, pretty countryside and historic castles and gardens, the neighbouring counties of Kent and Sussex are jam-packed with great days out. From tall fishermen’s towers and shipwreck museums to spa town walking trails and magnificent windmills, a holiday in this corner of England will give you more than just a taste of our fascinating heritage – and it needn’t cost a thing.
Whether you’re a couple looking for a unique day out or you want to take the children somewhere that won’t break the bank, there are lots of places without a huge admission fee. Kent and Sussex are full of huge country parks and glorious stretches of beach backed by expansive nature reserves, as well as historical monuments and contemporary museums, all completely free.
So, put away your pennies and get your imagination in gear as you choose from our hand-picked selection of the best free things to do in Kent and Sussex.
You’ll want to learn something about the local culture when you come to the coast, and where better than the Old Town at Hastings. Start at the fishing quarter where imposing tall black wooden towers, known as ‘net shops’ dominate the seafront, so evocative of this area’s heritage. Follow it up with a visit to the Shipwreck Museum and Fishermen's Museums nearby where seaside shanties play dolefully in the background as you peruse pirate paraphernalia and maritime treasures. When it's time for a bite to eat, walk up to the East Hill (there’s a funicular railway with a small charge if you prefer) and sit back with a picnic on the grassy lawns. You’ll be treated to spectacular views of France on a clear day as well as a stream of passenger ferries gliding to and from the port of Calais.
Added bonus: stroll along the promenade and treat yourself to some fish and chips on the pebbly beach, a must when you come to Hastings!
Beautifully named and for good reason, the spectacular Firehills at Hastings Country Park is one of the area’s most picturesque spots. Huge expanses of parkland leading down to chalky cliffs jutting out into the English Channel, it’s a haven of wildlife as well as grazing land for the odd semi-wild pony. Picnic on the grass in summer and in colder times, wrap up well and take a bracing walk along the cliffs. At the Fairlight car park, there's a visitor centre where you can pick up a map and browse the varied geology displays and fossils found in the area.
Added bonus: pop into the tearooms along Coastguard Lane where you'll be welcomed with fresh scones and tasty cakes. The family hound is welcome too and may even get his very own biscuit.
Set in the heart of rural Kent, the county’s oldest vineyard promises a variety of white, red, rose and sparkling wines, as well as Biddenden’s famous cider and tasty, pressed apple and pear juices. Their new Love Red Apple Juice is an entirely British apple juice and famous for its unique blend of health benefits and 100% natural ingredients. Admission and tastings are free of charge and from June to September, the vineyard also offers charity tours for just £1. Well worth it, we think!
Added bonus: the beautiful Weald of Kent village high street with its latticed-windowed Flemish weavers' cottages is worth a wander afterwards. Head to the village green and ask locals to tell you the story of the Biddenden Maids.
If vineyards are your thing, have a read of our Vineyards in Kent and Sussex guide to see which one should be next on your agenda.
Whenever you pitch up at the Turner Contemporary art gallery, you can be sure that there'll be something fantastic on. A rolling programme of temporary exhibitions and events are free to the public with many fabulous artists showcasing their latest works. Visitors are currently flocking to see Antony Gormley’s famous sculpture, ‘Another Time XXI, 2013’, sited outside the gallery on Fulsam Rock which will be in residence until the end of 2020. The building is named after the famous landscape painter whose association with the town promotes the understanding and enjoyment of both historical and contemporary art. Drawn to the area by the light, he was led to remark ‘the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe’. Find out for yourself with a visit to this striking modern art space.
Added bonus: what is Margate without a trip to the seafront to buy a stick of rock? This simple act of pleasure won’t break the bank but will remind you of your trip to the seaside every time you take a bite.
For more art and culture across Kent and Sussex, have a browse through our Arts and Culture in Kent and Sussex guide.
Walk through 400 years of history at the elegant spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Under an hour from central London, the town has something for everybody. While the modern shopping quarter is featured on the trail, it generally tries to avoid the commercial part, snaking around the edges of the town and visiting 30 places of interest. Starting at the historic Pantiles with its beautiful listed buildings and splendid Georgian architecture, it takes in many other interesting sites such as The Bath House and Chalybeate Spring, the Corn Exchange and the popular Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery.
Added bonus: a couple of miles outside the town, the elegant Dunorlan Park is just the place to take a gentle stroll. If you are too tired to walk after the trail, sit by the huge lake and admire the beautiful gardens, bursting with blooms and plants all year round.
Often referred to as the ‘Finest Windmill in the Land’, this beautiful windmill dominates the medieval market town of Cranbrook. Standing 22 metres tall with four huge sails, you can spot it wherever you are in the town, but you really need to climb the seven flights of stairs to understand the fascination. Stop on the way up to see the view from the miller’s reefing stage which surrounds the windmill; children will receive an achievement certificate if they get all the way to the top. They'll also get the opportunity to see how the milling process works; they are handed some wheat as they go in and can then watch as it turns to flour in front of their very eyes – even taking away a little bag of milled flour at the end!
Added bonus: visit the quirky Cranbrook Museum (April – October) and St. Dunstan’s Church, then pop into the charming George pub in the quaint high street for a Kentish cider.
Love history? Come and meet the costumed characters of centuries past in this delightful historic village tour, available from March to September. Groups of 10 visitors are taken over a mile of fascinating ground, where they'll find out about conditions in the workhouse, the tower used in the Napoleonic wars, infamous local residents and the ancient seat of government. Two and a half hours in total, you are promised some surprises along the way too! The amazing volunteers also put on WWI and WWII Graves Tours as well as a popular Churchyard Tour, especially pretty in springtime.
Added bonus: head down to Viking Bay, Broadstairs’ famous sandy horseshoe-shaped bay and stroll along the clifftop promenade and boardwalk, perfect for a breath of fresh sea air.
While Brighton is certainly a shopping mecca, with its huge selections of both high street and independent shops, it’s also a fascinating place to explore and costs absolutely nothing to do so. Start at one of the UK’s top ten visitor attractions, the Victorian Brighton Palace Pier. Glitzy and glorious, you can watch the colourful fairground rides then settle down on a free deckchair to watch the swimmers who seamlessly glide up and down the shore every day without fail. Have a fish and chip lunch on the pebble beach, and then work it off with a stroll along the cosmopolitan promenade. Find out about Brighton’s history as a little fishing village at Brighton Fishing Museum and marvel at the magnificent Royal Pavilion from the beautiful Pavilion Gardens. You can venture inside this exotic palace too, but there is an entrance fee.
Added bonus: without a doubt, the place to head to for a coffee and a browse is the famous Lanes area, a window shopper’s delight. This maze of niche shops is a great place to lose yourself for an hour or two and its quirky duck shop is just the place to pop into if you want to buy a little present for those back home.
If our priceless days out have inspired you to visit this beautiful corner of the world, why not make a few days of it with a stay in one of our cottages in Kent and Sussex? Visitors looking for some Kentish tradition will love to curl up in one of our traditional Oast Houses or cosy thatched cottages, while beach babies can get their fix of the ocean with our selection of coastal properties, often just moments from the sea.
Whatever you're looking for, have a browse through our portfolio of cottages to see which one suits you. If you're bringing little ones, a family-friendly house could be just what you're looking for, while your four-legged friends are more than welcome in our dog-friendly accommodation. Just call our knowledgeable team who will help you find the perfect property.