Sussex is famed for its vibrant cities and historic towns, as well as its little fishing villages set against a backdrop of the glorious South Downs. With a long stretch of coast gazing out to the English Channel, and some of the most beautiful countryside in the south, Sussex is the perfect place to visit if you are looking for a holiday packed with interesting days out.
The county is home to some of the most magnificent historical castles and houses in the country, many of them owned by the National Trust. From breathtaking houses surrounded by parkland full of wild deer to country retreats where famous authors have found inspiration, you'll need a good few days to visit even a handful of the wonderful historic houses on our shores. Have a peek at our guide to some of the best National Trust houses, gardens and properties across Sussex.
National Trust houses, gardens and properties in Sussex
"Read on to see which one of these properties is home to the National Trust's finest art collection..."
A majestic late 17th century Grade I listed house, Petworth is situated in the historic parish of Petworth in West Sussex. With a palatial feel due to its size and design, this stately Baroque building is one of the most magnificent in the National Trust’s collection.
The spectacular sweeping landscape, transformed in the 1750s and early 1760s by Capability Brown, is known for having inspired Turner in many of his paintings; indeed, he spent much time there under the patronage of the 3rd Earl of Egremont. The property houses the finest art collection in the care of the National Trust and you will see this for yourself when visiting the state rooms filled with paintings by not only Turner but Reynolds, Van Dyck and Blake.
You can also visit the servants’ quarters to see how life was for the staff in years gone by – the Historic Kitchen has a 1000-piece copper batterie de cuisine and there are various domestic rooms that you can visit. There are guided tours available for the latter but please note that these must be booked before your visit.
Explore some of the 700 acres of grounds, including the breath-taking Pleasure Grounds which is enclosed within a ha-ha, complete with its own iconic Rotunda. Or download one of the trails which will take you along the many paths lined with trees and exotic shrubs where you can get a glimpse of what it would have been like for the family and guests of this house many years ago.
When you are in need of rest, pause awhile in the Audit Room Café – here you can enjoy a proper meal in what was once the Servants’ Quarters but don’t worry, you won’t have to put your pinny on! Finish off at the gift shop which has a lovely range of both National Trust gifts, books and local produce to remind you of a lovely day out in our glorious county.
Dogs are allowed in the deer park but not in the other areas. There is parking available. Toilets are available on site.
Petworth House and Park, Petworth, West Sussex, GU28 9LR
One of our most romantic castles, the moated 14th century Bodiam sits right in the heart of the Sussex countryside. With huge towers rising up out of a beautiful moat, you can cross the iconic drawbridge to discover centuries of history.
Built in 1385 by one of Henry VIII’s knights, Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, during the Hundred Years’ War, the castle went on to suffer during the Civil War when much of the interior was destroyed. The walls remained however, and you can still get an idea of what it was like to have lived there many centuries ago.
You can take brilliant guided tours where you will discover intriguing and often gruesome tales from the colourful medieval characters that lead the tours. These include William the forester, Blanche the webster and Ebete the huckster amongst others. They will talk you through the history of the castle and how they would have experienced it in their role. You can also watch a short DVD, which will explain a little history about the castle and then make your way around at your leisure.
The castle has a ruined interior, so much of the experience is walking amongst the ruins, but there is enough of an interior structure to imagine how the castle was in its day. Climb up the spiral staircases and peek through the narrow slitted windows where arrows would be shot at the enemy, and check out the old lookout tower.
There are extensive grounds to explore and for a bite to eat, the Wharf tea room serves home-cooked seasonal food. There is a refreshment kiosk and picnic benches outside that are wonderful on a sunny day. There is also a great shop that sells gifts, cards and local produce. If you want a full day out experience, you can hop aboard a steam train on the Kent and East Sussex Railway from Tenterden which takes in the castle on its journey around Sussex.
Dogs are allowed in the grounds and there is a dog tethering point and dog bowl outside the ticket office opposite the castle entrance for thirsty hounds. Parking is available (pay and display car park is £3 or free to NT members). Toilets are on site in the main car park.
Bodiam, near Robertsbridge, East Sussex TN32 5UA
Bateman’s is a 17th century Jacobean country house situated in the picturesque village of Burwash in the Weald of Sussex. Known for being the home and sanctuary of Rudyard Kipling, author of ‘The Jungle Book’, it was his home from 1902 until his death in 1936, when it was bequeathed to the National Trust.
It was a very happy family home where his children were brought up and the rooms were described by Kipling as ‘untouched and unfaked’; they are today pretty much how he left them with various artefacts from the East which he had a strong connection with. His connection with India is beautifully shown in the first piece of writing from his study in Bateman’s, ‘Kim’.
A must-see is Kipling’s study, which feels as though the writer is still there, thinking of new ideas and lounging on his day bed, complete with cigarette burns. Then view the Kipling Collection where you can see the Nobel Prize that he was awarded for services to literature and paintings in ‘The Jungle Book’. The most wonderful effect by far is that you can actually hear Kipling speaking in the house. The only known footage of him speaking is played via a Pathe newsreel which can only serve to increase his presence as you walk around. Don’t miss the three wonderful trails around the estate – children have their own trails and dogs are welcome too!
Have a bite to eat in the Mulberry tea room, which has a wonderful garden setting in temperate weather, and finish in the Oast gift shop where you can buy a piece of history with one or two of Kipling’s books and perhaps a souvenir to take home.
Dogs are welcome on short leads – you can borrow one of these at the visitor reception. Parking is available and there are toilets on site with baby-changing facilities.
Bateman’s Lane, Burwash, East Sussex, TN19 7DS
This delightful Georgian red-brick fronted house in the centre of Rye is a must-visit on any trip to Sussex. Perhaps best known for its literary connections with both Henry James and E.F. Benson who resided here, it's also host to a series of concerts and events throughout the year in its much-loved walled gardens.
Designed by Alfred Parsons, a friend of Henry James, it is one of the largest gardens in Rye and is filled with a selection of beautiful blooms, including roses, lilies, spring bulbs and various other variety of plant, an enchanting place to visit at any time of year. A refuge for those needing a little break from the busy streets of the town, you can stop for a while by the pond in the tranquil garden and reflect on times past as well as visit the graves of James' adored dogs.
The house is part of an ongoing extensive restoration project, opening up much more for the public to enjoy including the first floor, accessed via the 18th-century staircase. You can also sit back and relax in The Courtyard Tea Room with a pot of tea and slice of cake, or if you want to see a little more of this ancient Cinque Ports town, head out to one of the little cafes in the steep cobbled streets for a tasty cream tea.
There is no parking at Lamb House but there are many car parks in Rye. There are three steps to the entrance of the building and the ground floor has steps and small rooms; there are also two flights of stairs to the first floor. The grounds are partly accessible with some steps and uneven, narrow and loose gravel paths.
West Street, Rye, East Sussex, TN31 7ES
Other National Trust properties that you might like to visit in Sussex
Why not become a member of the National Trust so that you can visit these beautiful places, as well as others all over the country? You will get free entry to over 500 places to visit, free parking at most NT car parks as well as newsletters and a magazine sent to you three times a year. Not only this, but you will help to protect these wonderful places for generations to come.
Stay with us in Sussex
If you are looking for somewhere to rest your head after visiting these gorgeous places, why not take a look at our selection of holiday cottages across Sussex? We have a wide selection of places to stay nearby including cosy boltholes for romantic weekends, family-friendly properties by the coast and country cottages that welcome your four-legged family members too!
If you're looking to uncover more history during your holiday, check out our guide to Sussex's many castles. You can also see what the National Trust has to offer in neighbouring Kent with our guide.