Looking for the best things to do in Eastbourne? Read on for a local’s guide on what to see and do in one the UK’s sunniest seaside resorts.
Updated June 2020
Eastbourne in East Sussex sits on England’s south coast with the English Channel to one side and the South Downs National Park on the other. It’s just an hour and a half from London by train and the perfect place for getting outdoors and breathing in some fresh sea air.
There’s a great range of things to do in Eastbourne for both adults and children which makes it a good UK destination for a day-trip, weekend break or even a week’s holiday. If you’re staying longer than a day or two there’s plenty to keep you busy in the surrounding area. Pay a visit to nearby Rathfinny wine estate for wine tour and lunch or hop on the train for a day out in Brighton, Eastbourne’s louder and busier coastal cousin. Read on for a local’s guide on what to see and do in this fabulous East Sussex seaside town.
Things to do in Eastbourne
Eastbourne is easy on the eye with wide open sea views which catch both sunrises and sunsets. As well as its iconic Victorian pier there are over 130 listed buildings in the town. Some of the UK’s best views and hikes are within striking distance too.
Eastbourne is labeled the UK’s sunniest town and there are many outdoor activities to explore as well as lots to do when the weather’s not playing ball. Read on for some of my favourite things to do in Eastbourne and its surrounding countryside.
Just beyond the bandstand is Eastbourne Pier, one of my favourite Eastbourne attractions and the town’s centerpiece. The 300-metre long pier celebrated 150 years in 2016 and all the domes were painted gold to mark the occasion by its new owner. Not without some controversy among local townsfolk the council. However, the glitz remains and the Victorian pier sparkles in the Sussex sunshine. A stroll along the pier is one of Eastbourne’s top things to do.
To accompany fabulous views of the English Channel you can enjoy afternoon tea in the Victorian Tea Rooms, a bevvy at the Waterfront Bar or fish and chips from The Chippy. Mind the seagulls don’t pinch them, or the top of your ice cream – they’ve had mine before. There are also a range of shops and an amusement arcade.
You can read more about East Sussex Piers on Sussex Bloggers our website which shares the best of Sussex sightseeing, attractions and things to do.
Eastbourne’s art deco bandstand is one of Britain’s busiest and a visit to the bandstand is, without doubt one of the most popular things to do in Eastbourne. The iconic venue is one of the top tourist attractions in Eastbourne with collonades and raised seating areas holding up to 1600 guests. The first performance was held at the bandstand in 1935 and there are now over 140 performances every year. Concerts range from well-known acts to tribute bands, brass bands, firework concerts and kid’s shows.
One of my favourite things to do in Eastbourne is take a stroll along Eastbourne’s unspoiled promenade and the beach. It’s an essential part of a visit to the town especially if ice-cream’s involved. Heading west, past Wish Tower, there are two promenades, a higher and a lower level so there’s plenty of room for a seaside saunter. Eastbourne beach is mainly shingle with some sandy areas at low tide.
Eastbourne became popular when the Victorians decided a dip in the sea was good for the health and flocked to the town. Eastbourne beach stretches for four miles from Sovereign Harbour to Beachy Head. Along the way are some of Eastbourne’s top attractions. You’ll see beautiful Victorian buildings, Eastbourne Pier, the iconic bandstand, Wish Tower, Italian gardens and some beach cafes.
Head west along Eastbourne’s seafront and walk all the way to Holywell Beach. Pass by wide Italian gardens and colourful borders. The stunning white chalk cliffs of the south coast will come into view, stop and take in the view on one of the many seats or head down to the beach. Rock pools appear at low tide with all manner of sealife to be discovered within. Keep going and you’ll come to the gateway of the South Downs National Park. The energetic can climb up to Beachy Head to take a look at the famous Beach Head Lighthouse. More info to come about that.
The Wish Tower
Wish tower is one of Eastbourne’s points of interest for the history buff. The Wish Tower is one of 74 MartelloTowers built along the south coast. Along with the Redoubt Fortress, these were built to defend against Napoleon in the early 1800’s. The Wish Tower is number 73 and easy to spot on a grassy slope heading west from the bandstand. The popular Western View cafe is next door and the nearby lawns are often used for events.
Nearby is the Lifeboat Museum housed in the William Terriss Memorial Boathouse. The building was erected in 1898 by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) as a lifeboat station. It became the first of many RNLI museums in the UK after it was vacated in the 1920s. Definitely worth a quick look-see if you’re passing.
The Towner Art Gallery
Eastbourne’s modern and contemporary art gallery moved to new premises in 2009. Originally the building was designed to reflect the chalk cliffs of the south downs. In June 2019 the Towner had a makeover and was transformed into a work of art in its own right. Abstract artist Lothar Gotz designed the strikingly colourful mural. You won’t miss it but be quick the building will revert back to its original paintwork in Spring 2021.
The Towner Collection is one of the best public art collections in the southeast of England, housing pieces by Picasso, Henry Moore, Olafur Eliasson, Walter Sickert, David Bomberg and works by one of my favourite local artists – Eric Ravilious. There are up to five temporary exhibitions at the Towner Art Gallery at any time. Entry is free although an occasional fee is charged for the more popular exhibitions.
Airbourne – Eastbourne International Airshow
The pier is the perfect spot to watch Airbourne the town’s annual airshow although you’ll need to arrive very early to snag a place. The best place to watch is from the promenade where crowds pitch their deckchairs and settle in for the day. Airbourne is probably the best of Eastbourne’s anuual events closely followed by the WTA International tennis tournament at Devonshire Park.
Eastbourne airshow is free and takes place over four days every August. There are many events in the town as well as the airshow itself. There are stands from the military with aircraft simulators, military dog displays and sea rescue demonstrations.
Either the Red Arrows or the Breitling Jet Team put on an air display and other favourites like the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, RAF Tucano and Typhoon and Chinook helicopters also perform. The show returns 12-15 August 2021.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Eastbourne? Check here for options, rates and availability.
Eastbourne International Tennis
The week before Wimbledon see Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis Club put on one of Eastbourne’s main events.Eastbourne International is on the WTA and ATP tours, and although it’s traditionally been recognised as a women’s tournament in recent years there are been men’s competitions too with some top players attending.
Eastbourne International makes for a fabulous day or days out with ticket prices starting as low as £20. It’s an intimate venue and you’re guaranteed a fabulous view at a fraction of the price at Wimbledon.
Eastbourne Redoubt Fortress
One of the top things to do in Eastbourne for both kids and adults is the Redoubt Fortress. It’s one of the newest yet oldest places to go in Eastbourne. The fort is one of only three surviving Napoleonic fortresses in the UK and was built to defend the south coastline of England during the Napoleonic wars. The interactive exhibition details over 200 years of history and the daily lives of the soldiers that lived in the circular fortress from the Napoleonic times through to to World Wars I and II. I explored the casemates, the creepy cells and the gun platforms. Entry to Redoubt Fortress is free but you’ll need to buy tickets to enter the casemates.
The Pavilion Cafe and exhibitions
Next to the Redoubt Fortrees you’ll find the Pavilion Café where you’ll find excellent cofee and cake, excellent sea views and some pretty gardens. There are regularly updated exhibitions held at the Pavilion which are well worth exploring. During my visit a free National Trust exhibition called Living on the Edge: 8000 years by the sea was showing. The exhibition showed how life played out along the dramatic landscape of the Seven Sisters over the last 8000 years. Being Sussex born and bred I found this fascinating.
Eastbourne Miniature Steam Railway
For family fun pay a visit to Eastbourne Miniature Steam Railway both kids and adult train-lovers with love it. The 1/8th scale miniature railway will take you along a mile long track through the forest on a variety of locomotives. Afterwards take a wander around the 5-acre country park with its lake and wildlife. Get lost on the maze and visit Grandma’s Garden and for the under 5s check out the adventure playground. Afterwards relax in the tea gardens with lunch or a cream tea from the Railway Cafe. There are picnic areas too.
I used the Eastbourne Trails app to help guide me on my Eastbourne walks. There are three trails; The Blue Plaque Heritage Trail, the Seven Sisters Trail and East of the Pier Heritage Trail. Download the app (it’s free) for iPhone, iPod and iPod Touch and for androids. The handy app gives info on Eastbourne attractions that are nearby. There’s a useful map and route feature with no roaming costs.
Click here for GPSmyCity self-guided walking tours in Eastbourne
Sovereign Harbour just to the east of the town was built in 1993. The area consists of four harbours, shops, restaurants, residential housing and a retail park. The harbour makes a nice place for a stroll and a coffee of a meal. There are some good restaturants with al fresco dining. The beach is nearby too.
Take a the short half hour marina boat trip around the harbour. It’s a a fun way of seeing the harbour and you might see some sealife. If you’d like to venture a little further, you can charter one of the boats within Sovereign Harbour Marina for a fishing, sightseeing or diving trip.
Things to do near Eastbourne
Eastbourne is within walking distance of Beachy Head (if you don’t mind steep hills) or you can take the sightseeing bus, or drive and park up at Exceat. There are some excellent walks and activities on and around the cliffs, which are the highest in the UK. Seven Sisters Country Park makes a good base to explore the area.
The Seven Sisters Cliffs
My favourite walk is down the west side of the river to Seaford Head to see the iconic coastguard cottages. There’s another parallel path which takes you to the beach where you can appreciate the full drama of the cliffs. I’d do all three walks because they’re all stunning. Walking time would be around 2-3 hours depending on your fitness levels to do all three. If you’re looking to spend a day at the cliffs read my Seven Sisters Country Park post, a comprehensive guide to spending a full day at Seven Sisters cliffs.
The South Downs Way and walks around Eastbourne
For a day hike walk from Eastbourne to Seven Sisters Country Park taking in some of the South Downs Way. This is probably the most memorable of things to do in Eastbourne. The walk along the cliff tops gives some stunning views across the English Channel and along the Sussex coastline. There are two lighthouses en-route. The red-striped Beachy Head lighthouse sits out to sea at the base of the chalk cliffs. Don’t walk too near to the cliff edge as the the white chalk regularly crumbles away into the sea below. Recommended guidelines are to keep 4 metres from the cliff edge.
Look further into the distance and you’ll see Belle Tout lighthouse on the cliff top. In 1999 the lighthouse was moved, in one piece, 17m back from the cliff edge due to coastal erosion. It’s been designed to be moved again should it be necessary. If you like the idea of really quirky accommodation you can book a stay in Belle Tout Lighthouse. Check rates and availability.
Kayaking on the Cuckmere
One of my favourite things to do in Eastbourne is pay a visit to Seven Sisters Country Park. Cuckmere Haven is a flood plain where the river Cuckmere meets the English Channel. Nearby are the magnificent Seven Sisters cliffs. It’s a beautiful area with several oxbow lakes along the river. Spend a peaceful hour paddling with just the birds for company. Buzz Active offer kayaking for individuals, groups, families and children from 6 years up. Booking in advance is essential.
Nearby is Friston Forest where you can soak up the views of the river as it meanders out to sea. To get the full impact of the oxbow lake turn right when you come out of the Seven Sisters car park and climb the hill towards the road.
Carry on towards the east and you’ll eventually come to Birling Gap and then Seven Sisters Country Park beyond.
Eastbourne Sightseeing Bus
If you’re not up to a day’s hiking then Eastbourne buses have an open-topped sightseeing bus which stops at all these places. Check the website for pricing and timetables.
For evening entertainment in Eastbourne head to the bandstand for a concert or one of the town’s theatres. The Devonshire Park theatre, the gorgeous Victorian built Royal Hippodrome or the Congress all have a season of plays, musicals, comedy and shows. Find out more about Eastbourne’s theatres and their schedule of events.
Where to stay in Eastbourne
Where to eat in Eastbourne
The Beach Deck is near to the Redbout fortress. With panoramic sea views the beach-side restaurant serves up excellent locally sourced food and freshly caught fish. I ordered catch of the day and was delighted when my dish arrived. The food was beautifully presented and looked almost too good to eat. Almost. Both my courses were excellent and I’ll definitely go back. Read a full review of The Beach Deck on my sister site, Sussex Bloggers.
For information on travelling to Eastbourne and further details on visiting the attractions mentioned here check out the Visit Eastbourne website.
Map of Eastbourne Attractions
Check out my map of things to do in Eastbourne to help you plan your visit.
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Disclaimer: My visit to Eastbourne was complimentary, however, all opinions and thoughts are my own. Some of these images were taken after I went back to Eastbourne on a return visit – I couldn’t keep away!
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