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The best things do in Rye, East Sussex – by a local

Heading for a weekend in Rye, East Sussex? This quintessential English town, is one of the best preserved medieval towns in England, and is packed with prettiness, quirk and general gorgeousness.

I’m sharing the best things to do in Rye as a local who’s been visiting the town for decades. I’ll also share some hidden gems tucked away this delightful East Sussex Cinque Ports town.

Rye, East Sussex - Mermaid Street
Mermaid Street, top photo spot in Rye East Sussex

May include compensated links – read more info in my disclaimer and disclosure.

Why visit Rye, East Sussex

Rye in East Sussex (not Kent), is one of those pretty little market towns that time seems to have passed by. Ensconced between the green rolling hills of the South Downs and the English Channel, Rye has a rich history, tales of smuggling and a raft of independent shops and galleries. There are also some excellent vineyards nearby, ripe for visiting.

The town oozes charm and is endowed with pleasing measures of cuteness and quirk. Rye is about 10 miles from the Sussex seaside town of Hastings on the south coast of the United Kingdom.

If you’re visiting East Sussex the higgledy-piggledy half-timbered houses and muddle of steep cobbled lanes, beach walks, cosy cafes and ancient inns are perfect for a long lazy Rye weekend break. I visit the town regularly and it’s lovely at any time of year so I’m well equipped to tell you about the best things to see and do there.

Rye is one of my favourite Sussex towns and just a short drive from home and it’s where we frequently take our house guests. These are some of my favourite things to do in Rye, I hope you enjoy discovering them too.

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Rye, East Sussex
West Street, Rye, East Sussex
Rye, East Sussex - half-timbered buildings
Half-timbered houses in Church Square, Rye East Sussex

Top things to do in Rye, East Sussex

When you visit Rye start your weekend by wandering at will through Rye town centre and it’s quaint little lanes. With names like Watchbell Lane, Mermaid Street and Wish Street you can’t fail to be enchanted. Start at the Landgate and make your way to Rye town centre and the High Street.

The top photo spots in Rye are Mermaid Street and leading on from that, West Street (the top two photos in this post). The views from the top of St Mary’s Church also shouldn’t be missed. More on that later.

There are many other free things to do in Rye. Have fun exploring the tiny cobbled lanes leading off it. It’s my favourite thing to do in Rye. A weekend break in Rye should always include some ghost-hunting so listen out for the ghostly footsteps of smugglers past running through the narrow cobbled alleyways.

The Landgate in Rye

In 1329 four gates were built around the town to help fortify it. Of the four gates only the Landgate remains today. This gate has a chamber across the top and two towers, also but once had a portcullis and a drawbridge. Cars still pass under the narrow archway today.

Just beyond the Landgate is Knoops which sells the best hot chocolate ever. Definitely worth a stop if the weather’s not great.

The Landgate, Rye, East Sussex

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Rye, East Sussex, half-timbered buildings
Half-timbered Cottages in Church Square, Rye Sussex

Rye Castle Museum and Ypres Tower

Today Rye sits two miles away from the coast. Before the river silted up, the town used to be right on the shoreline and was a prime spot for smuggling. You can see a smuggler’s signalling lamp on display at Ypres Tower near to Rye Castle Museum.

Ypres Tower is a great place to visit for history buffs and one of Rye’s top attractions. The tower, which is known as ‘Wipers’ tower by locals (a play on Ypres) is also worth a climb to take in the views over the town and out to the estuary of the river Rother and the sea.

Carry on down the steps past the canons and you’ll come to the Ypres Pub, one of many great little pubs in Rye.

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Ypres Tower, Rye, East Sussex

More UK weekend break inspiration…

A Weekend Break in St Ives, Cornwall  • An Isle of Man Weekend Getaway • A Weekend Break in Suffolk A  Seaside Break in Sunny Eastbourne • Devon Days Out – What to do in Ilfracombe • Activities in the Lake District

Rye Heritage Centre

Discover 750 years of Rye history at the Rye Heritage Centre and experience the “Story of Rye”. This 15-minute sound and light show showcases the famous Rye Town Model and guides you through the cobbled streets and hidden passages of Rye in times gone by and the history of the medieval Cinqe Port town.

St Mary’s Church, Rye

St Mary’s might be the oldest functioning church turret clock in the country but there’s another good reason to make sure you visit. The views. They’re one of the top Rye attractions.

For one of the more unusual things to do in Rye, St Mary’s church tower is open to visitors to climb to the top turret to see the clock mechanism, the bells and wonderful views of Rye rooftops and the surrounding countryside. It’s said that on a clear day you might see right across the English Channel to France.

The staircase is very narrow in places and the wooden steps at the top are quite steep. Not for the claustrophobic or anyone with vertigo. The church is open daily from 9 am – 6 pm (4 pm in winter). Admission is £4 but hang onto your ticket – it gives you entry to the clock tower for a whole year.

Rye, East Sussex - view from St Mary's church
The views from St Mary’s church turret in Rye, East Sussex

Wine Tours in Rye


Rye is in the heart of English wine country with some fabulous boutique vineyards on the doorstep. A wine tour is one of the best ways to enjoy the best English wine the area has to offer. Vine + Country Wine Tours offer full and half-day wine tours and will pick you up from Rye station or your nearby accommodation and take you on a superb guided wine tour of some of the areas best vineyards.

You’ll enjoy vineyard tours, English wine tastings and a fabulous lunch prepared with local, seasonal produce. The pair are passionate and knowledgeable about wine and food and their tours make a wonderful day out. A wine tour in Rye is the perfect group celebration for special birthdays, events or simply a summer treat. There are various packages available which you’ll find on the Vine + Country Wine Tours website. Say The Travelbunny sent you!

Independent shops in Rye

A visit to Rye wouldn’t be complete without shopping in its raft of indie boutiques, shops and galleries. You’ll be sure to go home with something unique. Check out the quaint shops on and around the High Street. Ethel Loves Me is great for bits and pieces you don’t really need but can’t leave without buying.Think cool homewares and quirky bits and pieces. I always pick up something a little different at Ethel’s.

The Cosy Dot Company in 1 Needles Passage is also a favourite with rustic antiques from France and gorgeous country style homewares. The Green House is a mecca for house plants and Rae Lifestyle sells gorgeous homeware with a side of freshly brewed coffee.

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Ethel loves me, Rye, East Sussex

The Shop Next Door (to The George in Rye, High Street) stocks gorgeous homeware (the kind you’ll find in their hotel rooms) from cushions, candles and ceramics to throws, toileteries and bathtubs. Yes, they sell bathtubs.

Simply Rye   has a lovely mix of unusual gifts, homewares and clothing. You’ll find it at 7a Market Street, Rye, East Sussex.

McCully and Crane on Cinque Ports Street needs to be visited for eclectic modern interiors and contemporary art with a dash of antique furniture for good measure. The shop is beautifully styled and a pleasure to browse.

Head down The Mint to Strand Quay where you can delve through the antique and up-cycled furniture shops. There’s always a gem to be found there. I love Crock and Cosy, a vintage kitchen shop, where you can find retro kitchenware. It’s a bit like stepping back in time into my Nan’s kitchen. Opposite Crock and Cosy you’ll find Hunter Jones Vintage with old to new homewares, glassware, room fragrance and all kinds of loveliness.

Looking for places to stay in Rye? Check latest rates and availability

Crock and Cosy, vintage kitchen shop
Crock and Cosy, vintage kitchen shop, Rye, East Sussex

Literary Rye

There are loads of things to do in Rye for literary types. The town obviously inspires creativity because it has many literary and artisitic connections. Rye is a must visit town for book lovers. Lamb House, a National Trust propery, was once home to Henry James who wrote three of his novels whilst living in Rye including his book The Awkward Age. Lamb House is the home of Mr Longdon in the book.

The Mapp and Lucia series of novels by E.F. Benson were based on the town of Rye and Lamb House. The house, where Benson also lived, was the filming location of ‘Malllards’, the home of Miss Mapp.

Conrad Aitken and Radclyff Hall were both residents in Rye as was John Ryan who created the Captain Pugwash stories. Spike Milligan was another famous resident of the town. Milligan is buried in the nearby town of Winchelsea where his gravestone is inscribed ‘I told you I was ill’. 

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Kino Boutique Cinema

Kino cinema, Rye, East Sussex
Kino Cinema, Rye East Sussex

If you’re looking for after-dinner entertainment or find yourself rained-in, Rye has it’s very own two-screen boutique cinema. Kino has state-of-the-art, digital high definition projectors and sound equipment. The larger of the two seats 96 and the other just 48.

Kino is fully licensed which means you can enjoy your drink as you sink into your lovely armchair-style seat and immerse yourself in the latest blockbuster. Due to the bijou size you’ll need to book. There’s a a cute cafe bar and outdoor terrace for pre and after-show drinks.

Art in Rye

There’s a thriving art scene in Rye and you’ll find a number art galleries chock full of work by local artists from paintings and sketches to pottery, sculpture and exhibitions. Rye Art Gallery fills two houses with contemporary art and the Purdie Gallery showcases photography by David Purdie. Both are on the High Street.

Where to eat in Rye

There are loads of places to eat in Rye. Where to start is the question. There’s no shortage of restaurants and cosy cafes in Rye. For dinner or a decent full-on lunch I recommend The Ambrette where Dev Biswal serves up subtle Indian food with a British twist. Read my review of the Ambrette.

For the freshest fish from the local fleet head for Webbe’s – The Fish Cafe, Rye. The Standard Inn dishes up above standard pub grub.

For a light bite the High Street is overflowing with quirky tea rooms and cafes; both The Fig Cafe and the Apothecary Coffee House are worthy of a stop.

Knoop’s Cafe by Tower Forge serves up the best hot chocolate and milk shakes you’ll ever taste. They now have four branches in London and one in Brighton but the first ever Knoops is the Rye store.

If it’s afternoon tea you’re looking for head to Cobbles Tea Room – there’s usually a queue – go figure. Hayden’s is eco-friendly and serves local organic breakfasts, snacks and teas.

Pubs in Rye, Sussex

If you’re looking for an historic inn then there are pubs with histories stretching back hundreds of years with tales of smugglers, ripping yarns and derring do but the quirkiest has to be Rye Waterworks micropub in Tower Street.

This friendly family-run pub was the first micropub in the south east and has buckets of quirk. The Grade II listed building was the town’s pump house for 300 years before becoming a soup kitchen in the 1890s, public loos and now a micropub.

The Waterworks sells local ales, two keg beers and twelve local ciders along with a selection of wines, gins & soft drinks. The menu is small but perfectly formed – Scotch Eggs, Pork Pies & Vegetable Samosas served with a choice of Homemade Chutneys, English Mustard and Homemade Sweet Chilli Jam. It’s hardly surprising that Waterworks won pub of the year 2020 south east CAMRA.

Waterworks Micropub Rye, East Sussex
Rye Waterworks Micropub, Rye East Sussex

The Mermaid Inn, Rye and Ye Olde Bell Inn used to be connected by a secret passage used by smugglers. The Mermaid Inn is also said to be haunted. Not so secret is the great food they serve in beautiful ancient settings. The Standard Inn ticks all the boxes for historic cosiness, great atmosphere and good food. All three pubs have pretty little courtyard gardens – perfect if the weather’s behaving. A little further out you’ll find The Globe Inn on Military Road which is gorgeous.

Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex
The Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex

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Ye Olde Bell Inn, Rye

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Head over to Rye Harbour, which runs alongside the river Rother. It’s one of my favourite things to do in Rye. If you’re lucky you might spot a seal. Drive or take the number 312 bus from Rye train station. Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is just a few minutes walk from the harbour. So far over 280 species of bird have been recorded in the conservation area.

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, East Sussex
Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, East Sussex

Things to do in Rye Harbour Nature Reserve include exploring the network of paths which take you past freshwater gravel-pits, lagoons, areas of shingle and salt marsh habitat. Hides are dotted around for wildlife watching or you can just enjoy the fresh sea air and the coastal flowers. Look out for ‘Little Red’ an iconic hut which has been on the site since 1904.

You can see Camber beach from the reserve but it’s not accessible from there. You’ll need to walk back up to the reserve entrance and along the road to reach it.

Looking for places to stay in Rye? Check latest rates and availability

Little red hut, Rye Harbour
Little Red, Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, East Sussex

More things to do in Sussex – A Day Trip to Brighton • The Best Sussex Bluebell Woods

Camber Sands

If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air… Pack up a picnic (Simon the Pieman in Lion Street will assist) and head to the beach. Camber Sands is a huge, glorious stretch of pale sand with a backdrop of massive dunes and one of the best things to do near Rye if you have kids.

Take buckets and spades for epic sandcastle-making opportunities or just chill out on the beach. The beach can be quite windy so take a wind break. Precautions should be taken when going into the sea as there are sandbanks under the water and rip tides.

Can you walk from Rye to Camber Sands?

You can walk or cycle along National Cycle Network Route 2 from Rye to Camber Sands. Alternatively, pick up the trail in the centre of Rye near to the train station. It’s about a 3 mile ride to the beach, passing alongside Camber Road.

A regular bus service from Rye to Camber Sands means you won’t need a car to get there from the town.

Looking for places to stay in Rye? Check latest rates and availability

Camber Sands, near Rye, Sussex

Looking for places to stay in Rye? Check latest rates and availability

Where to stay in Rye, East Sussex

Hotels in Rye

The Mermaid Inn, Rye is over 600 years old with a fascinating history and tales of smugging gangs. Book a night in Dr Syns Bed Chamber, where the secret passageway behind the bookcase reveals a Priest Hole. The Mermaid is said to be haunted. I defy you to sleep a wink…

B&Bs in Rye

I love the 500-year old  Standard Inn in the heart of the citadel which is where we stay if we’re in town for a wedding or event. The old bar is a lovely spot for their excellent breakfast. Look for the ancient carvings on the beams.

There are only five rooms – we always try and book the spacious Hythe room which overlooks the street. The Standard isn’t for you if you’d like an early night as the bar below the rooms can be noisy but we’re usually partying til late when we stay so it’s never been an issue. The Standard serves good food on their lunch and dinner menus.

Check rates and availability at the Standard Inn

The Standard Inn, Rye, England

Self Catering Holiday Cottages in Rye

Cadborough Farm Cottages are a collection of four converted farm buildings and stables dating back to the late 1800s. Each brick-built holiday cottage has been beautifully restored and sleeps two people and are perfect for a weekend break in Rye. We’ve stayed in the cottages many times and can highly recommend Jane, who’s a wonderful host, and their superb accommodation. Tell them the Travel Bunny sent you!

There are three unique and individual cottages; Brandy’s Cottage, Dairy Cottage and Stables Cottage along with the Coach House. Each cottage comes with its own kitchen, en-suite bathroom, courtyard or garden, wifi and a TV/DVD player.

The cottages are all located in a quiet area with panoramic views towards the medieval town of Rye, the coast and Camber Castle. Rye town centre is around a fifteen minute walk from the farm following the 1066 bridle path or, alternatively, from the farm entrance by footpath. Rye train station is a 20-minute walk away or 5 minutes by taxi. There’s plenty of parking at the cottages


What’s on in Rye, East Sussex

There’s always a reason to visit Rye and there’s always something going on. Plan your visit around one of the town’s festivals which take place throughout the year.

Rye Scallop Festival – February

Rye Jazz Festival – August

Rye Arts Festival – September

Rye Festival of the Sea – September

Bonfire Pageant and Burning Boat – November

Christmas in Rye – December


Getting to Rye

Trains to Rye

High-speed trains run from London to Ashford International with a journey time of 38 minutes. A further train to Rye takes 21 minutes which makes this pretty, historic town the perfect option for a day out from the city or for a weekend break. The centre of town is just a few minute’s walk from Rye station.

Check timings, prices and book your train tickets on the Trainline.

Parking in Rye, East Sussex

Rye is on the A259. Parking in Rye is known for being tricky, especially at weekends when the town is busier. However, Station car park in the town centre is reasonably priced at £2.50 per day (this expires at 5am so you’ll need to pay for two days if you’re staying overnight) or it’s £9 per week.

There are several other pay and display car parks and limited on-street parking.

Map of Rye, East Sussex

This guide to Rye, East Sussex shows just a small selection of the deliciously quaint shops, pubs, cafes and galleries that the town has to offer. Mostly my own personal favourites. A hand-drawn map of Rye, which you can pick up in most stores or online here, will help you find your way around or you could just wander as your mood takes you.

These are some of my favourite things to do in Rye. Have you been? What’s your top tip for visiting the town?

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Things to do in Rye and close by in East Sussex

Rathfinny Vineyard • Seven Sisters Country Park • Eastbourne Trails and Coastal Walks • Jack in the Green, Hastings Old Town

Adele Aiken

Saturday 29th of December 2018

This looks like a perfect small town for our upcoming trip. Do you have any idea if you can get from Rye to the White Cliffs of Dover easily?

Suzanne Jones

Saturday 29th of December 2018

Hi, Rye is a lovely little town for a visit. Dover is about an hour's drive away or you can take the train via Ashford International. If you're look to visit white cliffs specifically then maybe think about Seven Sisters in East Sussex which are far more beautiful than those at Dover!


Sunday 21st of October 2018

This is exactly what I imagine England to be. Sure I want to see London- but this is what England really looks like in my mind! I hope we can visit here someday!!!!

Suzanne Jones

Tuesday 23rd of October 2018

There are so many small towns and villages like this in England but this is surely one of the best! I hope you get to visit soon :)

Agness of Fit Travelling

Sunday 19th of February 2017

Stunning and picturesque place, Suzanne! I would love to visit Sussex.

Suzanne Jones

Monday 20th of February 2017

Rye is so quintessentially English! I hope you get to visit my home county sometime soon :)

naznin Hebert. I

Friday 13th of January 2017

Hello, I would like to book one of the holiday cottages in Rye for a few days but am having difficulties connecting with them. I am calling from Canada. Would anybody have the right coordinates? Thank you. Looking forward to visiting Rye.

Suzanne Jones

Friday 13th of January 2017

Hi, Thanks for getting in touch. If you email me at [email protected] I'll pass on your email address to Jane who will be able to help with your booking. Many thanks, Suzanne

Cathy (Mummytravels)

Saturday 3rd of September 2016

Rye always looks so lovely but I still haven't made it closer than Camber Sands despite not being that far away. More incentives to finally get there.

Suzanne Jones

Saturday 3rd of September 2016

Rye is such a pretty little town and so quintessentially British. Camber is a beautiful beach and we have quite a few castles down here too if you need any more incentives! ;)

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