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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 local to this area and have been visiting the town for decades, so in this guide, I’ll share all the best things to do in Rye. I’ll also give you the low down on some hidden gems tucked away this delightful East Sussex Cinque Ports town.

Rye, East Sussex - Mermaid Street
Mermaid Street, top photo spot and one of the best things to do in Rye, East Sussex

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Why visit Rye, East Sussex

Rye in East Sussex (not Kent as many people seem to think) is one of those pretty little market towns that time seems to have passed by. Nestled between the green rolling hills of the South Downs and the English Channel, the hilltop town of Rye lies about 10 miles from the Sussex seaside town of Hastings on the south coast of the United Kingdom.

Rye is one of the most charming historic towns in East Sussex and gives the prettiest Sussex villages a run for their money. It has a rich history filled with tales of smugglers and a raft of independent shops and galleries. 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. There are also some excellent vineyards nearby, ripe for visiting.

Rye is one of my favourite Sussex towns. It’s just a short drive from my home, so we frequently take our visitors to explore.

These are some of my favourite things to do in Rye; I hope you enjoy discovering them too.

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

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 through its quaint little lanes with quirky names like Watchbell Lane, Mermaid Street and Wish Street. Start at the Landgate and explore the tiny cobbled lanes as you 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 are also not to be missed, and this is one of the best free things to do in Rye.

A weekend break in Rye should always include some ghost-hunting, so listen out for the ghostly footsteps of smugglers running through the narrow cobbled alleyways.

The Landgate in Rye

In 1329 four gates were built to fortify the town of Rye. Of these four, only the Landgate remains and cars still pass under this narrow archway. The gate has two towers with a chamber across the top but once had a portcullis and drawbridge as well.

Just beyond the Landgate, you’ll find Knoops, which sells the best hot chocolate ever. This is definitely worth a stop if the weather’s not great but be prepared to queue. Knoops now has over 12 shops across England but the Rye shop is the first and definitely the best!

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

Modern-day Rye sits two miles away from the coast, but before the river silted up, the town was right on the shoreline. This made it a prime spot for smuggling, and you can see a smuggler’s signalling lamp on display at Ypres Tower near Rye Castle Museum.

Ypres Tower is an excellent place for history buffs and one of Rye’s top attractions. The tower is known as the ‘Wipers’ tower by locals (a play on Ypres), and from the top, you can take in views over the town, the river Rother estuary and out to sea.

From Ypres Tower, carry on down the steps past the cannons, and you’ll come to the Ypres Pub, one of many great little pubs in Rye.

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

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”, a 15-minute sound and light show that showcases the famous Rye Town Model.

You’ll be guided through medieval Rye’s cobbled lanes and secret passages as you explore the history of the Cinque Port town.

St Mary’s Church, Rye

For one of the more unusual things to do in Rye, head to St Mary’s church. The church began life in the 12th century and looks down over the town and the surrounding countryside.

Climb the steps to the tower and pass through the narrow clerestory to the Ringing Chamber.

Originally believed to have come from Hampton Court Palace, the bells chime the quarters and strike the hours. The swinging pendulum, added in 1810, is 18 feet long and can be seen in the main part of the church.

Next climb two wooden ladders to the Bell Chamber. The passageways are very narrow in places (I mean seriously narrow), and the wooden ladders are pretty steep. So this is not for the claustrophobic or anyone with vertigo.

In the Bell Chamber are eight bells which weight a total of five tons. Each is inscribed with a rhyme.

St Mary’s might be the country’s oldest functioning church turret clock, but there’s another good reason to visit: the stunning views! Climb the final ladder and exit to St Mary’s tower roof.

Check out the views from St Mary’s Rooftop

From the top of the church tower, you can enjoy beautiful views over the Rye rooftops, the surrounding countryside and to sea.

This is undoubtedly one of Rye’s top attractions, and it’s said that on a clear day, you might see right across the English Channel to France. Try and spot Rye Castle Museum and Ypres Tower, Camber Castle, Rye Harbour, the River Rother, Lamb House the windmil, Town Hall and Landgate.

The church is open daily from 9 am – 6 pm (4 pm in winter). Admission is £4 (2023) 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

Vineyard in East Sussex

Rye is in the heart of English wine country and has some fabulous boutique vineyards on the doorstep.

A wine tour is one of the best ways to enjoy the best English wines the area has to offer. Vine + Country Wine Tours offer full and half-day wine tours and will collect you from Rye train station or your nearby accommodation for a superb guided wine tour of some of the area’s best vineyards.

You’ll enjoy vineyard tours, English wine tastings and a fabulous lunch prepared with local, seasonal produce. Steph and Jamie are passionate and knowledgeable about wine and food, and their tours make a fantastic 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!

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

Independent shops in Rye

A visit to Rye wouldn’t be complete without shopping in its raft of indie boutiques, shops and galleries. Check out the quaint shops on and around the High Street; you’ll be sure to go home with something unique!

Ethel loves me, Rye, East Sussex
Ethel Loves Me – independent shop in Rye, East Sussex

Ethel Loves Me is great for cool homewares and quirky bits and pieces you don’t really need but can’t leave without buying. 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 houseplants, and Rae Lifestyle sells gorgeous homeware with a side of freshly brewed coffee.

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 is a must-visit 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 into the antique and up-cycled furniture shops. There’s always a gem to be found there.

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

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.

And Hunter Jones Vintage has an eclectic collection of old to new homewares, glassware, room fragrance and all kinds of loveliness.

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.

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

Literary Rye

There are loads of things to do in Rye for book lovers. The town obviously inspires creativity because it has many literary and artistic connections.

Lamb House, a National Trust property, was once home to Henry James. He wrote three of his novels whilst living in Rye, including The Awkward Age, which features Lamb House as the home of Mr Longdon.

The Mapp and Lucia series of novels by E.F. Benson was based on the town of Rye and Lamb House. The house where Benson lived was also used as the filming location for the home of Miss Mapp in ‘Mallards’.

Conrad Aitken and Radclyff Hall were both residents of Rye, as was John Ryan, the creator of 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’.

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


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 several 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.

Ryebank Gallery offers changing exhibitions and workshops in a disused bank. The old bank vault forms part of the gallery. All are on the High Street.

Where to eat in Rye

There are loads of places to eat in Rye, so your main question will be choosing where to start!

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.

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

There are 15 pubs in Rye, that’s one pub for every 326 of the town’s residents and they’re all great pubs.

If you’re looking for a historic inn, then Rye has 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 southeast’s first micropub 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. Next, it was turned into public loos, and now it’s a micropub!

The Waterworks sells local ales, two keg beers and twelve local ciders, and a selection of wines, gins and soft drinks. The small but perfectly formed menu features traditional treats like scotch eggs, pork pies and vegetable samosas accompanied by homemade chutneys and chilli jam. With all that on offer, it’s no surprise that Waterworks won Southeast CAMRA’s Pub of the Year 2020.

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

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

The Mermaid Inn, Rye, is said to be haunted and used to be connected to Ye Olde Bell Inn by a secret passage used by smugglers. Not so secret is the excellent food they serve in beautiful historic settings.

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

The Standard Inn ticks all the boxes for historic cosiness, great atmosphere and good food. All these three pubs have pretty little courtyard gardens perfect for drinks outside if the weather’s behaving.

A little further out, you’ll find The Globe Inn on Military Road, which is gorgeous.

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

Ye Olde Bell Inn, Rye

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

For another of my favourite things to do in Rye, head over to Rye Harbour by car or on the number 312 bus from Rye train station. The harbour runs alongside the river Rother, and if you’re lucky, you might spot a seal.

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is just a few minutes walk from the harbour, and over 280 bird species have been recorded so far at this conservation area.

Things to do in Rye Harbour Nature Reserve include exploring the network of paths which take you past freshwater gravel pits, lagoons and 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 on the site since 1904.

You can see Camber Beach from the reserve, but you’ll need to walk back up to the reserve entrance and along the road to reach it.

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

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 vast, glorious stretch of pale sand with a backdrop of massive dunes, and it’s one of the best things to do with kids near Rye.

Take buckets and spades for epic sandcastle-making opportunities, or just chill out on the beach. It can get pretty windy on the sands, so be sure to take a windbreak. And take care when going into the sea as there are riptides and sandbanks hiding under the water.

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 near the train station in the centre of Rye, it’s about a 3-mile ride to the beach alongside Camber Road.

If you don’t fancy the walk or bike ride, a regular bus service from Rye to Camber Sands runs near the train station. Look for stop B just outside the station – the bus runs every 60 minutes at two-minutes past the hour.

Parking at Camber Sands is notoriously difficult on a sunny day and occasionally the council will block access to the road to the beach.

Parking is expensive in the three car parks run by Rother District Council, the most expensive being £30 per vehicle per day. They are pay and display cars parks using the Ringo app.

There’s also a private car park on the road into Rye in a grass field priced at £10 per day.

You might find the article Things to do in Camber Sands and guide to visiting helpful. It’s on our sister site Hello Sussex.

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

Camber Sands, near Rye, Sussex

Camber Castle

If you’re heading to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve you might also want to pay a visit to Camber Castle which is a half hour walk away.

Be sure to follow the footpaths or you might find yourself in a field full of sheep surrounded by water-filled ditches. Don’t ask me how I know.

Charles Palmer Vineyards

Since 2017, Charles Palmer and his son Robert have been creating a range of exceptional still and sparkling wines from their vineyards and winery, the closest vineyard to Rye.

The vineyards are set within the 120-acre Wickham Manor Estate, and the coast location provides higher nighttime temperatures and less risk of frost. They have also carefully selected grape varieties that will grow successfully in the soil and aspect of the slopes.

Charles Palmer Vineyards use natural yeasts where possible and allow the wines to develop in the most natural way possible, keeping intervention to a minimum. This natural process, combined with the favourable local conditions and modern winery equipment, allows them to create delicious wines.

You can buy their wines from the Charles Palmer online shop or the vineyard’s Cellar Door outlet. The range includes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Rosė, and high-quality sparkling wines including Demi-Sec and Blanc de Blancs varieties.

Wine tours and tastings are available, allowing you to hear the story of Charles Palmer Vineyards and sample their wines. In the winter, wine tastings are conducted in the cosy Tasting Room, but a summer wine tasting takes place either on the bank overlooking the vineyards or under the summer pergola.

They also offer fantastic wine and cheese pairing experiences and signature vineyard feast lunches that showcase local and seasonal produce.

Charles Palmer Vineyard is an 11-minute drive from Rye train station.

Where to stay in Rye, East Sussex

The Mermaid Inn, Rye, is over 600 years old with a fascinating history and tales of smuggling gangs. Book a night in Dr Syn’s Bed Chamber, where a secret passageway behind the bookcase leads to a hidden 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 old town, and we tend to stay here if we’re in town for a wedding or event. There are only five rooms – we always try to book the spacious Hythe room, which overlooks the street. The old bar is a lovely spot for their excellent breakfast – look out for the timeworn carvings on the beams.

The Standard isn’t for you if you’d like an early night, as the bar below the rooms can be noisy. We’re usually partying til late when we stay, so it’s never been an issue. The Standard also serves good food on their lunch and dinner menu.

Check rates and availability at the Standard Inn

The Standard Inn, Rye, England

Self Catering Holiday Cottages in Rye

Cadborough Farm Cottages are four converted farm buildings and stables dating back to the late 1800s. Each beautifully restored holiday cottage sleeps two people and is perfect for a weekend break in Rye.

There are three individual cottages; Brandy’s Cottage, Dairy Cottage, Stables Cottage, and also the Coach House. Each cottage has its own kitchen, en-suite bathroom and courtyard or garden, and they’re all equipped with WiFi and a TV/DVD player.

The cottages are in a quiet area with panoramic views towards the medieval town of Rye, Camber Castle and the coast. Rye town centre is around a 15-minute walk along the 1066 bridle path from the farm or, alternatively, by footpath from the farm entrance.

Rye train station is a 20-minute walk away or 5 minutes by taxi, and parking is available at the cottages.

We’ve often stayed in the cottages and highly recommend the superb accommodation and Jane’s wonderful hosting skills. Tell them the Travelbunny sent you!

What’s on in Rye, East Sussex

There’s always a reason to visit Rye, and always something exciting going on. Why not plan your visit around one of the town’s festivals 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, and Rye station is just a few minutes walk from the centre of town, making this pretty, historic town the perfect option for a day out from the city or a weekend break.

Check timings, prices and book your train tickets at The Trainline.

Parking in Rye, East Sussex

Rye is on the A259 and parking in Rye is known for being tricky, especially at weekends when the town is busier. However, the Station car park in the town centre is reasonably priced at £3.10 per day. This expires at 5am, so you’ll need to pay for two days if you’re staying overnight. Alternatively, you can pay £15.10 for a full week of parking.

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

Map of Rye, East Sussex

This guide to Rye, East Sussex, shows just a small selection of the town’s deliciously quaint shops, pubs, cafes and galleries, mostly my own personal favourites.

A hand-drawn map of Rye, which you can pick up for free in most stores, will help you find your way around Rye. Or you could just wander as your mood takes you.

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

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Things to do further afield in East Sussex

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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