Heading to Rye, East Sussex? This quintessential English town, and one of the best preserved medieval towns in England, is a packed with prettiness, quirk and general gorgeousness. I might also add that it’s an Instagram A-lister too.

Read on for tips on the best things to see and do plus a few hidden gems from a local who’s besotted with this delightful East Sussex Cinque Ports town.

 

Rye, East Sussex - Mermaid Street

Updated August 2020

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 is a Cinque Port town in East Sussex and one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England. It’s also incredibly charming and endowed with pleasing measures of cute and quirk. Rye is about 10 miles from Hastings.

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 at regularly – it’s one of my favourite Sussex towns and just half an hour from home and somewhere we frequently take our house guests. Read on for some of my favourite things to do in Rye.

 

Rye, East Sussex - half-timbered buildings

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Things to do in Rye, East Sussex 

When you visit Rye you should start your weekend by wandering at will through it’s quaint little lanes. With names like Watchbell Lane, Mermaid Street and Wish Street you can’t fail to be enchanted. Start at Landgate and make your way to Rye town centre and the High Street. Have fun exploring the tiny cobbled lanes leading off it. A weekend break in Rye should always include some ghost-hunting so listen out for the ghostly footsteps of smugglers past running through the cobbled alleyways.

 

landgate-ryeThe Landgate, Rye, East Sussex

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Rye, East Sussex, half-timbered buildingsHalf-timbered Cottages, Rye

Rye Castle

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 home to Rye Castle Museum. 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.

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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

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. 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. Be warned, the staircase is narrow in places and the wooden steps at the top are 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 gives you entry for a whole year.

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

Shops in Rye

A visit to Rye wouldn’t be complete without shopping in its abundance of indie boutiques, shops and galleries. 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.

 

 

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.

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 rates and availability

 

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

Literary Rye

Rye 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’. 

Kino Boutique Cinema

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

Where 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 Devil in Rye where Dev Biswal serves up subtle Indian food with a British twist. Read my review here (it’s changed name since then). 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 Edith’s House are worthy of a stop. Knoop’s Cafe by Tower Forge serves up the best hot chocolate and milk shakes in the South of England. 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

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 the Waterworks 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 SussexRye Waterworks

 

The Mermaid Inn, Rye and Ye Olde Bell Inn used to be connected by a secret passage used by smugglers.  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.

 

Mermaid Inn, Rye, East SussexThe Mermaid Inn, Rye

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ye-olde-bell-inn-ryeYe 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 SussexRye Harbour Nature Reserve, East Sussex

A network of paths 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.

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Little Red Hut Rye, 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.

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.

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 rates and availability

 

camber-sands-east-sussexCamber Sands, East Sussex

Looking for places to stay in Rye? Check 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 ancient bar is a lovely spot for their excellent breakfast. Look for the 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.

 

The Standard Inn, Rye, East Sussex

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, a true super-host, and the superb accommodation.

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.

What’s on in Rye

There’s always a reason to visit Rye, East Sussex and there’s always something going on. Tie in your visit with one of the town’s festivals which take place throughout the year.

Scallop Festival – February

Jazz Festival – August

Rye Arts Festival – September

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.

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.

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. This 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.

Have you been to Rye? What’s your top tip for visiting the town?

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Rye, East SussexRye, East Sussex

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