It must be the natural beauty, sheltered beaches and gleaming white cliffs of the South Coast of England that make it such a laidback destination Holly Cave provides an informative group guide to sunbathing in bohemian Brighton, touring cosy Chichester and exploring the bloody history of Hastings

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. On the left is 'The Mary Rose Story' museum, which brings to life the birth and tragic end of Henry VIII's favourite ship. On the right is HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned warship in the world.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Hampshire has plenty of coastlines to explore, centred on lively towns with top beaches including Keyhaven and Hayling Island. Kick start a visit to Southampton by calling in at the SeaCity Museum, where your group can get to grips with the city’s rich maritime history.  The main exhibition tells the story of the Titanic. There’s an excellent interactive model of the ship and insights into the lives of the crew, many of whom were local residents. Pre-booked guided tours are available, in addition to joint tickets with Tudor House & Garden.  Located in the old town, this 15th century timber building contains multimedia displays and historical artefacts that reveal the life and times of Southampton in the Tudor era. In Portsmouth, your first “port” of call should be Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. August 2015 sees the opening of HMS M.33 – one of three British warships from World War One still in existence and the only one currently open to the public. A group ticket includes access to the haunting Mary Rose, HMS Victory, HMS Warrior 1860, National Museum Royal Navy Portsmouth, Action Stations and Harbour Tour. There are discounted rates for groups of 15 or more, free entry for coach drivers and group leaders, and exclusive behind the scenes tours available. Afterwards, take a trip up the Spinnaker Tower for splendid views. A ‘High Tea’ package in the attraction’s café is available for pre-booked groups of 15 to 44, including entry to Spinnaker Tower for £20 per person. The Queen’s Hotel and the Best Western Royal Beach Hotel both offer good quality, three-star accommodation for groups, complete with period charm. The group-friendly Portsmouth Marriott is more contemporary and offers a plush health club and pool. The four-star Langstone Hotel on Hayling Island is also a good option for groups. The Isle of Wight is easily accessible by regular ferry service from Portsmouth and Lymington. Cowes Week – held in August every year – sees the island packed to the brim with sailors and yacht enthusiasts for this longstanding regatta; the largest of its kind in the world. For the remainder of the time, it’s a tranquil paradise. When it comes to remarkable natural beauty, the Isle of Wight has got it covered. Don’t miss a visit to the rugged white cliffs of Freshwater Bay or the sand cliffs of Alum Bay with its statuesque chalk stacks – the Needles – on the island’s westerly tip. Free coach parking is available and it’s free to visit the Needles Park. A chairlift carries people to the beach and offers stunning views of the landmark. At the southerly tip, the pretty whitewashed St Catherine’s Lighthouse guides ships safely past the island. The visitor centre runs 40-minute guided tours every day apart from Fridays. A good lunch stop nearby is the Buddle Inn, a 16th century pub once popular with smugglers. The popularity of its traditional, high quality pub food means that bookings are recommended, especially for large groups. There are also some good group accommodation options nearby. The Eversley Hotel and the Ventnor Towers Hotel both offer good three-star rooms in peaceful locations.

South Coast 2

Arundel Castle

Over in West Sussex, it’s the imposing Arundel Castle that commands this section of the South Coast. Four miles inland from Littlehampton, the splendid grounds of this 11th century site comprising a gatehouse, keep, walled gardens, peach house and vinery, chapel and a medieval bowling green, which has now been replanted as a rose garden. Groups of 20 or more receive discounted entry, coach parking is complimentary, and group leaders visit for free. Chichester makes a lovely centrepiece to the coastline of West Sussex, attracting many visitors throughout the year thanks to the nearby racecourse, Goodwood. The site hosts many exciting events throughout the year, including classic car show Goodwood Revival for one weekend each September. Chichester Cathedral is free to enter, but you can help support this glorious 900-year old building by enjoying a bite to eat in the Cloisters Café. West Wittering Beach is a lovely spot from which to enjoy views of the sea, harbour and the shallow lagoons left behind at low tide. Popular with kite surfers, it’s a great place to stop for a picnic on the grass edging the sands. If you’d rather spend time exploring Chichester’s natural harbour, book the Solar Heritage catamaran for a private cruise for up to 50 around this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Fishbourne Roman Palace – the largest Roman home in Britain – is a major draw. Groups can pre-book a wide range of activities, including guided tours of the mosaics and gardens, an illustrated talk about the history of the palace, artefact handling sessions, mosaic making as well as cooking demonstrations and tastings. Parties of 20 or more receive discounted entry.

The Volks Railway, which runs along Brighton's seafront

The Volks Railway, which runs along Brighton’s seafront

For many, Brighton is the soul of East Sussex, known for being youthful, liberal and bohemian. Take a walk along the pier before calling in at the audacious architecture of the Royal Pavilion. This Taj Mahal inspired, Buckingham Palace-style holiday home was built for George IV and is currently open to the public. The interior is patterned with extravagant detail derived from abroad, such as gilded dragons, palm tree sculptures and huge chandeliers. Free audio guides are provided and pre-booked groups of 15 or more benefit from discounted entry, guidebooks, tours and free entry for group leaders. 300 metres along from the Brighton Pier, you’ll find the start of the famous Volk’s Electric Railway – the oldest electric railway operating in the world. Trains run regularly from April until September along the seafront to Black Rock Station. A jaunty 30-minute return journey costs just £2.70 for pre-booked parties of 10 or more. Between Brighton and Eastbourne stands the great group attraction of Newhaven Fort. Groups can enjoy a welcome talk, introductory film, free coach parking and discounted entry for parties of 20 plus. Further eastwards, you’ll find the towns of Hastings and Battle. Many visit the English Heritage site located here to soak up the history of 1066.  Visitors can walk on the battlefield, explore the excellent Visitor Centre and see the ruins of William the Conqueror’s abbey, standing on the very spot where King Harold is said to have died. There’s a 15% discount for groups of 11 or more, with free entry for coach drivers and tour leaders. A little inland is the lovely town of Lewes, boasting a similar atmosphere to the cool and creative Brighton, but with plenty of its own charms. The cobbled high street is lined with teashops, pubs and quirky shops selling local wares and antiques. Although small, the distinctive Norman ramparts of Lewes Castle are worth a wander for the panoramic views alone. The adjoining Barbican House is home to a small archaeological museum and groups of 15 or more benefit from a reduced entry fee. History buffs will be keen to see Anne of Cleves’ house where a variety of talks and tours are available, charged at £50 for groups of up to 25 people. For literature lovers, call in at Monk’s House four miles south of the town – a 17th century cottage that was once home to legendary writer Virginia Woolf. Now a National Trust property, the interior has been maintained the way she and her husband, Leonard, left it. The garden is a riot of flowers, fruit trees, ponds and vegetable plots, and contains Virginia’s perfectly preserved “writing lodge.”

People sitting on the grass and enjoying the sun in the Royal Pavilion Gardens at Brighton Royal Pavilion, the historic Regency royal palace in the 18th century,  gardens in the centre of the city of Brighton.

Royal Pavillion

The chalk grasslands, ancient woodlands, heaths and iconic white cliffs of this huge park covers over 600 square miles and stretches through Hampshire, East Sussex and West Sussex. The 100 mile long South Downs Way escorts visitors the entire length of the park, from Winchester in the West to Eastbourne in the East. As you trek high ground on the coastal ridge, you’ll enjoy magnificent views of the sea and the Isle of Wight in the far distance. The route passes through five National Nature Reserves and dozens of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Suitable for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, your group could consider tackling a short section of the National Trail – which is one of 15 in the UK – or dedicate a week or more to gradually wending your way along it. It’s recommended that you start in the West and head eastwards. If you’ve only got time to explore a short stretch, make it the eastern end, along the coastline between Seaford and Beachy Head. Here, the ivory white cliffs form the stunning scenery of the Seven Sisters, named after the seven cliff peaks that front the sea. Stop at the hamlet and pretty pebble beach of Birling Gap, where the National Trust runs a cafe, shop and Visitor Centre.