With a wealth of seaside resorts, historic sites and fascinating towns, Sussex has lots to tempt visitors. Naomi MacKay gives you a taste of the wide variety attractions and potential days out
This vibrant seaside town has so much to offer, whether you’re after a day of shopping and café culture, a day by the beach or a family-oriented expedition.
Upcoming is the world’s tallest visitor tower, already taking group bookings for summer 2016. Tempt visitors with a chance to be among the first people to experience the 26-mile view from the top of the Brighton i360. There will be options to enjoy a champagne experience or dine in the building at the bottom of the 450-feet tower. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brighton is a shoppers’ paradise. Anyone who loves the unusual and quirky will spend hours exploring the maze of alleys and hidden squares that make up the Laines. Jewellery, gifts and one-off fashion pieces abound – and it’s the best place to find collectibles outside London.
North Laine offers the more eccentric shops – if you want a kite, unicycle or vegetarian shoes, this will be the place to find it. Antiques emporia are great hunting grounds for retro and kitsch pieces. Weekend markets will lure the bargain hunters, as will the factory outlet shops at Brighton Marina.
The beachfront is also one of the coolest parts of the city – the Victorian arches are now home to cafés, bars, clubs and restaurants. The smaller areas have been converted into artists’ studios. There’s also a free fishing museum in the Fishing Quarter, where you’ll be able to see fisherman selling fresh fish and mending their nets.
There’s always something happening at The Ellipse on the seafront, whether it’s a street theatre, dance competition or music.
Brighton Pier offers seaside fun for all the family, with candy floss, food and drink outlets, fairground attractions and the Palace of Fun arcade. It also has a heritage trail – and special packages can be arranged for groups.
Brighton SEA LIFE Centre is the first UK aquarium to have a glass-bottomed boat, which gives visitors the chance to get a snorkeler’s eye view of turtles, sharks and colourful fish (not wheelchair accessible). Groups get discounts, half-price guidebooks and gift shop discounts. VIP tours - accompanied by a SEA LIFE expert - can also be arranged.
The Brighton Wheel (www.brightonwheel.com) sits next to the SEA LIFE Centre and offers a panoramic view of the city’s landmarks and coastline, with a commentary by comedian Steve Coogan. Discounts are available for groups. (Please note that the Wheel is due to close in May 2016).
Families can take the kids bowling at Brighton Marina, take in a kids’ show at the Komedia theatre, enjoy natural history at the Booth Museum and observe all the toys at the Brighton Toy Museum.
In the centre of Brighton sits a building that looks like a Mogul’s Palace. The Royal Pavilion was built as a seaside pleasure palace for King George IV, and this historic house mixes Regency grandeur with the style of India and China. It is a five-minute walk from the beach and groups have the benefit of tours of the stunning interior, plus cream teas and discounts on guidebooks, as well as free tickets for group leaders - to book call 03000 290901.
Brighton’s attractions are all within easy reach, which means the coach park on Madeira Drive, close the Marina, is an ideal drop-off point (www.visitbrighton.com/travel/coach-parking)
For three weeks in May, the Brighton Festival brings a whole host of entertainment, arts, theatre, talks, parades and lots more to the seaside city.
If you want to get away from the bustling streets of Brighton, head to Devil’s Dyke, which is five-miles outside the city on the South Downs Way, to enjoy stunning panoramas.
The Dyke valley is nearly a mile long and is the longest, deepest and widest 'dry valley' in the UK. Look out for the ramparts or walls of the Iron Age hill fort and remains of the curious Victorian funfair. It’s also a popular spot for paragliders, hang gliders and model aircraft.
PIC CREDIT: www.visitbrighton.com
Hastings is another compact seaside resort that has plenty to offer within walking distance. Take the West Cliff Hill Railway up the cliff to Britain’s first-ever Norman castle - Hastings Castle. Here you can take in a view of the coastline before discovering how the Battle of Hastings unfolded.
Smugglers Adventure (www.smugglersadventure.co.uk), sees visitors step back in time through the caverns and tunnels and join notorious smuggler ‘Hairy Jack’ on a journey through acres of underground caverns, passages and tunnels on a voyage back through time. Special discounts are available when tickets are bought alongside the Blue Reef Aquarium (www.bluereefaquarium.co.uk), which offers the chance to get up close with sharks, rays and a variety of other sea life, as well as reptiles.
In addition to these family attractions, a visit to Hastings Old Town is a must. Reminiscent of Brighton’s Laines, the winding streets are filled with quirky gifts shops, antiques and collectibles shops as well as cafés, restaurants and pubs.
For a family day out, Drusilla’s Park (www.drusillas.co.uk) is six-miles from Eastbourne and 12-miles from Brighton, making it the perfect choice if you are staying locally.
Little ones will be delighted to see Thomas the Tank Engine and Hello Kitty’s Secret Garden – the only Hello Kitty attraction in Europe!
There are hundreds of animals, adventure play areas, an explorers’ lagoon, paddling pool, kids’ climbing wall, inflatable slide and a chance to pan for gold. Discounts are available for groups of 15 or more, plus special days and workshops for educational groups.
Knockhatch Adventure Park (www.knockhatch.com) in Hailsham, East Sussex, is firmly targeted at kids with its Falconry Centre, indoor play centre, adventure playgrounds, a boating lake, the Wave Runner water slide, go karts, mini quads, paddling pool, Quadapillar ride, Tommy Tractor Play Barn and petting farm, including the Wallaby Walkthrough.
Schools and other groups can enjoy talks and displays given by animal handlers and take part in hands-on activities, including a chance to handle some of the smaller animals. For more information, call 01323 442051.
At the Arundel Wetland Centre (www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/arundel), visitors might spot water voles and kingfishers from the boat safari, hand-feed rare geese at World Wetlands or find quiet spots to watch the Sussex wildlife.
The stunning views from the Water’s Edge Café make it a great place to stop for a drink and something to eat, and children can enjoy pond dipping and play areas. Groups of 12-plus get a 15% discount, free coach parking, free entry for the group travel organiser and driver, and group catering packages.
Wakehurst Place (www.kew.org/visit-wakehurst) in West Sussex is the country residence of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Set in 465-acres of country estate, there are ornamental gardens, temperate woodlands, a nature reserve and an Elizabethan mansion, as well as natural play areas for children. Group discounts are available – call 01444 894066.
Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest (www.forestry.gov.uk/bedgebury) offers cycling, walking and horse riding within its 2,000-acre surroundings, which includes the world’s best conifer collection, plus a Go Ape Centre and adventure play for all ages. Parking is paid for – coaches cost £50.
Arundel Castle (www.arundelcastle.org.uk) is a restored medieval castle and stately home with 40-acres of beautiful gardens and grounds in West Sussex.
It is host to a number of events throughout the year including the new Norman Knights’ Tournament on July 9-10, and Pirates and Smugglers on September 25. The highlight of its events calendar is the International Jousting and Medieval Tournament on July 26-31, 2016, when knights from across the world will battle it out in full plate armour riding specially trained horses.
Group visitors can take advantage of reduced ticket prices plus free admission for group travel organisers, tour guides, teachers and supervisors. Coach drivers are also given free coach parking, free admission and a complimentary restaurant voucher.
Arundel Castle will re-open on Friday, March 25, 2016 and will be open Tuesdays to Sundays inclusive, May Bank Holiday Mondays and August Mondays. Call 01903 882 173 (extension 230).
The Battle of Hastings is a big event in the history of this county. To see the spot where King Harold fell, you will need to head to the market town of Battle.
Battle Abbey is the site of one of the most famous battles in England's history. Here, an exhibition brings alive the dramatic story of the Norman Conquest.
October 2016 sees the 950th-anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and there will be a programme of cultural events, including a bumper edition of its annual re-enactment of the battle.
A 15% discount is offered to groups of 11 or more with free entry for coach drivers and tour leaders – coach parking is a 10-minute walk away. There is a new café at the abbey, and the town has a number of teashops, cafés and restaurants and pubs, as well as independent gift shops.
Herstmonceaux Castle is a beautiful medieval property (www.herstmonceux-castle.com) and provides the perfect combination for mixed groups.
The castle itself is a stunning example of a moated 125th-century castle building, with fabulous grounds to explore. Although the castle is not usually open to the public, guided tours can be arranged. Whether visiting the castle or exploring its 300-acres, there’s a tearoom serving cake and local produce to enjoy. Visitors can also enjoy horse and carriage rides or a birds of prey and longbow archery experience.
The estate is home to the Observatory Science Centre – this hands-on science experience is set among the domes and telescopes of a world-famous astronomical observatory. As well as the science set-ups, groups can enjoy science shows with plenty of whizzes, bangs and pops, and special stargazing evening events. Call 01323 834457 or email email@example.com.
Another moated beauty is Bodiam Castle (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodiam-castle), which was built in 1385 by Edward Dallingridge to impress his friends and frighten his enemies.
Children can take an echo horn and follow an exciting audio ‘whodunnit’ story, which takes you all around the castle – will you find the murderer? Remember to check out the second hand books for sale too.
The castle is brought to life throughout the year by a number of special event days which offer the opportunity to try your hand at archery or find out about medieval crafts.