Planning a weekend or day trip to Rye, East Sussex? Check out this ultimate guide to exploring this Rye getaway from London.
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The Lamb House, Mermaid Inn, Landgate – the town of Rye, East Sussex is patched together by fantastical names and English charm.
Making a day trip from London to Rye is a must for anyone wanting to see one of the most photographed streets in England.
Its dramatic history is almost expected, as centuries of invasions and raids by France and Spain had earned Rye a ‘Cinque Ports’ title to enable both vigilante-styled defence alongside trade.
Where the coastal town is shaped in a labyrinth of narrow streets for protection, its bordering natural reserves offer unique geography such as the Romney marshes.
This serene English town demands a full day or weekend in Rye to explore. After all, you won’t want to miss out on the stories of smuggling and scandalous rendezvous – or the charms of a place frozen in time.
Things to do in Rye, Sussex
Beyond casual amblings and respite from city noise, Rye offers just enough distractions to keep you out and about on your day trip.
You’ll have your choice of historic houses, museums and nature-filled adventure, starting with this brief list of the top things to do in Rye.
Take a History Lesson at Rye Castle Museum
The first thing to do upon arriving in any new destination is to learn its history. What makes Rye interesting? What sordid tales are there? What’s with the leftover defensive walls?
Drop by Rye Castle Museum and scour through the exhibits. Housed in Ypres Tower, there’s no end to its historical richness. A separate branch of Rye Castle Museum sits on East Street.
Explore the Ypres Tower
The origin of Ypres Tower is an unsolved mystery, but its history shows a rather interesting trajectory.
It first housed a prison and later a mortuary, and now is part of the Rye Castle Museum.
Like all ancient structures, you can expect medieval floor tiles made in Rye, military uniforms, a garden in the centre, and a replica of a skeleton or two to uncover.
The Ypres Tower is one of the main Rye attractions to visit.
Opening Times and Admissions
Open 7 days a week throughout the year except on 24th and 25th December.
– March 30 – October 31: 10:30 – 5:00, last admission 4:30
– November 1 – March 29: 10:30 am – 3:30 Last admission 3:00 pm
– Admission to the Tower: Adults £4.00, Concessions: £3.00. Children under 16 free but must be accompanied by an adult.
Climb up the Tower of St. Mary’s Church
The Parish Church of St. Mary stood guard over Rye for over 900 years. While it was ravaged by fire and looted in 1377, stolen church bells and artefact were recovered in the 16th century.
Today, you can marvel at one of the oldest church turret clocks in England, alongside its many historical items.
The highlight, however, is more romantic in nature – admire Rye’s rust-coloured rooftops from up high, where the church tower has become a popular marriage proposal stage.
The surrounding countryside and cobbled streets will soon make it clear why that is.
Wander Through Mermaid Street
Do you know those picturesque postcards of English towns with cobbled streets and tendril-wrapped houses? Mermaid Street is exactly that kind of place, lined with half-timber buildings and trailing ivy.
Keep an eye out for the plaques on the walls (and ask locals about their history) – you’ll come across names like The House with Two Doors, or The House Opposite the House.
Better yet, book a stay at one of the cottages or inns around this historic centre.
Don’t waste the chance for some souvenir hunting either, as cosy boutiques litter the bottom of Mermaid Street.
Hunt down antiques at Strand Quay or Crock and Cosy; for retro pottery and kitchen workshop, drop by Confit Pot.
Flip through the Lamb House Storybook
The burnt orange facade of the Lamb House must be particularly inspiring because it has housed both kings and writers. This won’t surprise you after you’ve laid eyes on its severe, historic exterior.
Guests included King George I, Henry James, E.F. Benson and more literary figures (including some fictional ones).
As you tour this Georgian house on your Rye day trip, do pay attention to the fine art and collections left behind by its previous tenants.
Landgate | An Ancient Monument
The Landgate sounds exactly what it is – a “landing gate” built to defend Rye from constant invasions since 1066.
When Rye was granted its status as a Cinque Ports, the town was able to shore up its walls and defences.
This medieval arch is one of the last pieces of this history to remain. Interestingly, there’s a startling amount of accommodation around this medieval monument.
The country-style Tower House and cosy Landgate cottage are both period features that fit into the historical aesthetic.
Discover the Outdoors at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
If you are still wondering what to do in Rye, then visit the Harbour Natural Reserve. You’ll have 465 hectares of land to explore here, which features both a dynamic coastline and military history.
From wetlands to salt marshes to freshwater gravel pits, the landscape changes with the seasons and from step to step, making it an exciting space to explore.
Four thousand five hundred different species dwell at Rye Harbour Natural Reserve, proving a great destination for birdwatchers and animal enthusiasts. There are five birdwatching hides to spy out of.
Camber Castle falls within the reserve too, so keep an eye out as you wander through the footpaths.
Tour Around Cobble Cottage
Pretty Cobble Cottage is timber-framed on the outside, stucco-studded on the inside.
It’s a classic country house with surprising details; you’ll find decorate Tudor roses between its panels, wall paintings on beams and an old inscription.
Poke Around Thomas House
Reportedly the oldest house in Rye, Thomas House does feature the white-washed exterior crossed with black wooden moulding. It’s preserved for practical uses too, now open to the public as a hostel.
If you want to stay close to the historic centre, it’s a great option backed with a long history.
Toast Your Trip at Chapel Down Vineyard
It’s not an English country experience without a vineyard visit. Just a short drive away from Rye, Chapel Down offers both view and beverage.
Take a tour of their verdant plantation, the wines and rosé production rooms before sampling the wares. There’s also an on-site restaurant that serves seasonal menus.
Go on a Quest With The School of Wizards and Witches
It’s never too late to live your own magical tale as Rye tells it; all you need is two hours at the School of Wizards and Witches.
A popular attraction for families, this show features actors, puppets and plenty of magic.
Everyone works together to solve a quest (yes, there are monsters to outsmart and treasures to find), all of which have a “scare level rating” so you can find the perfect fit for you and your loved ones.
Find Peace At Pett Level Beach
When you’ve had your fill of pretty houses and footpaths, take yourself to the quiet reaches of Pett Level Beach.
Pebbled swathes mingle with sandy stretches of coast. The beach proper shows off the view of Rye Bay all the way to Dungeness. It’s a lovely escape for those who love the sea.
Places to Stay in Rye East Sussex
Stay the Night at Mermaid Inn
Storybook charm indeed! Mermaid Inn is one of the unique half-timbered houses along Mermaid Street.
Six hundred years after opening, it has witnessed invasions and housed smugglers, continuing on to play host to weary travellers.
Oak panelling and heavy furniture aren’t the only remnants of history; there are secret passages hidden within its walls.
With both Giant’s Fireplace Bar and Linen Fold Paneled Restaurant at your service, enjoy being spoilt with quality service.
Marvel at Characterful Rye Windmill
Whether you coast by or book a stay, Rye Windmill is an idyllic and unique building on the banks of River Tillingham.
What was once a mill bakery has transformed into a ten-room hostel, complete with its original brickwork and old ovens. Enchanting!
Top Things to do Near Rye in East Sussex
While you’ll find tons to do within the confines of Rye, there is also so much to see in the surrounding countryside.
Near to Rye harbour and the English channel is the little village of Camber. This spot on the coast has plenty to enjoy.
One of the best things to do near Rye is to pop over to this sandy destination. Camber Sands is like that one neighbour who leaves cookies at your front door and sends dinner invites every weekend – you want to know them.
If you’re wondering about things to do near Camber Sands, imagine this: miles of sun-lit, golden sand rolling straight up to the waterline.
There are smooth stretches for sandcastles and rolling dunes to clamber. The wind also makes this a brilliant kitesurfing destination.
If there’s a balmy breeze, stroll along the National Cycle Network Route 2 to combine travel and trek; the 3-mile trail offers up views of Northpoint Water, Rye Bay and flocks of sheep. You could also opt to cycle instead if you’re on a time crunch.
How to get from Rye to Camber Sands – take bus 102 which connects the two towns with a 20-minute ride.
You can catch the bus in front of the Rye train station. However, it only runs every 30 minutes.
Curves make up the walls of this artillery fort, built to guard the port of Rye. A short walk from Rye, the castle is open for guided tours that take you through brick-vaulted tunnels and other defences.
Extend your walk around Rye Harbour Nature Reserve for other military structures.
Best Photo Spots in Rye, East Sussex
Your weekend adventure isn’t limited to express stops in Rye! Why not take advantage of its beauty and embark on a photo-themed tour?
Sightsee and stage casual photoshoots around town – Rye is made to be captured on film. Some of the best photo spots include:
• Mermaid Street
• Tiny Book Store
• St Mary’s Church
• Lamb House
Where to Eat in Rye
What do you do when energy runs low, and your stomach starts to grumble? Take a break at any of Rye’s atmospheric eateries, of which you should definitely patronise:
Cafe Des Fleurs
Combining hand-tied bouquets and fresh pastries, Cafe Des Fleurs is a refreshing afternoon spot.
You can feast on heartier fare here as they serve cakes, sausage rolls, sandwiches and toasties alongside drinks.
Globe Inn Marsh
More of a pub than a formal restaurant, Globe Inn Marsh is an eclectic blend of home kitchen and rowdy hole-in-the-wall.
It’s everything local, from the steel walls and lobster-pot pendant lights, to a menu that focuses on lamb and fish. And of course – beers.
Alehouse since the 12th century, Mermaid Inn has grown into a lounge bar and fancy restaurant as well.
More than food, it’s where you go for good wine and cosy vibes. They guarantee the best ales and ciders on cold nights.
The Cobble Tearoom
Afternoon tea is an English staple, after all, so keep your eyes peeled for The Cobble Tearoom’s welcome sign on the road.
Expect the usual scones and cakes alongside a generous selection of loose-leaf teas.
Simon the Pieman
Pie, pie and everything nice, Simon the Pieman is a lovely place to rest after a long stroll. Nibble on cheese crumpets and sip from a hot cuppa.
Relax in this quaint tearoom when visiting this Cinque Port town.
Webbe’s at the Fish Cafe
Set in a former warehouse, Webbe’s is open and airy – a far cry from the usual wooden beams and spiral staircases of this half-timbered house covered town.
Watch the chefs through the open kitchen as they cook up rock oysters, sea bass and more fresh seafood.
Definitely don’t miss local flavours at Landgate Bistro! It treats you to local produce sourced from nearby woodlands and waters (Rye Bay included) and set within interconnecting Georgian cottages.
There are plenty of other healthy eats and locally sourced options, including The Fig, The Ship Inn, Marino’s Fish Bar and Ypres Castle Inn.
How to Get to Rye from London
The distance between Rye and London isn’t outrageously far, falling between 86 to 107 kilometres depending on your mode of transport.
Day-trippers like myself can easily commute on the train or by coach, or you can embark on an epic road trip with Rye as one of the stops.
London to Rye by Train
Kick back and relax with an express train ride to Rye from London. Depart from St Pancras Station and transfer at Ashford International and then take a train from Ashford International to Rye. The journey should take you around 90-minutes.
You can also take the scenic route with a slower train from London Bridge, London Charing Cross or London Waterloo East stations. You can buy your train ticket to Rye online.
London to Rye by Car
For utmost freedom – pencil in scenic stops and radio jamming – rent a car and hoof it to Rye. Take the M20 route to arrive in approximately 1.5 hours.
You can also further explore the East Sussex region this way. There are, after all, plenty of UK city breaks to experience.
London to Rye by Coach
Perhaps you have time to spare, which you’ll need via coach travel. While there’s no direct coach between London and Rye, National Express coaches connect London Victoria coach station to Hastings, where a local stagecoach to Rye is available.
The first leg of the journey takes 3 hours minimum; the stagecoach piles on an extra 2 hours of waiting time if you miss the transfer.
Not the most convenient, but it’s an alternative that could allow you to experience Sussex a little bit more.
What You’ll Need to Visit Rye
Once you’ve got your itinerary planned, it’s time to think about what to pack. There are two essentials: great walking shoes and a great travel camera.
With so much terrain to cover (not to mention you’ll be walking on cobblestone or natural grounds), supportive shoes are a must. Don’t injure yourself and get stranded indoors!
You’ll also want a camera to memorialise Rye’s boundless charms – your phone’s camera will do just fine in a pinch. But photographers won’t want to miss out on this opportunity, so a camera is a must.
To Cap Off Your Rye Day Trip from London
Rye is a stunning town, that is more serene than its history would suggest. Its close proximity to London makes it perfect for a day trip from London by train; its variety of entertainment make it suitable for all travellers.
With such cultural and historical richness, it is no wonder that Rye tops the list of best day trips from London.
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