Hastings is a historic seaside town in South-East England, most famed for the 1066 Battle of Hastings. In fact, the battle didn’t even take place in Hastings, but the nearby town of Battle. Nevertheless, the medieval influence is still evident, as we discovered on our family weekend in Hastings. Find out the highlights of our trip and the best family things to do on a short break in Hastings, East Sussex.
Although not the official site of the 1066 Battle, Hastings still has rich links with its medieval history. So, we started our family weekend in Hastings with a visit to Hastings Castle.
The trip required a steep climb to the top of West Hill, where the castle ruins overlook the town. We couldn’t go in but climbed nearby rocks to get fabulous views of the castle and town below.
Hastings Castle is significant in history, as it was the first Norman castle in Britain. Built under orders from William the Conqueror after landing in England in 1066, it was also Britain’s first motte and bailey castle.
Unfortunately, King Henry VIII later destroyed Hastings Castle when he became head of the Church of England. Today only the ruins of Hastings Castle remain, but it’s still worth a visit, even if it’s just for the views.
Not far from from Hastings Castle, is the popular attraction Smuggler’s Adventure. This is a great museum that takes you through secret caves to discover the history of smuggling in Hastings.
Hastings’ long history of smuggling dates back to the 17th Century, when taxes on basic goods were sky high. People couldn’t afford to pay the ever-increasing prices, so turned to buying contraband instead.
It’s an interesting museum and it’s easy to see why Smugglers Adventure is one of the top attractions in Hastings. There were enough gory stories of blood-thirsty pirates and bootleggers to keep the whole family entertained!
Hastings Cliff Railway
Hastings has two iconic funicular railways, one for each hill. The lift at West Hill goes up from the sea front to Hastings Castle and St Clement’s Caves.
The East Hill funicular goes from Rock-a-Nore up to Hastings Country Park, a nature reserve on the cliff top. East Hill Funicular was opened in 1902 and is now the steepest funicular railway in the UK.
We didn’t use the railways (closed because of Covid restrictions) but meandered through the zig zag of narrow alleys and passages to get up West Hill. This is a great way to see what’s happening in the back streets and led us to some great street art in the memorial garden for Swan Inn.
The Stade is the area at the seafront used for the Hastings fishing boats. In fact, it’s home to the largest fleet of beach-launched fishing boats in Europe.
We wandered round the beach looking at the boats, which had already been out to sea that morning. We also stopped for drinks at eat@the Stade, which is on the seafront at Pelham Beach.
At one end of the Stade is Rock-a-Nore beach. This is a small shingle beach, backed by the cliffs, below East Hill. Rock-a-Nore Road is also home to the Blue Reef Aquarium and Hastings Shipwreck Museum.
Further along, we came to the Fisherman’s Museum, which had brought some of its exhibits outside, as visitors weren’t allowed in.
Hastings Net Huts
Whilst exploring the Stade, we came across some unique tall back wooden sheds, standing on the beach. The fishermen originally built these Net Huts to provide storage for their fishing equipment. As the fishermen didn’t have enough space on the beach, they built upwards to provide more room.
Camouflaged amongst the net huts, is the Half Boat, which is exactly what its name says – Half a Boat. It is no longer a fishing boat, but the base for The Half Boat Fish Rolls.
Alternatively, seafood lovers may wish to head further along to RX Fisheries. Here, they can stock up on fresh fish or even a pint of prawns!
Hastings Miniature Railway
Alongside the fishing boats and net huts is Hastings Miniature Railway. This rather charming train runs for about ½ km from Rock-a-Nore station up to Marine Parade station, by the fun fair.
Hasting Beach is a long, wide expanse of pebbles, which goes all along to Hastings Victorian Pier.
Originally built in 1872, Hastings Pier has recently been redeveloped. It has since won awards for its architecture and was even “Pier of the Year”.
You can access the pier to see the candy stripe beach huts or to stop and enjoy a beer.
Hastings Old Town
Discovering Hastings Old Town was a pleasant surprise and one of the highlights of our family weekend in Hastings. With its quirky mix of curiosity shops, quaint gift shops and boutiques, it really is a hidden gem. It was lovely to amble along, taking our time to browse the displays.
There’s also a good choice of independent cafés and restaurants. Some of the pubs, such as the Hastings Arms, date back to the 18th Century. We had lunch (fish and chips, of course) and a local beer in the Anchor Inn, which was built in 1798.
Things to do near Hastings
One of our best things to do near Hastings was a visit to Battle Abbey and battlefield, to revisit the site of 1066.
Alternatively, you could head in the other direction towards the quaint village of Rye. We spent a morning in its historic town centre, before heading over to Rye Nature Reserve. We also took a walk to Camber Castle, which is near Rye Harbour.
If you prefer a sandy beach, you won’t be disappointed with Camber Sands. With miles of golden sand, backed by sand dunes it really is pretty and it’s only 10 miles from Hastings.
How to get to Hastings
Being so easily accessible by car, Hastings is perfect for a day trip or short break. From the M25 you take the A21, which leads you all the way there.
Parking in Hastings
There are several car parks in Hastings. We parked in a multi-storey in the new town and were able to walk to everywhere from there.
Travel by train to Hastings
You can get from London to Hastings by train in less than 2 hours, which is why It is so popular for day trippers. Trains leave regularly from London Victoria or Charing Cross.
Accommodation in Hastings
We stayed for a couple of days glamping in a bell tent at the Brakes Coppice Campsite near Battle. This was ideal, as it was about 17 minutes’ drive from Hastings.
We then did 2 nights glamping at Freshwinds Farm in Pett, so we could explore the area near Rye, Camber and Dungeness.
Pin for later: A family weekend in Hastings
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I didn’t know the Battle didn’t take place in Hastings. How interesting. I guess that’s why Battle called itself so, just to get the credit. Interesting place nonetheless.
I’ll take a day with the Smugglers Adventure. Love to see those secret caves! That pier certainly has some history as it is pretty old!
What an interesting place! And that the battle was in a nearby town called Battle??? Haha. Love the idea of a smugglers museum and I bet there was so many interesting stories! Also do love a seaside town 🙂 🙂
Yes, I’m not sure what Battle was called before the famous battle took place there!