Rye is a delightful, medieval town in East Sussex in the South of England. Not only is it as pretty as a picture, but Rye has retained its original olde worlde charm. However, on our recent weekend in Rye, we discovered that this charming market town has far more to offer than just its looks. Rye also has its own nature reserve, historic ruins, and a medieval castle.
Read on to discover some of the best things to see and do in Rye and how to spend the perfect weekend there.
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The top 9 best things to do on a weekend in Rye
Our first port of call for our weekend in Rye was a walk round the old town. Rye has everything you would hope for in a quintessential English village. Cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, ancient pubs, and secret passageways.
Go early so you can enjoy meandering through the winding streets without the crowds. You’ll find plenty of quaint houses, traditional pubs, and cosy tea rooms.
If you climb to the top of St Mary’s Church bell tower, you’ll have sweeping views across the rooftops and marshes.
As you’d expect from a medieval town there’s plenty of historical things to see in Rye. On the corner of West Street, we passed Lamb House, which is now owned by the National Trust.
This Grade II listed Georgian house was the home of US author Henry James, who wrote several books in his garden room.
Over the decades this historic house has been the resting place for King Henry III and has attracted several other literary personalities, including E F Benson.
The most famous of Rye’s picturesque streets, Mermaid Street, did not fail to deliver. Mermaid Street is truly very pretty and it’s no surprise that everyone flocks to it for a photograph.
At the top of the cobbled street is the ancient Mermaid Inn. This Tudor building was rebuilt in 1420 after much of Rye was burnt to the ground. Today, Mermaid Inn is an elegant hotel and restaurant, with many traditional features still intact.
Mermaid Street also has its own café. However, we crossed opposite to The Old Grain Café, where we indulged in some delicious homemade lemon cake and tea.
One of the best things to do in Rye’s town centre is browse the quirky independent shops and galleries.
At the bottom of Mermaid Street, we stumbled upon Strand Quay. Here, we took a trip down memory lane as we browsed the bric-a-brac and antique shops on the corner.
It was intriguing to see how the toys of our childhood are now collectables. Maybe, I should have been a better hoarder!
As well as its idyllic town centre, you’ll find plenty to do on the outskirts of Rye.
Rye Harbour is just two miles outside of town. You can walk from town centre to the harbour. However, it’s not a particularly picturesque trail, as it crosses through an industrial estate. We took the car and found it easy to park at Rye Harbour car park.
On arrival, we walked up to the RNLI Lifeboat Station, past Bosun’s Bite Café and to the River Rother, where several families were crabbing. We had a look at the boats, but then moved on for a visit to Rye Nature Reserve.
Rye Nature Reserve
If you enjoy walking and nature, one of the best things to do in Rye is visit Rye Nature Reserve.
This Site of Special Scientific Interest covers miles of wetland, salt marshes, freshwater gravel pits and sand dunes. With such a varied habitat, the nature reserve is an important area for wildlife and has over 4,200 species of plants and animals.
We followed one of the way-marked routes that leads past the pits and lagoons. It is very flat and ideal for hikers and cyclists. It was easy to spot lots of different sea birds and we stopped at one of the bird-watching hides for a closer look.
If you want a longer walk at Rye Nature Reserve, you can extend it with a circular walk to Camber Castle.
Another fantastic walk outside of Rye town centre is to Camber Castle. The quickest option to walk to Camber Castle is from the Brede Sluice at the corner of Rye Harbour Road. This route is an easy walk of about a mile, which follows the course of a stream, then sheep fields.
Henry VIII built Camber Castle to protect the English coast from invasion by France. However, as the castle became landlocked and further from the sea, its role as a stronghold became redundant.
Nowadays English Heritage manages this medieval fortress, which is solely for tourists. Admission is free, and you can visit during any daylight hours.
We walked all the way round the castle, as the interior is currently closed. However, it’s easy to peer inside and get a good idea of what Camber Castle would have previously looked like. Its walls are solid and have clearly stood the test of time against the elements.
A short walk to the west of Rye Nature Reserve is Winchelsea Beach. This is a long, pebbly beach, with groynes sticking out on the shoreline. However, as the tide goes out you will see patches of sand.
Winchelsea is a very natural beach and less commercial than some of its neighbours. We stopped for a picnic on the beach and collected some shells.
There doesn’t appear to be an official car park. However, if you drive along Pett Level Road, you’ll find plenty of layby parking. You can then walk directly on to the beach.
On the second day of our weekend in Rye, we took a trip to Camber Sands. Just 3 miles to the east of Rye, Camber Sands is very accessible. Plus, there’s a car park in front of the beach.
As its name suggests, Camber Sands is an enormous sandy beach. In fact, it stretches for about 5 miles to Kent. Set against a backdrop of sand dunes Camber Sands is a very pretty beach. Plus, it’s the only sand dune system in East Sussex and plays an important role for the local habitat and wildlife.
When the tide is out, this immense beach gets even bigger. You can walk a long way out to sea without the sea reaching knee height. However, you need to be careful of the sand banks, which can be dangerous. Remain within the safe bathing area, which is patrolled by lifeguards.
The top 4 best things to do near Rye
Visit Battle Abbey
There are plenty of other places you could visit if you are staying in Rye. One of the best things to do near Rye is a visit to Battle Abbey.
Explore the beautiful grounds of the Abbey and learn what happened at the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Battle is 15 miles from Rye and takes about 30 minutes by car.
A day trip to Dungeness
Just 13 miles east of Rye, Dungeness in Kent is another great day trip from Rye.
Dungeness is a National Nature Reserve with a difference and is a unique experience. Although it’s in the shadow of the great Dungeness Nuclear Power Station the place retains a unique charm and beauty.
With 2 lighthouses, desolate fishing boats and quirky wooden cabins, there is plenty to look at in Dungeness. What’s more, Dungeness has the largest shingle beach in Britain, and this creates a habitat which is perfect for wildlife.
Explore Bodiam Castle
History lovers will love a visit the medieval Bodiam Castle. This 14th century medieval castle was built to defend the area from French invasion.
Bodiam Castle is now owned by the National Trust. It is one of the prettiest castles in the UK and still has its original moat, towers and portcullis. Visitors can explore the ruins, climb the stone towers, or take a riverside walk in the grounds of Bodiam.
A day out in Hastings
Another fantastic day trip from Rye is to the seaside town of Hastings. Here you can visit the historic fishing area, the Old Town, or the new pier.
Alternatively take one of the funicular railways up to the two hills to see the castles, Smugglers Adventure or Hastings Country Park. Hastings has plenty of attractions for visitors of all ages.
You can read what we got up to in our family weekend in Hastings.
Planning your weekend in Rye
Getting to Rye
Driving to Rye
Rye is easily accessible by car and is perfect for a weekend getaway from London. From the M25, follow the A26 and then A21.
London to Rye train
Trains from London to Rye depart regularly from St Pancras International station. There is one change at Ashford International.
The train journey to Rye takes less than 1.5 hours, so is ideal for a day trip from London or weekend break.
Where to stay in Rye
Have you ever thought about an overnight stay in one of Rye’s historic houses?
The Mermaid Inn – Probably Rye’s most famous historic house has Norman cellars dating back in the 12th century. You can’t beat it for location, as it’s bang in the middle of the historic centre.
The Tea House – Another historic accommodation in the heart of Rye is the 15th century Tea House.
The Tailor’s Flat – If you prefer accommodation with a more contemporary décor, the Tailor’s Flat is a top floor flat in Rye High Street.
If you prefer something outside of town, we spent two nights glamping in a yurt at Freshwinds Farm in Pett. The campsite is only 7 miles from Rye and is an ideal base for visiting Rye and nearby beaches.
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