How to spend a weekend in Rye, East Sussex

by Jan

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

Historic Rye

Cobbled Mermaid Street, Historic Rye, East Sussex, England

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.

Lamb House

Henry James, Memorial stone, Rye, East Sussex, England

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.

Mermaid Street

Family posing for picture, Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex, England

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.

Strand Quay

Shop front at The Quay, Antiques and Collectables, Rye, East Sussex, England

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!

Rye Harbour

Grey day, Boats moored in Rye Harbour, Rye, England

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

View across wetlands at Rye Nature Reserve, Rye, East Sussex, England

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.

Camber Castle

Camber Castle, Rye, East Sussex, England

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.

Winchelsea Beach

Pebbled beach and old Groynes, Winchelsea Beach, East Sussex, England

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.

Camber Sands

View of Camber Sands from dunes, East Sussex, England

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.

Cheeky seagull, Camber Sands, East Sussex, England

Watch out for the sea gulls.  We met this very cheeky one, who went in our bag and helped himself to our banana cake!

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

Abandoned Boat and rail lines, Dungeness, Kent

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

Wooden Walkway across moat to Bodium Castle, East Sussex, England

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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Avatar for Jan
Karen White 2nd April 2023 - 1:58 pm

Rye is a place that has long been on my ‘places to go’ list. A series of books that were childhood favourites and that I still return to today are set there. The author, Monica Edwards, grew up there (Rye is Westling in the books), and many of the stories feature real life events. It’s lovely to see your photos.

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Jan 2nd April 2023 - 8:07 pm

Thanks Karen. It really is such a pretty place and well worth a visit.

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Keri | Ladies What Travel 24th April 2021 - 1:37 pm

Rye looks lovely! I have to admit I haven’t explored much of that part of the UK – something I clearly need to remedy! #MustSeePlaces

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Holidays from Hels 7th March 2021 - 10:42 am

I’ve only visited Rye once but fell in love with it. It is just so pretty! I don’t think we saw the gorgeous Mermaid Street so will just have to go back for another trip. It would be great to see the site of the Battle of Hastings and Bodiam Castle looks magnificent. Harbours, beaches, castles and half-timbering – sound just about perfect to me. #Mustseeplaces

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USHA SITAARAAM 31st January 2021 - 10:10 am

Rye looks wonderful. I have been to Bodium castle a while back. Lovely post with lovely photos. #culturedkids

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Jan 31st January 2021 - 1:54 pm

Thanks Usha

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Tanja/The Red Phone Box travels 29th January 2021 - 1:14 pm

Rye looks absolutely wonderful , and there are castles nearby too, what a great spot! #culturedkids

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Jan 29th January 2021 - 7:54 pm

It’s a very beautiful town and there’s lots to do locally.

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Vyki from Museum Mum 28th January 2021 - 9:31 pm

We’ve also been loving Rye, Hastings and Sussex this summer! There’s so much history and culture for families there, and beautiful countryside too. We’re heading back to walk the nature reserve this summer, and hopefully Camber Sands, if it’s not too busy this time. If your kids can handle heights, the vertiginous walk to the roof of the church in Rye gives amazing town and coastal views. Thanks for joining in with #CulturedKids

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Jan 29th January 2021 - 7:54 pm

Yes, there’s lot to do in the area and we’d love to go back and explore some more.

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Tanja/The Red Phone Box travels 24th September 2020 - 11:41 am

I really must visit Rye one day, so perfect. you’ve got a beautiful blog

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John Quinn 21st September 2020 - 6:55 pm

Looks like my kind of place. Castles and Tudor houses. What more do you need.

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Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad 20th September 2020 - 4:39 pm

I can’t believe I’ve never been to Rye considering I lived in Sussex for a few years! I’ll definitely have to go next time I’m down that way, Mermaid Street has always caught my eye!

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Lannie Travels 8th September 2020 - 8:19 pm

What a delightful place, Jan! I’d love the little shops with antiques and bric a brac in strand quay. Totally my thing! Thanks for sharing 🙂 I’ve pinned this for later!

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Bernie and Jess Watt 8th September 2020 - 7:57 pm

This is like England encapsulated in one post. Cute chocolate box towns, paved streets, pebble beaches, castles and forts – it looks like a fascinating part of the country to visit.

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Riana Ang-Canning 8th September 2020 - 7:05 pm

What a cute spot! Mermaid Street has my name all over it. Glad it lived up to the hype!


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