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What to see and do in Rye, East Sussex

Rye, in East Sussex, is one of England’s best kept secrets. Nestled between green rolling hills and the English Channel it’s one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England.

With names like Watchbell Lane, Mermaid Street and Wish Street you can’t fail to be enchanted by a town that time seems to have passed by. Crooked half-timbered houses line a muddle of steep cobbled lanes, there are beach walks, ancient inns and even a castle.

All this, and more, makes Rye the perfect place for a laid-back weekend break. Read on for the best things to do in Rye and nearby.

Mermaid Street, Rye
Mermaid Street, Rye

Adapted from a Weekend Break in Rye originally published on

Whenever we have house-guests they’re always keen to visit Rye and Hastings Old Town so I find myself in both towns at least two or three times a year. Here are some my favourite things to do in Rye, East Sussex.

What to see and do in the pretty East Sussex town of Rye

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Explore the lanes

A wander around the quaint little streets and lanes is the first thing you should do in Rye. This will instantly transport you into its story-book charm. Start at the Landgate. For centuries Rye was an island and at high tide the old stone gate was the only land connection to the mainland.

The Landgate, Rye
The Landgate, Rye

Explore the steep cobbled lanes leading off the High Street. Listen out for the ghostly footsteps of smugglers that used to run the streets of Rye.

Stop for a drink at the eleventh century Mermaid Inn, check out the Giant’s Fireplace Bar and see if you can spot the entrance to the secret passage. It’s a wonderful place to stay if you’re looking for an historical inn with plenty of character.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Rye? Check latest rates and availability

half timbered houses in Rye
Mermaid Street, Rye

Rye Castle Museum

Learn about Rye’s history at Ypres Tower. Known as Wipers Tower to locals it’s home to Rye Castle Museum. Discover the Tower’s roles through nine centuries of history; defence, private home, prison, mortuary and now museum.

Climb the tower to check out views over the town and out to the river Rother estuary. There are various exhibits in the tower from Rye’s past including a model showing how the shoreline has changed, a rare smuggler’s lamp and a medieval herb garden. The prisoner cells can also be explored.

Read more: What to see and do in Hastings old town in East Sussex

Rye Castle, East Sussex
Rye Castle Museum


Explore Literary Rye

Rye has many literary and artistic connections, obviously the town inspires creativity. Learn more about Rye’s literary roots on a visit to Lamb House now owned by the National Trust.

The house was home to American author Henry James who wrote three of his novels whilst living in Rye. Mapp and Lucia author E.F. Benson also lived here and based the imaginary town of Tilling on Rye.

Lamb House was used as the film location of ‘Mallards’ the home of Miss Mapp. Radclyff Hall and Conrad Aitken were both residents in Rye as was John Ryan who created the Captain Pugwash stories. Spike Milligan was another famous resident of the town.

Shopping in Rye

Most of the shops in Rye are independent and are great for bits and pieces you don’t really need but can’t leave without buying.

The Shop Next Door (to The George Hotel in The High Street) stocks gorgeous home ware and gifts and some of the furnishings and decor that are found in the hotel next door. Down at Strand Quay you can delve through the antique and up-cycled furniture shops. There’s always a gem to be found there.

Crock and Cosy vintage kitchen shop stocks retro kitchenware – just like Granny used to use. There’s a thriving art scene in Rye and you’ll find at least half a dozen art galleries full of work by local artists.

Retro kitchen shop in Rye
Antiques and vintage shops in Rye, East Sussex

 >>> Looking for places to stay in Rye? Check latest rates and availability 

St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s has the oldest functioning church turret clock in the country but I like to visit for a different reason – the views. The The tower can be climbed to see the clock mechanism, the bells and out onto the turret itself for a wonderful view of Rye and the surrounding countryside. 

The church is open daily from 9 am – 6 pm (4 pm in winter). Admission is £5 but gives you entry for a whole year.

Rye rooftops in East Sussex
Rye Rooftops from St Mary’s church

Reviewed: The Standard Inn, Rye bed and breakfast in Rye

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Rye Nature Reserve
Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Head over to Rye Harbour, which runs alongside the river Rother, and if you’re lucky you might spot a seal. Drive or take the number 312 bus from Rye train station. Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is just a few minutes walk from the harbour. So far over 280 species of bird have been recorded in the conservation area.

A network of paths take you past freshwater gravel-pits, lagoons, areas of shingle and salt marsh habitat. Hides are dotted around for wildlife watching or you can just enjoy the fresh sea air and the coastal flowers. Look out for ‘Little Red’ the iconic hut which has been on the site since 1904.

Red hut at Rye Harbour
Little Red Hut, Rye

Camber Sands

If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air pack up a picnic and head to the beach (Simon the Pieman’s bakery in Lion Street might be able to help you). Camber Sands is a glorious stretch of pale sand with a backdrop of massive dunes.

Take buckets and spades for epic sandcastle-making opportunities or just chill out on the beach. The beach can be quite windy so take a wind break.

Precautions should be taken when going into the sea as there are sandbanks under the water. A regular bus service from Rye to Camber Sands means you won’t need a car to get there from the town.

Check out our guide to visiting and the best things to do in Camber Sands

Camber Sands, East Sussex
Camber Sands, East Sussex

>>> Looking for places to stay in Rye? Check latest rates and availability 

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle, a beautiful moated castle and National Trust property is a short drive from Rye. As well as exploring the castle there are interactive activities and medieval character talks for children.

The Kent and Sussex light railway runs between Bodiam and Northiam for atmospheric Victorian steam locomotive rides.

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

Where to eat in Rye

For a light bite or lunch the High Street is overflowing with quirky tea rooms and cafes; both The Fig and Edith’s House are worthy of a stop.

If you’re looking for atmosphere then there are pubs with history stretching back hundreds of years. The Mermaid Inn and Ye Olde Bell Inn used to be connected by a secret passage used by smugglers.

Not so secret is the great food they serve in beautiful ancient settings. Both pubs have pretty courtyard gardens – perfect if the weather’s behaving itself. Knoop’s Cafe by Tower Forge serves up the best hot chocolate and milk shakes in the South.

The Bell Inn, Rye
Ye Olde Bell Inn, Rye

For dinner there’s no shortage of restaurants in Rye but two of my personal favourites are The Devil in Rye where Deb Biswal serves up subtle Indian food with a British twist. For the freshest fish from the local fleet head for Webbe’s at The Fish Cafe.

Where to Stay in Rye

The Standard Inn in the town centre is a fabulous ancient inn with five B&B rooms. Read my review on the Standard Inn to learn more or you can check rates and availability.  If you prefer self-catering then Cadborough Farm Cottages are just a 20-minute walk from the town. I’ve stayed there a few times and can wholeheartedly recommend them.

>>> Looking for places to stay in Rye? Check latest rates and availability 

Festivals and events in Rye

There’s always a reason to visit Rye and there’s always something going on. Tie in your visit with one of the town’s festivals which take place throughout the year.

How to get to Rye

High-speed trains run from London to Ashford International with a journey time of 38 minutes.  A further train to Rye takes 21 minutes which makes this pretty, historic town the perfect option for a day out from the city or a for a weekend break.

Parking is known for being incredibly tricky in Rye, however, Station car park in the town centre is reasonably priced at £2.60 per day. This expires at 5am so two days parking will need to be purchased.

>>> Looking for places to stay in Rye? Check latest rates and availability 

Have you been to Rye? What’s your top tip for visiting the town?

Dee Iaciofano

Tuesday 29th of June 2021

Hello Suzanne my lovely stepdad Joe loves Rye and has been many times with my Mum.I am looking to take them as a surprise visit in July or August but as he is very poorly now it will have to be in between hospital visits.I have just seen the music festival in July and August and know Joe would love this,but I have a few concerns and need your advise please.So here goes my first concern is that Joe is now very weak and I will have to arrange for a mobility scooter and would this be possible with the festival as there will be so many people also the cobbled streets are beautiful but would a scooter or wheelchair be OK on them.I am also looking for somewhere to stay with maybe a view of the sea so Joe can sit and relax if he dose not feel well enough to be out and about.Our budget is not big so if you have any ideas where would be a good place to stay that would be so helpful. Thank you Suzanne for any advise you can give Dee

Suzanne Jones

Tuesday 29th of June 2021

Hi Dee, Thanks for getting in touch. I'll drop you an email to answer as many of your questions as I can. Suzanne

Peter Hart

Monday 4th of May 2020

It's sad that so much is closed anywhere (April/May 2020), but I think of Rye locked down with particular poignancy. Usually twice a year my wife and I visit Rye, staying at Jeakes House, going to The Apothecary for coffee and cakes, evening meals at Simply Italian. Trips out to the wonderful gardens at Great Dixter. I've known Rye since the early 9150s, and must have visited it over a hundred times in all. Oh, how soon will it be back to a semblance of normality? We'll be booking a holiday as soo as possible!

Suzanne Jones

Monday 4th of May 2020

I've heard good things about Jeakes House but have never stayed there myself. Rye is a lovely little town and one of my favourites too. I'm looking forward to visiting again when lockdown's over and also plan to visit Great Dixter. I hope it's sooner rather than later. Thank you for visiting Sussex Bloggers which is very much appreciated.

Mary Faulkner

Sunday 16th of June 2019

Re Sunday shopping, I think you will find that most shops are open on Sunday as Rye relies on tourism and people know which side their bread is buttered. I was born and brought up there (in the 1950s/60s) and we stayed at The Mermaid for my 65th birthday the first weekend in February, and everything was open.

Suzanne Jones

Monday 17th of June 2019

Hi Mary, many thanks for the clarification.


Thursday 23rd of May 2019

What day is it best to visit ? weekend or week day as far as shops and dining for the day are concerned . Thanks Dinah

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 29th of May 2019

Hi Dinah, Mary has kindly replied to your question.


Wednesday 28th of November 2018

Dear Suzanne We are visiting Rye with our three girls (11years and 5 year old twins). Are there any nice places to have dinner with kids. They are mostly well behaved. Thank you

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 28th of November 2018

Hi, Thanks for getting in touch. If you like Italian food then Simply Italian on The Strand is great for families. Good Italian food and a lively atmosphere. Enjoy your visit