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A weekend in Rye, East Sussex: A 48-hour itinerary

A weekend in Rye, East Sussex: A 48-hour itinerary

A hilltop town with a picturesque jumble of cobbled streets and half-timbered buildings, Rye in East Sussex has the charm and beauty to match England’s most popular spots, but has managed to escape a huge influx of visitors and keep its unspoilt mix of unique local shops, pubs and restaurants. Add in historic sites, sandy beaches and even a local winery and you’ve got a perfect weekend. Rye’s just an hour from London too, so it makes an easy getaway from the capital. So here’s my 48-hour itinerary for the perfect weekend in Rye.

Read more: 10 Great British weekend break ideas

How to spend a weekend in Rye

Mermaid Street in Rye, East Sussex
Pretty Mermaid Street

Friday evening

Start your weekend in Rye by checking in to your accommodation. The Standard Inn* is a restored 15th-century pub in the centre of town that’s bursting with character, especially in winter when the log fire is roaring. Its five history-filled rooms – named after the Cinque Ports – have beamed ceilings and some come with fireplaces and rolltop baths.

Or if you prefer self-catering, Cadborough Farm Cottages are four cottages set among tranquil countryside just outside Rye. The buildings date back to the 1800s, so each cottage’s layout is different – from the cosy old dairy to the luxuriously renovated Coach House with its open-plan living area and private garden (though note the three-day minimum stay).

Follow the footpath across the fields for the 15-minute walk to The Standard for dinner. Among the local specialities on the menu are lamb from Romney Marshes and Sussex beef and chorizo burgers – and the inn has won CAMRA awards for its beer selection.

Cadborough Farm Cottages in East Sussex
Cadborough Farm Cottages

Saturday morning

Today Rye is two miles from the coast, but back in the 16th century it was one of the Cinque Ports – a series of port towns across Kent, Sussex and Essex who provided ships for the royal fleet. The silting up of the estuary put paid to its seafaring role, but it still has the feel of a coastal town with echoes of its past life as a haunt for sailors and smugglers.

Spend the morning exploring Rye’s history, starting with the medieval Ypres Tower. The tower’s origins are a bit of a mystery, but it was probably originally part of the town’s 13th-century defensive walls. It’s been a house, prison and mortuary over the years since then, but is now home to the Rye Castle Museum (entry £4 adults, £3 seniors, free for under 16s).

Rye Castle or the Ypres Tower, East Sussex
Rye Castle gardens – and a previous resident

Inside the museum are exhibits about the tower and town’s history, including a smugglers’ lamp, medieval weapons and the old jail cells. There’s also a recreated medieval herb garden and a rooftop terrace where you can look out over Rye’s former harbour.

Next head to the top of the tower of St Mary’s Church for a bird’s eye view over the rooftops of Rye to the surrounding countryside and out towards the coast. It’s a narrow spiraling climb to reach the top, but along the way you can see the mechanism of the historic church clock. It was built in 1560 which makes it the oldest church turret clock still in use, but it’s still known as the ‘new’ clock because it was added 400 years after the church was built.

View of Rye from the tower of St Mary’s Church
Rye’s rooftops from the church tower

Saturday afternoon

Spend the afternoon wandering around Rye’s cobbled streets, including pretty Mermaid Street – voted one of the most picturesque streets in Britain. It’s overflowing with charming half-timbered buildings draped with flowers and leaves. Call into The Mermaid for lunch, a 15th-century inn once a favourite with smugglers which is packed with original features like sloping ceilings, creaking floorboards, secret passageways and a ghost or two.

Explore some of Rye’s quirky antique, art and gift shops. Try Glass Etc for period glassware and stained glass, Byzantium for jewellery and fossils, Marsha by the Sea for gorgeous seaside-inspired gifts, Rye Pottery for handmade ceramics and Crock and Cosy for vintage cookware. And don’t miss stopping off for a decadent hot chocolate at Knoops.

Cobbled Mermaid Street
Cobbled streets in Rye

Rye also has a few literary links to discover. It starred in the book Mapp and Lucia, which was made into a BBC TV series a few years ago. Author EF Benson rechristened the town Tilling for the book but used a lot of real-life locations from around Rye. If you’re a fan you can do a self-guided tour of locations from both the book and its two TV adaptions.

Lamb House in Rye features in the series but was also the home of EF Benson in the 1920s. That’s not its only literary connection either as Henry James also lived there 30 years earlier. It’s now run by the National Trust and is open to visitors in summer (£7.50 adults and £3.75 children). Then finish your day with drinks and dinner at The George in Rye, a stylish gastropub with a grill restaurant which serves local seafood from Rye Bay.

Antique shops on the Strand
Antique shops on the Strand

Sunday morning

Start the day with a coastal walk in Rye Harbour, guaranteed to blow away any cobwebs. Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is a couple of miles out of town. The reserve is a conservation area covering 475 hectares of wetlands, salt marshes and coastline which is home to 4500 different species, including 91 types of bird and rare British wildlife like the water vole.

There’s a visitor’s centre where you can find out more about the reserve and its conservation work. There are also lots of footpaths through the reserve to explore, with three suggested circular routes to choose from which cover either 2 miles, 4.3 miles or 6 miles.

Grey plovers in Rye Harbor Nature Reserve
Grey plovers in Rye Harbor Nature Reserve

The longest route takes in the ruins of Camber Castle, which is part of the reserve. The castle was built by Henry VIII to protect Rye Harbour but wasn’t in use for long before the estuary silted up and it ended up away from the sea. If you’re visiting on the first Saturday of the month in July, August or September you can take a guided tour of the interior (£3 adults, £1.50 concessions, free for children under 16 or English Heritage* members).

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, stop for lunch at the William the Conqueror pub in Rye Harbour. It has lots of cool design touches like decorated oars along the edge of the bar and seaside memorabilia. They serve pub food with a Greek twist, with souvlaki and stifado alongside the gourmet burgers and Sunday roasts. They also have a good range of real ales.

Camber Sands beach in East Sussex
Camber Sands

Sunday afternoon

Take a post-lunch stroll along golden Camber Sands, a two-mile-long, wide sandy stretch of beach backed with giant sand dunes which could easily pass as the Mediterranean on a sunny day. Its the only dune system in East Sussex and its gorgeous good looks mean its been featured in plenty of films and TV series, often passing itself off in desert shots.

Then finish your weekend in Rye by heading eight miles north of town to Chapel Down vineyard. It’s one of the best-known English wine producers and does good sparkling wines and rosés – they also make their own ‘Curious Brewery’ beers and ciders too.

Chapel Down run guided tours of the vineyards and winery at weekends, which take 1 hour 45 minutes and include a tutored wine tasting (£20 per person). Or you can just try some of their wines in their tasting room and pick up a bottle or two to take home with you.

Views on a weekend break in Rye, East Sussex
Rye views

Have you visited Rye? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat?

Looking for somewhere to stay in Rye?*

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How to spend a weekend in Rye in East Sussex, with tips on what to see, do, eat and drink on a 48-hour escape to the pretty historic coastal town | Things to do in Rye East Sussex | Rye weekend guide | Seaside weekends in the UK | What to do in RyeA guide to spending a weekend in Rye, East Sussex, with tips on what to see, do, eat and drink in this a 48-hour itinerary, including cobbled streets, castles, beaches and more | Things to do in Rye East Sussex | Rye weekend guide | Seaside weekends in the UK | What to do in Rye

*Thanks to Cadborough Cottages for hosting me in Rye. This article contains affiliate links where I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    theRedPhoneBox (@redphoneboxblog)
    July 28, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    another gorgeous place!:)

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 29, 2016 at 11:55 am

      It’s a beauty isn’t it!

  • Reply
    Darlene
    July 28, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    So much history!! A great itinerary and fabulous photos.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 29, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      We get so spoilt for history here in the UK it’s easy to take it for granted but 1066 is an extra special date – one we all learn at school!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    July 28, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    Lovely to see my local towns through the eyes of a visitor – great post Lucy. I’m biased but the area makes the perfect weekend break!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 29, 2016 at 11:57 am

      It certainly does. And it was lovely to see your part of the world – we’ll have to get you to Cheltenham next!

  • Reply
    Familclub Invitations
    July 28, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    So many Fond Memories of Rye – also Aylesford on the Medway for a Quaint weekend getaway Try the little gem Pub or Malta Inn then go on a River Cruise and a real hidden secret tour the Allington Castle

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 29, 2016 at 11:56 am

      Thanks for the tips – it’s not an area I knew at all before this trip but sounds like there’s a lot more to see.

  • Reply
    Browsing the Atlas
    July 28, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    What a beautifully, quaint town. Especially Mermaid Street. It’s exactly how I imagined a small town in England to look.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 29, 2016 at 11:55 am

      Mermaid Street really could be the set for a film, it’s unbelievably scenic!

  • Reply
    Laura
    July 30, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    I love Rye. I’d recommend a trip to Dungeness, which is just down the road – incredibly beautiful and desolate place.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 31, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      Sounds great – we only had a short time on this trip but will hopefully be back soon and will check it out.

  • Reply
    Tilly
    August 31, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    Looks beautiful! Your weekend guides are great! It’s a long way to go to Rye just for a weekend from where I am, but it’d be a definite part of a week long itinerary to East Sussex.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 1, 2016 at 9:43 am

      Thanks so much – I do love a good weekend trip! I’ve got a Canterbury guide too and am heading down to White Cliffs Country this month so maybe you could do an East Sussex/Kent combo?

    • Reply
      Andrew Doe
      June 3, 2021 at 3:18 pm

      The George has been closed for many months following a huge fire.

  • Reply
    Dara
    February 25, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    So glad I found your blog! Planning a trip to rye next weekend and Amsterdam next month … not to mention marakesh is right up there so think I’ve stumbled across a great resource. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 28, 2018 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks Dara that’s great to hear! Hope it comes in useful and hope you have fab trips to Rye and Amsterdam too.

  • Reply
    Tanishq
    May 3, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    Rye definitely is on top of the list of places i’d like to visit once. You wrote it beautifully. Wish it had never ended.;).
    Thanks a lot Lucy!!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 14, 2019 at 4:13 pm

      Thanks, it is such a charming place!

  • Reply
    Jana
    December 1, 2019 at 2:19 am

    Had the best fish and chips of my life in Rye…way back in the ‘90s…And I believe we stayed in a b&b on Mermaid St. So magical…glad to see it hasn’t changed much!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 12, 2019 at 9:39 am

      No it’s definitely still kept its charm – glad to bring back some good memories!

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