18 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Hastings, East Sussex
Author Bryan Dearsley spent a week exploring attractions in and around the historic town of Hastings in the summer of 2022 while on assignment for PlanetWare.
Hastings is an attractive seaside resort town overlooking the English Channel that's popular for its sporting and cultural events, romantic weekend getaways, and fun family day trips. It's also well known for its association with the famous Battle of Hastings of 1066, a historic event that actually took place six miles away and which reshaped the history of England.
One of the recommended things to do in Hastings is taking the East Hill Cliff Railways, the UK's steepest funicular railway, up to Hastings Country Park. Here, you'll be rewarded with incredible views over the English Channel, as well as have access to some 850-plus acres of nature reserve to explore.
To learn more about these and other places to visit in this corner of East Sussex, check out our comprehensive list of the top attractions and things to do in Hastings, England.
1. Explore the Historic Net Shops & The Stade
A row of "net shops," the traditional tall sheds or "lofts" used by fishermen to store their nets and prevent their rotting, has been perfectly preserved in the Old Town of Hastings.
Standing as tall as three stories, these well-preserved historic buildings are testament to the town's long history as a fishing port.
Remarkably, some 39 of these unique wooden structures survive as listed buildings on the "Stade," the Old Town's shingle beach, where some of them have stood for centuries. And you can't miss them. Notable for the black tar painted on their exteriors as weatherproofing, a process known as weatherboarding that is common throughout East Sussex, they're a must-visit photo op in Hastings.
Address: The Stade, Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings
2. Follow in Foyles' Footsteps in Hastings Old Town
Old Town Hastings was made famous by the excellent Foyle's War TV show, a war-time crime drama set in Hastings. Fans of this hit show will recognize many of the town's landmarks, including the fictional detective's home on Croft Road.
It's a delightful town to explore on foot. Located below Hastings Castle, the elegant curving buildings along Pelham Crescent are in the heart of this historic area and were constructed between 1824 and 1828.
Other architectural highlights include the many half-timbered houses standing in Hastings' narrow High Street and in All Saints Street, with its pretty church of the same name. It's also where you'll find the Stade, one of the best beaches in Sussex and a pleasant place for a spot of sunbathing or a picnic.
3. Visit the Hastings Fishermen's Museum
While exploring the Stade area and its Net Shops, be sure to also visit the Fisherman's Church of St. Nicholas in Rock-a-Nore Road. Built in 1854 to serve the fishing community, this charming building now houses the Hastings Fishermen's Museum.
The museum itself opened in 1954 and is well worth a look for its fascinating displays relating to the town's maritime history, along with numerous photographs from the 1800s. A highlight is the inclusion of a "lugger" boat, the Enterprise, and models and exhibits portraying the development of the local fishing industry. A gift shop is also located on-site, and admission is free.
Address: Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings, East Sussex
4. Explore Hastings Castle and West Hill
The remains of Hastings Castle, the first fortification to be built after William the Conqueror's invasion in 1066, can be easily explored. Perched atop the town's West Hill, it's a fun tourist attraction to get to via the town's second funicular railway, The West Hill Cliff Railway.
In its almost 1,000-year history, this formidable fortress has withstood violent weather and coastal erosion, with large portions of the castle having fallen into the sea over the centuries. It has also endured numerous sieges and even bombing during WWII.
These days, the castle is popular for its still intact "whispering dungeon" and its many displays recounting the incredible events that have taken place in and around it. The castle and its grounds are open to the public from March to October.
Address: Castle Hill Road, Hastings, East Sussex
5. 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield
The delightful little market town of Battle, located just six miles north of Hastings, is well worth exploring for its role in the Battle of Hastings of 1066. To commemorate his victory and in atonement for the bloodshed, William the Conqueror built an abbey on the spot where his rival, King Harold of England, fell. The 223-foot Benedictine abbey church, consecrated in 1094, was later demolished during Henry VIII's rule.
The home built on the ruins eventually became a girls' school, and the tomb of Sir Anthony Browne, the man responsible for tearing it down, can be seen in nearby St. Mary's church. The gatehouse, completed in 1339, and the ruins of the monks' dormitory, dating from 1120, remain particularly impressive.
Today, an excellent visitor center contains many fascinating displays of the battle and its impact. Guided tours are available, and audioguides are provided for those wanting to tour at their own pace. An introductory film sets the scene and provides useful context, and interactive displays are extremely informative and educational.
Location: Butter Cross, High Street, Battle, East Sussex
6. Hike through Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve
Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve includes a variety of interesting scenery to explore. Here you'll find everything from soft sandstone cliffs and cliff top heathland and grassland to ancient woodlands and sustainably managed farmland. At 852 acres, it's one of the largest such nature reserves in England and boasts many excellent walks overlooking some of the most spectacular scenery on the south coast.
Allow plenty of time to do some wildlife spotting, including watching for the many migrating birds that cross the English Channel, as well as the fulmars nesting on the cliffs. One of the largest populations of breeding black redstarts in the UK can also be spotted here. Other notable birdlife includes kestrels, peregrine falcons, and buzzards.
The reserve is also becoming increasingly attractive to barn owls and ravens. Also of interest is a small herd of free-roaming Exmoor ponies. A good place to start your adventure is at the visitor center. Here, you'll find a wealth of information about the wildlife and geology of the area.
Location: 148 Martineau Ln, Hastings, East Sussex
7. Explore Art at Hastings Contemporary
Hastings Contemporary features a sizable permanent collection of important British artworks from the likes of L.S. Lowry, along with regular rotating exhibits. Located overlooking the Stade beach area, the building's dramatic tile-clad design also makes it worth a visit, having drawn inspiration from the old net shops the town is famous for.
There's a special emphasis on works by regional artists, along with displays and information that deals with local cultural history. Self-guided tours are available, along with a variety of interactive exhibits suitable for kids. There's a good café on-site with great views over the beach area from its terrace, plus a well-stocked shop.
Address: Rock-A-Nore Road, Hastings, East Sussex
8. Visit Hastings Museum and Art Gallery
If art's your thing, the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery should also be included in your Hastings travel itinerary. Featuring a collection of nearly 100,000 artifacts related to the art, culture, and history of the area, the museum offers much to see.
Highlights include dioramas of local flora and fauna, a dinosaur gallery, plus a fascinating display related to the famous Hastings-born Grey Owl. The Englishman became famous for his exploration and adoption of Native American cultures.
Address: John's Place, Bohemia Road, Hastings, East Sussex
9. Spend Time on the Beach
Often much quieter than the beaches in other Sussex resort towns, such as Brighton to the west, Hastings' beaches are a delight to explore.
Stretching for a very walkable three miles from the community of Bulverhythe in the west to the Rock-A-Nore cliffs to the east, Hastings' beaches are not only scenic, they're also of immense historical significance, as it was here that William the Conqueror began his conquest of England in 1066.
Easy to access from the town center and its railway station, the main beach (usually simply referred to as Hastings Beach) is centrally situated between Warrior Square and Pelham Place, the Stade Beach, and St. Leonards-on-Sea Beach.
While all are pebble beaches with some sand exposed only at low tide, they're exceptionally wide and usually uncrowded. If you are traveling with kids, be sure to allow them to explore the rock pools for marine life at low tide.
10. Walk to Neighboring St. Leonards-on-Sea
Located next to Hastings and only a short stroll away along the esplanade, St. Leonards-on-Sea is fun to explore. In addition to having its own wide beach, St. Leonards, as it's usually known, offers a variety of interesting landmarks, including the attractive Warrior Square Gardens and a number of other pleasant parks.
Be sure to also take a wander along Norman Road. Running parallel with the waterfront but set a few blocks away from the beach, this fascinating old street still features numerous original old townhomes and storefronts, including many arts and craft studios and stores selling one-of-a-kind goods.
You'll also find the famous Conqueror's Stone in St. Leonards-on-Sea, located directly opposite the Royal Victoria Hotel. Legend has it that it was here that William the Conqueror took his first meal after setting foot on English soil in the 11th century.
11. The Shipwreck Museum
The Shipwreck Museum is also worth visiting when exploring The Stade. One of the top free things to do in Hastings, this small museum features a variety of fascinating artifacts from English Channel shipwrecks, some dating as far back as the 1600s.
Other highlights include displays of fossils found in the vicinity, examples of which can also be purchased in the on-site gift shop. You can also learn more about local shipwrecks that you can actually visit, including a 17th-century warship and trading vessel from the 1700s.
Address: Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings, East Sussex
12. Visit Rudyard Kipling's Bateman's
Rudyard Kipling, one of England's most famous authors, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and author of The Jungle Book and The Man Who Would Be King, lived in beautiful 17th-century Bateman's from 1902 until his death in 1936. Just 11 miles northwest of Hastings in Burwash, this elegant Jacobean house is home to a number of excellent displays, including Kipling's 1928 Rolls Royce, as well as furnishings.
A highlight of a visit is the chance to visit Kipling's study, where he did much of his writing. Also of interest are the beautiful gardens, designed by Kipling and kept just as they were during his lifetime, and numerous easy walking trails across the property and surrounding countryside.
A pleasant tearoom is also on-site. Guided tours of this popular tourist attraction are available, and are recommended.
Address: Bateman's Lane, Burwash, Etchingham, East Sussex
13. Visit Romantic Bodiam Castle
Believed to have been built in the late 14th century, Bodiam Castle is located on the northern slopes of the Rother Valley, eight miles northeast of Battle. It's widely regarded as one of the most romantic castle ruins in England, as it never had to endure a siege and has been able to retain much of its original character.
Surrounded by the River Rother and an unusually wide moat, this square castle with its sturdy, round battlements stands as if on an island and is a delight to explore. Guided tours are available, and a tearoom and shop are located on-site.
Afterwards, walk to nearby Bodiam Station, last stop on the 10-mile-long Kent & East Sussex Railway, for a fantastic heritage train ride all the way to beautiful Tenterden in Kent. For a truly memorable sightseeing adventure, buy a return ticket and be sure to allow plenty of time to explore this quaint town.
Location: Bodiam, Robertsbridge, East Sussex
14. Take a Drive to Rye and Rye Harbor
Located just 12 miles northeast of Hastings, the quaint town of Rye with its bustling harbor is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England. This must-see tourist attraction is home to enchanting cobbled streets such as Mermaid Street, and the town is chock-full of fun things to do.
Highlights include exploring its excellent boutique shops, cafés and tearooms, restaurants, and inns, including The Mermaid Inn, once the haunt of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang.
Also visit Camber Castle. Built by Henry VIII and located in lovely Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, interior guided tours of the castle are available. Rye is a popular hangout for writers, and Lamb House, once the home of Henry James, was featured in the hit BBC mini-series Mapp and Lucia.
Another nearby attraction worthy of a visit is Great Dixter House and Gardens in Northiam. This 15th-century manor house features fascinating furniture and needlework displays and is set in a garden designed by Lutyens that includes a sunken garden, a walled garden, and a lily pond, as well as a topiary.
15. Join in on a Smugglers Adventure
Smugglers and pirates once frequented the Hastings area, and Smugglers Adventure is a fascinating insight into their lives and times that's suitable for families on vacation. Situated in the pre-glacial St. Clements Caves, the adventure includes an opportunity to explore the labyrinth of caves as you uncover the secrets and dangers facing smugglers through more than 70 life-size characters and hands-on displays. Fun tours led by costumed guides are available.
Another fun attraction, the True Crime Museum, also located in the caves, features fascinating displays of crime-related artifacts and case histories. Other popular things to do for families in and around Hastings include visiting Drusillas Park in Alfriston. Considered one of the best small zoos in the country, it's popular for its Thomas & Friends train and Hello Kitty themed rides.
Also worth visiting is the Blue Reef Aquarium with its displays of aquatic creatures. Kids will also enjoy The Hastings Miniature Railway, which offers a chance to ride a narrow-gauge railway on the seafront.
Location: St. Clement's Caves, Hastings, East Sussex
16. Herstmonceux Castle
Splendid Herstmonceux Castle, located just 10 miles west of Battle, is a moated red-brick Renaissance manor house dating from the 15th century that once served as home to the Royal Observatory. Historic equipment from the observatory can still be seen at the Herstmonceux Science Centre.
Today, its 600 acres of beautiful woodland and superb Elizabethan gardens are open to the public throughout the spring and summer. The grounds include excellent trails, a lovely folly next to a lake, and magnificent 300-year-old chestnut trees, as well as seven themed formal gardens.
If possible, time your visit for August when medieval fairs and battles are regularly re-enacted. Other frequent events include concerts and falconry displays. There's also a great tearoom located on-site. Castle guided tours are also available.
Location: Herstmonceux, Hailsham, East Sussex
17. Spend the Day in Bexhill-on-Sea
Beautiful Bexhill-on-Sea is well known as a classic Victorian-era town, as well as for being the first place in Britain to have a motor-racing track.
These and other historic facts are celebrated at the Bexhill Museum. Opened in 1913, it's also home to the excellent Sargent Gallery with its quirky mix of objects from the Stone Age to the Egyptians, as well as displays about the town's links with dinosaurs. There's even an original painting by L.S. Lowry on display.
Also worth a visit is the Technology and Motor Racing Heritage Gallery celebrating Bexhill's role as the birthplace of British Motor racing, including a reproduction steam-driven car and the 1993 world-record-breaking Volta electric car. Bexhill is also home to the lovely De La Warr Pavilion, built in 1935 in the International Modernist style, the first welded steel frame building in the country.
Address: 48 Devonshire Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
18. Pevensey Castle
William the Conqueror is supposed to have landed in the small resort town of Pevensey Bay in 1066 before heading off to conquer England. A mile inland is the pretty village of Pevensey, where the Normans built a castle using the remains of an old Roman fort.
The 20-foot-tall walls of Pevensey Castle are still standing, as are the remains of the dungeons, a gate tower, and mint house. A new museum has been added to the attraction, tracing the site's history all the way back to the 4th century through displays and collections of artifacts. Guided tours are available.
Location: Castle Road, Westham, Pevensey, East Sussex
Map of Attractions & Things to Do in Hastings, East Sussex
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Easy Day Trips from Hastings: Just a short distance away from Hastings is the pleasant seaside town of Brighton, a popular vacation destination for its lovely old town, pier, and promenade. It's a pleasant drive to the Kentish city of Canterbury, famous for its medieval architecture and lovely cathedral. Well-known for its famous white cliffs, Dover boasts one of the country's most picturesque castles, offering incredible views over the English Channel toward France.
Rural Escapes: England offers no end of beautiful scenery and charming small towns to explore. Idyllic English escapes can be enjoyed in the stunning Lake District, popular for its hiking, sailing, and sightseeing opportunities. The Channel Islands are another popular destination for those seeking great countryside to explore, especially on the larger islands of Jersey and Guernsey.
England Vacation Ideas: No visit to England is complete without spending time in the nation's capital of London, famous for its spectacular royal castles, palaces, and numerous museums and galleries. The Midlands' city of Birmingham is also worth exploring, and features a number of great tourist attractions related to its industrial past (it's also close to the popular tourist city of Coventry). The historic city of York is also a must-visit, and offers no end of fun things to do, from visiting its mighty cathedral to walking its old city walls.