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13 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Hastings

Written by Bryan Dearsley
Oct 7, 2019

Hastings is an attractive English seaside resort town overlooking the English Channel that's popular for its sporting and cultural events, as well as for its association with the famous Battle of Hastings of 1066 (an event that in fact took place at Battle, six miles away). Although its importance as one of the Cinque Ports ended due to a series of destructive floods and repeated attacks by the French at the end of the 14th century, the town experienced another heyday in the 19th century when it became a tourist destination for the higher classes of society, taking Brighton as its model.

Hastings is also a great place to enjoy some walking, whether exploring the beautiful historic town center-a pastime made famous by the excellent Foyle's War TV show-or hiking along the picturesque coastal landmarks, including the famous Hastings Pier.

Top recommended things to do include taking the East Hill Cliff Railways, the UK's steepest funicular railway, up to Hastings Country Park, with its incredible views over the English Channel as well as access to some 850-plus acres of nature reserve to explore. To learn more about this and other things to do, check out our comprehensive list of the top-rated tourist attractions in Hastings.

1. The Net Shops and Hastings Fishermen's Museum

Net shops and Hastings Fishermen's Museum

A row of "net shops," traditional tall sheds or "lofts" used by fishermen to store their nets-has been preserved in the old town of Hastings. Standing testament to the town's long history as a fishing port, some 50 of these remarkable wooden structures on the "Stade," the old town's shingle beach, are notable for the black tar painted on them as weatherproofing, a process known as weatherboarding that is common throughout East Sussex.

Be sure to also visit the Fisherman's Chapel in Rock-a-Nore Road. Built in the 19th century, it now houses the Hastings Fishermen's Museum with displays relating to the town's maritime history-including a "lugger" boat-and the development of the local fishing industry.

Also worth visiting, the Shipwreck Museum features a variety of artifacts from English Channel shipwrecks, some dating as far back as the 1600s.

Address: Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings

Official site: www.ohps.org.uk/hastings-fishermans-museum

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Hastings

2. Hastings Castle

Hastings Castle

The remains of Hastings Castle, the first fortification to be built after William the Conqueror's invasion in 1066, can be easily explored on the town's West Hill-and it's a fun tourist attraction to get to via the town's second funicular railway, the The West Hill Cliff Railway.

In its almost 1,000-year history, this formidable fortress has withstood violent weather, coastal erosion (large portions of the castle have fallen into the sea over the centuries), as well as 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 around this historic period.

Address: Castle Hill Road, Hastings

3. Hastings Old Town

Old Town

Below Hastings Castle, the elegant curving buildings along Pelham Crescent 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 church of the same name.

Next to Hastings Pier-a stunning edifice constructed in 1872 and rebuilt in 2016 after a devastating fire-stands the Conqueror's Stone, at which William the Conqueror is said to have taken his first meal after setting foot on English soil. It's here you'll also find the "Stade," the town's main beach, a pleasant place for a spot of sunbathing or a picnic.

4. 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield

1066 Battle of Hastings: Abbey and Battlefield

The delightful little market town of Battle, 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 fell. The 223-foot Benedictine abbey church, consecrated in 1094, was demolished during Henry VIII's rule.

The home built on the ruins eventually became a girls' school (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 (1120) remain particularly impressive today, and the excellent visitor center contains many fascinating displays of the battle and its impact (audioguides are available).

Location: Butter Cross, High Street, Battle

Official site: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/1066-battle-of-hastings-abbey-and-battlefield/

Battle - Battle Abbey Map
Battle - Battle Abbey Map

5. Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve

Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve

Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve includes a variety of interesting scenery to explore, 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, which houses a wealth of information about the wildlife and geology of the area.

Location: 148 Martineau Ln, Hastings

Official site: www.hastings.gov.uk/countryside-nature/naturereserves/naturereserves-hastings/hcp/

6. Hastings Contemporary & Hastings Museum

Hastings Contemporary in the foreground with the East Hill Lift in the distance | VSjax / photo modified

Formerly known as the Jerwood Gallery, the recently opened Hastings Contemporary features a sizable permanent collection of 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.

If art's your thing, the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery should also be included in your Hastings 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, an Englishman who became famous for his exploration and adoption of Native American cultures.

Address: Rock-A-Nore Rd, Hastings

Official site: www.hastingscontemporary.org

7. Bateman's

Bateman's | Tony Hisgett / photo modified

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

Official site: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/batemans

8. Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle

Believed to have been built in the late 14th century, Bodiam Castle-on the northern slopes of the Rother Valley, eight miles northeast of Battle-is widely regarded as one of the most romantic castle ruins in England. Never having had to endure a siege, it has, as a result, 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, 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

Official site: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodiam-castle

9. Rye

Rye

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, including 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.

10. Smugglers Adventure

Smugglers Adventure | Cory Doctorow / photo modified

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 (and popular for its Thomas & Friends train and Hello Kitty themed rides), and the Blue Reef Aquarium with its displays of aquatic creatures. Kids will also enjoy the The Hastings Miniature Railway, which offers a chance to ride a narrow-gauge railway on the seafront.

Location: St. Clement's Caves, Hastings

Official site: www.smugglersadventure.co.uk

11. Herstmonceux Castle

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 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

Official site: www.herstmonceux-castle.com

12. Bexhill-on-Sea

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 and 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).

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. It's 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

Official site: www.bexhillmuseum.co.uk

13. Pevensey Castle

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 castle walls 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

Official site: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/pevensey-castle/

Where to Stay in Hastings for Sightseeing

In order to ensure you're able to make the most of your Hastings travel itinerary, check out our list of the top-rated places to stay near the town's most popular tourist attractions.

  • Luxury Hotels: Offering a pleasant boutique-style luxury stay on a 38-acre estate, Bannatyne Spa Hotel features chic rooms and suites, a great restaurant, and access to a health club. Also highly recommended, Zanzibar International Hotel Hastings offers comfortable stays in classy rooms (many with sea views), in-room spa services, and a free breakfast. Looking for a traditional English B&B experience? Then Anne's House, set in a pleasant Victorian-era building with cozy bedrooms, is just the ticket.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: A great choice of mid-range hotel, The White Rock Hotel is located minutes from the downtown core and beachfront and comes with bright rooms (request a sea view), a café with outdoor seating, and a games room. Offering clean, comfortable rooms and suites, The Lindum features balconies and sea views. The Sea Spirit Guesthouse is another good B&B-style offering, complete with adult-only rooms, a full-English breakfast, and free parking.
  • Budget Hotels: Those on a budget who still want a quality Hastings accommodation experience should check into the OYO Eagle House Hotel, close to all amenities and offering a choice of rooms and suites and complimentary breakfast. The quaint Rutland Guest House is another good option and includes spacious rooms and a great breakfast. Consider the Town House Rooms, too, for its handy location, great rates, and on-site restaurant.

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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.

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