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East Sussex

Sharing many of its landscape features with its westerly neighbour, East Sussex is blessed with great towns and cities, a glorious coastline along its southern border, and beautiful countryside inland, much of which is the unaffected and protected landscape of High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But whichever area you choose to explore, East Sussex has something for everyone.

Days out in East Sussex

With a variety of days out in East Sussex, a visit to this home county means experiencing lush countryside, historic towns, and cool seaside resorts and beaches galore. East Sussex may be famous for the city of Brighton, but with plenty of other things to do in Lewes, Eastbourne, Hastings, and beyond, there’s plenty of culture, history, and entertainment for everyone.

In the county town of Lewes, there’s the famous Lewes Flea Market, with a wonderful collection of knick-knacks, collectables, curios, and just about everything else too. After a steep climb, take in the views from the medieval Lewes Castle and visit the Barbican House Museum next door.

As a buzzing city packed with activities and things to do, Brighton ticks all the boxes. Discover an array of underwater creatures in the Sea Life Centre, or get a seagull’s eye view of the city and beyond with a 450ft trip upwards in the British Airways i360. And a visit to Royal Pavilion is a must, together with the Museum and Art Gallery in its gardens. And don’t miss the Upside Down House on the seafront for a fun experience, before enjoying Brighton’s famous beach and 1,722ft pier.

Eastbourne lets you explore the Museum of 200-year-old fortress Eastbourne Redoubt, or discover some of the town’s most celebrated figures on a Blue Plaque Heritage Trail. And the surrounding countryside is home to the Long Man of Wilmington, a figure carved into the chalky soil of the South Downs.

And of course, Hastings is filled with history – of every kind. After exploring the eclectic shops in Hastings Old Town, visit the fascinatingly gruesome True Crime Museum or the Shipwreck Museum with artefacts lost at sea through the ages. And Hastings Castle is the ideal place to learn all about the 1066 battle.

Beyond the towns, head into the countryside and discover the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Take time out to see some of the many towns and villages, explore the wildlife, and enjoy some of its many footpaths, bridleways, and cycle trails.

Topography, geology, and climate

Like its Sussex neighbour, East Sussex is mainly rural countryside and is dominated by the High Weald AONB. But the coastline and Jurassic and early Cretaceous rock give East Sussex a mix of land qualities and soil types.

The High Weald AONB in the north and central areas is almost exclusively made up of loam and clay soils which are of medium acidity, but very fertile. There’s also a high level of wetter, base-rich loam and clay soils, alongside smaller areas of high acid sand and loam soils. At the base of the South Downs, running down to the coast from Brighton to Eastbourne, the soil is shallow and lime-rich.

As with other southern counties, East Sussex weather is seasonably mild. Temperatures over the summer months average 18ºC (64ºF), while winter temperatures are also warm, averaging 6ºC (42ºF). Rainfall can vary between coastal areas and inland, but long-term annual averages for East Sussex are around 800mm (31”) across the county.

East Sussex’s parks and gardens

Together with the East Sussex coast and countryside, the county has a wealth of significant and impressive gardens to visit and enjoy as well. With a choice of formal and informal gardens, including the work of some notable garden designers, we list just a few that offer a relaxed, family day out and inspiration for gardeners and horticulturalists.

East Sussex - North and West

National Trust property, Sheffield Park Gardens, near Uckfield, features over 250-acres of beautiful, sweeping landscape. Originally designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and later added to by Humphrey Repton, there’s naturally plenty to see.

Four sweeping lakes, together with fantastic displays of seasonal plants and shrubs, including sweeping daffodils, bluebells, rhododendrons and azaleas, sit naturally together alongside both native and non-native mature trees. But the best way to explore is to take one of the many walks through the woodland and around the surrounding parkland - perfect for dog walking!

Merriments Garden in Hurst Green is a glorious RHS Partner garden that covers 4-acres and is a real hidden gem. With wonderfully themed borders displaying plenty of seasonal colours, plus ornamental trees, shrubs, and plants, mostly grown in their own nursery, this relaxed garden offers both formal and informal spaces which are a joy to visit and explore at any time of the year.

Ticehurst, near Wadhurst, is home to Pashley Manor Gardens. An award-winning, 11-acre site which shows exactly what it’s been touted as ‘one of the finest gardens in England’. Gorgeous, wildlife-friendly, seasonal garden ‘rooms’, sweeping borders featuring perennials and annuals, together with a rose walk, walled garden and vegetable garden. And renowned for amazing displays of tulips and dahlias, Pashley Manor makes for a wonderful day out.

East Sussex - South and East

Down near Lewes, the Charleston Trust Garden in Firle was once home to the Bloomsbury group of writers. Now its wonderful walled garden and grounds are open to the public to enjoy. While naturally at its finest throughout summer, the Mediterranean-style garden is full of blossoms and features spectacular herbaceous borders, as well as roses, asters, zinnias, hollyhocks, iris, poppies, and lilies all on display throughout the year.

Down towards the coast, Alfriston Clergy House, near Seaford is a National Trust cottage property featuring garden ‘rooms’ in an Arts and Crafts style. Floral highlights include wonderful displays of roses, perennial and annual herbaceous borders, featuring evening primrose, poppies, geraniums and asters, together with the herb garden, and vegetable garden.

In Rye, on the eastern border with Kent, the Great Dixter Gardens are an absolute must-visit for every keen gardener and horticulturist with plenty to explore. The family home of gardener, Christopher Lloyd, Great Dixter is big on colour with mixed borders aplenty, alongside shrubs, climbers, biennials, perennials, and annuals all together in a huge covering. There’s also an orchard, topiary lawn, exotic garden, vegetable garden and semi-natural pond.