Looking for an escape to Sussex but want to discover pastures new? An area famous for its spectacular stretch of coastline, romantic moated castles and the rolling hills and pretty villages of the South Downs National Park, Sussex is also home to some fabulous underrated places that are a little more off the beaten path. Want to know which lesser-known hidden gems are worth a visit?
Here are a few that you may love.
Catch an aria at Glyndebourne Opera House
While underrated is perhaps not the best word to describe this glorious opera house, not many people realise that this rural delight, set on a country estate in the middle of the South Downs, is actually accessible to non-members. A few miles out of the historic town of Lewes, in the tiny village of Glynde, this essential part of the summer season delivers excellent performances across both a summer festival and an autumn tour. Dress up for the summer operas and dine on the lawn with a picnic filled with sumptuous local produce or enjoy a winter aria or two at one of the tour performances, best enjoyed after an early supper in Lewes beforehand.
Whizz through the trees at Bedgebury National Pinetum
Tucked away in the East Sussex countryside, Bedgebury Pinetum and Forest is a breath of fresh air for townies and country folk alike. Mile upon mile of walking set amongst a magical world of conifers awaits lucky visitors, or perhaps you’d like to hire a bike and whizz through some of the 12,000 trees peering down at you from the skies. Cool off with a slice of sticky cake or a cream tea at the on-site Bedgebury Café which has breathtaking views across the Pinetum. Pop into the historic village of Goudhurst afterwards for a wander along its tiny high street, which tumbles down a steep hill from the village church at the top, to a pretty duck-filled pond where you can spend a few moments quietly watching the world go by.
Uncover wartime secrets at Newhaven Fort
Heading along the coast towards Brighton, stop awhile in Newhaven to visit this mysterious Victorian fort, built in the 1860s to defend the harbour. Explore the historic tunnels which have been guarding important maritime secrets for over 150 years, head up onto the ramparts and gun emplacements for amazing sea views and finish with a walk around the museum – the realistic air-raid recreation in the Blitz Bomb Shelter is one that comes highly recommended. You may even catch some open-air theatre or a cinema screening if you are in the area for a few days as the fort also doubles up as a quirky events venue.
Take to the skies in a Spitfire
What could be better than spending an afternoon gazing over Sussex from the clear blue skies above? If you are up for a bit of adventure, how does doing a series of loops and rolls over the English Channel in a Spitfire grab you? Leaving from Boultbee Flight Academy Goodwood in West Sussex, the only recognised Spitfire flight school in the world, you’ll fly in the very same space that the Battle of Britain was fought over 75 years ago. You’ll take in the Needles on the Isle of Wight and the iconic white cliffs at Beachy Head – you can even take the controls if you are up for it! A warning – this is pretty pricey for a day out so is best left for a special occasion, though there’s a much cheaper flight simulator experience also available where you can keep your feet firmly on the ground!
Book a guided tour of Herstmonceux Castle
Slightly overshadowed by its big Sussex sister, Bodiam Castle, with its glorious moat and impressive stone medieval towers, Herstmonceux should still feel mighty proud of what it can offer visitors. Set in 300 acres of luscious Sussex landscape, it offers guided tours of the castle where you can find out the fascinating history of this red-brick 15th-century fort as well as excellent events throughout the year. Finish with a stroll in the themed and formal gardens before heading into the pretty village for a mouthwatering cream tea with crumbly warm scones and local strawberry preserve. But that’s not all – Herstmonceux has something in its grounds that Bodiam doesn’t – read on to find out what…
Stargaze under dark skies at the Observatory Science Centre
As you whizz up the sweeping drive to the castle, your attention will be drawn to six huge green domes, dominating the skyline and enticing you in to discover this amazing observatory and its educational science centre. Browse the exhibits and discover the telescopes by day, and if you really want something special, book a Star Search course or attend the Night Sky Photography course, which will take you on a romantic journey amongst the starry dark skies of East Sussex.
Discover centuries of history at Pevensey Castle
Uncover over 16 centuries of history and intrigue at the English Heritage ruins of Pevensey Castle. Originally a Roman fort, it was refortified by the Normans after William the Conqueror landed there in 1066 – you can also see the spot of the defeat against King Harold if you so wish at the majestic Battle Abbey, 10 miles away. Explore the ruins, head down into the dark dungeon and check out the brand-new museum and exhibition. The beach is only a 5-minute drive away too, so head down for a paddle and some fish and chips if you want to see one of the most beautiful sunsets in the south.
Walk the historic streets of Lewes
Less busy than its cosmopolitan city chum Brighton, the county town of Lewes really gives visitors an insight into Sussex’ interesting past. This historic town has an enticing olde-worlde feel with its narrow alleyways and old buildings that could be straight out of a storybook, all taking you back to times gone by. Take a tour of Anne of Cleves House and Lewes Castle and browse the many fantastic antique and book shops that the town is famous for. If you are going to be in Lewes during bonfire season, you can’t miss the iconic Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations. The most dramatic of the festivities across Sussex by far, with costumed participants marching along the streets chanting and burning effigies, it will certainly be a bonfire night that you will never forget.
For somewhere to stay in Sussex, have a peek at the gorgeous cottages at Bramley and Teal. Specialists in the Kent and Sussex area, they have a wide range of holiday cottages in Sussex, from cosy country cottages for two, to luxury beach houses for groups of friends and family.