Travel

Visiting Sussex – the very best things to see and do in East & West Sussex for 2023

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Sussex has long been considered one of the best places to live in England - tucked away in the in South East of the country, the weather is favourable compared to the rest of the UK and the county rates well in terms of low crime rates and community engagement.

So it is well known that Sussex is an excellent place to live, but what about if you're visiting for a weekend (or perhaps a little longer)? Well, luckily you're also spoilt for choice when it comes to things to see and do for all ages. We've written previously about locations in Sussex such as Worthing, but we wanted to round up a list of our favourite things to do during your time in the whole area, so we've tried to include a good mix of activities and attractions from across Sussex. Let's get into the guide:

Where is Sussex?

In simple terms, Sussex is in southeastern England, along the coastal area of the English Channel to the south of London. You'll rarely hear this area of England referred to as Sussex because, for administrative purposes, the area is divided into the counties of East Sussex and West Sussex.
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What is there to see and do in Sussex?

As you can imagine there is quite a lot to see and do in Sussex, and we couldn't possibly include all of it. But what we've tried to do is include a good mix of well-known favourites and some hidden gems. Let's get into the guide:

Bodiam Castle

This 14th-century castle in East Sussex is arguably the most picturesque castle in the whole of the UK - with a moat surrounding it and a wooden access bridge leading towards the entrance, you can immediately feel how intimidating it must have been to approach this castle as a French attacker many hundreds of years ago. The surrounding landscape is stunning too, with a series of small lakes around the castle. Despite the beauty of the exterior, it is often the interior which leaves visitors speechless, particularly the very rare and totally original wooden portcullis. The castle is now managed by The National Trust and is very well looked after, with lots of information boards within the building explaining the history of the castle, as well as the opportunity to take a tour of the castle at certain times of the year. Plan your visit and learn more here - nationaltrust.org.uk
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Camber Sands

Camber Sands is one of the most iconic beaches in the UK, and if you're visiting East Sussex you should absolutely take the time to explore this great beach. Despite being popular with locals and visitors alike and despite how big it is, the beach is always kept remarkably clean and the facilities there are always in good shape. The beach itself consists of both sand and shingle, but at low tide you've got miles of sand to explore. The only negative would be the price of parking there, which starts at more than £5.
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See the Seven Sisters

Heading to the coast to see chalk cliffs might not sound like a must-do activity, but we think seeing the Seven Sisters might be one of the highlights of your time in East Sussex. These chalk sea cliffs on the English Channel coast are best viewed from the Seven Sisters Country Park, a 280 hectare site which is enjoyable in its own right, with plenty of wildlife to spot and water sports to get involved in. It's actually very easy to get to the park via bus from locations such as Brighton and Eastbourne, so if you're looking for an activity which doesn't require a car then visiting the Seven Sisters should be top of your list. Learn more about Seven Sisters Country Park here - sevensisters.org.uk
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Herstmonceux Castle

Bodiam Castle is a tough act to follow, but we think Herstmonceux Castle just about manages to rival it in grandeur. Dating from the 15th century, it is notable for being a brick-built castle, and is actually one of the oldest significant brick buildings still standing in England. The bricks give the castle a unique, rather striking look. The building is of course stunning to see and walk around, but many visitors are most taken by the estate - 300 acres of carefully managed woodland and gardens are wonderful to explore, particularly the wildflower meadows which are stunning at all times of the year. Plan your visit and learn more here - herstmonceux-castle.com
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Visit Ashdown Forest

Upon visiting Ashdown Forest, you'll probably find it hard to believe that it is situated just 30 miles south of London, because it feels so magical and remote. This forest is perhaps best known for being the location with inspired A.A. Milne, who lived on the edge of the forest, to write the amazing Winnie the Pooh stories. If you're a fan of Pooh then you should absolutely pay a visit to all of the locations within Ashdown Forest which pop up in Milne's stories, such as Pooh Sticks Bridg and Roo’s Sandy Pit. But even if you're not a fan of the little yellow bear and his friends, there is still plenty of reason to visit this forest - with more than 6,500 acres to explore, there is something for everyone here including walking trails to follow and plenty of interesting wildlife to spot. Plan your visit and learn more here - ashdownforest.org
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Battle Abbey & the battlefield

The 1066 Battle of Hastings is arguably the most famous battle in British history, so it would make sense that the locations involved in this battle would be among the most popular visitor attractions in the country. Battle Abbey is one such building, as well as the nearby site of the battlefield. The abbey itself is very beautiful, but it is the Harold Stone within the abbey which is of particular interest - this is the spot where the Saxon king was killed. Plan your visit and learn more here - english-heritage.org.uk
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Devil's Dyke

There are some amazing natural formations to visit in Sussex, and we definitely think that Devil's Dyke is one of the most impressive - this 100 metre deep V-shaped dry valley is the longest, deepest, and widest 'dry valley' in the UK, and is believed to have been formed in the last ice age (although the name 'Devil's Dyke' comes from the myth that the Devil dug the valley to drown the parishioners of the Weald). If you walk around Devil's Dyke you'll find some interesting points, including walls of an Iron Age hill fort and the remains of a Victorian funfair.
It's only 5 miles to the North of Brighton, so if you're looking for an escape from the hustle of the city, a trip to Devil's Dyke is a great idea.
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Great Dixter House & Gardens

This historic house in Northiam is a must-visit for any horticulturists or even those who simply love to explore beautiful gardens. As the family home of gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd, it goes without saying that the gardens here are lovely - not in an over-the-top way, but you can feel the love that was given to these areas, particularly The Nursery which was started by Lloyd in 1954. Here he only included plants he deemed garden-worthy, and you can your own to take home with you. The cafe at Great Dixter House is also great, so it really is a place where you could happily spend an entire day. Plan your visit and learn more here - greatdixter.co.uk
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Bateman's

While we're on the topic of stunning country houses owned by famous writers, we should definitely give a mention to Bateman's. Once the home of beloved writer Rudyard Kipling, this sandstone house in Burwash is an English treasure and for fans of Kipling is a must-visit location. Managed by the National Trust, the house and the gardens are immaculately kept and the staff on site are very helpful and knowledgable. The house is a joy to explore and you really get a sense for Kipling's creativity, plan your visit and learn more here - nationaltrust.org.uk
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Pevensey Castle

Pevensey Castle is different to the other castles in this guide, but no less special to visit. It might not have the grandeur of Bodiam or Herstmonceux, but the historical importance of Pevensey Castle is almost unrivaled - this is where the Norman Conquest of England began. The castle is ruinous, but this shouldn't come as a surprise considering it was founded in the 4th century and has seen thousands of years of history. However, despite the age and the state of the castle, there is still plenty to explore including the dungeons which are especially interesting (and eerie). It's only half an hour drive from Bodiam Castle and visiting the 2 castles one after another can make for a special experience. Plan your visit and learn more here - english-heritage.org.uk
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Chichester Cathedral

Regarded as one of the most impressive religious buildings in the UK, Chichester Cathedral is not to be missed. Built more than 900 years ago, this cathedral in the heart of the city has been an important site for hundreds of years since Saint Wilfred brought Christianity to Sussex. The building is undeniably stunning from the outside, but a walk inside is not to be missed either, particularly to see the Chichester Sculptures. These sculptures are amongst the most important in church craftsmanship, telling the stories of history such as the raising of Lazarus. Plan your visit and learn more about this cathedral here - chichestercathedral.org.uk
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Tangmere Museum

This brilliant museum in Tangmere is an absolute must-visit if you're a fan of historic aircraft and memorabilia related to aviation. With a selection of items dating from the First World War all the way to the present day, Tangmere Museum is a fascinating insight into the history of military aircraft. The layout of the museum is quite quirky and not dry at all, plus the interactive exhibits make it a great day out for young and old alike. Adult tickets with Gift Aid donation will cost you just £11.00, which is a bargain considering you could easily spend several hours here. Plan your visit here - tangmere-museum.org.uk
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Arundel Castle

You've probably noticed by now that Sussex is home to quite a few grand castles, and Arundel Castle is an excellent example. This castle is so grand that it has been used as a double for Windsor Castle in many tv shows and movies, including the 1994 film 'The Madness of King George'. Originally built in the late 11th century, the castle has been heavily restored but has retained much of its medieval charm and many original features, including the impressive motte (an artificial mound which is more than 100 feet high) and the gatehouse (which was constructed in 1070). A walk around the castle and grounds is highly recommended, and The Keep is a particular highlight for many visitors. Plan your visit and learn more here - arundelcastle.org
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Wakehurst

In the heart of Sussex you'll find Wakehurst, an amazing mansion surrounded by acres of incredibly pretty land. At the heart of Wakehurst is Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, which is the world’s largest store of seeds from wild plant species and one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. A trip here is all about getting up close and personal with an incredible collection of plants and flowers - there is more than 500 acres to explore. You could easily spend an entire day here exploring the gardens, woodlands and the nature reserve. We highly recommend you visit, learn more here - kew.org
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Brighton Beach & Pier

There is something quintessentially British about Brighton Pier & Beach - slightly cheesy, lots of fun, and steeped in a surprising amount of history. We've included lots of things to see and do in this guide which are quite serious, so it might be nice to round of your trip to Sussex with a bit of fun. This is regarded as the biggest attraction in the South East and is an iconic structure. If we're being honest it can be a bit cheesy during the day, but there is no denying that when it is lit up at night, the pier is something special.
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Seaford - an underrated seaside gem

Seaford in East Sussex is very underrated as a town to visit, and we're sure that the locals like it that way. Here are some of the top things to see and do during your time in Seaford:

Seaford Museum of Local History

At the Eastern end of the Seaford seafront, you'll find Martello Tower no.74. You might not think it, but inside this interesting structure, you'll find an entire museum - the Seaford Museum of Local History. Established in 1979, this museum is packed with information about Seaford's history as a Cinque Port, and also plenty of other interesting exhibits. An entire Victorian street has been recreated in the museum, and shopfronts have been assembled inside the museum including a toy shop, a chemist, and a general store. The unique shape of the Martello Tower gives the museum a very quirky layout, and every inch of the museum is crammed with fascinating information. The museum is entirely run by volunteers who are friendly and knowledgeable. It's a must-visit location during your time in Seaford, and there are a few surprises that we won't spoil for you. Learn more about the museum here - seafordmuseum.co.uk
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Seaford Beach

Seaford Beach might be one of the most underrated beaches in the whole of England - it manages to be both very peaceful and very well-placed near the town centre, which is a rarity in most parts of the country. It's a mostly shingle beach, so not necessarily the type of beach you'd get a towel or dryrobe out on but certainly great for a long stroll. There is actually a walk you can do from here all the way to Seven Sisters and then on to Beachy Head, which if you have the time is very enjoyable. Parking is free and you'll find a few kiosks selling snacks and coffee, but not so many as to disturb the tranquility.
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See the Seven Sisters (& Cuckmere Haven)

Heading to the coast to see chalk cliffs might not sound like a must-do activity, but we think seeing the Seven Sisters might be one of the highlights of your time in East Sussex. These chalk sea cliffs on the English Channel coast are best viewed from the Seven Sisters Country Park, a 280 hectare site which is enjoyable in its own right, with plenty of wildlife to spot and water sports to get involved in. It's actually very easy to get to the park via bus from locations such as Brighton and Eastbourne, so if you're looking for an activity which doesn't require a car then visiting the Seven Sisters should be top of your list. Cuckmere Haven, which is lovely in its own right, is a great spot for spectacular views of the cliffs. Learn more about Seven Sisters Country Park here - sevensisters.org.uk
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Cupani Garden

At the edge of Seaford, you'll find Cupani Garden, a hidden gem which is very enjoyable to wander around. The garden itself is immaculately well-kept and includes a beautiful variety of flowers and plants which fill the air with all sorts of pleasant scents, but even if you're not a gardening enthusiast, a visit to Cupani Garden is recommended for the food. Everything is homemade, and the cakes are easily the best sweet treat you'll enjoy during your time in Seaford. The gardens are closed for 2023 but will reopen in 2024. See the exact location of the garden here. Learn more here - cupanigarden.com
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Driftwood Garden

If one lovely garden wasn't enough for you, Seaford is also home to another excellent garden to visit - Driftwood Garden. Similar to Cupani, you'll find an eclectic mix of plant life and flowers here, but you'll also find a collection of very interesting sculptures and statues, as well as some water features. Amazingly, all of the money raised for admissions and the food served here (which is very delicious) goes to charity, so you can enjoy the garden and raise money for a good cause. The garden will open this year in June, learn more here - driftwoodbysea.co.uk
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Crypt Gallery

A trip to a gallery doesn't always sound like a must-do activity, but trust us when we say that Crypyt Gallery is well worth a look. It's a small gallery, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in atmosphere and setting. Much of the gallery is based within a below-ground crypt, and you'll also find a medieval undercroft which is believed to date from the mid-13th century. The space itself is worth visiting in its own right, but we don't doubt that you'll also enjoy admiring the excellent art and photography on display. Learn more here - thecryptgallery.com
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Lewes - an underrated gem with plenty to see and do

When you think of towns in Sussex, Lewes might not be top of your list. But we think it should be! It's a lovely historical town with plenty to see and do, here are some of the highlights:

Lewes Castle (& Museum)

This impressive castle stands to the North of the high street in Lewes, and is an absolute must-visit location during your time in the town. The unique look of the castle is of much interest - not only is the castle constructed from local limestone and flint blocks, but it's also unique because it is a motte and bailey design castle with two mottes (the only other castle like this in England is Lincoln Castle).

 

The building itself is impressive and interesting, but we suspect it is the views from the top of the castle which will really stick with you. Next door to the castle is the Museum of Sussex Archaeology, which is full of interesting artefacts dating from prehistoric to medieval Sussex

 

Learn more here - sussexpast.co.uk
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Anne of Cleves' House

This 16th-century timber-framed house in Lewes is quite incredible to wander around and is definitely worth a visit. Not only is it steeped in fascinating history, with the building being part of Queen Anne's annulment settlement from King Henry VIII, but it's also very beautifully made. The house is small and great to explore, but the garden is equally as lovely - it's a proper Tudor garden which is especially fantastic on a sunny day. You can get a combined ticket for this house and the castle which is a great pairing, learn more here - sussexpast.co.uk
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Pells Pool

Going to an outdoor pool might not be everyone's cup of tea, but Pells Pool has a fascinating history and is worth a visit even if you don't fancy a swim. It's actually the oldest documented freshwater outdoor public swimming pool in the United Kingdom, with the original structure being built in 1860. Obviously it has been modernized somewhat, but Pells Pool does retain a bit of that Victorian Charm, and even the concept of a public outdoor pool is quite old-fashioned. We also love that the an pool is spring-fed and that it is unheated, so be warned it can get pretty chilly! Booking is essential for visiting, learn more on the Pells Pool website here - pellspool.org.uk
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Monk's House

Owned and managed by The National Trust, this rather unassuming building is actually very interesting to visit. It was the home of Virginia Woolf, who is regarded as one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors. Exploring Monk's House is a fascinating insight into the mind of Woolf, and for fans of the writer it can be quite an exhilarating experience. The house is small but very well maintained as you'd expect from the National Trust, and as a 17th-century piece of architecture, it is very impressive. So even if you're not familiar with Woolf's work, we'd still recommend a visit. Learn more here - nationaltrust.org.uk
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Glyndebourne

Similar to Pells Pool, Glyndebourne might sound like a place you want to visit at first. It's a 1200-seater opera house, and it also has a restaurant. But Glyndebourne is regarded as one of the best things to do around Lewes for good reason - it is quite a special day out. The house itself is very impressive and interesting to explore. It is Grade II listed and although the exact age of the building is unknown, some of the architecture leads experts to believe that it dates from the early 16th century. Once you've explored the house a trip round the gardens is recommended as they're stunning and very well-kept.
The house is well-known for hosting the Glyndebourne Festival Opera every year, a very popular event. Learn more and plan your visit here - glyndebourne.com
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Ridgeview Wine Estate

If you're in Lewes then you're only about 10 miles away from Ridgeview Wine Estate, a great place to visit for wine enthusiasts. English sparkling wine is criminally underrated, even in this country (we seem to prefer to buy sparkling wines from elsewhere in the world, despite the plethora of excellent options we can find on our doorstep). So if you're looking to sample English sparkling wine, you can't do much better than a trip to Ridgeview Wine Estate - you'll be a convert! Learn more and plan your visit here - ridgeview.co.uk
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Southover Grange Gardens

We've mentioned a few gardens so far which are worth visiting in Lewes, but it is probably fair to say that Southover Grange Gardens are the pick of the bunch. Despite being in the middle of the town, the gardens feel like a peaceful oasis away from the bustle of the streets. The gardens are immaculately kept and there is plenty to see, including rare trees and interesting sculptures. The food served here is also excellent, with delicious sandwiches and cakes available from the café. Overall it's an absolute must-visit location during your time in Lewes, learn more here - lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk
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Hire push bikes and e-bikes in the East of Sussex

The East of Sussex is one of the best areas in the country for cycling, with lots of excellent routes and beautiful areas to explore on two wheels. If you haven't got your own bike with you and you'd like to hire either a push bike or an electric bike so you can explore East Sussex, here are some great options you can try:
  • Sussex Bike Hire - based in Seaford, you can hire a mountain bike for £50 per day and an e-bike for £63 per day
  • Maverick Boat Adventures - best known as a boat hire company in Newhaven, you can actually hire electric bikes from this company too. It'll cost you £70 per day and you'll be given a Lapierre Overvolt HT 5.4 Electric Hardtail mountain bike, which is a great e-bike
  • Rye Bay E-bikes - a family-run business in Seaford with an excellent range of e-bikes to hire, prices start from £50 per day, but you can rent an e-bike for an entire weekend and it costs just £120
  • Cuckmere Cycle Co - you can hire both mountain bikes and e-bikes from this place, a mountain bike will cost £60 per day and an e-bike will cost £70 per day, you can hire an Haibike E-Bike which has a powerful Bosch motor and is great for tricky terrain

Where to stay in Lewes

If you're looking to stay in Lewes then you've got plenty of excellent accommodation options, from small B&Bs to chain hotels. Bective is a highly rated B&B which is only a short drive away in Lindfield. You've also got the White Lodge which is a lovely B&B right in Lewes with excellent Tripadvisor reviews. In the town centre you'll also find a Premier Inn which is highly rated, and a number of independent hotels such as The Berwick Inn and Deans Place. For a full list Booking.com is helpful - booking.com
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The Sussex Ouse Valley Way

If you're looking to follow a route which will take you through some of the prettiest parts of Sussex, then we highly recommend you follow the Sussex Ouse Valley Way. Opened in 2005, this 42 mile route follows the River Ouse from its source close to Lower Beeding in the High Weald to the sea at Seaford Bay. We wanted to publish a guide about this route for anyone hoping to follow it in 2023, with a breakdown of what there is to see and do along the way. Let's get into it:
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Where do you pass along the Sussex Ouse Valley Way?

It's worth saying that, like many of these walking routes, there is not necessarily a "right" way of following the Sussex Ouse Valley Way, and that many versions of the route exist. Having said that, typically the route goes from North to South, starting about half a mile south of Lower Beeding in West Sussex and finishing once you reach the English Channel at Seaford Bay. You pass a number of interesting towns and villages as you pass along the route, here is a breakdown of each location and what you might like to see if you have time to stop:

Section 1 - Lower Beeding to Handcross

This first section of the way is short but a great start to the route. The first stop of note that you'll find on the Sussex Ouse Valley Way is Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, a very interesting attraction which includes a dollhouse museum and a Victorian rock garden. Keep walking towards Plummers Plain and Ashfold Crossways, and you'll eventually reach Handcross.
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Section 2 - Handcross to North Chailey

As you leave Handcross, the first stop of note is Nymans, a National Trust owned Grade II listed house and Gardens. The grounds are delightful to explore and the ancient woodland includes a stunning lake and plenty of birdlife to spot. From here, you follow the route into the tiny but very pretty village of Staplefield, where you'll spot plenty of rams and horses. A few miles after Staplefield is the first major stop of the Sussex Ouse Valley Way, the Ouse Valley Viaduct, a truly stunning structure. You can get underneath it to appreciate the incredible design. It's about 3 miles from here to Lindfield, a great place to stop for something to eat, or you can keep going to North Chailey. Red House common is the largest of the Chailey commons and offers stunning views if you want to stop and look before heading into North Chailey.
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Section 3 - North Chailey to Lewes

It's about 8 miles to Lewes from North Chailey, and you walk through plenty of pretty villages with lots of opportunities to enjoy some food and drink if you want to stop along the way. Having said that, Lewes is a town with plenty of amenities and is the ideal location for a stop and a stock up before the long walk to Seaford.

Section 4 - Lewes to Seaford

Starting in Lewes, cross the River Ouse in the town centre and follow the road to Glynde, where you could stop for a look at Glynde Place, a very impressive 16th century country house. From Glynde you can walk to West Firle, which has some good options for lunch before a long walk to Bishopstone. Leave some time to explore and enjoy Seaford when you eventually reach the end of the way, particularly the beach if the weather allows for it.
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What should you be aware of before heading on the Sussex Ouse Valley Way?

The route is actually pretty well signposted, so although a GPS map could be helpful, it isn't really needed. You can very easily cut sections of the walk out as you see fit, and you've also got options for taking public transport along the route if you'd like a rest. Make sure to dress appropriately and plan for things to go wrong!

What should you be aware of before visiting Sussex?

You've probably realised by this point that there is plenty to see within Sussex, and unless you're spending a few weeks in the area you'll probably struggle to see all of it. Our advice would be to do your research beforehand to see which sights seem up your street, and then to plan your trip around those. Because despite the brilliance of the locations we've included in our guide, many of them are based in towns and villages which are often overlooked.
Hopefully, this guide has inspired you to visit this amazing part of England. If you've already ticked Sussex off your list then why not check out some of our other guides about amazing parts of England such as Teesdale, the English Riviera, or Yorkshire.

Finn is the editor of You Well and has been writing about travel, health, and more for over 10 years.

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