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Rye, Sussex
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The 10 best things to do in Rye

From stunning nature and beaches to swanky restaurants and cafés, here are the best things to do in Rye

Written by
Georgina Lawton
,
Joe Minihane
&
Hannah Summers
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Believe it or not, the tiny and picturesque East Sussex village of Rye was once one of south-east England’s most important ports. These days it’s difficult to see much of the bustling trading hub that Rye was in the Middle Ages, but the place retains much of the historic charm – as well as many of the tales of smuggling and maritime conflict – of those bygone days.

Over the years Rye has transformed into a hip and happening sort of seaside getaway destination. Its rich history, gorgeous buildings and traditional-style pubs are now boosted by quirky shops, swanky cafés, trendy restaurants and more. So, want to know what’s really worth your time? Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway, week-long vaycay or just a day trip, here are the best things to do in Rye right now.

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This guide was recently updated by Hannah Summers. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines.

What to do in Rye, East Sussex

1. First up, coffee and food

Brunch classics are given a fancy twist at The Fig, on Rye high street. Choose from dishes like avo smash with coriander chutney and pickled pink onions, or french toast waffles, topped with banana, pecans and syrup, with one of the town’s best flat whites (and cocktails post 10am) on the side. Brown leather benches, bistro-style chairs and metro tiles give it a Brooklyn coffee house vibe. Nearby, Licence 2 Kale is the go to for Dirty Chais, smoothie bowls heavy with chia seeds, spirulina and fruit, plus just-squeezed juices. 

2. Head to Rye Nature Reserve

Get coffee from Café des Fleurs and shake off the urban grit by exploring Rye Nature Reserve, a sprawling patchwork of grassland, saltmarsh and woods. There are a number of different walking routes, and the modern, well-kitted-out Discovery Centre will give you a steer on what wildlife and wildflowers you can expect to find along the way. Check the website for upcoming guided tours and events, run by Sussex Wildlife Trust rangers.

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3. Soak up the vibes at Camber Sands

Take a trip to Camber Sands, one of England’s finest beaches. You can hop on a bus, but the three-mile hike from the centre of Rye will help you walk off lunch. Keep an eye out for marsh harriers and seals popping their heads out above the waves. Just remember it can get a touch windy, even in summer. Thirsty? Head to Camber Landing, behind the beach on Lydd Road, where you can settle in for an Allpress coffee or a new-on-the-scene Camber Beer Tide Lager.

4. Stop for lunch at Globe Inn Marsh

Book a table at the lovely Globe Inn Marsh for generous portions of mussels, prawns and smoked mackerel, as well as great veggie options. Their ‘bonfire pizzas’ are a winner. Be sure to leave room for cream tea at Mermaid Street Café.

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5. Or snack on the streets

Locals will tell you that the best chippie in town is Marino’s Fish Bar – the queue out the door confirms it. Get in line and get your salt and vinegar-drenched chips to go, and don’t forget a pot of curry sauce and a pickled egg on the side. Craving something sweeter? Stop by Knoops for a hot chocolate or iced mocha. Sure, you’ll find Knoops chocolate stores on some of London’s swankiest streets, but the first shop was opened right here in Rye.

6. Explore the ancient Rye Castle

Rye feels a little like it’s suspended in time – so get lost in the town’s history. Explore ancient Rye Castle’s Ypres Tower before climbing the bell tower at twelfth-century St Mary’s Church for views across Rye’s rust-coloured rooftops. Marvel at Mermaid Street’s story-book charm – it’s all cobbles and wonky half-timbered houses.

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7. Splash the cash at Mermaid Street's antique shops

Love bargain-hunting? Prepare for some serious temptation in the sleepy antique shops around Mermaid Street. Strand Quay Antiques boasts basically unlimited bric-a-brac, while the Confit Pot sells retro kitchenware and pottery from across the Channel. For something truly out there, head to Alex MacArthur Interiors, found in a sprawling fourteenth-century monastery on Conduit Hill. Nearby, Rae Store stocks ethical throws, candles and cushions sourced from independent makers.

8. Drink like a local at the George Inn (and more)

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to boozy boltholes in Rye. The George Inn is an ideal spot for a glass of local Chapel Down wine. Other options include the chance to step back in time at The Mermaid Inn, which is as enchanting as it is ancient (600 years). Sip super-local craft beers at the tiny Rye Waterworks Micropub – a 300-year-old former waterpump. Or grab a table in the Ypres Castle Inn’s epic beer garden beneath the ramparts of Rye Castle. 

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9. Dine with vineyard views at Tillingham winery

After just 10 minutes in a taxi you’ll arrive at Tillingham, a 70-acre organic farm with woodland, livestock and of course, a lot of vines. Some come for wine tastings, but the dishes on the restaurant’s six-course tasting menu, crafted with produce plucked from Tillianghams’ own gardens and fish caught at Rye Harbour, are pretty special (book in advance so you don’t miss out). For something more casual, head to the barn where sourdough pizzas, with crusts crisped up in the wood-fired oven, are served with draught wine until 8pm.

10. Sleep over at Rye Windmill

Perched on the banks of the River Tillingham, this idyllic four-star B&B is in – you guessed it – an actual windmill. Rye Windmill is a Grade II-listed building with ten characterful rooms. Owners Toby and Kat dispense local recommendations with a delicious cooked breakfast in the original mill bakery, where the exposed brickwork, beams and old ovens are still in place. Book the Windmill Suite with two floors linked by a spiral staircase. There’s a luxurious standalone bath and sleigh bed large enough to get lost in, plus panoramic views of Rye from a private balcony. Total Rye candy.

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