Rye is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England with a host of arts, interesting sights and cozy pubs. Explore the town and the area in our guide to the best things to do in Rye, East Sussex.

By: Mark | Last Updated: 21 Nov 2023 | Jump to Comments & Questions

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In medieval times, before England had a standing navy, Rye supplied ships to the Crown in exchange for certain privileges.

Those privileges made Rye wealthy and walls, gates, and towers were built to defend the town.

As time went by Rye’s harbour steadily silted up leaving the town almost 2 miles from the sea.

A diminishing strategic importance left Rye almost untouched for 400 years.

Today, Rye is one of the finest unspoilt medieval towns in England.

Tiny, cobbled alleyways, enchanting inns, and half-timbered houses add to the aesthetic appeal.

Rye is a great day trip from London. The centre is compact and only five minutes from the train station.

Here are all the best things to do in Rye including tips for what to book ahead and what else to see in the area.

IN THIS GUIDE

THINGS TO DO IN RYE, EAST SUSSEX


HISTORY | MAP | WHAT TO DO | IS RYE WORTH VISITING? | HOW LONG | GETTING THERE | WHERE TO STAY?

QUICK HISTORY OF RYE & THE CINQUE PORTS

In 1155, before England had a standing navy, a Royal Charter established a confederation of five harbours. These five harbours, dotted around southeast England, were known as the Cinque Ports.

In exchange for providing ships for the king they were granted valuable privileges that enabled them to become rich.

In 1189, Rye was one of two towns added to the Cinque Ports Confederation.

This began the golden age of Rye. Over the next two centuries walls, gates, towers, and castles were constructed to defend the town and protect its trade routes.

Rye Harbour was prone to silting up. By the end of the 16th century, with the introduction of larger ships needing deeper ports, Rye’s influence waned.

In 1596, the Cinque Ports naval service was called upon for the final time to help defeat the Spanish Armada.

Today, medieval Rye sits on a hill in East Sussex. Overlooking the silted-up harbour, now 2 miles from the sea, Rye has remained untouched by time.

rye silted river east sussex
RYE LOOKING TOWARDS THE SILTED HARBOUR

MAP | THINGS TO DO IN RYE, EAST SUSSEX

Use our map to help navigate around Rye.

The main sights are marked in red. The best eating, drinking, and shopping spots are in purple and our recommendations of where to stay are in brown.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


1 – LANDGATE

Originally, four massive gates allowed access to the walled town of Rye.

Today only the Landgate remains. Constructed in 1329 it stands guard over the northern part of the old town. 

The gate has two cylindrical towers connected by a chamber from where a portcullis used to drop to stop access over the drawbridge.

It’s easy to see how imposing the town walls must have been.

landgate rye

2 – ST MARY’S CHURCH & TOWER

St. Mary’s Church has been standing proudly on top of a hill in Rye for almost 900 years.

Built in the early 12th century, the church was severely damaged by fire and looted by the French in 1377. The following year, the men of Rye and Winchelsea sailed to France and recovered much of the loot including the church bells.

Today the church is a mish-mash of architecture from across the ages.

The highlight is the tower which contains the oldest church turret clock still functioning in the UK. The clock is second-hand and is thought to have originally been in Hampton Court Palace.

Climb the very narrow and steep staircase up the tower to get excellent views over Rye old town, Rye Harbour, and the Rother River.

On a clear day you can see all the way across the channel to France.

DETAILS | ST MARYS CHURCH


hours – 9 am to 5.30 pm every day in summer, till 4.30 pm in winter | prices – Free to enter the church, £4 to climb the tower.

3 – YPRES TOWER

Ypres Tower (also known as Rye Castle) was originally built in the 13th or 14th centuries to defend the town and harbour. 

As Rye’s influence waned, it became a prison and courthouse and then the town’s morgue.

Today it holds the Rye Castle Museum covering the history of Rye and the town’s maritime heritage. Exhibits include an old smuggler lamp, jackets of the Cinque Ports Volunteers, and medieval floor tiles.

There are also panoramic views from the tower.

DETAILS | RYE CASTLE MUSEUM


hours – 10.30 am to 5 pm every day in summer, till 3.30 pm in winter | prices – Adults £5, Children under 16 free when accompanied.

ypres tower rye
YPRES TOWER, RYE

4 – MERMAID STREET

Narrow Mermaid Street highlights the timeless quality of the town and it’s one of the best things to do in Rye.

The charming, cobbled street is full of half-timbered houses and historic signs.

Don’t miss the Mermaid Inn, the House with Two Front Doors, and the Old Grammar School.

Mermaid Street is an Instagram favourite and one of the most photographed streets in the UK.

5 – LAMB HOUSE ON WEST STREET

Another lovely lane in Rye is West Street.

The highlight is the National Trust-owned 18th-century Lamb House.

Built in 1723 by a wealthy wine merchant it has a rich history. King George I stayed here after his ship was washed ashore at nearby Camber Sands. It has also been the home of the mayor of Rye as well as famous writers such as Henry James & E.F. Benson.

Today Lamb House is a literary museum with exhibits to the writers who lived here.

Restored to its 1920’s appearance the house and walled gardens are both nice to stroll around.

DETAILS | LAMB HOUSE


hours – 11 am to 4.30 pm Friday to Tuesday | prices – Adults £9.40, Children £4.70, National Trust members enter for free.

lamb house rye
LAMB HOUSE

6 – RYE HERITAGE CENTRE

To uncover 750 years of Rye’s history, head to the Rye Heritage Centre.

The “Story of Rye” is a 15-minute sound and light show that uses a model of the town to guide you through the cobbled streets as it tells stories of Rye’s past. 

The centre also includes Vintage Penny Arcade machines in a space that has been made to look like a Victorian seaside pier. Games include Bellringers, What The Butler Saw and The Laughing Sailor.

£1 will buy you 7 old pennies to play on the machines.

DETAILS | RYE HERITAGE CENTRE


hours –10.30 am to 4.30 pm (Tue – Sat): 1 pm to 4 pm (Sun) | price – £4.50 per adult (£3 for children) for the “Story of Rye”

7 – THE APOTHECARY

To take a break from collecting the interesting things to do in Rye, stop for a coffee at The Apothecary.

The cafe is in a 16th-century house where medicines were originally prepared and sold. It has been restored to its former glory but remains dilapidated in all the right places.

Bright red walls, torn leather sofas and mismatched chairs all add to the nostalgia.

Sink into a cozy nook and have a coffee among the old pharmacy shelves.

It’s not the place we’d recommend for lunch in Rye (see further down in this article for our food tips) but it’s a great place to sit and have a coffee.

8 – RYE HIGH STREET

Rye High Street is not long but has an excellent range of independent stores.

Grammar School Records – Housed in an imposing red brick building, Gramma School Records has over 20,000 LPs in stock. They also have the largest selection of 8-track cartridges in the country.

Ashbees 100 – Showcasing contemporary artists, Ashbees 100 has quirky modern art using a wide range of materials.

Purdie Gallery – The Purdie Gallery is a great way to see the beauty of the area around Rye. David Purdie’s wonderful photographs can be bought on canvas or as posters.

Puckhaber Decorative Antiques – This mother-and-son business with over 30 years’ experience in decorative antiques, specialise in original painted furniture, period mirrors, and paintings.

Rye Chocolates – Rye Chocolates has the most innovative selection of chocolate flavours we’ve come across in a long time.

9 – WHERE TO EAT IN RYE?

For a tiny little town, Rye has plenty of great places to eat. Here are a few good stops for lunch or dinner. 

The Fig Cafe – Vibrant independent café serving inventive healthy food alongside locally roasted coffee. This is our top choice for great lunch in Rye. They take walk-ins for brunch and lunch, but bookings for dinner are recommended.

Mermaid Inn – A 13th-century historic inn packed with old-world charm. Choose between a casual lunch in the bar with a real fire under old oak beams, or a white tablecloth affair in the dining room. Even if you don’t eat, a pint in the atmospheric room is one of the best things to do in Rye.

Landgate Bistro – Ranked as the best restaurant in Rye for six years in a row, Landgate Bistro serves British food with a classic or modern slant. Their ingredients come from local fields, woodlands, and waters. It’s open Wednesday to Saturday from 7 pm to 9 pm, so it’s wise to book in advance.

10 – KINO BOUTIQUE CINEMA

If you plan on staying the evening in Rye, check out what’s on at the Kino Cinema.

This boutique movie house has vintage vibes with state-of-the-art digital projection and sound.

There are 3 very cosy screens.

The Red screening room has 96 seats, the Blue screening room 48 seats, and the Silver screening room has just 26 seats.

Weekly film programs start on Friday and are published at 4 pm the Tuesday before.

Given the intimate nature of the cinema, it’s a good idea to book ahead on the Kino Rye website.

kino cinema rye
KINO CINEMA, RYE

11 – RYE HARBOUR NATURE RESERVE

Rye Nature Reserve consists of 475 hectares of land on the East Sussex coast between Rye town and the English Channel.

Formed by the wind and sea pushing up great ridges of shingles, it’s a mosaic of different habitats. Saline lagoons and salt marsh sit side by side gravel pits and reedbeds. 

This flat and wild landscape is home to more than 4,500 species of plants and animals. Three hundred of them are rare or endangered.

Over 100 different species of birds nest here. Try your luck photographing them from the ‘Little Red’ hut.

The Rye Nature Reserve Discovery Centre has information about the reserve and the wildlife. The modern building has toilets, a café, a helpful information desk, and expansive windows.

A series of walking trails head through the reserve. Our pick is the circular 3-kilometre route that goes past the birdwatching hides as it winds around the salt marsh. Pick up a map from the Discovery Centre. The walk takes about 1 hour.

12 – CAMBER CASTLE

Camber Castle was built in the 16th century by King Henry VIII to protect the Sussex coast from a French attack.

Designed as a large artillery fort, a small central keep is surrounded by four circular bastions and a circular entrance bastion.

The castle is an intriguing shape but difficult to get to. Situated in the Rye Nature Reserve the nearest car park is over a mile away. It takes thirty minutes to walk to the castle, then thirty minutes to walk back again.

If you don’t want to walk all the way, you can head out to a small wooden platform about 5 minutes’ walk from the parking location on the map above. There’s a view of the castle from over the reeds.

rye castle
CAMBER CASTLE

13 – CAMBER SANDS

One of the finest beaches near London, Camber Sands is a great spot to while away a sunny day.

Just 3 miles from Rye, this is a glorious 2-mile stretch of sand, backed by dunes. At high tide it’s a thin slither of beach, but at low tide, it’s almost half a mile wide. 

It’s a great beach for families and its popular with kite surfers on windy days.

The beach is split into different zones with different parking:

Camber Western Car Park – Pay and display car park (RingGo App) which involves walking over the dunes to the beach. It’s a lovely stretch of beach but it’s a 5-minute walk to facilities.

Camber Central & Old Lydd Road Car Parks – Pay and display car park (RingGo App) next to the heart of Camber Sands beach. There are public toilets, shower facilities, a few shops, and food and drinks available from the Chargrill Cabin. 

Broomhill Car Park – Free parking with easy access to a section of the beach designated for kite surfing and water sports. The Kitesurf centre provides equipment and lessons for kite surfing, kite buggying, kite land boarding, windsurfing and stand-up paddleboarding.

Please be aware that parking can be difficult on nice summer days. Buses run hourly from Rye – Bus stop B, next to the train station.

14 – BODIAM CASTLE

Bodiam Castle is just under 30 minutes’ drive from Rye.

This 14th-century moated castle is one of the most romantic in England. It’s quadrangle-shaped walls drop vertically into a moat. Entry is via a long walkway that passes over a drawbridge and under a portcullis.

The castle is owned and managed by the National Trust.

There are toilets, a tearoom, a café, and picnic tables. Regular rotating activities keep kids entertained.

Try your hand at archery, meet characters in 15th-century attire, or get dressed up like a knight.

Check what’s on in advance. It’s a fun half-day trip from Rye.

DETAILS | BODIAM CASTLE


hours – 10 am to 5 pm daily | cost – £11 Adults / £6.10 Children / £27.50 families / free with National Trust Membership.

15 – BATTLE & HASTINGS

In 1066, William the Conqueror sailed over from France, landed at Hastings, and marched inland to battle the English led by King Harold.

William defeated Harold, crushed his army, and claimed the throne to become William I of England.

The Battle of Hastings took place on a ridge that is now located next to a small English town called Battle.

The area is run by English Heritage.

There’s a visitor centre with a short introductory film detailing the battle and interactive displays. Audio guides lead you around the battlefield, trying to bring the history of the battle to life in what is essentially just a field.

Overlooking the entire scene is the atmospheric ruin of Battle Abbey.

It makes for a fun half-day trip from Rye in a location very important to English history.

DETAILS | 1066 BATTLEFIELD


hours – 10 am to 5 pm | cost – £14.50 adults / £8.60 children / £37.50 families / free with English Heritage membership | bookings – it’s slightly cheaper to book online in advance.

IS RYE WORTH VISITING?

Yes, Rye is well worth visiting.

It’s one of the best preserved medieval old towns in England.

Narrow-cobbled lanes and half-timbered houses ooze old-world charm. Quirky museums, feudal inns, and old stone churches tell of the region’s chequered history.

Additionally, the high street is packed with independent stores and unusual art galleries.

HOW LONG TO SPEND IN RYE?

All the main attractions in Rye’s medieval town centre can easily be seen on a day trip. However, there are lots of sights nearby which makes Rye an excellent weekend break from London.

On a day trip to Rye, explore the medieval town centre.

On a weekend in Rye, spend your first day exploring the medieval centre, then pick from one of the following for the second day:

  • Spot wildlife at the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.
  • Hit the beach at Camber Sands.
  • Learn about the 1066 Norman invasion at Battle.
  • Stroll around the battlements at Bodiam Castle.
things to do in rye

GETTING TO RYE FROM LONDON

Rye is a great weekend break or day trip from London.

If you want to explore the old town of Rye, getting the train is the quickest and best option.

However, if you want to spend a weekend, it’s much easier if you have a car.

London to Rye by train – Rye is a 1-hour 10-minute train ride from London St Pancras Station. The train leaves hourly and requires a change at Ashford International train station. Rye Station is a 5-minute walk from the town centre.

London to Rye by car – It takes roughly 2 hours to drive from central London to Rye. Times can vary substantially as traffic in and around London can be very slow. There are many car parks around the medieval centre and a large car park by the train station.

day trip to rye from london

WHERE TO STAY IN RYE

The timeless architecture provides some unique places to stay in Rye. Here are some recommendations from us.

BOUTIQUE HOTEL

WHITEHOUSE RYE

A boutique hotel in a grand house on Rye High Street. Whitewashed walls and exposed beams are complimented with modern furniture. Breakfast is a treat from their award-winning bakery.


MODERN CHIC

THE FIG

This lively café with rooms is a trendy stay right on the high street. An excellent breakfast is served in the cafe before it opens to the public.


OLD SCHOOL CHARACTER 

MERMAID INN

This historic inn dates to the 13th century. Wonky walls, sloping wooden beamed ceilings, four poster beds, and buckets of old-world charm. Set on Mermaid Street, it couldn’t be in a prettier location.


BEACH HOTEL

THE GALLIVANT

Set behind the dunes of Camber Sands Beach, this stylish beach hotel is a glorious retreat from everyday life. Super chilled yet luxurious, it’s a great place to hang out and take strolls along the beach.


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