Snaking its way from Winchester in Hampshire to Beachy Head near Eastbourne, East Sussex is the 68 mile undulating chalk ridge of the South Downs National Park. The soaring hills rise up to 270 metres (886 ft) above sea level in parts and can be seen from many miles away. Throughout history it has been a focal point for fledgling civilizations, legend and art.
A trip to the South Downs demands visits to exciting attractions, stunning beauty spots and fascinating historical monuments located on this 60 million year old landmark. Walk the white cliffs of Seven Sisters, stroll with hot chips down Brighton Palace Pier or meet some monkeys at Drusillas Park. You can visit just a few locations whilst you are in the area or take a South Downs tour and plot a route from East to West or West to East.
Map of the 9 top places to visit in South Downs
Seven Sisters Country Park
The towering pure white chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters topped with a blanket of lush green grass and plunging into the English Channel are an absolute icon of the UK and the South Downs. The area’s name was inspired by the seven distinct hills on the sea cliffs which are spread over 13.6 miles of coastline from Cuckmere Haven to Birling Gap. This area is managed by the National Trust and features a well maintained and easy to navigate trail which is part of the ancient South Downs Way.
The picturesque cliffs have provided a quintessentially English backdrop in an array of blockbuster films including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Mr. Holmes, The Battle of Britain and Atonement to name just a few. If you are after that Instagram-able snap or just want to take home some picture perfect memories, the best place to visit is the Coastguard Cottages in Cuckmere. You can take a picture with the cottages in the foreground or from behind the cottages – both capture the seven peaks. If you want a ground level picture, try the beach near the Cuckmere Inn. For a shot facing west the Birling Gap beach offers a great angle to frame the imposing cliff faces stretching into the distance.
How to Get to Seven Sisters Country Park
How to get to Seven Sisters by Car
Seven Sisters is located in Exceat, near Seaford, East Sussex. The postcode for Sat Navs to follow is BN25 4AD. There are two pay and display car parks on site which can be paid for by cash or via the RingGo App.
The prices for the car parks are:
Cars – £3 for up to 2 hours, £4 for the day
Motorbikes – Free
Minibuses and Motorhomes – £6 for up to 2 hours, £12 for the day
How to Get to Seven Sisters by Bus
There are many buses that go straight to Seven Sisters Country Park entrance from Brighton, Seaford and Eastbourne. The bus number 12X goes between Brighton and Eastbourne, and runs every 20 minutes from Mondays to Saturdays. The 13X bus also stops at Seven Sisters but with limited service only on a Sunday.
How to Get to Seven Sisters by Train and Taxi
There are many trains from Brighton to Seaford (taking 37 minutes) and once there, you can take a taxi to Seven Sisters Country Park. The taxi journey should only take about 10 minutes and cost £10-£13.
Facilities at Seven Sisters
There is a visitor centre and public toilets at Seven Sisters Country Park.
Long Man of Wilmington
Originally cut into the chalk of the South Downs, the Long Man is 72 metres (235 ft) high and the tallest or longest human depiction in Europe. The original symbolism of the Man is a total mystery. Recent excavations suggest that the site was most likely created in the 16th or 17th century perhaps as a fanciful folly; however, there are some historians that believe it dates back to the Iron Age. The purpose or meaning behind the artwork is thought to be everything from a fertility symbol, a representation of a warrior or an artistic creation by a local monk from the nearby priory.
The Chalk Man is near the village of Wilmington, which is close to Eastbourne. You can access it through footpaths right up to the figure, which these days is actually created from painted breeze blocks. It’s a moderate walk but not suitable for wheelchairs. For the best selfie location, park by the Wilmington Priory and find your angle.
How to Get to Long Man of Wilmington
How to Get to Long Man of Wilmington by Car
The address you need is South Downs Way, Wilmington, BN26 5SW.
How to Get to Long Man of Wilmington by Bus
Bus numbers 126 (Compass Travel) and 54 (Stagecoach South East) serve the Long Man of Wilmington. Check local bus timetables for more information.
How to Get to Long Man of Wilmington by Train
You can get trains from Eastbourne, Lewes, Hastings and London to nearby Berwick or Polegate train stations. Berwick is 3 miles away and Polegate is 2.5 miles away. From these train stations, you can get a local taxi.
The South Downs feature numerous peaks which have had human occupation for thousands of years and Firle Beacon is one such example. Summiting at 217 metres above sea level, it provides unfettered views sweeping across acres of charming Sussex farmland. The steep slope of the Beacon is perfect for parasailers who swoop down to the fields below.
Part of the location’s appeal is that it is easily accessible by car and there are two car parks, both about a mile from the Beacon. If you choose to do the full circuit it is about 7 miles long and is a moderate walk. Look out for the Bronze Age burial mounds and a faded chalk hill carving which looks like an ear of corn; it has not been maintained so it’s hard to spot. If the fresh air and hike have worked up an appetite, The Ram Inn is only 1.5 miles away from the Beacon and serves up classy pub fare made from locally sourced ingredients. Make sure you book in advance though.
How to Get to Firle Beacon
The address you need to get to Firle Beacon is Firle Beacon, Lewes, BN26 6UJ.
For a fun-filled family visit to the South Downs, the award winning Drusillas Park has to be on the ‘to-do’ list. It is jam packed with a diverse range of activities and attractions which will easily keep everyone busy for a whole day.
The park features a full scale zoo with everything from sloths to bats, wallabies and iguanas as well as a plethora of different types of monkeys. You can feed the penguins or even be a zookeeper for the day for an extra charge.
When the excitement of the animals has worn off there is an extensive play area with slides and climbing frames, a maze, soft play and a splash pad. There is also a designated area for little ones under 6 years. For even more entertainment there are a range of kids’ rides from flying cheetahs, a mini train ride and lots of Hello Kitty attractions. Drusillas Park is not to be missed and is located near Alfriston, 6 miles from Eastbourne.
How to Get to Drusillas Park
How to Get to Drusillas Park by Car
The address you need is Drusillas Park, Alfriston, East Sussex, BN26 5QS.
How to Get to Drusillas Park by Train
It is advisable to go to Polegate train station and from here, you can get a local taxi from right outside the train station that takes you straight to the Park. You can also go to Berwick train station which is just a mile away from the Park but you will have to pre-book a taxi to get there.
Drusillas Park Opening Times
Drusillas Park is open all year round apart from 24th, 25th and 26th December. In summer, it is open from 10am – 6pm with the last admission at 5pm. The car park closes at 6.15pm. In winter, Drusillas Park is open from 10am – 5pm with the last admission at 4pm. The car park closes at 5.15pm.
Brighton Palace Pier
The uber hip coastal city of Brighton is just a few miles from the South Downs National Park and is renowned for its 525 metre (1,722 ft) pier, which is a stalwart of British popular culture. The Palace Pier is reputed to be the most visited tourist attraction outside of London with a whopping 4.5 million visitors in 2016 alone.
The Pier was opened in 1899 and was a raging success from the very beginning. In 1911 a new theatre was opened which hosted stars like Charlie Chaplin and continued the appeal of the attraction for many decades until it was finally demolished in 1986. These days the pier is the epitome of cheesy seaside entertainment in the best possible style. Glide down the helter skelter, ride the mini roller coaster or if you have little ones try the carousel and the spinning teacups. Chance your luck in the amusement arcade, then enjoy classic British fish and chips with views across the English Channel. Just mind out for the crafty seagulls who are masters of sneaky chip removal!
If you would like to find out about more things to do in Brighton, then visit our Things to See and Do in Brighton link here.
How to Get to Brighton
How to Get to Brighton by Car
Brighton is very accessible with all forms of transport. The A23/M23 motorways head towards Brighton and once you get to the city centre, there are numerous car parks to choose from. The Brighton & Hove City Council website is a good place to find the best car park for your needs.
How to Get to Brighton by Train
There are fast direct trains to Brighton from some major train stations in London:
From London Victoria taking 52 minutes, London Bridge taking 58 minutes and London St Pancras taking 1 hour 16 minutes.
From Brighton Central train station, it is about a 10 minute walk to the centre of Brighton. Or you can take a local bus or taxi from in front of the train station.
How to Get to Brighton by Bus/Coach
Brighton is served by many coach services including Megabus and National Express operators. You can get coaches to Brighton from London Victoria coach station, the main London airports including Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick and Luton as well as Southampton airport.
Coaches arrive at the Pool Valley Coach Station which is right in the centre of Brighton, just moments from the beach and pier.
Lewes Castle & Barbican House Museum
Lewes Castle is slightly off the beaten track for things to do if you are on holiday in the South Downs but it’s definitely worth a visit. The small but perfectly formed Norman castle set above this delightful Medieval town is compact enough to fit into a diverse day of activities.
The castle has a convoluted history of occupation; it initially started as a wooden construction and was then rebuilt in stone as the importance of the town increased. More recently a Victorian folly was added. There is also a charming house built into the curtain wall. There are two mottes at the castle with baileys which can be climbed via twisty spiral staircases for spectacular views across to the South Downs.
The museum by the castle gates is a treasure trove of Sussex archaeology and history and is complete with a scale model of the town and a mini cinema showing a film on the history of the area. If that isn’t quite enough culture, then you can pop into the Anne of Cleves house which is just a short walk away. Anne never actually lived in the house, which was part of the annulment settlement from her marriage to Henry VIII, however it is a stunning example of a Medieval property and traditional garden from that time.
After your trip back into the past take a look round the multitude of thrift and antique shops in the town with everything from giant baroque mirrors to Chesterfields and World War memorabilia, as well as 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s kitsch. There is the Harvey’s local brewery, cute gift shops, loads of art, cafés and restaurants galore so you really can make a full day of it.
How to Get to Lewes Castle
How to Get to Lewes Castle by Car
The address you need to get to Lewes Castle is 169 High Street, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 1YE. There is parking available around Lewes town centre.
How to Get to Lewes Castle by Train
Lewes train station is located right in the town’s centre and is just a 5 minute walk away from the castle. There is also a taxi rank right outside the train station that could take you to the castle.
How to Get to Lewes Castle by Bus
Local buses from across East Sussex also serve Lewes town centre stopping on the High Street near to the castle.
This 100 metre valley cut in the chalk ridge of the South Downs, near Hove, is immersed in folk law and mystery. The story goes that it was created when the Devil attempted to create a channel to the sea to drown the faithless inhabitants of Sussex. He was thwarted by the cunning of the hermit Cathman of Steyning so the channel wasn’t finished and the residents were saved.
Devil’s Dyke was highly fashionable in the 19th and 20th century with fairground rides, bandstands, a narrow gauge funicular and a cable car. However, the site is now managed by the National Trust and is a designated area of special scientific interest due to the rare orchids and insects found there. There are only a few traces left of the Victorian attractions and it is now famed for its unspoilt natural beauty.
The surrounding hills of the valley are 217 metres above sea level and when the weather is clear you can see all the way to the Isle of Wight. Lying on the hills are the well preserved remains of an Iron Age Hill Fort. The valley floor dips down 100 metres making it the deepest dry valley in the UK. It’s a spectacular place to visit in any season but particularly striking in the summer with lush flora, which attracts an abundance of bees and butterflies. To explore Devil’s Dyke, park at the imaginatively named Devil’s Dyke Pub and Restaurant.
How to Get to Devil’s Dyke
How to Get to Devil’s Dyke by Car
There is no postcode for Devil’s Dyke car park but from the A27 Brighton ring road, you can come off at the Hove junction and follow the sign to Devil’s Dyke. It is then off the A281.
How to Get to Devil’s Dyke by Train
The nearest train station to Lewes Castle is Brighton which is 6 miles away. From here you can get the bus to Devil’s Dyke (see How to Get to Devil’s Dyke by Bus below).
How to Get to Devil’s Dyke by Bus
The number 77 bus goes regularly from Brighton town centre to Devil’s Dyke. It also passes Brighton train station so you can easily get on the bus from there too.
Arundel Castle and Gardens
This impressive and well preserved castle which towers above the market town of Arundel was built almost one thousand years ago by Roger de Montgomery, the then Earl of Arundel. Over its lifetime the building has grown and developed and today is one of the largest and most complete inhabited castles in England and a highlight amongst the attractions of the South Downs. Visitors can roam around the property climbing the Norman motte and keep, exploring the Baron’s Hall, 14th century chapel, 18th century library and intricately decorated Victorian and Edwardian bedrooms and bathrooms.
The gardens of the castle are stunning at any time of year; however, in April the spring is well and truly welcomed with 60,000 blooming flowers as part of the tulip festival. In May these are replaced by new blooms in their Allium Extravaganza, then blossoming roses in June and so on throughout the summer.
For some more savage and bloodthirsty entertainment there are Medieval tournaments, captivating Norman combat displays and there is even a lively jousting tournament.
How to Get to Arundel Castle
How to Get to Arundel Castle by Car
The address for Arundel Castle is Arundel Castle, Arundel, West Sussex, BN18 9AB but the postcode for Sat Navs is BN18 9PA. Mill Road Car Park is a pay & display car park directly opposite the castle.
How to Get to Arundel Castle by Train
Arundel train station is about a 10 minute walk away from the castle. There are regular trains from London Victoria to Arundel train station. From the train station, if you didn’t want to walk, you could also get a taxi from outside the station to the castle which is just a few minutes’ drive
Weald & Downland Living Museum
The Weald & Downland Living Museum in the village of Singleton is just a few miles from the South Downs. This unique attraction is spread over 40 acres and is home to 50 intriguing historic buildings which were rescued from across the South East and meticulously rebuilt on site. The structures date from 950 AD to the 19th century and include charming Tudor farmhouses, Medieval halls and tiny thatched cottages. They are prime examples of everyday domestic dwellings which are fully open to the public to explore and roam around. Just mind your head on the incredibly low ceilings.
The site has a huge range of old English artefacts and hosts regular events from Tudor cooking, to blacksmithing and other family friendly seasonal events. There are woodland trails, a café and the whole site is dog friendly so even your four legged friend can enjoy the visit.
How to Get to the Weald & Downland Living Museum
How to Get to the Weald & Downland Living Museum by Car
The address and postcode you need to drive to the museum is Town Lane, Singleton, West Sussex, PO18 0EU. There is also a free car park at the museum.
How to Get to the Weald & Downland Living Museum by Bus
From Chichester bus station, you can get the Stagecoach 60 service which stops at Grooms Yard in Singleton. From there, the museum is a 5 minute walk.
How to Get to the Weald & Downland Living Museum by Train
The closest train stations are Chichester (7 miles away) and Haslemere (15 miles away). Opposite Chichester train station is the bus station where you can get the number 60 bus to the museum (see How to Get to the Weald & Downland Living Museum by Bus above). You can also get local taxis from the train stations to the museum.
These are just a few of the impressive places to visit in the South Downs National Park and surrounding area or as you are walking the South Downs Way route. The variety and sheer number of indoor and outdoor attractions make it the perfect place to visit all year round. The South Downs, famous for its rolling hills, ancient woodlands, chalk cliffs and unique market towns, has everything you could ever want for glorious day trips and perfect holidays alike.