By Katie Wilson
With its cobbled lanes, medieval architecture and charming pubs and emporiums, Rye is regularly voted one of the prettiest places to visit in the UK.
This East Sussex town, once famous for smuggling and pirates, is steeped in history. Some of its buildings, such as the 600-year-old Mermaid Inn, are even said to be haunted.
You can dare to stay there or book into one of Rye’s boutique holiday apartments, B&Bs or hotels (our preferred option).
Billed as a seaside town, it’s worth noting it’s not actually that close to the beach. To get to nearby Camber Sands, one of the best beaches in Britain, will take around an hour on foot or 10 minutes in the car.
A day trip to one of the surrounding vineyards, such as Gusbourne Estate, is also worth booking ahead.
Here’s what else we discovered when we spent a weekend in Rye.
We may earn a small commission from some of the retailers if you click on links in this article, but we don’t allow this to influence our recommendations.
Where to stay in Rye
Whether you want to stay in town or be within walking distance to Camber Sands, it’s definitely worth checking out Camber Holiday Cottages.
Their properties range from a loft-style apartment for two to beachfront holiday homes with hot tubs that sleep 10.
We stayed in The Playhouse, a modern art-inspired holiday cottage that feels like it may have once been a factory. You’ll find it tucked off the main High Street, just a few minutes’ walk from Rye train station.
Its interiors certainly live up to its ‘Playhouse’ name. There is a gold-framed Danny La Rue poster that greets you as you walk in. The living room has a giant yellow 90s acid house smiley face on the wall, and a pink Murano glass chandelier hangs next to graffiti artwork on the stairs.
While it might sound slightly garish, the decor is fun and has been very tastefully done, from the modern kitchen with its vintage Bovril sign, to the huge bedroom with traditional beams and its very own disco ball.
There is also a courtyard garden to stargaze from on warmer nights. If you visit in winter, cosy up on the Chesterfield sofa next to the smokeless biofuel fire.
Rooms start from £210 a night, with a minimum two night stay
A few doors down from The Playhouse you’ll find one of the best boutique hotels in Rye, The George In Rye. Its recently revamped sister hotel The Lookout Rye is slightly further up the road and has terrace rooms that look out onto the Salts, one of the town’s protected green spaces.
Whitehouse is a dog-friendly boutique B&B on the High Street above an artisan bakery, so you know breakfast is going to be good. Rooms are modern and feature industrial style four-poster beds alongside Victorian fireplaces, vintage furniture and quirky decor.
The Fig restaurant, also on the High Street, recently added four adults-only boutique rooms. Choose from the Mid Century Retro room, Art Deco room, Indonesian-inspired Indo room and the Boho room.
The Old Borough Arms and The Standard Inn are pubs with comfortable rooms that are budget-friendly. For a quirky stay, book a stay at Rye Windmill B&B. Families should book this two-bedroom former fisherman’s cottage on Airbnb.
A little further afield. The Gallivant is the best hotel near Camber Sands. For a vineyard stay book one of the boutique rooms at Tillingham Wines. They also have high spec bell tents available to book from May to September.
Where to eat and drink in Rye
Rye is a foodie’s paradise and you could easily spend your day eating and drinking your way around town. In fact, we’d recommend it.
Pop into homeware store Rae and pick up a coffee by Allpress. They have just opened a second store in Camber. The best breakfasts/all day dining spots (plus more delicious coffee) can be found at The Fig, Whitehouse and The Mermaid Street Café. Stop by for one of the latter’s delicious ice creams in summer.
The George In Rye is great at any time of day. There is the stylish George Grill restaurant, The Dragon Bar for drinks, the Courtyard Garden in summer and it’s a great place to book afternoon tea.
For a pub lunch, you are spoiled for choice in Rye as there is a pub every few doors down the High Street. While you’re not going to have a wild night out here, it’s good for a slow and steady pub crawl.
Favourites include The Mermaid Inn, worth a visit for its wonky centuries-old interiors alone. On the last Sunday of the month the owner gives tours of the historic building at 4pm and 5pm.
The Old Bell and The Queens Head Rye are worth popping in for a drink. The Standard Inn in Rye harbour and The Ypres Castle Inn, which focuses on craft ales and natural wines, are where the locals go. William the Conqueror pub has a quirky beer garden. For a Sunday roast head to The Globe Inn Marsh.
The award-winning Rye Waterworks Micropub, in a historic building that was formerly a pump house, toilet and Victorian soup kitchen, is a must-visit. You’ll definitely make new friends in here. In fact, the owner encourages it with the communal layout of the seating. They also host shanty singing nights and a Cheese Club on Sunday afternoons.
For fine dining head to The Union Rye. Their oysters with Jalapeño Relish are to die for. While Fletchers House is a cocktail bar and upmarket restaurant. Both are worth booking for a special occasion. For late night drinks the only place to head is The Grapevine, a champagne and jazz bar open until 1am every night.
Things to do in Rye
If mooching around independent boutiques and antiques shops isn’t enough, immerse yourself in the history of medieval Rye.
For a bird’s eye view of Rye, climb the bell tower of the 12th Century St Mary’s Church for £4pp. You can’t book online, just pay on the door.
Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is perfect for cycling and walking. While the new Rye Harbour Discovery Centre is a contemporary piece of architecture with great views across the saltmarsh, perfect at sunset. See their What’s On page for events like Rye Harbour rambles, wellbeing walks and wildlife watching workshops.
Art lovers should check out Ryebank Gallery and Rye Art Gallery on the High Street. The Kino Cinema in a former Victorian library building opposite the Town Hall is also worth a visit, especially on a rainy day. The Cafe/Bar is very cute.
If the weather is good, take a day trip to Camber Sands, one of the best sandy beaches in the UK. It’s best got to by car in around 10 minutes, but beware the narrow roads to the car park in peak season.
Visitor who prefer to walk can reach Camber Sands in about an hour. Such is its beauty, it’s regularly used as a filming backdrop and has appeared in The Crown, The Theory of Everything and Ricky Gervais’ After Life, to name a few.
Wine lovers should take a day trip to Gusbourne Estate vineyard, around a 10-minute drive from Rye. Book their Discovery Experience for a delicious three-course lunch with wine pairings (£85pp). Vineyard tours with tastings are available from £30pp.
Other vineyards worth a visit while you’re in the area are Tillingham Wines, Chapel Down, Charles Palmer Vineyards and Oxney Organic Estate, the largest producer of English organic wine. If you’d rather have it all organised for you, including travel, Vine & Country Tours are the people to contact.
How to get to Rye
Rye is only an hour on the train from London. Change once at Ashford International for the quickest route. Tickets cost from £13.
If you’re travelling by car from London and the North, take the A21 from the M25 all the way to 1066 Country. Alternatively, you can take the M20 from London towards Ashford, then the A2070 and A259.
From Brighton and the West take the A27 and A259. The fastest route from the Eurotunnel (Folkestone) and ferry ports (Dover) is via the M20 towards Ashford, then the A2070 via Brenzett towards Rye and the A259, which serves Rye, Hastings, Bexhill and Pevensey. From Newhaven ferry port, take the A26 and A27, then connect to the A259.
For low-cost travel around 1066 Country, and from the port of Dover, you can take Stagecoach’s bus services. There are a variety of tickets on offer, including the Explorer day ticket and Megarider season ticket, as well as family tickets.
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