Must-Visit Attractions in Eastbourne, England

Eastbourne Pier is a great place to spend your first morning by the seaside
Eastbourne Pier is a great place to spend your first morning by the seaside | © 4k-Clips / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Annie Hopkins
31 August 2020

Lying between the bracing coast and rolling South Downs, Eastbourne has all the old-fashioned joy of the English seaside, but with a touch of class. It’s a peaceful respite away from the hustle and bustle of neighbouring Brighton. Here’s our guide to the best attractions on offer.

Eastbourne Pier

Architectural Landmark
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Eastbourne’s gorgeous Victorian pier, built between 1866 and 1872, makes a great focal point for a morning on the picturesque beach. Crunch your way across the pebbles, taking a minute to skim some stones and choose the smoothest shell to sneak into your pocket. Then head up to the pier and enjoy a few games in the mini amusement arcade. Eateries on Eastbourne Pier include the Chippy for your traditional cod-in-batter feast, and the Victorian Tea Rooms do a top-notch cream tea if you’re after something sweet.

The Towner Gallery

Art Gallery, Park
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The strikingly white, modern Towner Gallery is in eye-catching contrast to the predominantly Victorian seafront architecture in the town, but it’s the exhibitions within that make this space so popular. Check out the collection of watercolours by Eric Ravilious, whose unique style captures the South Downs and his home county of Sussex in sweeping shapes and uplifting colour.

Beachy Head

Natural Feature
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Beachy Head lighthouse on windy day
Beachy Head lighthouse on windy day | © BackyardBest / Alamy Stock Photo

A bracing walk along the coastline at Beachy Head is essential in Eastbourne. The pretty red-and-white striped lighthouse is a lovely view to top off the stunning views across the sea and plunging white cliffs. Look west, and you’ll also see the impressive white Belle Tout lighthouse not too far away.

Pevensey Court House Museum and Gaol

Museum, Historical Landmark
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Recently donated a hand-sewn replica of the Pevensey landing scene of the Bayeux Tapestry, this museum provides wonderful insights into the history of Eastbourne and its surrounding towns. With a medieval jail preserved inside, the building itself is evocative of years gone by. The staff are knowledgeable and passionate, ready to guide you through Sussex’s history with an expert eye.

Eastbourne Lifeboat Museum

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This little museum, on Eastbourne seafront, is worth popping into for a glimpse of the history of Eastbourne’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s lifeboat and the courageous work of its volunteer team over the years. From helping with the evacuation at Dunkirk in World War II to braving the waves to rescue stranded walkers at the foot of Beachy Head’s cliffs, you can learn plenty from the detailed displays and helpful staff.

Printers Playhouse

Music Venue
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This independent theatre venue, opened in 2015, is proof that Eastbourne’s alternative scene is here to stay. Printers Playhouse, on the understatedly cool Grove Road, with its glowing stage lights and cosy interior, plays host to comedy nights, contemporary theatre and live music from local bands. A must-visit for a real taste of the local scene.

Eastbourne Bandstand

Architectural Landmark
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Eastbourne bandstand and pier East Sussex England GB
Eastbourne bandstand and pier East Sussex England GB | © C Clarke / Alamy Stock Photo

Known for hosting more live events than any other in the country, Eastbourne’s bandstand combines new and old, with its traditional architecture making a splendid backdrop for wild rock-and-roll gigs, joyful choirs and haunting acoustic performances from local singers. With the sea swirling behind it, the 1,400-seat venue makes a dramatic spot to watch a concert.

Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis Club

Park, Sports Center
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Home to the Aegon International tennis tournament, Devonshire Park has hosted matches featuring the likes of Novak Djokovic and Eastbourne’s very own Johanna Konta. For the rest of the year, these beautiful courts are an ideal spot to enjoy a friendly game, or even let out your competitive streak on the grounds where the stars have served many aces over the years.

Birling Gap

Natural Feature
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Birling Gap Beach
Birling Gap Beach | © Robert Christopher / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

Surely Eastbourne’s proudest asset is its incredible coastline. With stunning views across the sea and along the white Seven Sisters cliffs, you can choose to walk, go rock pooling or simply soak up some sunshine at one of England’s prettiest spots. Birling Gap offers bracing walks all year round, and there’s a lovely cafe where you can fill up on scones, tea and sandwiches when you’re done.

The Royal Hippodrome Theatre

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With a huge cash injection recently earmarked to revamp the Royal Hippodrome’s ageing facade, this theatre is soon to be restored to its former glory. Inside, the faded grandeur makes this a truly atmospheric venue to watch musicals, plays, dance recitals or of course, the British Christmas staple that is a classic pantomime. Support Eastbourne’s local arts community by heading to see a show in this charming traditional theatre space.

Eastbourne’s Wish Tower

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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The 73rd of 74 Martello Towers built along England’s south coast in the 1800s to defend against Napoleon, the Wish Tower is a popular spot for history buffs. Choose a guided tour to learn more about Eastbourne’s role in the Napoleonic wars, then find a nearby café or pub for sustenance as you gaze out at sea.

Camilla’s Bookshop

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A book lover’s paradise. With teetering piles of second-hand reads stacked floor-to-ceiling, the smell of books envelops you as you step inside. Located on Eastbourne’s trendy Grove Road, at Camilla’s, you’ll pick up your next fiction paperback, a fancy coffee table addition and a brief history of whatever you like, all under one roof.

The Redoubt Fortress

Archaeological site
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Redoubt Fortress, Napoleonic Fortress-in-the-round built to defend against Napoleon & used in WWI & WWII, Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, UK
Redoubt Fortress, Napoleonic Fortress-in-the-round built to defend against Napoleon & used in WWI & WWII, Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, UK | © Bjanka Kadic / Alamy Stock Photo
The 200-year-old Redoubt Fortress was reopened in March 2017 after restoration works, and now visitors can enjoy lively tours from costumed guides bringing the Napoleonic era back to life. Entry is free to the fortress and the space plays host to a lively programme of events, such as stargazing with the Eastbourne Astronomical Society.

Atlantis Nightclub

Nightclub, British
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What better place to go dancing than on a Victorian seaside pier? If you’re hoping to throw some shapes, look no further than Atlantis nightclub, where you can party all night to chart hits, club classics, dance and R&B in equal measure. With space for up to 900 people, Atlantis technically counts as a super club, if being located above the crashing waves of the English Channel wasn’t already super enough.

Little Chelsea

Shopping Mall, Historical Landmark
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Home to the aforementioned Camilla’s bookshop, Eastbourne’s Little Chelsea is made up of a few streets near the town’s railways station, and is not to be missed if you’re after second-hand finds, eccentric fashion and classic vinyl. Located at Grove Road and South Street, this vibrant shopping quarter, with vegan cafés, trendy burger bars and an antiques emporium, adds fuel to the fire of Eastbourne’s ever-growing indie scene.

Eastbourne Borough Market

Market, Continental
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This buzzing market can be found every Wednesday on Eastbourne’s Terminus Road from 9.30am until 3.30pm. With cheerful yellow-and-white striped stalls selling local produce from cheeses, pies, fish and vegetables to jewellery, crafts and clothing, the market is a hub for Eastbourne’s community of all ages, and your best bet for a tasty take-home souvenir.

Carpet Gardens

Botanical Garden
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Carpet Gardens in Eastbourne Essex UK
Carpet Gardens in Eastbourne Essex UK | © Picturebank / Alamy Stock Photo

The Carpet Gardens are right in the middle of Eastbourne’s promenade, and are difficult to miss with their striking wash of floral colour. The display included plants and flowers from all over the world – as far as Mexico and New Zealand – as well as a cactus display and several fountains.

Eastbourne Miniature Steam Railway Adventure Park

Amusement Park
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Whether you’re a fan of model trains, regular ones or just a curious visitor, Eastbourne Miniature Steam Railway is worth tracking down (sorry). It’s a 1/8th railway stretching over a mile of park land, with nine different shrunken engines operating, and a range of other things to do, including a nature walk and a hedge maze.

Michelham Priory

Museum, Historical Landmark
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You have to venture about 8mi (2km) out of Eastbourne proper to reach Michelham Priory, a stately home on a moated island near Hailsham. It’s certainly worth the extra mileage though, a relic dating back to 1229 and brimming with Tudor history, as well as providing a home for London evacuees during the Blitz. All this history can be learnt on tours of the house and expansive grounds.

South Downs Way

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Seven Sisters Cliffs and Coastguard Cottages, Cuckmere Haven, Seaford Head Nature Reserve, Seaford, East Sussex, England, United Kingdom
Seven Sisters Cliffs and Coastguard Cottages, Cuckmere Haven, Seaford Head Nature Reserve, Seaford, East Sussex, England, United Kingdom | © Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy Stock Photo
The South Downs National Park stretches across 80mi (140km), from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east. You could, in theory, walk the entire trail, but for those unwilling to spend several days hiking between towns, you can take a trail past Beachy Head, the Seven Sisters and further out, eventually reaching the vista at Cuckmere Haven. There are several different shorter routes around the area and plenty of beach to explore.

Princes Park

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Sometimes a park is just a park, and other times it’s a versatile activity centre catering to families, groups and individuals alike. Princes Park, handsomely perched on the seafront, is home to two playgrounds, a pitch and putt, an indoor play area, a bowling green, a boating lake and a rose garden. You could sit and read in the pleasant surroundings or while away a whole day with the activities on offer.

The Observatory Science Centre

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The Observatory Science CentreHerstmonceuxHailshamEast Sussex
The Observatory Science Centre Herstmonceux Hailsham East Sussex | © Mark Mercer / Alamy Stock Photo

Another one slightly outside of Eastbourne in Hailsham, the Observatory Science Centre used to be the site of the Royal Greenwich Observatory following the second world war, before moving back to London in the 1990s. Now, it’s a museum to British Astronomical history and the stars themselves, with various interactive exhibitions and stargazing events.

Additional reporting by Callum Davies

These recommendations were updated on August 31, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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