Let our local guide show you the best bits of Rye, Sussex
This guide to Rye gives you a true local insight into Rye’s history, accommodation, restaurants, shops and attractions. Nothing improved a holiday like an insider knowledge, so we’ve asked a resident of Sussex to tip us off about the best of Rye. Read on and let Sue guide you through the beautiful Rye…
The pretty and ancient hilltop town of Rye in East Sussex is in the very heart of 1066 country and with its rich and varied history has many fascinating tales to tell.
As you walk through its maze of enchanting cobbled streets you could be forgiven for thinking you had stepped back in time. Rye has always been vulnerable to invaders and has had more than its fair share of unwanted visitors in the past, but today this very friendly and welcoming small town [population approx 5000] plays host to visitors from all over the globe who come to explore Ryes colourful history, see its stunning ancient buildings, unique independent shops, amazing choice of great places to eat and excellent selection of superb accommodation.
Rye is one of the five Cinque Ports which were set up to increase the defence of the coastal towns in the south-east, where men and ships were ready at all times to defend the south coast. The exact date the Cinque Ports came into being is uncertain, but they were in existence certainly by the 12th century. However, despite the increased defence, Rye was still subject to invasions and during the 14th century much of the town was destroyed by French invaders, but in the years that followed, the town was gradually rebuilt and new defences were added.
Smuggling has been rife in Rye from as early as the 13th century, but as it increased in popularity, the 17th and 18th centuries saw smuggling reach its peak and Rye arguably became the smuggling capital of England during this period. The smugglers used a network of cellars to hide their goods and used secret passages and tunnels to move around unseen through the town.
Ypres Tower is thought to have been built around the 14th century as part of the defences of the town and is the second oldest building open to the public. The oldest public building is St Marys Church which originates from around the 12th century. The church stands proudly on the highest point of the town and its tower can be seen for miles as you make your journey towards Rye. The church was badly damaged in the French invasion of 1377 when its bells were also stolen and taken to France. The following year the men of Rye and nearby Winchelsea sailed to Normandy and recovered the bells. One of these bells was then placed in the aptly named Watchbell Street where potential invaders could be spotted and the bell rung as a warning to alert the people of Rye. The bell was returned to the church in the 16th century. One of the most popular things to do by visitors is to climb up to the church tower and literally get a bird’s eye view of the whole town, and further afield across the marshes, Camber Castle and out to sea. It is little wonder that Rye attracts so many artists and photographers.
Over the centuries, the harbour began to silt up and the sea retreated some two miles, though Rye still retains an important fishing fleet.
Rye boasts some excellent places to stay. With thousands of visitors each year the accommodation in Rye and the surrounding area caters for all styles, tastes and budgets. So whether you choose to stay in the heart of Rye itself or in the surrounding areas, you will be assured of a good choice of high-quality accommodation. Whether your preference is for a hotel, bed and breakfast or self-catering, there is a wide and varied selection and the links provided here are just some examples of good places to stay while visiting Rye. One of Ryes best-known buildings is the Mermaid Inn in historic, cobbled Mermaid Street, rebuilt in 1420 after being destroyed by the French invasion, it offers accommodation as well as somewhere to eat, whether you want a full silver service meal or a light bar snack. The Mermaid Inn has a ‘wall of fame’ in its entrance way as it is a popular choice for many household names from TV and cinema. Also in Mermaid Street is the 5* bed and breakfast providers Jeakes House. Staying amongst the ancient cobbled streets you will find The Hope Anchor in Watchbell Street, which offers good quality standard rooms as well as spacious suites, some with far reaching views to the sea.
In the small High Street with its numerous independent shops and restaurants, you will find The George, a hotel in the heart of Rye, the building of which dates from the 16th century. On the outskirts of Rye, you will find Saltcote Place, a beautiful house completed in 1905 and just a few minutes walk from the centre of Rye itself. There are a number of very good self-catering properties in the heart of the old town too and for self-catering properties just outside of Rye, Camber Sands offers guests a stunning sandy beach, the only sand dunes in East Sussex and some superb self-catering properties including the high quality 2 bedroomed Marsh View Cottage just 400m from the beach to the front. For a larger property, the 3 bedroomed The Salty Dog is also a very high quality and house. Both properties also welcome dogs and are just two examples of a number of very good choices of excellent, high-quality self-catering accommodation in Camber Sands.
Places to eat
With fresh fish straight from the Rye fishing fleet, and the unique sweet flavour of the local Romney Marsh lamb, Rye offers the visitor a wonderful choice of restaurants, inns and tea rooms. For a small town, the choice of good places to eat is amazing and there is something for even the most discerning palate. You won’t find any chain restaurants in Rye, they are all independent and along with Ryes independent shops make a visit here so pleasurable and unique.
In a historic building right outside St Marys Church, you will find the delightful and popular Fletchers House which offers wonderful home cooked food and is a perfect choice for morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea. Once the home of playwright John Fletcher, Fletchers House is an ancient building with cosy log fires to warm you on cold days and a garden terrace on warmer days. Also in the heart of Rye in Lion Street in a listed building is the popular family-run Tuscan Kitchen. Walk down to the High Street and beyond and the good choice of some great restaurants just goes on. The Monastery restaurant and the Ambrette are both excellent restaurants in the High Street and a short walk away you will find Careys seafood and steak restaurant by the quayside or Webbes at The Fish Cafe which also offers some amazing cookery courses. As if these restaurants weren’t enough, there are many more covering all culinary styles from Italian, Chinese, Thai, Indian and more. A good selection of tea rooms are also available to tempt you to try their delicious sandwiches, homemade cakes and light lunches and these include in the High Street Cranberries tea room and Haydens to name just a few.
A walk around the town will have the visitor come across many more quality places to eat and it would be good to name them all personally, but with such a vast choice of fabulous places to dine in Rye, it would make a very long read! The lesson is – come hungry and enjoy some of the finest fresh local produce on offer throughout Rye!
Great independent shops
Shopping in Rye is an absolute delight! Unlike almost every other town in the UK, Rye has less than a handful of chain shops with the remainder being independent traders offering a vast array of unusual and unique goods to tempt the visitor. The shops offer everything from kitchenware, children’s clothing, hats, jewellery, clothes, homeware, unusual gifts, art and so much more! An unusual and interesting selection of contemporary and traditional items can be found in Forget Me Not opposite Saint Marys Church. Here you will find quilts, cushions, candles, holders, toiletries, cards and seasonal goods to name but a few high-quality items on sale here. If you are a keen Teddy Bear collector look no further than Bears Galore the oldest stockist of Steiff bears in the UK except for Harrods. More than 30 leading manufacturers and bear artists products can be found here. For a good and unusual selection of craft items with some refreshingly different products, Craft Magic in Conduit Hill off of the High Street is a must.
There are so many more unique independent shops in Rye that draw visitors here and shopping is a real pleasure – especially if you are looking for that unusual gift for someone.
Of course, Rye is also well known for its antique shops and here you will discover no less than thirty different antique retailers offering everything from trinkets to furniture. Glass Etc. Is one such antique shop and is run by the Antiques Roadshow glass expert Andy McConnell and his wife.
In the local area, there is plenty to see and do depending on your interests. If you are a keen walker or cyclist you will not be disappointed as there are many walks and cycle paths in the area and information and maps regarding these can be found in Rye Tourist Information Centre. If you are a birdwatcher Rye has the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve with a further nature reserve at nearby Dungeness. For an activity holiday, the Full Throttle Boat Charters offers a choice of boat trips and they can be found in Rye Harbour. Still on the activity theme how about some kitesurfing lessons on the beach? The Kitesurf Centre in nearby Camber Sands offers a choice of lessons and courses on this sport. Windsurfing and sailing lessons are also available at nearby Rye Water Sports
For the less adventurous there is still so much to do including Rye Museum, the Rye Heritage Centre where you can pick up a personal handset for an audio tour of Rye, or even go on a ghost tour! There is also a Tourist Information Centre in Lion Street, off of the High Street leading up to the church. Both places have friendly, knowledgeable and helpful staff and you can pick up a useful map of Rye to assist you during your visit. The steam train rides on the Kent and East Sussex Railway, castles, Dungeness and the small gauge Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. The popular seaside destination of Hastings is just a few miles to the west and has plenty of things to occupy people of all ages and a trip to Hastings Country Park for some stunning views is a real treat. Of course, being in 1066 country no visit would be complete without a trip to the actual site of the Battle of Hastings of 1066 which took place in the small town of Battle. Slightly further afield but well worth a day trip, if you are staying in Rye, are many other places worthy of a visit including historic Canterbury and Dover Castle
Rye is also on the border with the county of Kent, The Garden of England, which makes it such a perfect base for visiting and exploring both counties.
For further suggestions on places to eat, accommodation, culture, things to do and shopping in Rye, please do take a look at the very useful and informative website at Visit Rye Bay
Whether you intend visiting just for the day or for a longer stay, Rye will leave you wanting to return again and again – and many people do. Rye is just a 90 minute trip from London which also makes it a very popular weekend destination at all times of the year. Rye is arguably the jewel in the crown of East Sussex and once visited is never forgotten.
Visiting the area around Rye? You might want to check out our Rye, East Sussex page.
Feature Photo by Henry & Jane Rios