How To Do A Weekend In Idyllic Rye, East Sussex

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 24 months ago

Last Updated 14 June 2022

How To Do A Weekend In Idyllic Rye, East Sussex
Mmm... stock image of Rye. Image: Shutterstock

Want to live in a windmill like Jonathan Creek or a Dutch person? Better keep on reading then.

We wonder how many people have been sucked into Rye on the strength of a stock photo similar to the one we've shamelessly used as our own hero image. The bad news is you might struggle to get your own shot as Insta-tastic as this one. The much better news is that Rye is absolutely worth visiting — as awash with winding cobblestone streets and Godric's Hollowesque half-timbered houses as all those stock images would have you believe.

Our attempt at the money shot. Bloody people.

Go on then, tell us about Rye

Get orf my land: a cannon guards the Ypres Tower

Once upon a time, there was a port town called Rye, bristling with ships and smugglers and general nautical-ness. But the estuary gradually silted up, and now the hilltop town is two miles from the coast. Rye still has that seaside ambience though, what with all the screeching gulls, canon positioned menacingly in front of the Ypres Tower, and pubs dripping with tales of looted rum, cotton and the like. It's a breezy one hour 10 minute train trip from St Pancras (with one change), and therefore a good shout for a day trip, or better — an upmarket dirty weekend.

Excellent alleyway action

You'll soon learn that Rye is a magnet for artistic types. Paul Nash, the great first world war artist, lived and painted here. Henry James penned The Wings of the Dove in the gardens of Lamb House. Goon-in-chief Spike Milligan was a Rye resident too, more of which later. Other famous residents have included E F Benson, Johnny Depp, Vic Reeves and the Cheeky Girls.

And what does one do in Rye?

Half-beam heaven

With such a pedigree of tenants, it's no wonder that Rye is about as bougie as it gets. Peruse the bougie shops, like Crock & Cosy, Merchant & Mills and Mccully & Crane — and anything else with an ampersand in it. There are also older, dustier secondhand shops, like Rye Old Books and Grammar School Records (yup, a record shop inside an old grammar school). Don't be surprised to leave Rye with a load of antique maps and vintage kitchenalia under your arms.

Rye's 14th century Landgate Arch

For some historical context on Rye, grab a tourist trail map from one of the shops for a quid, and let your partner in crime lead you around, while spinning semi-interesting yarns about salt pans and the methodist John Wesley (who literally seems to have preached methodism everywhere in the country). Climb to the top of the Parish Church of St Mary for views over the Rye rooftops (on a good day you can see France, otherwise, the Sussex coast will have to do) or otherwise just watch the golden 'quarter boys' strike on the quarter hours from below. Or visit Rye Heritage Centre, to ogle a model of the town.

A quainter cinema you will struggle to find

If you're staying the night, or the weather turns out miserable, seek solace in the lovely little two-screen Kino cinema, which also has a decent bar.

Where should I eat in Rye?

The Globe Inn Marsh Rye has quite the bar setup. And very decent pizza and fish pie

Bosun's Bite, a hip hut down by Rye Harbour, is said to do the best breakfast in Rye (indeed the photos of the breakfast baps look immense). The restaurant that everyone goes to in Rye is Webbe's at The Fish Cafe. You'll need to book a table, if you wish to enjoy its Rye Bay flounder and prosciutto or dover sole with shrimp brown butter — which we failed to do on our trip. But the menu really looks great, and not overly spendy.

The Globe Inn Marsh Rye is probably Rye's second-best pub; its focal point is a walk-around bar, brimming with all kinds of liquor and nibbles (do people still say nibbles?). The pizza is excellent, and the fish pie smells excellent. For a lunchtime bite, we highly recommend the Welsh rarebit and cream tea at Hayden's on the high street. Although every other building in Rye appears to be a cutesy cafe or teashop, so you won't be left wanting.

And where should I drink in Rye?

You'll probably stay for more than a pint at the Waterworks

The Mermaid Inn is a wonderfully crooked drinking den dating back to the 15th century, where crooked smugglers like the Hawkhurst Gang once waited for goods to come in. It's worth visiting for the roaring fires and gorgeous wall murals alone, but the beer is bog standard. Have half a Guinness (or a rum) and then move on to the Rye Waterworks micropub — which is far and away Rye's best pub. They serve very affordable cask beer from a massive fridge, alongside big fat delicious pork pies for £2.50. The landlord is hugely friendly, as are the locals. There's no way you'll only stay for one. The Pipemaker's Arms will cater to your thrifty drinks/cover bands needs, and you can see out your night at The Grapevine, a non-pretentious little jazz bar bathed in red light and good times.

Love it

For non boozy drinks, a trip to Knoops is pretty much a must: Jens Knoops makes unctuous hot chocolate drinks, with melted chocolate buttons, and there are roughly one million variations you can try — they're divvied up by chocolate percentage, among other additions. We got a 64% with sea salt and it was reasonably immense.

A jaunt to Winchelsea

Best. Punchline. Ever. (It's 'I Told You I Was Ill')

As we've already ascertained, Rye is now in a long distance relationship with the sea. For (shingle) beach action, travel to nearby Winchelsea. It's one of the smallest towns in the country, which basically means it feels like a village, although an extremely picturesque one. Anyone who considers themself a discerning fan of comedy must visit the grave of Spike Milligan, in the churchyard of Saint Thomas the Martyr. It bears the greatest punch line of all time: "Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite." Amiright? Yeah, you might need to look that one up.

Staying the night... in a windmill

Rye B&B: Channel your image Jonathan Creek.

We promised you a windmill didn't we. Rye's doable as a day trip from London if you get up early. But if you can, treat yourself to a Saturday night stopover. Rye Windmill B&B is, as you might expect, a B&B in a windmill — although you'll pay top dollar to actually stay in the windmill itself, and may have to book way ahead. But what an excellent way to celebrate an anniversary/birthday/love of windmills. Otherwise, there are plenty of other perfectly serviceable rooms on offer. The host, Toby, will tell you all the best things to see and do (although, it seems you've almost finished reading this article, so...), and the fry up will set you up for a day of ogling half-timbered buildings. You can also do a posh pub stay at somewhere like the Standard or indeed the Mermaid.