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Ten things to do in Rye, East Sussex

Ypres Museum in Rye

Just over an hour by train from London’s St Pancras Station is the medieval town of Rye in East Sussex. Rye used to be a seaside town and was fortified by four gates (only one of which still exist) and it played an important part in defending the South Coast of England. It’s no longer on the sea but you can easily reach nearby Camber Sands or Winchelsea Beach if you fancy a day by the seaside.

Today, Rye is a charming town with cobbled streets, independent shops, wonderful restaurants and historic places of interest. Given its close proximity to London you can easily do a day trip, however I’d really recommend staying for a night or two.

Here’s ten things to do in Rye.

Walk along one of the oldest (and prettiest) streets in England

Rye has arguably one of the oldest streets in England, and one of the prettiest. There are buildings on Mermaid Street that were constructed in the 1100s, making the cobbled street around 900 years old. And walking up (or down) Mermaid Street feels like stepping back in time.

Take a look at the buildings for dates when they were built, or rebuilt. Oak Corner was rebuilt in 1490 during the Tudor period, hence the Tudor building. Note that it sits on the corner of Mermaid Street and Traders Passage, which was a popular route for traders to reach the port.

Oak Corner in Rye

Stay (if you’re brave) or have a drink or a meal in a haunted hotel

The Mermaid Inn on Mermaid Street is over 600 years old and rumour has it that it’s haunted. There have been numerous sightings of ghosts or paranormal activity in a number of bedrooms – so stay here if you’re brave!

We weren’t so brave but we did enjoy a lovely dinner at their restaurant, as well as a drink at the bar beforehand. Both the bar and the restaurant are very atmospheric with their regal decor, medieval lighting and big wooden beams.

On the last Sunday of each month the owner conducts guided tours of The Mermaid Inn, for a donation to charity. Contact the hotel directly to book.

The Mermaid Inn in Rye

Visit Ypres Tower

Ypres Tower was built in 1249 to defend the town from attacks. Over the centuries it has been used as a fort, a residence, a court hall, a prison and it is now a museum. You can visit inside for £5 per adult. As far as museums go, it’s quite small but it does have some interesting things to see – such as medieval armour, prison cells and torture devices.

Ypres Tower in Rye

Your entry ticket also includes the gardens where herbs are grown that would have been used in Medieval times. It’s also where the Women’s Tower is located, which was built in 1857 to house female prisoners. You can go inside and see a replica of a cell at the time.

The Women's Tower at Ypres Tower in Rye

Have a drink in a 17th century pub

If you’ve read this far, you’ll have realised that Rye is very old. The Ypres Castle Inn dates back to the 17th century and is now a charming pub with roaring fireplaces in the winter and a lovely walled garden for the summer months. Their focus is on great beer from independent producers and their wine list features organic and low-intervention wine. The beer and wine list changes regularly too. Note that they don’t serve hot food, just crisps, cheese plates and pork pies.

It’s located just a few minutes walk from the Ypres Tower so you can treat yourself to a drink after your visit.

Glass of rose wine at Ypres Castle Inn in Rye

Walk through Landgate monument

Edward III wanted Rye to be further fortified and four gateways were built in 1329. The only one still standing is Landgate. It has two towers and a chamber over the arch.

Landgate in Rye

You can’t go inside unfortunately, however you can of course walk through it and view it from both angles. It’s interesting that the towers are only visible from the front.

Landgate towers in Rye

Have a wander around the antique shops

If you love antiques, you’ll love Rye. The town has got lots of vintage and antiques shops, including a large warehouse called The Rye Emporium. It feels like there’s an antiques shop around every corner!

Antiques in Rye

Enjoy a traditional afternoon tea

When you’re in a quintessentially British town, what should you do? Have a traditional afternoon tea, of course! There are a few places in Rye to enjoy Afternoon Tea but I’d recommend The Cobbles Tea Room as it’s all it does so you’re guaranteed a proper Afternoon Tea experience. If you don’t fancy a full Afternoon Tea you can opt for a cream tea (scones with jam and cream) or just a slice of cake with tea.

Cobbles tea room in Rye

Climb St Mary’s Tower for views over Rye

The Parish Church of St Mary’s has a 900-year-old history and it has the oldest working church turret clock in the UK. You can climb the tower to see panoramic views over Rye and Romney Marsh.

St Mary's parish in Rye

Eat delicious food

Rye has some fabulous independent restaurants. We’ve been to Rye a few times and have eaten at The George in Rye, Landgate Bistro, The Mermaid Inn, Webbe’s at the Fish Cafe and more. On our last trip we had lunch at The Union, which was a real highlight. The decor is lovely, service was great and the food was fabulous. It’s very popular though so you will need to reserve a table in advance.

Lemon sole with fennel and capers at The Union in Rye

Visit a nearby vineyard

Sussex produces some fabulous English wine. There are two vineyards about a 20 minute drive from Rye – Gusbourne and Oxney Organic Estate. We didn’t visit the vineyards, but we did try both of their sparkling wines and they were fabulous! If you have time, and you’re a wine lover, definitely go for a vineyard tour and a wine tasting.

Gusbourne sparkling wine

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Ten things to do in Rye

Kirsty Marrins

Reader, writer, occasional runner, travel lover.

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