The Sussex Modern guide to Eastbourne

Sussex Modern Stories  |  10 minutes read

Forget everything you thought you knew: Eastbourne is now officially cool. Here’s what to pack into your visit to this newly-energised south coast destination. 

Without a doubt, 2023 is Eastbourne’s year. Thrown into the spotlight by the announcement that the Turner Prize will be hosted at Towner Eastbourne as part of the gallery’s centenary celebrations, this Victorian seaside hotspot is now on the radar of the entire art world, and featured in numerous lists of 2023’s hottest destinations. 

Small enough to dip into in a day, exciting enough to stay for a week, Eastbourne has got it going on. So if you do like to be beside the seaside, here are just some of the things to do, places to stay, eat and drink in Eastbourne: Britain’s new cultural hotspot.

Photo: Emma Croman

Art and culture in Eastbourne

Painted in bold geometric rainbow colours by German artist Loether Götz, art gallery Towner Eastbourne is one of the town’s most instantly recognisable buildings. But this Modernist marvel stands out in many more ways: with a consistently top-drawer programme of exhibitions, its own independent cinema and newly zhuzhed up cafe, shop and event spaces, it’s a worthy home for the world’s biggest art prize. Towner Eastbourne turns 100 in 2023, so keep your eyes out for their year-long programme of centenary events.

Towner Gallery.Photo: Emma Croman

A short walk away (just like everything in Eastbourne, hooray!), the small but excellent Emma Mason Gallery is the place to see work by artist printmakers working in Britain from the 1950s onwards, while VOLT, a gallery and project space located near the seafront and established as part of the Devonshire Collective, showcases work by emerging and mid-career artists with an experimental approach and a programme of bold and ambitious exhibitions.

For live music, theatre and more, the Congress Theatre (the only place outside London to see the London Philharmonic perform), Devonshire Park Theatre and Winter Garden are all situated in the heart of Eastbourne’s cultural quarter. Find listings at Eastbourne Theatres

Not in Eastbourne, but only twenty minutes along the coast in nearby Bexhill–on-Sea, the spectacular De La Warr Pavilion is an art gallery, concert venue and cultural hub with a year-round programme of music, theatre, exhibitions and other events.

Where to eat in Eastbourne

What is it about all that sea air that makes us so hungry? Luckily, Eastbourne is spilling over with quality places to eat, drink and then eat some more. Newly opened upstairs at Towner Gallery, Light is a rooftop restaurant and cafe with an amazing terrace, horseshoe bar and a view of the sky. For brunch, lunch and neighbourhood dining, Skylark is a chic, unfussy independent with a pretty secret courtyard for warmer days. Relaxed dining and great wine is the order of the day at Cru, with its seasonal sharing plates and handpicked wines, while the circular Bistrot Pierre is a chain, yes, but with such spectacular panoramic sea views. For something extra special, Port Hotel‘s stylish and seasonal menu never disappoints. 

Bistrot Pierre. Photo: Emma Croman.

Looking for something to eat on the go? For a true Eastbourne foodie experience, head to the  eastern end of the Royal Parade, where working fishmongers The Fish and Crab Shack serves up the freshest seafood and legendary crab sandwiches to windswept beach walkers. The Soup n Tap, is a cosy, low-key spot you’ll never want to leave on colder days, or for carbs to keep you fuelled, artisanal bakery To The Rise has you covered. It’s not a trip to the seaside without an ice cream: try Gelato Famoso’s deservedly famous gelato ⁠— we heartily recommend their homemade pistachio. 

Eastbourne bars and pubs

Thanks to its location deep in the heart of Sussex wine country, Eastbourne brims with quality bars serving local English wines and beers from some of Sussex’s best artisanal breweries. With a good selection of Sussex wine (plus more than 200 varieties from around the world, if you must), Levels wine bar is a wine taster’s dream, with self-service tasting machine and knowledgeable staff.  

Levels wine bar. Photo by Emma Croman

The best cocktails in town can be found at Port Hotel‘s seafront bar, while the colourful and quirky Dew Drop Inn, Rainbow Pub or The Dolphin all offer a warm welcome and a good meal in a family- and dog-friendly environment. 

Port Hotel. Photo: Emma Croman

The best coffee in Eastbourne

You’re never far from an excellent coffee in Eastbourne. Near the station, Nelson Coffee’s Roastery serves high-grade, seasonal and ethical coffee (and a great brunch too), while in the station’s former ticket office, Foundry Coffee’s flagship location ensures you never have to travel empty handed. You’ll also find them inside the Beacon shopping centre. With two locations in central Eastbourne, Urban Ground Coffee make excellent coffee to take away or enjoy with a relaxed brunch, while DOC Coffee, Beanzz and Hyde Corner Coffee in Eastbourne’s vibrant Little Chelsea area are ideal places to while away an afternoon of people watching and flipping through arty magazines. 

DOC Coffee, Eastbourne. Photo: Emma Croman.

Independent shops

Book lovers unite, and head to the legendary Camilla’s Bookshop to lose yourself in three floors piled high with second hand, rare and antique books. There’s also a parrot hiding in there somewhere amongst the paperbacks. All Things Analogue is heaven for fans of beautiful stationery, while Barley Sugar is the place to stock up your pantry with top quality local produce. 

Camilla's Bookshop. Photo: Emma Croman

Where to stay in and around Eastbourne

Fall asleep to the sound of the waves at the seafront Port Hotel: Eastbourne’s best boutique hotel by a seaside mile, with an excellent all-day restaurant and bar. Out of town and into the Cuckmere Valley, ex-smugglers’ haunt The Star at Alfriston is a rural idyll near to Rathfinny Wine Estate, while on the other side of town, follow the coast to Norman’s Bay and the recently rekindled Relais Cooden Beach Hotel, complete with private beach and mid-century interiors. 

Port Hotel. Photo: Emma Croman

Things to do near Eastbourne

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Eastbourne for more than a day, then be sure to get out of town and explore some of the local area.  Did we mention this is Sussex wine country? Leave the car behind: you never know when you might stumble upon a vineyard, and it would be very rude not to try the produce.

By bike

Several vineyards are cyclable from Eastbourne. Take to the Cuckoo Trail cycle path through the Sussex countryside to Off the Line and Hidden Spring vineyards, or cycle through the atmospheric Pevensey Levels to Henners. For art and sea, take the Coastal Culture Trail along the seafront: an unbroken stretch of cycle route linking Eastbourne with De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and Hastings Contemporary further along.

By foot

Walk from Holywell to see the famous lighthouse, or catch a bus to Seven Sisters Country Park – recently named one of the most beautiful places in the whole world by Conde Nast Traveller – and explore to your heart’s content. From here you can also pick up a bike from the excellent Cuckmere Cycle Company at the visitor centre, and cycle around the valley to Rathfinny Wine Estate. We recommend an e-bike, unless you have thighs of steel. 

Perfect pubs walkable from Eastbourne include the Tiger Inn in the beautiful little village of East Dean (a circular coastal walk over the cliffs via Birling Gap will get you there), or the cosy  Eight Bells in Jevington, from where you can continue on to discover the Long Man of Wilmington

Photo: Emma Croman

By water 

Hire a kayak from Wish Tower to explore Eastburne from the sea, or meander along the Cuckmere River on a SUP or canoe (from April – October).

Further afield 

Thinking about staying longer? Please do. There’s so much more to see in Sussex – from world-class vineyards and art galleries to heart-stopping landscapes and exciting events. Sign up to our monthly newsletter (below) to receive the latest news and updates.

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A characteristic broad-leaved tree of Sussex woodlands, the Hornbeam is recognised by its smooth, sinuous trunk and furrowed leaves. Long ago its exceptionally hard wood was used in the Weald to make charcoal for iron smelting.



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