Things to do in the Town
A certain battle in 1066 might have put Hastings on the map, but there’s more to this historic seaside town than just being the site of the Norman Conquest.
Hastings has been a popular spot since it became a spa resort in Georgian times. The later arrival of the railway revolution saw wealthy Victorians visit in their droves. Hastings also has the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe which has led to a thriving fishing, arts and museum community down by the harbour.
Despite retaining the charm of the old town, this is a modern seaside town for the 21st Century. Here’s our guide to getting the most out of your Hastings break.
Find out about the fishing heritage of the town
The Hastings Fisherman’s Museum is in a lovely location. Surrounded by tall black fishing sheds, it’s in the Grade-II listed building which was the former Fishermen’s Church of St Nicholas. One of the star exhibits is the 1912 sailing lugger Enterprise. The last of its kind in Hastings, you can climb onto the deck to see what life was like on board. Equally intriguing is the Shipwreck Museum, where during low tide you can explore the sites of two historic shipwrecks. Inside the museum, you can find out more about items scavenged and saved from wrecks and learn more about the coastline and its secrets (including smuggling). Both museums are free, but donations are welcome. You can also take a guided walk at The Stade, Hastings Old Town Fishing Quarter, while the experts reveal 1,000 years of maritime history.
Visit the local galleries
The Jerwood Gallery opened in 2012 to much acclaim, due in part to its intriguing design on the shingle beach. The black-tiled exterior was built to compliment the nearby net huts of the local fishermen. Venture inside and you’ll find a collection of 20th and 21st-century British art, much of which has never been seen by the public before, and feature pieces from artists like L.S Lowry and Augustus John. If it’s a nice day, have a drink in Webbes’ at Jerwood – a café with an outside terrace and beach views. Elsewhere, the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery has a collection of dinosaur fossils, including the Iguanodon, which were found in the area.
Search out some skullduggery
The Smugglers Adventure shows how the St Clement’s Caves (formed in the Ice Age around 14,000 BC) was used for nefarious means in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Illicit trade was a major occupation along the Sussex Coast and now you can find out more about the area’s smuggling past. Along with dodgy dealings, the caves have also provided a haven for Hastings residents over the years, including as an air raid shelter and hospital.
Relax on the beach
A mix of sand and pebbles gives Hastings beach that traditional feel, and you’ll also find the usual amusements, fairground rides, fish and chips and crazy golf there. Pelham is the child-friendly section of the beach, where you can also hire floating buggies called Tiralos. These are great if you’re travelling with someone in a wheelchair as, combined with state-of-the-art matting, they allow full access to the beach.
Have a go at cooking by the coast
If you’ve ever fancied frying some fish straight from the net, then beach cookery school Classroom on the Coast can help. Book a lesson with expert teachers including chefs, fishmongers, scientists and environmentalists, or watch one of the demonstrations.
Ride the East Hill Lift
Hop onto the steepest funicular railway in Britain up to the West Hill to enjoy spectacular views over the town and the English Channel. You’ll be travelling in the original wooden Victorian coaches, right through a man-made tunnel, before arriving at the top at the Hastings Country Park.
Follow in Foyle’s footsteps
The hit 1940s detective drama ITV’s Foyle’s War, starring Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks, was filmed, and mainly set, in Hastings Old Town. If you’re a fan, you’ll find DI Foyle’s house on Croft Road, and there are plenty of other locations seen in the programme, including Hill Street and St Clement’s Church.
See some sea life by the seaside
The Blue Reef Aquarium has an underwater tunnel where you can watch the stingrays and reef sharks go about their business. If you like serpents, then Bruce and The Professor, the two Royal Pythons, will give you a friendly squeeze, however, Sharon the Stonefish is strictly hands-off, she’s one of the most venomous fish in the world.
Wield your own weapons
If you are feeling inspired by the battle, take the older children to 1066 Target Sports where they can have a go at archery, crossbows and even axe throwing. For the adults, organisers say the latter sport, in particular, is a great stress buster.
Promenade down the Pier
Following a £14million renovation and makeover after years of bomb and storm damage and several turbulent decades of ownership since it was first opened in 1872, the Hastings Pier Charity look forward to entertaining a new generation of visitors.
Get some park life
Alexandra Park, in the heart of the town, is worth a visit and is now a Grade-II designated site. Alongside the formal Victorian gardens, there are wild areas, including the Little and Old Roar Gill and Coronation Wood. In the summer there are concerts and festivals and a boating lake for a spot of rowing. It also has tennis courts, a miniature railway and play areas for the children.
Up on the cliffs above the town is the Hastings County Park Nature Reserve. It’s both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), so there’s plenty of wildlife (including wild ponies), plants and heathland to explore.
Coastal Cultural Trail
One of the best ways to experience East Sussex is by bike. The coastal cycle route takes you all the way from Jerwood Gallery to Towner and is traffic free from Hastings to Bexhill. Cycling is such a great way of taking the trail but we do advise that the stretch between Bexhill and Eastbourne is only suitable for over 12’s.
The Sussex Coastal Culture Trail Map & Guide is an illustrated map that shows you ways to cycle and walk the trail, as well as places of interest. The map is available to buy at all three galleries in the town or you can download a version here. The website is a great source of useful information about Hastings St Leonard’s and Eastbourne.
Source Park : The world’s largest subterranean skate park
White Rock, Hastings TN34 1JA
The Source Park is a huge underground skate park facility situated under the seafront in the heart of Hastings. The Source Park is open to all ages and disciplines with specific sessions for BMX and skateboards, and mixed sessions open to all. The Source Park is also home to the new shop – the biggest BMX/skate shop in Europe.
Walk or cycle the Coastal Cultural Trail
This takes in a 20-to-25-mile stretch of the East Sussex coastline. Running alongside the South Downs National Park, there are a variety of trails to try, depending on how much time you have.
Hastings is a relatively short drive to some of Britain’s finest gardens, all worth a visit year-round:
Sissinghurst Gardens Biddenden Rd, Cranbrook TN17 2AB
Phone: 01580 710701
Great Dixter Northiam, Rye TN31 6PH
Phone: 01797 252878
Charleston House Firle, Lewes BN8 6LL
Phone: 01323 811626
Pashley Manor Pashley Road, Ticehurst, Wadhurst TN5 7HE
Phone: 01580 200888
Bexhill Bicycle Hire, opposite the De La Warr Pavilion, and Let’s Bike in Southbourne Road, Eastbourne are operating a scheme where you can hire a bike from them and leave it at another stop on the trail. All you have to do is lock your bike at the designated bike racks at Jerwood Gallery, De La Warr Pavilion or Towner and hand the keys into their reception.
Have a wander through Hastings’ Old Town
The delightfully named “Twittens” in the Old Town is a maze of narrow streets and passageways, many of which were used by smugglers. There are plenty of picturesque half-timbered houses to look at, and it is here you’ll find scores of boutiques and craft shops.
Linked by twittens (lanes), the Old Town has recently seen a collection of quality boutiques open. Try Shimizu for flowers, Penbuckles Deli for cheese, Warp & Weft for chic clothes and Butler’s Emporium for pretty much everything else. No trip to Hastings would be complete without a visit to Hendy Home Store for an eclectic mix of new and vintage homewares. The town is also a great place to rummage antique and bric a brac shops for elusive bargains.
So we probably should mention 1066 and all that
Possibly the most remembered date in English history, the Battle of Hastings saw William the Conqueror and his French army invade the country and capture the crown from King Harold II in 1066. It’s understandable therefore that this remains a big deal in the town, and the epic annual Battle of Hastings re-enactment, which takes place every October, is always a seaside spectacular.
You can meet the chain-mailed knights and their trusty steeds in the cavalry encampment pre-battle, then watch as the battle unfolds with more than 500 soldiers involved in the clash. You can also visit what remains of Hastings Castle, high up on the hill, which was the first Norman-style “motte and bailey” castle to be built on English soil. It was first built before the Battle of Hastings to give William the Conqueror a base to take on the English.