England

Beyond Gatwick: Things to see and do in south England

The south of England is a treasure trove of great experiences; here’s a handy guide to the region. By KATE MORRISON

The south of England is one of Europe’s most characterful destinations, full of narrow countryside lanes, cozy pubs and green fields. Here are some of our picks for a full English experience.

Food and drink

East Beach Cafe the seafront at Littlehampton
Simon Kreitem / Visit Britain / Getty Images

Eat the sea

You’ll find the South’s best and freshest seafood right on the coast, from Michelin-starred hotspots to beach-hut cafes. Pebble Beach in Barton-on-Sea, Hampshire, boasts an incredible view over Christchurch Bay from its outdoor terrace, while you can skim stones into the sea from your table at Shell Bay in Studland, Dorset. The Crab House Cafe in Wyke Regis is a tiny gem with its own oyster beds and a menu based on the day’s catch. In Littlehampton, Sussex, the Thomas Heatherwick-designed East Beach cafe serves traditional fish and chips in a stunning contemporary setting.

Sights and landmarks

Portsmouth historic Dockyard / HMS Warrior

Maritime history

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is so packed with sights that you’ll need more than a day to take them all in. The 252-year-old HMS Victory, Nelson’s famous flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar, is docked here along with the Victorian HMS Warrior, the most powerful warship of her day. Henry VIII’s favourite warship the Mary Rose was raised from the seabed in 2013 and is the only 16th century warship on display anywhere in the world. Ride up the nearby Spinnaker Tower to enjoy a high tea or a glass of prosecco up in the clouds, overlooking Portsmouth Harbour.

Castles and romance

England’s story is told through the historic buildings of the South, from Battle Abbey in Sussex on the site of the Battle of Hastings, to beautiful Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. Kent is rich in castles, with medieval fortress Dover Castle keeping watch on the White Cliffs and Leeds Castle, once a Norman stronghold, dreaming over its moat. Further romance can be found in the homes of two quintessentially English writers. Jane Austen’s house is in Chawton, Hampshire, and the thatched cottage where Thomas Hardy was born can be found near Dorchester.

Shopping and lifestyle

Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England

Brighton rocks

Brighton offers the best independent shopping on the South Coast, a box of delights packed with treasure for fashionistas, foodies and lovers of all things vintage. Trawl for antique jewellery in the cobbled Lanes, browse the lifestyle shops of the North Laine or find one-of-a-kind designer fashion in vintage boutiques. Explore the Regency splendour and Indian and Chinese-inspired architecture of King George IV’s pleasure palace the Royal Pavilion; ride the new i-360 tower for panoramic views over the sea and choose from hundreds of cafes and restaurants. Visit in May to catch the carnival spirit of the city’s Festival & Fringe.

Nature and day trips

Sussex coast Cuckmere Haven UK drone aerial

Coastal beauty

Some of the South’s most breathtaking views appear where the land meets the sea. The iconic limestone arch of Durdle Door in Dorset’s Lulworth Cove is a gateway to the sights of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hunt for fossils in lovely Lyme Regis or marvel at the sandstone stacks in Ladram Bay. In Sussex you can gaze across the Channel from the chalk cliffs at Beachy Head or Cuckmere Haven, wander from the pretty town of Rye to the vast expanse of Camber Sands or swim from the beautiful Blue Flag beach at West Wittering.

Experiences

Architecture by Rick Mather Architects
G. Jackson/ArcaidImages/Getty Images

Art along the shore

Many neglected seaside towns have been rejuvenated into creative hubs in recent years and art lovers will find treasure all along the coast. Margate in Kent boasts the Turner Contemporary gallery and an ultra-hip take on a seaside theme park at Dreamland. Hastings in Sussex is home to the Jerwood Gallery and the 2017 ‘Pier of the Year‘, re-opened after a fire destroyed the original Victorian structure in 2010. The Towner gallery in Eastbourne and the Pallant in Chichester have great collections, or take a pilgrimage to filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman’s famous cottage garden on the wild shingle beach of Dungeness.

Active and sports

Male mountain biker biking on moorland track in sunlight. New Forest
Jonathan Blackham / Cultura RF / Getty Images

Offshore and inland

For a true maritime thrill, take to the sea on a tall ship. Sail out from Swanage’s Victorian pier on the Moonfleet for a classic sailing expedition; have a go at learning the skills needed to harness the power of the wind or simply watch the coast float by. Head inland to hire a bicycle near beautiful Corfe Castle and explore the hills and trails of Dorset, or gear up for a walk, cycle or horse ride through the New Forest in Hampshire for adventures among the ancient trees of what was once a royal hunting forest.

Wellness

Lime Wood hotel - herb house rooftop
Amy Murrell

Find peace in nature

Built inside a 19th century walled garden, the spa at Ockenden Manor hotel in Cuckfield, Sussex features a swim-through indoor and outdoor pool and a walk-through rainforest shower fed by a natural spring. Wander the nine acres of grounds and relax. Herb House at Lime Wood Hotel in the New Forest is an arboreal delight designed over three levels with a rooftop gym, forest sauna and herb garden meditation area. Tilton House in Sussex offers yoga, holistic and creative retreats and food fresh from the garden in a house steeped in Bloomsbury history and nestled at the foot of the South Downs.

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