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Top things to do on a short break in West Sussex

Plan your break to West Sussex

What could be better than a county with vast areas of protected countryside, a variety of vineyards and a whopping 50 miles of coastline to explore? Yep, not much. Encompassing part of the South Downs National Park, there are countless things to do in West Sussex whether you’re into wine tasting, rockpooling, sports cars or river kayaking. Read on to discover your new favourite places on the south coast of England.

With restrictions easing across England, please continue to follow government guidance and remember to plan ahead and check attraction websites before travelling. Take a look at our top tips on how to escape the everyday responsibly to see how you can make the most out of your day trips and breaks. 

1

Marvel at magnificent Arundel

Arundel

Arundel Castle is a restored medieval castle in Arundel.. View from the Norman motte, high above the castle grounds.

Having seen sieges, battles and even the likes of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, Arundel Castle, originally built at the end of the 11th century, is a testament against time. Set high on a hill, the castle commands the landscape with its lofty turrets and magnificent views across the South Downs and the River Arun. Wander through the castle’s glorious gardens and grounds, from the award-winning Tropical and English Gardens to the warm glasshouses filled with chillies, grapes and lemons. Be sure to take a castle tour too, to learn about the finely preserved interiors, dotted with fascinating furniture, tapestries and a rare collection of paintings.

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Once you’re all castled out, make your way down the hill to the chic market town of Arundel. Nestled in the majestic Arun Valley, the town combines one thousand years of history with a bunch of independent shops, art galleries, delightful drinking spots and quirky cafes, making it a great place to explore and unwind. Take a peek at bits and bobs that make up the town’s heritage at the Arundel Museum – from Roman floor tiles to WWII air raid siren – or laze away the afternoon surrounded by the stunning scenery of the South Downs at Riverside, a fabulous spot for food, drink and even paddleboard hire! Then retire for the night at The Swan Hotel, a traditional country pub home to 14 stylish suites in the heart of Arundel.

Find more things to do in Arundel
2

Sample West Sussex’s vineyards

West Sussex

View across vines at Bolney Wine Estate

The dry and sunny West Sussex climate is ideal for growing grapes, so it’s no surprise there are more and more vineyards popping up across the county, each with its own distinctive vintage and special welcome. Block out an afternoon for a wine tour around one of the vineyards – Tinwood Estate and Bluebell Vineyard are famous for their sparkling wines, while Bolney Wine Estate (said to be one of the oldest vineyards in England) is renowned for its Pinot Noir. Learn about the wine-making process from grape to glass, before diving in to try a selection of the estates’ finest. Chin chin!

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If you’re more of a foodie, then treat yourself to a meal at one of ‘Europe’s Top 10 Beach Restaurants’ on the coast of Worthing. The Crab Shack serves up the freshest crab, prawns, squid and mussels right beside the sea. Elsewhere, The Artisan Bakehouse puts on bread-making workshops where you can learn to make Mediterranean bread, enriched doughs and Viennoiserie. Or, ease yourself into sourdough with a two-day course – there are cottages onsite if you ‘knead’ somewhere to stay.

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3

Relax in award-winning hotel spas

Atherington

If kicking back and unwinding is more up your street, then you’ll be glad to know that West Sussex also has a surplus of spas to pick from. Built in the style of a Sussex barn, the spa at the Baliffscourt Hotel makes for a luxury country escape with expansive windows that bring the outdoors in, two swimming pools and a wonderful choice of treatments for mind, body and spirit. Start your pampering session with an energetic class in the fitness studio, followed by a trip to the steam room and a dip in the outdoor hot tub. To make your visit even more indulgent, add on an afternoon tea or dinner at the hotel restaurant.

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Nestled in the West Sussex countryside, you’ll find the clean lines of Ockenden Manor Spa, a modern haven tucked away inside a 19th-century walled garden. Unwind in the unique pool where you can swim from indoors to the outside heated pool to soak up the views and choose from eight treatment rooms, sauna, steam room and hot tub and even an Isopod flotation water tank. Treat yourself to a much-needed massage before retiring to the lounge where you can pick from a range of smoothies and healthy bites to eat. If you’re short on time, you can opt for a morning spa retreat or stop by for an afternoon tea experience.

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4

Visit the most beautiful gardens in Sussex

Horsham

Whatever the season, West Sussex is stuffed full of floral inspiration, with plenty of amazing gardens to visit – some big, some small, some wild and some calmly botanical. One of the most unique is Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens – a Grade 1-listed garden set within a valley on a 240-acre estate. After being abandoned, the garden underwent the largest restoration in England and reopened in 2019, and is now famed for its outstanding displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, bluebells and ornamental rock garden. On your visit, you may even spot a rare colony of wallabies.

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Covering over 500 acres, there are tons to see and do at Wakehurst. These wild botanic gardens are home to wetlands – where you can watch birds and insects in their natural habitat – as well as the Coronation Meadow, Rock Walk and the Millenium Seed Bank, said to be the world’s largest conservation project. Or, roam the Sussex Prairie Gardens, a must-visit in late summer for the dreamy combinations of perennials and grasses. Complementing the natural landscape, the garden also houses various artworks, sculptures and exhibitions.

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5

Take a wildlife boat safari

Arundel

Boat safari at Arundel Wetland Centre

With parts of the county’s countryside under protected status, West Sussex is teeming with wildlife. See some of the species for yourself at WWT Arundel, a safe haven of wide-open spaces alive with wetland nature. Keep your eye out for harriers soaring above you as you explore a boardwalk of decks and bridges through reeds, lakes and woodland, or learn more about the landscape with a guided boat safari across the waters. You’ll pass a range of water-loving flora and may even catch a glimpse of seasonal wildlife like water voles, grey herons, snipes and tufted ducks. Safaris run daily come rain or shine and the wheelchair-accessible boats hold up to four people.

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If you like being up close with wildlife, then you’ll love a day spent with West Sussex Falconry. After meeting and learning about the beautiful birds of prey, you’ll get to grips with handling them and experience them flying onto your glove. Small groups and a passionate teacher make this a day to remember. Alternatively, see the country from a different perspective by jumping in a kayak and enjoying a guided trip with The Kayak Coach up the River Arun. As you leave Arundel Castle behind, you’ll pass through some of the most secluded nature reserves and countryside West Sussex. If you fancy giving back to the landscape, the company also runs river clean-up trips, as well as ‘leave no trace’ camping experiences that highlight sustainability issues in the area.

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6

Sleep in a refurbished railway carriage

Petworth

King bedroom at The Old Railway Station

Make tracks and stay in a Pullman Carriage at The Old Railway Station in the heart of the South Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Originally built in 1892, the former train station and its decommissioned train carriages have had a serious makeover. There are six standard railway carriage rooms up for grabs, and two in the Station House – and breakfast, drinks and afternoon tea can be served directly to your abode.

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Or why not take camping in West Sussex to a new level at an award-winning sustainable yurt village near Chichester? Nestled in woodland, Plush Tents Glamping offers seriously high-spec luxury tents (complete with personal outdoor kitchen and hammocks) for those who really want to switch off. The site also has a communal yurt for activities like cinema nights, yoga classes and children’s workshops. If you prefer being above ground, check out the Blackberry Wood treehouses in Streat, where you can choose to stay in a fairytale castle in the sky, a double-decker bus or even an old-school fire engine.

Find more campsites and places to stay in West Sussex
7

Ride the waves in West Wittering

West Witterings

People kite surfing off the coast of West Sussex

West Sussex is famous for its coastal landscapes and what better way to get to know them than by braving the waters of Selsey to see crabs, prawns and pipefish up close, and explore wrecks, reefs and scenic drifts on a scuba diving trip with Mulberry Marine Experiences. If you’re better on your sea legs, try the art of kitesurfing across the waves with 2XS. Based on West Wittering’s Blue Flag beach, the club also offers windsurfing and stand-up paddleboarding tuition.

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Forgotten your cossie? Head to the ‘Pier of the Year’ – Worthing’s Victorian-come-Art Deco landmark jutting off the coast. Lined with colourful artwork, Worthing pier makes for a top Instagrammable spot in West Sussex. Or whip out your wellies, grab a bucket and scout out some rockpools. From Shoreham to West Wittering, there’s an abundance of coastal critters waiting to be discovered.

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8

Cycle Britain’s newest national park

South Downs National Park

Two people cycling on a cycle path in the South Downs national park.

Awarded National Park status just 10 years ago, the South Downs National Park’s rolling hills, pretty villages, coastal views and extensive wildlife are just what you need for a relaxing rural break away from the rat race. Experienced mountain bikers will love the 100-mile-long South Downs Way National Trail, an undulating and challenging route snaking through picturesque villages, hilly outcrops and along the chalky ridges of Seven Sisters – refuel or rest up for the night at The Blue Bell at Cocking, a friendly village pub just below the trail. More casual cyclists may prefer to take on the Centurian Way, a five-and-a-half-mile path that’s pleasantly flat (no hill climbing here!).

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If you’re feeling glam, get behind the wheel of a supercar at Goodwood Motor Circuit, one of the UK’s most challenging race tracks. Perfect for speed freaks, you’ll get to take on the historic two-and-a-half-mile circuit on a range of driving experiences, including Spin & Slide, where the driving instructor will teach you how to master powerslides, handbrake turns and J-turns. Or take it down a notch and head to Southern Pursuits, where you can have a go a quad biking, clay pigeon shooting and even manning your own hovercraft.

Find more outdoor activities in West Sussex
9

Explore West Sussex’s one and only city

Chichester

Chichester Cathedral and gardens

Discover local stories, tales and legends, and all the nooks and crannies, hidden boutiques and foodie gems of Chichester. With its cobbled Georgian streets steeped in history, leading theatre and art galleries, and hidden gardens, this cathedral city has lots going for it. As well as visiting Chichester Cathedral, which has stood proud since 1108, make sure to visit Market Cross – an iconic landmark – walk along the Chichester Canal to spot some of the wildlife that calls the area home, watch a show at Chichester Festival Theatre, one of the UK’s flagship regional theatres, and swing by Goodwood Estate to experience one of its many classic sports events.  

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East of Chichester is Steyning, a charming little town home to picturesque high streets with an array of shops and historic buildings, as well as plenty of green space. Pay a visit to nearby Cissbury Ring (owned by the National Trust) –  it’s said to be the largest hill fort in the country, and on a good day you can see all the way to the Isle of Wight. For bucket-and-spade beaches, family-friendly amusements and one of Sussex’s most famous holiday camps, head to Bognor Regis.

Find more places to visit in West Sussex
17 Jun 2021(last updated)

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    Arundel

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    West Sussex

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    Atherington

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    Horsham

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    Arundel

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    Petworth

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    West Witterings

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    South Downs National Park

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    Chichester

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