If you read our new Sussex Exclusive magazine (shameless plug), you’ll have seen our whistlestop list of top things to do in Rye. The list includes a visit to Mermaid Street and The Mermaid Inn, the Rye Heritage Centre, Ypres Tower, the Nature Reserve, and nearby Winchelsea. And they are all definitely “Rye must-dos”. But we wanted to go back and visit Rye again and see if we could find any “hidden Rye” as we explored both the town and the surrounding area.
This was a tall order because the path to Rye is pretty well-trodden but here are our top recommendations of the less well-known or alternative things to do in Rye:
Climb St Mary’s Tower
The church sits at the heart of the old town not far from Ypres Tower and it’s pretty hard to miss. Having ventured in, you’ll see that for £4 you can climb up into the bell tower and up and out onto the roof.
There’s a sign that warns that if you don’t like confined spaces or heights, you should not venture up (I don’t but we did). It is well worth the fear! Apart from getting an aerial view of the inside of the church and a close-up view of the clock workings and bell, you then climb up three ladders and out onto the roof! The views are amazing and what a great way to get your bearings of the town. But note to self, when you descend, you have to do so backwards!
Lamb House Exhibition and Garden
Lamb House is a very short walk from the church. It’s a National Trust property and was once home to (or visited by) a number of literary types including Henry James, E F Benson, and Rumer Godden. If you like the idea of romantic writing rooms and a good old-fashioned typewriter this is absolutely the place for you.
But they also have exhibitions. Currently on display is an exhibition called The Tilling Houses which features linocut prints by local printmaker Amanda Cardoso of the real-life houses of Rye that the characters from the books of E F Benson (Mapp and Lucia) inhabited. When you’re ready, outside the main house, is the most enchanting walled garden with a winding path and some incredible trees. The gardeners are super helpful if you can’t work out what’s what and it feels exotic and quintessentially English at the same time.
St Thomas Becket on Romney Marsh
If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-track things to do in Rye, this one is well worth the hike (even though it’s not in Rye or even in Sussex). A short drive from the tiny village of Fairfield just outside Rye, and in the middle of Romney Marsh, the church dates back to the 12th century and stands on a tiny island that you can only approach by bridge.
Unsurprisingly, it’s been used in various films and TV dramas but more surprisingly, they still hold services here which must involve a long and at times muddy walk in the winter. It was refurbished inside in the 18th century and has white box pews, a vaulted wooden ceiling, and a puritanical feel. If you don’t mind getting wet or muddy, this is one to visit on a stormy day because it feels broody, remote, and evocative under dark, threatening skies.
Walk Romney Marsh and Camber Sands
Romney Marsh has a very distinct personality. Wild and untamed, there is actually a great network of footpaths across the marshes which are all well signed. The lanes that criss-cross it are also quiet and ideal for cycling. You can hire bikes locally (head towards Rye Harbour and you’ll see the sign) and for longer walks, incorporate the Royal Military Canal or walk to Camber Sands and join the Coastal Path. If you visit the Ypres Tower, there is an illuminated map that shows the changing coastline of this area and it’s incredible to think that this marshy mass was entirely underwater when the Romans arrived.
Rummage local brocantes
The good people of Rye are clearly lovers of a good flea market and whilst out on the marshes you might want to head to Hoof Brocante. This family-run business includes a quirky combination of antique French textiles, linens, and unusual collectables! If you can’t find what you want here, head back to Rye where you’ll find more antiques, interiors and brocantes than you can shake a French stick at.
The Rye Retreat
Time for some R&R at this Aveda Lifestyle salon and spa on Cinque Ports Street. We didn’t have time to stop for a treatment but we did have a sneaky peep and it looks lush. They have a whole host of divine-sounding treatments to help you unwind.
The Grapevine Jazz and Champagne bar
As the sun sets, climb up Conduit Hill towards the High Street and you’ll see the cellar windows of this uber-cool bar glowing in the dusk just above the line of the cobbled street. With live music every night, this candle-lit bar serves cocktails as well as champagne and just oozes sophistication!
Enjoy local produce
Rye has local produce in abundance. Just out of town you have the Salts Farm Shop at East Guldeford and as you head back into town, Rye Bay Fish is a family run fishmongers on the banks of the River Rother (just head towards Camber and you’ll see it by the bridge) which has a seafood deli! Back in town, there is a chocolatier and a hot chocolate shop (Rye Chocolates and Knoops), craft beer (at the Rye Waterworks), lots of Rye pottery, and the Rye Deli to keep you in local fodder.
A late-night walk
Rye gets pretty busy in peak season. But when we visited, in early April, we left the comfort of The Mermaid Inn at about 10 pm and explored the almost deserted streets uninterrupted. With many of the buildings lit up, the sense of history and intrigue associated with the town just comes alive as your footsteps echo along the cobbled streets.
Head to the hills
Down a long and winding country lane and looking over some gentle hills, about 5 miles outside Rye is the Tillingham vineyard where we arrived just as they were lighting the outside pizza ovens. This venue has got a wonderful mixture of industrial and rural charm. With a restaurant, tasting room and 11 bedrooms, it has been developed with a quietly sophisticated sense of style. An absolute hidden gem in amongst the vineyards and definitely a place to linger.
There are a lot of things to see and do in and around Rye and you shouldn’t miss Northiam. Here you’ll find Great Dixter House and Gardens. We’ll be posting about this next week, but these are sumptuous gardens with water features, classically English corners, exotic courtyards and lots of intrigue. The house is incredible and manages to combine Medieval with Edwardian style in a truly unique way.
The other stop-off point in Northiam is the Kent and East Sussex Railway which runs regular steam trains between Tenterden and Bodiam. Time your visit to see them go by or just hop aboard!
If you enjoyed this post about Top Things To Do In Rye , and want even more things to do in Rye, you may also like:
When in Rye (in our magazine)
Wonderful Winchelsea in East Sussex
Rye Harbour to Winchelsea 15 km Cycle Ride
Visit Camber Castle
Stay at Rye Windmill
For more information about things to do in Rye, visit: https://www.visit1066country.com/destinations/rye