Newhaven sits at the mouth of the River Ouse which snakes its way through the South Downs from Lewes. Although it’s a bustling modern town, Newhaven’s roots date back to at least the Bronze Age when there was a fort on what is now known as Castle Hill.
The Saxons were here too but for many centuries the main port remained in Seaford. But as the River Ouse changed course, Newhaven became more important and a sheltered harbour was created in the 16th century, representing the beginning of the town’s history as a port.
The railway arrived in 1847 and during World War I Newhaven harbour was the principal port for the movement of men and equipment to the continent. In World War II, Canadian troops were stationed in the town, all of which means that Newhaven has a rich and interesting history that colours town life. It’s also a town with a vibrant cultural scene and lots going on throughout the year. With this in mind, here are suggestions for things to do in Newhaven.
Sitting above the town on Castle Hill, Newhaven Fort is the town’s immersive museum. The fort itself was built in the 19th century and is the largest work of defence ever built in Sussex. Apart from the great views, there are also all sorts of exhibitions that take you through the history of the town. It’s a great place to start your discovery of Newhaven and the surrounding area.
The abandoned village of Tide Mills
On the other side of the river and a short walk from the harbour, you come to the abandoned village of Tide Mills. The village was condemned as unfit for habitation in 1936 and abandoned in 1939 but you can see the ruins of the many different houses and there are helpful information boards to guide you around the remains. It was also the site of stables for the rehabilitation of racehorses and a hospital which was the second residential site for Chailey Heritage School.
The Coastal Path
Newhaven isn’t far from the South Downs and the South Downs Way if walking is your thing but there are also some great coastal walks. The Sussex Ouse Valley Way and Vanguard Way both pass through the town as does England’s Coastal Path. There are stunning views from Castle Hill and along the cliff tops towards Peacehaven. However, our top tip would be rather than follow the designated Coastal Path on the east side of the harbour that goes along the railway and through an urban part of the town, follow the footpath that takes you through the Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve.
Set a little back from the main town, Paradise Park has a series of gardens which include small lakes, waterfalls, fountains, plant houses and a heritage trail that showcases handcrafted models of historic landmarks that have shaped Sussex. There is also a Planet Earth Museum that guides visitors through the process of earth’s evolution, from the formation of the oldest rocks over 4 billion years ago to the still-forming youngest ones of today. If that’s not enough, in the winter (starting in November) they host Aglow (an enchanting luminary spectacle) and a Santa’s grotto.
Take a Boat Trip
Get yourself down to Newhaven Marina. Apart from lots of beautiful boats to admire, this is where you’ll catch Sussex Boat Trips which run fabulous trips along the coast including to the Seven Sisters and Birling Gap, and to Rampion Wind Farm.
Newhaven has a thriving cultural scene which now includes Newhaven’s annual festival which in turn includes a wide spectrum of activities and events. It sits alongside Art Wave (a celebration of artists and makers from across the district) and includes workshops, exhibitions, performances, displays, talks, walks and much more. This year (2023) it included the Following Ravilious Public Art Trail which runs to 29th October and includes giant billboards of Ravillious’ work and free talks.
A date for your diary in the spring is Newhaven’s annual beer festival, Brewhaven held in the Fort. There’s also music and stuff for kids to do with a playground and free craft activities.
Rodmell and Southease
From there, you can climb Itford Hill for amazing views of the River Ouse, Newhaven, Lewes and beyond. Alternatively, from Southease head towards Rodmell. There’s lots of interesting architecture there including, of course, Monk’s House – a 16th-century weatherboarded cottage owned by the National Trust and once home of Virginia Woolf. You’re also not far from Breaky Bottom here, one of the first Sussex vineyards planted way back in 1974.
Enjoy a game of golf
There are a couple of golf clubs in the vicinity of Newhaven. At nearby Peacehaven there is a 9-hole golf course. A little to the east, Seaford Golf Club has an 18-hole course on the South Downs with views of the sea and designed by the legendary J H Taylor. There’s another 18-hole course at Lewes.
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