With its meandering cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses and independent shops, Rye is one of my favourite day trips from London. Its rich and colourful history of maritime conflict and smugging has inspired writers and artists, and the town was once home to Henry James and Conrad Aitken.
It’s the sort of place that sets your imagination on fire.
In my guide to taking a day trip to Rye from London, I will walk you through how to get there and how to explore this historic town and nearby Camber Sands. If you fancy spending more than one day in Rye, I’ve also included a few recommendations for places to stay.
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How to get to Rye from London
Rye is located in the county of East Sussex on the South Coast of England, close to its border with Kent. As the crow flies, Rye is around 53 miles from London.
Getting from London to Rye by train
The journey time from London St Pancras International to Rye is just over one hour. Change trains at Ashford International.
You can check train times here.
Driving from London to Rye
With a fair wind, it will take you around 90 minutes to drive from London to Rye via the A20 and M20.
Rye has a number of public car parks as well as pay-and-display on-street parking (maximum two-hour stay). It can get busy, especially at weekends, so arrive early.
Rye Day Trip Itinerary
Your Rye day trip is split into two parts.
In the morning, immerse yourself in the history and beauty of Rye by walking in the footsteps of kings & queens, sailors & merchants, authors & artists, not to mention a few smugglers and murderers. After lunch, take the bus or walk to the gorgeous dunes of Camber Sands.
MORNING: SEE THE BEST OF RYE
1. Learn more about Rye’s history at the Heritage Centre
There’s no better way to start your day in Rye than by learning more about its history. This will help put what you will see into context.
In medieval times, it was part of the Cinque Ports Confederation, a group of maritime towns in Kent and East Sussex established to furnish ships and men for the king’s service. At this time, Rye was almost entirely surrounded by the sea and remained this way until the 16th Century.
As the town’s economy began to decline, fishing and particularly smuggling started to thrive, encouraged by the imposition of taxes on goods in 1301. Wool, cloth, hides, gold and silver were popular commodities.
Rye Heritage Centre explores over 750 years of its history and includes the “Story of Rye”, a 15-minute sound and light show featuring a scale model of the town.
The Heritage Centre is adjacent to the Rye Tourist Information Centre on Strand Quay, a five five-minute walk from the train station. The Tourist Information Centre can provide maps and lots of valuable local information.
2. Wander along Mermaid Street
With its Georgian townhouses and timber-framed Tudor houses lining steep cobbled streets, Rye is straight out of Casting Central as a ‘quaint English town.’
Starting from the train station, slowly make your way uphill to Mermaid Street, keeping your eyes peeled for the names on some of the buildings – ‘The House with Two Front Doors’, ‘The House Opposite’ and ‘The House with the Seat.’
3. Have a drink in a haunted inn
I stopped at the Mermaid Inn, which dates from 1156. A stronghold of the infamous 18th Century Hawkhurst gang of smugglers – it’s said that their ghosts haunt the inn – it is laced with secret tunnels.
4. Walk through Rye’s Landgate Arch
Your Rye walk will eventually lead you to Landgate, the sole survivor of two stone gates built in the 14th Century to (unsuccessfully) defend Rye from French invaders.
5. Visit St Mary’s Church, Rye
The spiritual centre of Rye for more than 900 years, St Mary’s Church has one of the oldest functioning church turret clocks in England.
For a small fee, you can climb the tower to see the clock mechanism and the bells. But you also get a panoramic view of Rye and the East Sussex countryside.
The church is usually open daily from 9 am until 5.30 pm (hours may be shortened in the winter months).
6. Visit Rye Castle Museum & Ypres Tower
The exhibits in these two small museums, situated a short walk apart, tell the history of Rye, its inhabitants and the surrounding area.
Admission to the Rye Castle Museum is free, and it is open on weekends only from April to October.
Ypres Tower is open 7 days a week throughout the year. A small admission fee applies.
7. Visit the home of Henry James
Between 1898 and 1914, the author Henry James lived in ”dear old Lamb House.” From here he penned his last three novels: The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904).
This Grade II-listed Georgian house is run by the National Trust as a museum. It is open from Friday – Tuesday in the summer months.
8. Hit the shops
I’m not an enthusiastic shopper, but even I was drawn to Rye’s shops. In this age of globalisation and homogeneity, it’s a delight to wander around small independent stores.
Strand Quay is stuffed with antique shops, up-cycled furniture shops and vintage stores. Art galleries displaying work by local artists are a testament to the town’s thriving art scene.
Rye Market takes place in Rope Walk every Thursday from 7 am.
AFTERNOON: EXPLORE CAMBER SANDS
Camber Sands looks like it shouldn’t belong in Southern England. Featuring seven miles of unspoilt, golden beach and rolling fine sand dunes, it has been the setting for many films, including that British classic Carry On Camel.
How To Get from Rye to Camber Sands Beach
If you don’t have a car, you have three options for travelling between Rye and Camber Sands: cycle, walk or take a local bus. I walked to Camber Sands and took the bus back to Rye.
There are council-run car parks in Camber Sands at the following locations:
- Camber Central (TN31 7RH)
- Old Lydd Road (TN31 7RH)
- Western Car Park (TN31 7RB)
These are all pay-and-display (RingGo is also available).
Walking from Rye to Camber Sands Beach
Pick up National Cycle Network Route 2 from the centre of Rye, which will take you all the way to Camber Sands. The walk should take you around an hour.
It’s not the most picturesque walk I’ve ever taken but is nice enough, with views of Northpoint Water and Rye Bay and lots of curious sheep.
bus 100 from Camber Sands to Rye
Bus 100 will bring you to Rye from Camber Sands in 15 minutes. Buses run every hour.
Expect to pay between £2 for a one-way ticket.
Things to do at Camber Sands
1. Walk along Camber Sands Beach
Much of the joy of visiting Camber Sands comes from strolling along its golden sands, listening to the sound of the gently rolling waves.
The sandiest, and therefore most popular, section of the beach is the western end, nearest to Rye. As you walk east along the beach it transitions into shingle
Buy a tide table or check Magic Seaweed for daily tide times to plan your day. You don’t want to be caught unawares when the tide comes in, which it does at pace!
I visited at low tide and it was almost a mile to the water’s edge. However, this creates a wonderful open space laced with gently rippling pools and streams and perfect conditions for seashell collecting.
Even on a glorious day, Camber Sands can be windy. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
2. Go for a paddle (or swim)
With multiple streams created at low tide, Camber Sands is a wonderful place to dip your toe in the water.
As long as the wind isn’t too strong, the sea is generally safe for swimming. However, there are a few potential hazards that you need to be aware of.
As well as those fast-rising tides, watch out for sandbanks under the water. These result in sudden increases in water depth, taking you from waist to shoulder depth in the blink of an eye.
3. Beachcomb for treasures
Channel your inner child by grabbing a stick and rooting for hidden gems along the tideline.
Camber Sands is one of the best places in the UK for beachcombing. So keep your eyes peeled for pretty seashells, lost coins or even a message in a bottle.
4. Picnic amongst the sand dunes
Shelter from the wind amongst the grassy sand dunes, open your picnic basket and have a seaside feast.
Mercifully free from the tourist hordes descending on places like Brighton and Bournemouth, there should be no problem finding a peaceful spot on Camber Sands beach. All that remains to do is to open a bottle of chilled wine and settle back with your favourite novel.
5. Try your hand at kitesurfing
If you are feeling more adventurous, Camber Sands is one of the best places in England to learn how to kitesurf.
Other things to do at Camber Sands to get your adrenaline pumping include paddle boarding, power kiting and kite landboarding.
6. Take a RIB Adventure
If you really want to increase your pulse rate, take to the waters in a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat), which is a powerful and very fast small boat.
A RIB Tour operated by Full Throttle Boat Charters will bounce you along the East Sussex coastline near Camber Sands. Perhaps do this before you tuck into your beach picnic.
The same company also offers more sedate seal safaris.
Both boat tours depart from Rye Harbour.
7. Enjoy fine dining at The Gallivant
Is there a more perfect end to a summer day at Camber Sands than a wonderful meal overlooking the grassy sand dunes?
The Gallivant is a multi-award-winning restaurant that offers a fine dining experience with a local twist. Expect seasonal dishes like grilled Sussex asparagus, Rye Bay silver mullet and local artisan cheese, washed down with English wine.
Visiting Camber Sands Beach: Frequently Asked Questions
Are there lifeguards on Camber Sands beach?
RNLI lifeguards patrol Camber Sands Beach between 10 am and 6 pm during the summer months (from May to October).
Are there toilets at Camber Sands beach?
There are limited public toilet facilities at the main Camber Car Park, close to the beach.
Are there showers at Camber Sands beach?
Foot showers only are available at Camber Sands.
Is Camber Sands dog-friendly?
Dogs are not permitted in zoned areas between 1 May and 30 September. More information here.
Can you have a barbecue on the beach?
Only gas-powered barbecues that are raised off the sand are allowed on Camber Sands beach. Disposable, wood or coal barbecues are not permitted.
No barbeques are permitted on the dunes for safety reasons.
If there are more than ten people in your group, you will need to seek permission from the Neighbourhood Services Office at least four weeks before you visit Camber Sands beach.
Where to Stay in Rye
Although Rye is an easy day trip from London, why not stretch your visit into a mini-break? This will give you an opportunity to go wildlife spotting at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve or take a tour of Camber Castle.
Here are a few places that that other travellers love:
This bed & breakfast in the centre of Rye looks amazing and has garnered rave reviews for its rooms, breakfast and hospitality.
Or why not stay in the historic Mermaid Inn which offers boutique-style accommodation and an award-winning restaurant?
Where to Eat in Rye
Whether you are looking for a traditional tea room or dinner in an atmospheric setting, there is no shortage of good places to eat in Rye.
Considered to be the best restaurant in town, Landgate Bistro serves locally sourced food with a classic or modern twist.
If you are in the mood for fish and chips, head to Marino’s Fish Restaurant & Takeaway, located at 37 The Mint, Rye.
Finally, quench your thirst at Rye Waterworks Micropub. Located in a former water pump house, this was the first micropub in East Sussex. This family business serves eight local ales, two keg beers and twelve local ciders along with a selection of wines, gins & soft drinks
Thank you for reading my guide on how to do a day trip to Rye from London
Rye is considered to be one of the prettiest towns in England and sand dunes of Camber Sands Beach rival those of more exotic locations. It’s a winning combination.
Furthermore, it is easy to visit Camber Sands and Rye in one day. That said, stay overnight for a more relaxing break, perhaps using Rye as a base to visit the historic towns of Hastings and Battle.
Finally, if you are looking for other coastal destinations within a train ride of London, take a look at my favourite Kent seaside towns.
Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.
Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.
To get in touch, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on social media.