Do you want to explore medieval streets and walk amongst windswept sand dunes? Welcome to Rye and Camber Sands beach, two beautiful destinations for the price of one easy day trip from London.
Awash with meandering winding cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses, Rye is one of England’s best-kept secrets. Nearby Camber Sands beach rivals that in more exotic locations, and boasts the only sand dune system in East Sussex.
In this article, I will walk you through how to visit Rye and Camber Sands beach by rail from London, the best things to do when you are there and how to get between Rye and Camber Sands beach. If you fancy extending your time here, I’ve also included a few recommendations for places to stay.
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Things to Do in Rye, East Sussex
Rye is the type of town that sets your imagination on fire.
Perched on a hill above the River Rother and two miles from the sea, it has a rich history of smuggling and maritime conflict. A source of inspiration for writers and artists, it was once home to Henry James and Conrad Aitken.
Other notable residents include Mapp and Lucia author E.F. Benson, John Ryan who created the Captain Pugwash stories and Spike Milligan.
Before you start exploring Rye, stop by the Rye Tourist Information Centre on Strand Quay, five minutes’ walk from the train station. Its helpful staff will help you out with maps and lots of valuable local information.
Wander around Rye’s streets
Bursting with history, Rye is straight out of casting central as ‘quaint English town’ with Georgian townhouses and timber-framed Tudor houses lining steep cobbled streets.
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’.
If you have time, take a break 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.
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.
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 open every day from 9.15 am – 5.15 pm (4.15 pm in winter).
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.
Go shopping in Rye
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.
Go wildlife spotting at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
Set in an exceptional coastal and wetland landscape, Rye Harbour Nature Reserve supports a vast number of species – 4,355 at the last count – including many considered to be rare or endangered. From dragonflies to butterflies, chiffchaffs to willow warblers, there’s something to see throughout the year.
To reach this 465-hectare reserve, walk along Harbour Road which runs alongside the River Rother.
Visit Rye Harbour Discovery Centre
New for 2021, the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre features information about the wildlife reserve, exhibitions, events, a cafe and a shop.
Designed by award-winning architects Simpson & Brown, the building has been designed to be as sustainable as possible: locally sourced sweet chestnut cladding, natural light and ventilation, solar roof panels and air-sourced heat pumps.
From the centre, there are great views over the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, which boasts close to three different habitats – grassland, saltmarsh and shoreline – plus a birdwatching hide.
The centre is due to open in May 2021.
Now that you have explored Rye, it’s time to make your way to Camber Sands beach.
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. Following directions provided by Rye’s Tourist Information Office, I walked to Camber Sands and took the bus back to Rye.
Walk 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. It’s a three-mile walk and 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.
Taking the bus from Camber Sands to Rye
Bus 102 will bring you to Rye from Camber Sands in 20 minutes. A one-way ticket will set you back £3.40 (2021 price).
Buses run every 30 minutes.
Things to Do at Camber Sands Beach
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.
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.
What can you do at Camber Sands beach?
There’s something for everyone at Camber Sands. Stroll along the length of the beach, relax in the sun, build sandcastles, picnic in the dunes, paddle in streams created at low tide. Grab your camera and try to capture one of Camber Sands’ resident seals. Or why not go beachcombing for semi-submerged treasures?
If you are feeling more adventurous, Camber Sands is one of the best places to learn how to kitesurf. The Kitesurf Centre will supply you with all the gear and show you the ropes.
Tips for visiting Camber Sands beach
- Camber Sands can be very windy
There’s a very good reason why Camber Sands is a centre for kitesurfing. Even on a glorious day, it can be windy. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Check the tide times
Buy a tide table or check Magic Seaweed for daily tide times to plan your day.
I visited at low tide and it was close on 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.
But you don’t want to be caught unawares when the tide comes in, which it does at pace!
- Be aware of the dangers of the sea
Watch out for sandbanks under the water, resulting in sudden increases in water depth. Although Camber Sands has a beach patrol, there are no lifeguards.
How to Get to Rye from London by Train
The journey time from London St Pancras International to Rye is just over one hour. Change trains at Ashford International.
Where to Stay in Rye and Camber Sands Beach
Although Rye and Camber Sands is an easy day trip from London, why not stretch your visit into a mini-break? Here are a few places that I have found that look great for an overnight stay.
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?
This modern, static self-catering lodge in Camber Sands’ Holiday Park couldn’t be in a more perfect location. It’s not cheap but accommodation close to the beach is not plentiful and comes at a premium.
Where to Eat in Rye and Camber Sands
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 on 37 The Mint, Rye.
Your dining options are more limited at Camber Sands beach.
The Owl serves excellent pub meals in a convivial setting.
Alternatively, Rye Bay Bar & Grill serves burgers and the like, just a stone’s throw from the dunes. It is located at 1 Royal William Square Old Lydd Road, Camber Sands.
Why You Should Visit Rye & Camber Sands Beach
Rye & Camber Sands beach is a perfect day trip from London.
With good reason, Rye is considered to be one of the prettiest towns in England. Instead of the vanilla chain stores found on many high streets, you’ll find independent shops, historic pubs and a handful of good restaurants.
The sand dunes of Camber Sands beach rival those of more exotic locations.
What’s more, it is easy to visit Rye and Camber Sands 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.