Battle Boredom On The South Coast: 15 Things To Do In Hastings
A certain battle in 1066 might have put Hastings on the map, but there's more to this historic seaside town than just being the site of the Norman Conquest. Hastings been a popular spot since it became a spa resort in Georgian times, before the arrival of the railway revolution saw the Victorians visit in their droves. It's also got the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe, and now there is a thriving fishing, arts and museum community down by the harbour. Despite retaining the charm of the old town, this is a modern seaside town for the 21st century - so here's our guide to getting the most out of your Hastings break.
1. Find out about the fishing heritage of the town
The Hastings Fisherman's Museum has a lovely location. Surrounded by tall black fishing sheds, it's in the Grade II listed building which was the former Fishermen’s Church of St Nicholas. One of the stars exhibits is the 1912 sailing lugger Enterprise. The last of its kind in Hastings, you can climb onto the deck to see what life was like on board. Equally intriguing is the Shipwreck Museum, where during low tide you can explore the sites of two historic shipwrecks. Inside the museum you can find out more about items scavenged and saved from wrecks and learn more about the coastline and its secrets (including smuggling). Both museums are free, but donations are welcome. You can also take a guided walk at The Stade, Hastings Old Town Fishing Quarter, while the experts reveal 1000 years of maritime history.
2. Search out some skullduggery
The Smugglers Adventure shows how the St Clement's Caves (formed in the Ice Age around 14,000 BC) was used for nefarious means in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Illicit trade was a major occupation along the Sussex Coast, and now you can find out more about the area's smuggling past. Along with dodgy dealings, the caves have also provided a haven for Hastings residents over the years, as it's been used as an air raid shelter and hospital.
3. Visit the local galleries
The Jerwood Gallery opened in 2012 to much acclaim, due in part to its intriguing design on the shingle beach. The black-tiled exterior was built to compliment the nearby net huts of the local fisherman. Venture inside and you'll find a collection of 20th and 21st century British art, much of which has never been seen by the public before, and features artists like L.S Lowry and Augustus John. If it's a nice day, have a drink in Webbe's at Jerwood, a cafe with an outside terrace and beach views. Elsewhere, the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery has a collection of dinosaur fossils including the Iguanodon, which were found in the area.
4. Relax on the beach
A mix of sand and pebbles gives Hastings beach that traditional feel, and you'll also find the usual amusements, fairground rides, fish and chips and crazy golf there. Pelham is the child friendly section of the beach, where you can also hire floating buggies called Tiralos. These are great if you're travelling with someone in a wheelchair, as combined with state-of-the-art matting they allow full access to the beach.
5. Have a go at cooking by the coast
If you've ever fancied frying some fish straight from the net, then beach cookery school Classroom on the Coast can help. Book a lesson with expert teachers including chefs, fishmongers, scientists and environmentalists, or watch one of the demonstrations.
6. Ride the East Hill Lift
Hop onto the steepest funicular railway in Britain up to the West Hill for great views over the town and English Channel. You'll be travelling in the original wooden Victorian coaches, right through a man-made tunnel, before arriving at the top at the Hastings Country Park.
7. Have a wander through Hastings' Old Town
The delightfully named "Twittens" in the Old Town is a maze of narrow streets and passageways, many of which were used by smugglers. There are plenty of picturesque half-timbered houses to look at, and it is here you'll find scores of boutiques and craft shops.
8. Follow in Foyle's footsteps
The hit 1940s detective drama ITV’s Foyle’s War, starring Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks, was filmed, and mainly set, in Hastings Old Town. If you're a fan, you'll find DI Foyle’s house on Croft Road, and there are plenty of other locations seen in the programme, including Hill Street and St Clement's Church.
9. So we probably should mention 1066 and all that
Possibly the most remembered date in English history, the Battle of Hastings saw William the Conqueror and his French army invade the country and capture the crown from King Harold II in 1066. It's understandable therefore that this remains a big deal in the town, and the epic annual Battle of Hastings re-enactment, which takes place every October, is always a seaside spectacular. You can meet the chainmailed knights and their trusty steeds in the cavalry encampment pre-battle, and then watch as the battle unfolds with more than 500 soldiers involved in the clash. 2016 marks the 950th anniversary of this landmark war and the towns of Hastings & Battle (where the battlefield lies) will have an enlarged programme of cultural events, including a bigger than usual version of its annual re-enactment.
You can also visit what remains of Hastings Castle, high up on the hill, which was the first Norman-style "motte and bailey" castle to be built on English soil. It was first built before the Battle of Hastings to give William the Conqueror a base to take on the English.
10. Wield your own weapons
If you are feeling inspired by the battle, take the older children to 1066 Target Sports where they can have a go at Archery, Crossbows and even Axe Throwing. For the adults, organisers say the latter sport, in particular, is a great stress buster.
11. See some sea life by the seaside
The Blue Reef Aquarium has an underwater tunnel where you can watch the stingrays and reef sharks go about their business. If you like serpents, then Bruce and The Professor, the two Royal Pythons, will give you a friendly squeeze, however Sharon the Stonefish is strictly hands-off, she's one of the most venomous fish in the world.
12. Walk or cycle the Coastal Cultural Trail
This takes in a 20 to 25 mile stretch of the East Sussex coastline. Running alongside the South Downs National Park, there are a variety of trails to try, depending on how much time you have.
13. Get some park life
Alexandra Park, in the heart of the town is worth a visit, and it is now a Grade II designated site. Alongside the formal Victorian gardens, there are wild areas, including the Little and Old Roar Gill and Coronation Wood. In the summer there are concerts and festivals and a boating lake for a spot of rowing. It also has tennis courts, a miniature railway and play areas for the children. Up on the cliffs above the town is the Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve. It's both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), so there's plenty of wildlife (including wild ponies), plants and heathland to explore.
14. Promenade down the Pier
In March 2016, you can be one of the first people to walk along the iconic Hastings Pier . Following a 14m renovation and makeover, which has suffered bomb and storm damage and several turbulent decades of ownership since it was first opened in 1872, the Hastings Pier Charity look forward to entertaining a new generation of visitors.
15. Eating and drinking in Hastings
For somewhere a little unusual, try the A G Hendy Homestore, a top seafood restaurant which is tucked inside a vintage store. Equally Boulevard Bookshop offers something away from the norm, this is a Thai cafe in a second-hand bookshop. If you want to eat on the hoof, try one of the fish and chip stalls, like Tush and Pat's Fisherman's Rolls on Rock-a-nore Road near the Jerwood Gallery, for a taste of the sea. FILO (The First In Last Out) is a a proper pub that also has its own micro-brewery in the Old Town. They produce six ales on a regular basis, which you can try in the pub, and they also have a large food menu, including a special Indian selection, if you want something to eat. The Crown, an indpendent gastro pub is renowned for its use of great local produce.
If our guide has inspired you, why not make it a longer visit. We have plenty of hotels in Hastings and the surrounding area for you to stay in. The pretty town of Rye is only a short drive along the coast, or heading west it's not long before you're in the resort of Eastbourne. We also have plenty of other day trip suggestions from London to discover if you want to spread your wings.
It takes around an hour and a half to get to Hastings from London by train via southeastern trains. If you're driving, it can take two to two and a half hours (depending on traffic). There's plenty of car parks, including ones right on next to the beach, see Hastings Borough Council for locations and charges.
Do you have any Hastings tips?
Do you live Hastings way or maybe you've visited the historic town before? Either way we'd love to hear what your favourite things to do in Hastings are. Please share your recommendations and experiences by leaving a comment below.