At just over an hour by train, the county town of Lewes is an easy day trip from London. As a very walkable town, you’ll find it easy to check off all these things to do in Lewes as they’re all within a 10 minute walk from the center of town.
Flying just under the tourist radar, I believe Lewes has all the qualities of the perfect English town; a castle, antique shops, stunning views and delicious dining. There’s so much to do in Lewes it’s hard to squeeze it into a day, so I’ve added some accommodation options. If you’re planning a wedding in the future, Lewes has a number of venues for brides-to-be desiring a truly memorable event.
Lewes train station is conveniently located within minutes of the center of town and is served by Southern Rail with trains to London’s Victoria Station leaving almost on the hour.
Trains and buses run to Brighton from Lewes as often as every 20 minutes which is ideal if you’re staying in Brighton and want a day trip away from the hustle and bustle. Someone once said that Lewes was Brighton’s maiden aunt but I disagree, I’d describe it as the cool auntie!
The beautiful South Downs, an area of outstanding beauty, surrounds the county town of Lewes and offers stunning vistas in every direction.
11 Favorite things to do in Lewes
- The beautiful South Downs surround Lewes for a hike up to the golf course, or along the River Ouse for spectacular scenic views
- Browse the historical High street packed with independent shops, pubs and a castle
- Walk across Cliffe High Street bridge over the River Ouse
- Stroll through the peaceful walled garden of Southover Grange, to relax and recharge in nature.
- The Depot, a stylish cafe and movie theatre next to the train station. Sit outside or in, grab a glass of wine and see a first run movie
- Antique and vintage shops abound on Cliffe High Street. Don’t forget the Lewes Flea Market on Market St.
- The Needlemakers Shopping Centre – chock full of small independent makers, vintage sellers and a cafe
- Charming pubs like The Swan Inn, The Rights of Man, The Snowdrop Inn and The Pelham Arms
- Lewes Castle and museum are perched halfway up High Street, offering amazing views across the town
- Lewes Priory, the ruins of an 11th century priory are a peaceful place to wander and soak up history
- The Juggs Pub in Kingston – a scenic walk over the Downs past a windmill to a country pub
SOUTH DOWNS walks
To see 360 views of the Ouse River and surrounding South Downs, walk up to the golf course on Chapel Hill. Start by walking to the end of Cliffe High Street heading towards South St. Cross over and then walk up the narrow Chapel Hill (Bags of Books childrens bookshop is on the corner) until you see the golf course on your left. There’s multiple lookout points along the way.
Be careful, this is a very steep narrow road shared by the occasional car. Once you reach the top, you’ll see a stile at the far end of the carpark. Go through to walk out onto the Downs. You may even see hang gliders in the distance, but be careful of cow patties!
To walk along the River Ouse, head along Railway Lane (next to Friars Walk car park). You’ll enter the Railway Land Wildlife Trust and see a rough path next to the Ouse. If you’re ambitious you can walk all the way to Southease train station and then take the train back to Lewes.
If the weather’s sunny and gorgeous, why not walk across the Downs to the small village of Kingston. Your destination is The Juggs, a cosy beamed pub in a 1400’s cottage. Sit outside or in depending on the temperature.
Start by walking to The Swan Inn on Kingston Rd in Lewes. Take Juggs Rd lane just behind it. This turns into a path taking you through fields and over the Downs to Kingston village. Once you see a white windmill on your right you’re getting close! Carry on past a farmhouse on your left and then you’ll see a road ahead (Ashcombe Lane). Turn left and follow the road until you come into the village green area, look for The Juggs on the right. Be sure to allow at least 2-3 hours to walk and have a meal.
ANTIQUES AND INDEPENDENT shops
From the train station, walk up Station St to the High Street and turn left or right. You’ll see both independent shops and quality “High street” shops like Jigsaw and SeaSalt. From Victoria is for plant and boho decor, Paul Clark offers impeccable men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, Kings Framers has a delightful collection of covetable housewares.
Walk up the High St. as far as Lewes Castle and then cross over to browse the many bookshops, jewelers and independent stores like The Laurels, with modern home decor and accessories. Why not criss cross High Street up and down so you don’t miss a thing. Just below the Station St. intersection, you’ll find HA Baker, a classic chemist shop stocking drugstore essentials to nail polish.
High St turns into Cliffe High Street at the bottom of the hill and then crosses over the river Ouse with more shops on either side. Stop in to the original Bill’s Restaurant for a quick coffee or cocktail as a pick me up.
At the “bottom” of Cliffe High St past Bill’s is where you’ll find The Cliffe Antiques Centre on the left. Along the way you’ll see multiple antique and independent shops. Harvey’s Brewery and Percys Fishing Tackle may tempt your other half to browse too.
Don’t miss Lewes Flea Market, a two story antiques collective with dozens of dealers to browse and quirky displays to amuse. To find it, while you’re on High St. take the left fork to down Market Street – it’s where the large memorial statue divides High St.
Just opposite Lewes Flea Market is The Needlemakers, an historic building now housing multiple boutiques and a cafe.
Southover Grange Gardens is a carefully restored walled garden that’s a green oasis of calm and beauty just minutes from the station. Within the walls lie the Grange, built in 1572 as a family home and the Winterbourne stream which cuts through in a channel. Now owned by the town, the gardens are free to use. If you have time to spare before catching a train or just want to chill out after shopping, the Gardens are a peaceful haven of tranquility.
Lewes Priory was the source of the stone in many Lewes buildings. Built almost 1000 years ago for the Benedictine Order of Cluny based in France it’s now a crumbling ruin. At the time of its creation, it was one of the wealthiest monasteries in England. Owned by the town, it’s free to wander and imagine what it was like back in the 15th century before it was demolished.
Lewes is perhaps best known for it’s Castle which is halfway up the High Street and surrounded by homes and greens. Climb to the top for magnificent views on a good day. Although the castle is now mostly a ruin, you can imagine how it defended the town from it’s prominent position.
PUBS and RESTAURANTS
Lewes is well known for it’s diverse and unique pubs and restaurants. From the massively gravied Sunday roast dinner at the Swan Inn to the deliciously prepared Thai dishes at Pailin, your taste buds will find a little bit of everything in Lewes. Don’t miss Flint Owl Bakery on the High St. for freshly baked bread and Pestle & Mortar Noodle Bar and Tea Room on Lansdown Place for inventive Asian bowls. Be sure to book ahead for Sunday lunch if you want to be sure to find a table.
If you have the time, the Depot is well worth a visit. Located just next door to the train station, it’s a small cinema with bar, cafe and outdoor seating. Order a glass of wine to take with you into a new independent movie or just enjoy lounging about with friends outside on a sunny day. Prebook movie tickets online.
If you find you want to stay a little longer and make the most of all the things to do in Lewes, there aren’t a ton of options. I usually stay at the Premier Inn because it’s steps away from everything and predictable.
My second option for where to stay in Lewes is an Airbnb which is what I’d recommend if you need somewhere with a little more room for couples or families. I do like the option to make my own breakfast in the morning, but since the pandemic, Airbnbs in Lewes have gotten pricier and harder to find.
Lewes might also just be the perfect destination for that memorable wedding. Some of the historical locations cater to weddings and wedding parties.
- Lewes Castle – gorgeous grounds and oozing history
- Southover Grange Gardens – stunning historical setting
- Pelham House – posh venue with accommodation strictly for wedding parties
I’ve lived in Lewes and returned time and again to visit. It’s truly one of the most unique towns in southern England and one I never get tired of exploring. It’s well worth a day trip from London or Brighton. Here’s my advice on how to travel around London if you need more guidance on public transportation options to Lewes.