Today I’m sharing my guide to taking a day trip to Hastings, in case you feel the urge for some English seaside escapism. Although I live in Brighton, a seaside city on England’s south coast, I love exploring other nearby seaside towns to compare notes. Hastings is an easy one-hour drive or train journey west of Brighton, so I’ve been here plenty of times.
day trip to Hastings, East Sussex
The last time I visited it was to research secret places in Hastings for my second guidebook, Secret Sussex. This time, I was keen to wander freely and see where my mood would take me. Of course, I was drawn back to a few favourite spots, but found a couple of new places, too. Follow me!
Arriving in Hastings
It’s easy to get the train to Hastings from Brighton or London. If you do, you arrive at St Leonard’s Warrior Square. St-Leonards-on-Sea as it’s officially known is a town and seaside resort just west of central Hastings, but still in the Borough of Hastings. Whether I take the train or drive – there’s plenty of cheap parking nearby – Warrior Square makes a good starting point.
From here, I make my way through the square, to the sea for breakfast at the brightly painted Goat Ledge Café on the waterfront – you can’t miss it. I highly recommend the Goat Ledge Sunrise Bap: Hastings smoked haddock, crisp lettuce, chilli jam and chive mayo topped with a free-range fried egg, with a side of hash browns and a cappuccino. It’s a nice spot to settle into the Hastings vibe, lap up the fresh sea breeze, and do some people-watching, as you wait for your food to cook.
Tummy full, I start my day trip to Hastings by exploring the town’s beaches. Making my way east to Hastings Old Town, from St Leonard’s to Hastings Beach, on the pebbles, passing a flea market called Arthur Green’s near the underground skate park and a beautiful old Victorian weather kiosk that looks plucked from a Wes Anderson movie.
eventually I end up at an area called The Stade on the seafront at the old town. The name is Saxon and means landing place and learn that boats have been landing here for over a 1000 years. Hastings has the largest fleet of beach-launched fishing boats in the world, which are hauled out of the water and dragged up the beach as there’s no harbour, which means they need to be small and as a result work in a more sustainable way as they can only carry limited quantities of fish.
Next to the boats you’ll see a series of tall, black wooden buildings. These are the net huts, built for fishermen to store their nets. Nets would rot if they were left outside and there wasn’t a lot of space build on the beach, so the fishermen built upwards instead of outwards and hung the nets inside. They’re so unusual they’ve been given Grade 11 listed status!
Hastings Old Town
From here, I make my way into the old town. Compared with the new town and its usual high street shops, and old town is home to indie shops, curated boutiques and historic streets. George Street, a pedestrianised lane lined with pubs, cafes, and shops, all fronted by historic facades is a good place to start. Here you’ll find Hanushka coffee shop with its interior of floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with old books you can browse while you sip your coffee. Also along here I love The Clockwork Crow home shop which has a hidden café out the back, and The Hastings Bookshop with its section on local history.
Elsewhere, I can’t get enough of the raised walkways, half-timbered houses and Tudor facades on All Saints Street. Take note of number 135 with a darkened fairy-tale-esque atmosphere. It’s owned by the man who runs the fascinating AG Hendy home shop on High Street and opens occasionally for ours.
Running parallel to All Saints Street is High Street with its cottages, raised walkways and shops like Robert’s Rummage, where we pick up two board games almost brand new and a wine bottle opener for just £10, near the Electric Palace, the tiny independent community cinema run by volunteers.
After a mooch around the shops, to the west of the old town we wander up and into a tangle of narrow lanes known as ‘twittens’ leading up to West Hill. What are twittens, you ask? Twittens are skinny stairways and passages that connect the historic streets in this part of the Hastings’ old town. The twittens are lined with beautiful historic homes, colourful facades. I can’t stop photographing them. It’s my favourite part about a visit to Hastings, and I could spend my entire Hastings day trip wandering around them.
To get to the top of West Hill, you can take a ride The West Hill Lift funicular railway, one of the oldest in Britain – there’s one on East Hill too – but we decide to carry on winding our way up and around the Twittens. Eventually we emerge up on West Hill for a beautiful view across an area known as the Stade, noting the famous castle. It makes me think of the town’s incredible long history. Famous for its connections to William the Conqueror, who came from Normandy in 1066 and defeated English King Harold in the Battle of Hastings in nearby Battle. The hill is set in Hastings Country Park which stretches for three miles along the clifftop, with lots of grassy areas and woodlands to explore and a stunning view down onto the old town and along the coast to St Leonards.
Museums in Hastings
For a classic Hastings culture fix, you can’t go wrong with the Hastings Museum and Gallery; Shipwreck Museum, Fishermen’s Museum or the Hastings Contemporary for world-class art exhibitions – all of them interesting that focus on a different side to Hastings’ history. For something off-beat, find The Flower Makers Museum dedicated to the art of flower making. For something more gritty, the True CRIME Museum features a mind blowing collection of displays with forensic evidence from serial killings and other criminal activities (also featured here).
Dinner in Hastings
After all that waking and soaking up the culture, I decide I fancy an early dinner before heading home. Fish and chips at The Neptune on Pleasant Row are incredible, food at The Crown pub on All Saints Street never fails, and the First In Last Out (FILO) does a lovely home-brewed ale, but I decide it’s Thai food I fancy, so off I stroll to Boulevard Books on George Street.
A bookshop by day, cosy Thai restaurant by night. Luckily, they had a little table free, in the politics section, out the back. I ordered satay chicken and summer rolls followed by Pad Thai noodles, spicy mouthfuls I gobble as I reminisce on my day trip to Hastings. Traveller tip: It’s a cash-only BYOB place, and does a two-course set menu for £17 a person. I recommend you book as it was almost full when I dined at 5pm.
How to Get to Hastings
It’s easy to get to Hastings from Brighton on the train. Direct rail services depart Brighton and the journey takes around 40 minutes. Driving to Hastings is an option, too. It takes around 40 minutes to an hour to drive to Hastings from Brighton, and there’s parking in town.
I hope you enjoyed your day trip to Hastings. Have you got a Hastings tip to share? I’d love to know.