If you read this post, you’ll know I’ve launched a new series of travel guides on Ellie & Co. Today, following on from our recent day trip, we’re getting to know the East Sussex town of Hastings on England’s south coast.
Although I live by the sea Brighton, I am always curious to explore other towns that share the same coastline. As Hastings is an easy one-hour drive west of Brighton, I’ve made lots of trips here, know it well and have lots of insider travel tips to share with you. It’s also an easy journey by train or car from London, so a clever choice for a weekend break.
Travel Guide to HASTINGS, East SUSSEX
Like Brighton, Hastings is both gritty and yet charming and artsy. It’s split into two parts, consisting of a new town with traditional British seaside attractions like an old pier for walks, places for fish and chips and ice cream on the seafront, a fun fair and mini golf, and an old town marked by historic streets, Tudor buildings, curated boutiques, and cosy restaurants. If you like the sound of Hastings, my travel guide featuring things to do and places to eat, drink, and stay in the East Sussex seaside town will come in handy. Let’s go!
Things to do in Hastings
Explore the twittens and backstreets
I could spend my entire time in Hastings wandering around these Sussex-centric curiosities unknown to most visitors to Hastings. Twittens are technically narrow passages that run along the front of houses in rows that connect bigger streets. In Hastings, there’s a beautiful tangle of them to the west of the old town to lose yourself in, leading up to West Hill for a lovely view out over the seafront area known as the Stade and out to sea.
Wander the waterfront
Start with breakfast at the Goat Ledge fish café on the beach at St Leonard’s, before strolling west to Hastings beach, a big stretch of pebbly shoreline punctuated by Hastings Pier, onwards until you get to The Stade, a shingle beach lined with colourful fishing boats, nets and stalls selling all kinds of fresh fish and seafood. It’s here you’ll find the Hastings Contemporary gallery, before finally reaching Rock-a-Nore Beach with its cliffs in the background.
Catch a film at the Electric Palace
No cinema in Hastings is as cute as the 48-seater Electric Palace on High Street in the Old Town. They screen classic and world films and host film-related events, and it’s run entirely by volunteers and survives solely on ticket sales. There’s a licensed bar selling local ales, wine and Fairtrade coffee to sip in your iconic 1930s golden velvet seat the founders nabbed at a memorabilia sale. Find the Electric Palace Cinema at 39a High Street, Hastings TN34 3ER
Visit a secret museum
Hastings is full of hidden highlights to discover. One of my favourites is in the basement of a shop specialising in making artificial flowers, petals, leaves and foliage for films, television and theatre shows, and fashion houses. The Flower Makers’ Museum is a vast collection of work and equipment that tells the story of the company, from its starting point in 1911, up until the present day. Find the Flower Makers’ Museum at the Shirley Leaf & Petal Co, 58A High Street, Hastings TN34 3EN
Hastings Country Park stretches for three miles along the clifftop, with grassy areas and woodland to explore and stunning views of the old town and along the coast to St Leonard’s. You can get to it through the old town twittens or take one of the two funicular railways to the top. The East Hill Lift – Britain’s steepest funicular railway – was built in 1903 and still carries passengers 80 metres to the top. The West Hill Lift on the other side runs through a tunnel up to the remains of Hastings Castle built by William the Conqueror around the time of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
WHERE TO EAT In Hastings
This small local favourite restaurant and natural-wine bar serves tapas-style dishes made with sustainable produce sourced from local farms, fishing communities and vineyards. The menu is split into farmyard (meat), backyard (veg) and boatyard (fish) and accompanied by a stellar wine list. Come for some nibbles and a glass or settle in for a full meal. Find Farmyard at 52 Kings Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, Hastings TN37 6DY
Goat Ledge Café
With its bright paintwork, you can’t miss the colourful Goat Ledge fish café on St Leonard’s seafront. They do an excellent selection of comforting baps, like the sunrise sandwich: Hastings smoked haddock, free-range fried egg, chive mayo, chilli jam and crisp lettuce and a side of spicy katsu fries. They have a few heated huts outside for groups and stay open until 7pm from spring. Find Goat Ledge at Lower Promenade, Warrior Square, St Leonards TN37 6FA
Boulevard Books and Thai Cafe
In the heart of the Old Town on George Street is Boulevard Books and Thai Café, a second-hand bookshop by day and a cosy BYOB Thai restaurant come the evening. Tables set for dinner are tucked amid floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with books. The homemade food is filling and delicious and you can also bring your own alcohol. Booking ahead is essential. Find Boulevard Books and Thai Cafe at 32 George Street, Hastings TN34 3EA
Fish and chips in Hastings
Like in any seaside town or city, where to get the best fish and chips is hotly debated. For a bag to eat on the move, I’d highly recommend Neptune on Pleasant Row. The chips are always fresh, piping hot and crisp. For fancier surroundings, Maggie’s Café near the Stade is great. They also have a takeaway place – Maggie’s By the Boat –by the Hasting Fishermen’s Museum.
The Royal St Leonards
For a splurge, this cosy recent revamp of a pub dating back to the 1860s is your best bet. It’s a venture between co-owners James Hickson, Jamie Waddell and Sam Coxhead, behind London restaurants St John and The Clove Club. They do great Sunday roasts and love the comforting chicken, leek and mushroom pie with greens (for two), £34. Find The Royal at 1 St Johns Rd, St Leonards-on-sea TN37 6HP
Where to Drink in Hastings
When it comes to needing a coffee pitstop, the old town is full of little places, but none more interesting as Hanushka on High Street each of its walls filled with floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with second-hand books you can browse while you sip your coffee. Find Hanushka Coffee House at 46 George Street, Hastings TN34 3EA
First In Last Out
The First In Last Out, or the FILO as locals call it, is a cosy, unpretentious pub on the seafront at St Leonard’s. It has traditional décor, like patterned carpet, old-fashioned wall lights with lampshades, and high-backed dark wood booth seats. It’s unique for two reasons: the huge roaring fire in the middle of the pub’s main room for cosy winter nights. It also produces six real ales in its own microbrewery and does a good Sunday roast. Find the First In Last Out at 14-15 High Street, Hastings TN34 3EY
WHERE TO SHOP in Hastings
AG Hendy & Co Home Store
New and vintage equipment, oddities and collections for the home are on display in this beautifully presented three-storey shop in Hastings Old town. It was founded by chef, food writer and photographer, Alastair Hendy, who also offers workshops in cooking fish, styling tablescapes and iPhone photography. There’s also a little restaurant at the back which opens occasionally in the summer. Find AG Hendy & Co Home Store at 36 High Street, Hastings TN34 3ER
Hastings is filled with vintage shops but none more endearing than Roberts Rummage, run by the 80-year-old confessed collector, Robert. It’s a Hastings old town institution, the shop’s narrow aisles packed to the rafters with everything, from exotic African tribal masks to a single cup hook or doorknob. We found almost brand-new board games here for £3 each and a whole set of vintage brass door handles for £20! Worth a rummage. Find Robert’s Rummage at 68 High Street, Hastings TN34 3ER
An antique shop with a twist where St Leonard’s and Hastings meet, Arthur Green’s is not only packed with all kinds of beautiful antique treasures to browse. All of them are displayed on a perfectly preserved interior of an Edwardian gentleman’s outfitter dating back to 1904. A staff member I got chatting with told me that English Heritage has given it Grade II listed status, and I wouldn’t believe the number of American visitors who had offered to buy it. Find Arthur Green’s at 34 White Rock, Hastings TN34 1JY
WHERE TO STAY in Hastings
St Benedict Victorian B&B
Step back in time at this incredible Victorian-themed B&B in a four-storey villa in neighbouring St Leonard’s which dates from 1882. It’s owned by Stephen and Paul who have spent 20 years renovating it to how it would have looked originally. There are five bedrooms – four doubles and one twin – each with authentic 19th-century furnishings and décor, as well as a drawing room, gardens and its own chapel. Check into St Benedict Victorian B&B
The Old Rectory
The Old Rectory by All Saints’ Church in the old town has been styled by former head of design for Katharine Hamnett Japan, Lionel Copley. Mind the Stag Chair, love the terraced garden, dine beside Melissa White’s blue-and-white period mural, and stay in the Crown Suite if you can. Check into The Old Rectory
Tucked away in the America Ground neighbourhood – a secret highlight of a visit to Hastings – is this artsy b&b on the top two floors of a former newspaper office with an eclectic appeal. There are two spacious rooms, both looking out over the rooftops of Hastings to the castle, and a vaulted lounge guests are free to use and where breakfast is served. Check into The Printworks
Looking glass lodge
Nearby in the village of Fairlight, Looking Glass Lodge looks like a sleek, cool, and calming open book. It was built by a local couple, Rik and Lindsey, in an RSPB nature reserve founded by Rik’s parents in the 1960s. The floor-to-ceiling glass design means that you feel part of the woodland when you’re inside the cabin, creating a sense of calm. There are luxuries like fluffy robes, a giant bathtub, built-in speakers, a record player and vinyl to play. I love the look of the floating log burner for toasty nights and the idea of flinging open the doors onto the deck in summer.
Hastings and St Leonards together make a small and walkable seaside destination that’s perfect to explore on foot. I recommend visiting in spring before the summer holiday crowds take over, or early autumn when the leaves are changing but it’s not too cold yet.
If you want more inspiration, I have a hunch these books will get you in the mood.