While everyone knows East and West Sussex for the vibrant seaside cities and towns of Brighton and Eastbourne, these counties’ beautiful rolling countryside, castles, market towns and villages offer the perfect setting for gentler-paced family holidays and breaks spent embracing the great outdoors. There are plentiful palaces and gardens to explore, many public rights of way across the South Downs and woods, offering cycling, riding and walking opportunities, plus sailing off the south coast. This is also ‘1066 country’, with plenty to pique the interest historically – kids never tire of hearing how Harold lost his eye, and there are stately homes galore plus Roman villas to discover.That said, Sussex is no insider secret, with places such as Chichester Harbour, Petworth, Rye and even the bridleways on the Downs getting a bit crowded at times.
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Start family holidays in East Sussex. After exhausting the many delights of Brighton and Eastbourne head for Drusillas Zoo Park, voted No.1 day out by The Times for its astonishing array of activities for kids. Paradise Parkis also a popular choice – among other things, you can earn about the Jurassic Age by walking amongst towering dinosaurs and seeing a real fossilised dinosaur egg.
At Bewl Water, the largest lake in the south-east, kids sail, fish, whizz down a zipwire and even hydroball. Local animal farms and centres include the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre and the Ashdown Forest Llama Park, which also has reindeer, a museum, a playground and a picnic area.
Spend a relaxed day at Groombridge Place Gardens, with beautiful gardens, a canal-boat trip and an enchanted forest. Other good gardens to visit are Nymans, High Beeches, Wakehurst Place and Highdown.
Let your imaginations run wild and enjoy the dizzying heights from the ramparts of Bodiam Castle, a great example of a fortified and moated fortress. Newhaven Fort is also worth a visit; set in 10 acres, the museum shows you what life in a castle was really like.
Let off steam, climb the tree platforms and ropewalks and ride on the miniature steam train at the Bentley Wildfowl and Motor Museum, while car enthusiasts, old and young, enjoy the vintage cars on display. Kent and East Sussex Railway and Yesterday’s World (recreated Victorian villages) are also popular days out.
Amble through West Sussex. Chichester, with its beautiful Georgian houses and streets, is a great place to while away some time – if your family are walkers, Chichester Canal is an attractive way to explore the countryside as far as pretty Chichester Harbour, which you can tour by boat trip (very busy in summer). Vast Arundel Castle is one of the most striking of all English castles, while Fishbourne Roman Palace and Bignor Roman Villa show you how the Romans lived. Or head to Weald and Downland Open Air Museum for a history lesson that’s slightly closer to home, with villages from the 13th to 19th centuries recreated in 40 acres of countryside.
Animal lovers might venture to Huxleys Birds of Prey Centre, Earley Butterfly Park or Tulleys Farm, but don’t forget about the most popular four-legged variety at Goodwood Racecourse, which can make for a great, surprisingly child-friendly day out.
The preponderance of Sussex food festivals throughout the year is testament to the quality of the local produce, served in restaurants across the region, from reliable family-friendly chain restaurants in larger towns to excellent gastro pubs and Michelin-starred restaurants. The coast is dotted with good cafés and pubs too, making eating out on family holidays and breaks a pleasure and never a chore.By Rachelle Keyes
Temperatures tend to be a bit milder in Sussex than in the rest of the country, with warmer springs, summers and autumns than elsewhere, though winter can see heavier snowfall across the Downs. Though summer is the best time to come here for family holidays and breaks, winter can be scenic too – and exhilarating walks can be rewarded by a hot chocolate in front of a log fire. May is also a good time, when the landscape is at its leafy, flowery best but the crowds have not yet arrived in force.
Do look out for big events at Goodwood (see Things to Do), when the country lanes can get gridlocked.
Sussex is easy to reach by car or train, with good, fast road and rail links from London as well as direct services from Scotland, the northwest, the Midlands, the West Country and south Wales. It also has two airports (Gatwick and Brighton City) plus a continental ferry port at Newhaven, with short vehicle and passenger services to Dieppe in France.
Sussex can be a very good place for reasonably priced UK family holidays and breaks – easily accessible, it has oodles of great family-friendly campsites and other low-cost options if you’re looking for fun that won’t blow your budget sky high.
Sussex has a great range of accommodation suited to family holidays and breaks, whether at the budget end of the market or the luxurious, from farm-stays, campsites and caravan sites to bed and breakfasts and hotels ranging from grand seaside options and Georgian mansions to quiet country lodges. In Midhurst, the Park House Hotel has family suites and an outdoor pool.
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