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Eastbourne family holidays and breaks

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Today

Overview

Having had its day as the ‘Waiting Room For God’, increasingly chi chi but  also child-friendly Eastbourne in Sussex is seeing a resurgence in coolness as parents bring their kids to the beach to sit amongst the golden oldies for family holidays by the sea, on pebbly beaches beside a postcard-perfect promenade and immaculate gardens. Stripy deckchairs and ice-cream parlours site cheek-by-jowl with new art galleries, hip eateries and a growing community of young thrill-seekers taking to the water for exciting watersports in a town cute enough for little kids but with enough going for it to gain credence with grouchy teens too. 

Things to do with kids in Eastbourne

Make a beeline for the pier to have an ice cream, listen to music at the bandstand and wholeheartedly embrace the whole tourist shebang by jumping aboard on the little train Dotto for an amble along the seafront. Alternatively, Eastbourne Miniature Steam Railway lets you wind your way around the lake for nearly a mile and has a tots’ village and play area.

Take to the water: the Spray Water Sports Centre offers courses in sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and power-boating. 

Head for Drusillas, South East England’s Visitor Attraction of the Year in 2010/11, with amazing play areas and too many attractions to mention. There’s also Knockhatch Adventure Park, with a birds-of-prey centre, boating lake, children’s farm, go-karts, massive indoor softplay centre and more.

Stop off at the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, a working farm with the world’s largest collection of sheep breeds and other farmyard favourites, all cute and tame enough to touch and feed. 

Discover Eastbourne’s art galleries, theatres and museums, especially the Towner Art Gallery with its family drop-in sessions and airy top-floor café, and the How We Lived Then museum, with more than 10,000 exhibits dating from 1850 to 1950.

Spend an afternoon in Gildredge Park and Manor Gardens or Helen Gardens, or else Princes Park on the eastern end of the seafront, a good place for a picnic. Or opposite the Grand, the Western Lawns often host events in summer and is also good for picnics. 

With older kids browse the boutiques and antique shops of Little Chelsea

Blow the cobwebs along the South Downs Way, remembering to keep a tight grip on small hands on Beachy Head.

Eat

Eating fish and chips near the pier is a must on family holidays and breaks in Eastbourne, as is a good old-fashioned afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel (see above), with band accompaniment at peak times. The kids will love its architecture of fantastic meringue-like turrets. Otherwise, Station Street is the place to eat, with lots of choice.

When to go to Eastbourne

Summer is the best time for family holidays or breaks in Eastbourne because it's warm enough to swim in the sea and explore the rockpools, and many of the town's biggest and most popular events take place then too. In August, don’t miss Airbourne, a 4-day air show with plenty of daredevil antics.

But it's fun year-round – lovely at Easter and even better at Christmas, when you can enjoy mulled wine as you listen to carols at the bandstand before taking in a classic panto.

How to get to Eastbourne

Eastbourne is on the Sussex coast about 2hrs' pleasant drive through stunning countryside from central London, or there are direct trains from London Victoria, taking 90mins, or coaches with National Express.

Cost

Unless you take a suite at the Grand and dine every night at its Michelin-starred restaurant, you should be able to escape from Eastbourne reasonably unscathed, although your spare change will disappear at the pier and on ice creams (such is the way of family holidays…).

Related features

Dea Birkett's Eating with Kids: An English in Eastbourne
Dea Birkett's Eating with Kids: An English in Eastbourne
Family feasts on the sunny Sussex coast.

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