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22 things to do in Eastbourne & South Downs for families

22 things to do in Eastbourne & South Downs for families

Just over an hour from London is Eastbourne, the gorgeous seaside town and gateway to the South Downs National Park. Dubbed the “Sunshine Coast”, Eastbourne holds the UK record for sunniest month. The cliffs of Beachy Head shelter the area and create a microclimate that helps keep Eastbourne sunny when neighbouring towns may be under clouds. That results in a fantastic arrays of things to do in Eastbourne with your children.

The palm-lined seafront promenade is unspoilt, with gleaming white Victorian building. The Grand Hotel, its star attraction, has been voted Best Hotel and is England’s only 5* beachfront luxury hotel. The beaches are some of the cleanest around. Like many seaside towns, Eastbourne boomed in the mid 1800s when the railway came. It has since become a leading destination on England’s South Coast.

Here are some of the best things to do in Eastbourne and surrounding area, including things to do in Eastbourne with a baby, with toddlers, with kids…even some with dogs! Check out our favourite list.

1. Stroll the seafront

The palm-lined Eastbourne seafront promenade is a 3-mile paved path that hugs the coast. There are several places to stop for a coffee, ice cream or bite to eat. All have lovely views over the sea. Don’t miss: Bistro Pierre and The Beach Deck.

benches on the Eastbourne seafront promenade

2. Check out Eastbourne Pier

Take a walk on the iconic Victorian Pier. It’s been refurbed since the 2014 fire and makes a lovely stroll in the evening to catch the sun setting across the English Channel. Make your way to the end to watch fishermen catching mackerel and bass.

Eastbourne pier in Eastbourne England

3. Be entertained at the Eastbourne Bandstand

At this 1930s art deco bandstand you can catch everything from Big Band and Kids Party Nights to tribute shows such as George Michael, Madness and Take That. This outdoor music venue has something for the whole family to enjoy. In winter the shows move indoors to the Devonshire Quarter with concerts most weekends.

An orchestra playing at night at the Eastbourne Bandstand

4. Have fish & chips at the Beach Deck

The Beach Deck is a popular dog-friendly eatery offering stunning views of the seafront from every table. It’s a great place to people watch from the patio. All food made with locally sourced ingredients if possible.

5. Enjoy an Ice cream from Fusciardis

Fusciardis Ice Cream Parlour is an Eastbourne landmark that has served ice cream for more than 50 years. The ice cream is made fresh daily and there are several flavours to choose from, such as Toffee Crunch, After Eight Mint & Tiramisu. Don’t be put off by the queue – staff are efficient, and the line goes quickly.

6. Learn how to be a lifeguard

In the summer holidays Eastbourne lifeguards run Tyro Lifeguard courses that teach children all they need to know about how to be safe by the sea, including first aid and sea rescues. It’s a fun way to teach children water safety skills while also giving them a great active day outside.

Tyro Lifeguard courses

7. Find fossils beachcombing

The Eastbourne seafront is full of treasures. Hunt amongst the shingle on the beach and look for Limpet shells, Slipper limpets & the soft eggs of Whelk. The eroding chalk face of Beachy Head makes it the perfect place to look for fossils. Head to the beaches below Beachy Head for the best finds. If you are lucky, you might find fossilised sea urchins that are more than 90 million years old!

fossils and shells found on Eastbourne beach

8. Hang out at Holywell Beach

At the far western end of the Eastbourne seafront is Holywell Beach. There’s the quaint Holywell Tea Chalet, traditional blue & white beach huts and rock pools at low tide (check the tides schedule here). Holywell Beach backs on to the Italian Gardens, unusual and secluded lawned gardens in a wooded amphitheatre.

Holywell Beach at Eastbourne

9. Hire a beach hut

Nothing says British Beach more than a beach hut! Beach huts are dotted around including some quirky designer ones like the spinning “Spyglass”. Head down to Wish Tower beaches for daily lets between May – Sept. Some have kayaks! And while many beach huts across the country are only used by their owners, you can book these beach huts! Book online here.

Beach huts on Eastbourne beach

10. Learn the Beachy Head Story

This new interactive exhibit tells the story of Beachy Head from different perspectives. From iron & flint to make fire to the Beachy Head Woman to the witches’ knots. The Beachy Head Story is a refreshing exhibition and has something for everyone. It’s free (donations suggested) and houses a lovely giftshop.

Sign for interactive exhibit Beachy Head Story in Eastbourne

11. Walk on Beachy Head

This has been named one of the top 10 coastal walks in the UK. The chalk cliffs at Beachy Head are the highest in the UK and have some of the most iconic views. You can start your walk from Beachy Head Story, taking in the interactive exhibit before your stroll!

children walking on Beachy Head

12. Find the lighthouses

There are two lighthouses you can visit during your trip to Eastbourne! After visiting the Beachy Head Story, walk across the road and follow the path right. You’ll soon see the Beachy Head Lighthouse in the English Channel just below the cliffs. Go a bit further and you’ll spot the Belle Tout Lighthouse, which is now decommissioned and used as a B&B. You can even book the Keepers Loft, the original Lighthouse Keeper’s room with a loft bed and fireplace!

Beachy Head Lighthouse

13. Visit the Observatory Science Centre

This hands-on, interactive science center operates out of the former Royal Greenwich Observatory. Kids and adults of all ages can learn about Forces, Earth and Beyond! Exhibits are fully interactive and it is self-paced so you have time to figure out how everything works. The Observatory Science Centre is set amongst the stunning Victorian Observatory domes and has several water play features for younger kids.

Observatory Science Centre in Eastbourne

14. Stroll Sovereign Harbour

This upscale harbour is the largest manmade harbour in Northern Europe. In addition to the hipster Goodlife Store, there are several restaurants and cafes with sheltered outdoor seating where you can gawk at the million-dollar yachts! Make sure to try Thai Marina, modern Thai in a traditional setting.

Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne

15. Get haircut & coffee or cocktail

Dad will love getting his hair cut in the trendy hipster barber shop, and then enjoy a coffee or cocktail the brand new Goodlife Store in Sovereign Harbour. This new business concept – a house of barbers, cocktail bar, lifestyle retailer and coffee shop – is brilliant! As seen in GQ!

the Goodlife Store in Eastbourne
A cut and a cocktail at the GoodLife Store in Eastbourne

16. Kayak and SUP on the Cuckmere Meanders

The calm waters of the Cuckmere river meanders are the perfect place for families to try paddle sports. Buzz Active Cuckmere, Based at the end of the Seven Sisters Country Park, has everything you need to get started! After kitting up, instruction and safety tips, you can kayak, canoe or paddle board down the meanders. Wildlife abounds, as well as breath-taking views of the Seven Sister Country Park.

17. Take in the view of the Seven Sisters from the Coastguard Cottages

Made famous when it became part of a Windows screen saver, the view of the Seven Sisters from the Coastguard Cottages in Seaford Head is stunning and well worth the trip. Park in the free car park at South Hill Barn BN25 4AR and then take the easy 25-minute walk to this iconic view. And don’t forget you camera!

Coastguard Cottages with view of Seven Sisters in Seaford Head

18. Find the Longman of Wilmington

In steep slopes of Windover Hill is the mysterious Longman of Wilmington chalk figure. Kids (and adults) will be fascinated as to how it got there?? Is he a fertility symbol? An ancient warrior? Take one of the public paths to find out! Here’s how to get there.

The Longman of Wilmington
The mysterious Longman of Wilmington

19. Go stargazing!

The South Downs National Park is one of a select group of International Dark Sky Reserves, protected areas known for their extra dark surroundings and the clarity with which visitors can see the stars. With natural darkness and no man-made lights, Birling Gap is one of the best places to sit and look up at the star formations. They host regular astronomer events and you can visit during special stargazing evenings with the Observatory. Make sure to bring a flashlight.

stargazing in the South Downs

20. Swim at the Sovereign Centre

Kids will love the lagoon-style indoor Fun Pool at The Sovereign Centre, which has a wave machine, flume and bubble pool. There’s also a 25-meter swimming pool, diving pool and training pool.

21. Go to Greece

Be transported, if only for an evening, to the Greek Islands. Gr/eat Greek deli & cuisine prides itself on serving traditional Greek food that tastes like it does on holiday! It is super popular – so make sure to book early!

22. Stay on Beachy Head

Newly refurbished to a high standard, Black Robin Farm offers the only self-catering accommodation on Beachy Head. Book it now because the cosy dog-friendly cottages with sweeping views over Beachy Head are good value and will be very popular.

Get more things to do in Eastbourne with Visit Eastbourne

Visit Eastbourne is your first port-of-call for information about the area, including where to stay, what to do and where to eat! They have a free kids activity sheet and in the summer they operate the Kidzsafe Wristband Scheme.

More great family travel ideas

About Susanna Scott

Susanna Scott founded the BritMums social network in 2008 after a career in marketing. She wanted to create a space for parent bloggers to network, and share ideas and opportunities. She is often quoted as a pioneer in the UK Mum Blogging space, and has been named a top female entrepreneur. She has been featured in The Times, The FT, The Independent, The Guardian, The Sun, Technorati, She, Primo Baby and Red magazine, amongst others. She speaks frequently about blogging, social networking and the BritMums community at industry events. Her blog A Modern Mother ranks in the UK’s top 10 Family Tarvel Blogs. Follow her on @amodernmother.