Why we love the South Downs
The South Downs will take your breath away – in more ways than one. Yes, its views are magnificent, especially from the Seven Sisters’ sea cliffs and the rolling hills of Cissbury Ring, but there are also epic trails to hike, rivers to kayak, castles to conquer and wild woods to explore.
Founded in 2010, this is Britain’s newest national park, a 600 square-mile confection of countryside, heathland, beaches and woodland. And while its biodiversity is impressive, the area is also home to thriving towns and vibrant history, from the cathedral city of Winchester to the 2,000-year-old Roman villa at Bignor.
This is a land rich in adventure, intrigue, myths and marvels – so what are you waiting for? Here’s how to plan your trip.
Feel on top of the world
For a bird’s eye view of the coast, you can’t beat Beachy Head. Its striking white cliffs tower over the waves, forming the easternmost part of the national park – a soul-stirring introduction to its raw natural beauty. Walk westwards, and you’ll find the Belle Tout lighthouse hotel, Seven Sisters and the beach of Birling Gap too.
Witness Medieval marvels
With clashing armour and swooshing swords, Arundel Castle transforms into a Medieval battleground in summer – a living, breathing glimpse of British history. Known for its hilltop turrets and lavish interiors, Arundel is always a fun day out, but its jousting tournaments, falconry displays and battle reenactments are especially thrilling.
Walk the South Downs Way
Fancy a hike? Hit the South Downs Way for a ravishing ramble through glorious countryside, wild woodlands and Beachy Head’s cliffs. The 160km trail stretches between Winchester and the coast: it takes around nine days to complete, but the shorter sections are just as rewarding. For wheelchairs and pushchairs, the park also has six accessible routes.
Hit the trail on horseback
Saddle up! The South Downs is prime riding country, with 1,200km of bridgeways through its forests, fields and hills. Whether you’re trotting though wild woodlands or hacking in the hills, there are routes for every ability – and several local riding schools for guided trips and lessons. You can even follow the South Downs Way on horseback.
Meet Britain’s oldest residents
Visiting Kingley Vale is like stepping into a fairytale. With their twisting trunks and gnarled branches, many of its yew trees are 500 years old – but some are said to be twice that. Either way, this ancient forest is home to some of Britain’s oldest living things; as you explore, look out for red kites, woodpeckers and wild orchids too.
Sip a glass of Sussex sparkling
Toast your adventure on a wine-tasting trip: Sussex is home to some of England’s top vineyards, and most offer behind-the-scenes tours. Akin to champagne, the local sparkling is a crisp, dry tipple – thanks to the region’s chalky soils and sunny climes. Prefer beer? The local brewing scene is equally effervescent, and there are gin distilleries galore.
Things to do in the South Downs
Featured things to do
Kayak the Cuckmere
Slow travel at its best, a spring kayaking trip down the River Cuckmere reveals wildflower-strewn grasslands, nesting waterbirds and the giant white chalk horse at Litlington.Learn more about kayaking in the South Downs
South Downs Summer Music
Want to catch amazing musicians in concert? Head to the charming village of Alfriston, which hosts world-leading classical performers in its beautiful church, St Andrew's 'The Cathedral of The Downs'.Learn more about South Downs Summer Music
With burning effigies and fireworks galore, the otherwise tranquil town of Lewes hosts one of Britain’s biggest Bonfire Nights on November 5. Explosive stuff!Learn more about Lewes Bonfire Night
On a crisp frosty morning, it’s a joy to explore the South Downs’ crowd-free trails – whether to the heights of Ditchling Beacon or the wild woods of the Meon Valley.Learn more about winter walks in the South Downs
Places to stay in the South Downs
Take your pick from cosy shepherd’s huts, a sea-view lighthouse, and even a converted double-decker bus: the South Downs is full of unique retreats.
Tucked away in those lush valleys and charming villages, you’ll find homely B&Bs for a traditional bed-and-breakfast combo.
Going wine tasting? Many South Downs vineyards offer boutique accommodation, too – so you can make a day (and night) of it.
Getting to the South Downs
The closest airport is London Gatwick: a 50-minute drive from Midhurst, or 90-minute train journey from Liss. Gatwick is one of Britain’s major international hubs, reached by direct flights from more than 150 cities worldwide. Alternatively, trains from London Victoria and London Waterloo take 60–90 minutes. Regular ‘Breeze’ buses run between Brighton and parts of the park, too.
With a Discovery Ticket, you’ll enjoy unlimited bus travel all over the South Downs and the rest of the region – putting outdoor adventures and top attractions within easy reach. Meanwhile, picturesque hiking routes can be reached directly from the train stations in Amberley, Liss and Southease.
Want to know more?
To find the best days out and things to do, visit the South Downs National Park’s official website.