Get off-the-beaten-track to check out Brighton’s lesser known neighbour. Delve into its galleries, explore its charming Old Town and enjoy pop-up events on its soon to be reopened pier — you’ll find the fishing town on the southeast coast has personality in spades.
The Victorian Pier
Spring 2016 sees the reopening of Hastings Pier following its £14.2m refurbishment. When the elegant pier first opened in 1872, on the site of a submerged prehistoric forest, it was the pride and joy of the town. A place for leisure and pleasure, from its American bowling alley to its joy wheel - a popular amusement ride at the time which involved being spun round on a giant revolving disc.
In the 1960s and 70s, the pier even staged some of Britain’s most famous musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. The latest incarnation is set to be just as exciting, with a programme of events including live music, open air theatre, circus performances and food and drink fairs.
An emerging arts scene
Hastings has long attracted arty types, perhaps thanks to its edgy history of rum-smuggling pirates, and rugged scenery - from sea-splashed cliffs to crumbling castles. You can see local artists’ work in small galleries all around town.
Juxtaposed against the backdrop of the town’s medieval cinque port, there’s also modern art museum the Jerwood Gallery. Devoted to contemporary British art, exhibitions have featured work by influential portrait artist John Bratby and subversive duo, brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman – all hailing from Hastings.
Boutique hotels and places to stay
And if you want something more traditional, you’ll find welcoming B&B’s a-plenty. You can’t go wrong with The Swan House, an elegantly furnished 15th-century guest house in a charmed setting.
Weird, but wonderful festivals...
Hastings has a calendar full of eccentric celebrations. There’s Pirate Day in July, where you’ll find the whole town – pets included – doing their best Captain Jack Sparrow impressions.
Jack in the Green, meanwhile, is focused around a gloriously green May Day parade of 'the Jack', a symbolic representation of spring. And to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, there'll be a huge arts festival throughout September: Root 1066.
The characterful Old Town
Until the 1800s, Hastings was the Old Town. Its boundaries now extend well beyond George Street, but this historic enclave remains the heart and soul of the town. Its storied alleyways, or ‘twittens’, will lead you to independent shops, galleries and guest houses galore.
For a glimpse back in time, visit HG Hendy & Co Home Store. The building’s been sensitively stripped back to its beginnings, with candles, open fires and staff in period costume adding to the air of nostalgia. The shop specialises in utilitarian homeware, including an incredible array of brushes and brooms.
Insta-incredible black fishing-net huts
These distinctive tall wooden huts, many of which are Grade-II listed, line The Stade, home to the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Britain. Made to store fishing nets, they are tarred black to protect them from the ferocity of the elements on this unruly stretch of coastline.
Buy the catch of the day from the sheds behind the net huts (or along Rockanore Road) or spend time capturing the photogenic seafront scene for your Instagram followers.
The 'best fish and chips in the world'
Blue Dolphin’s fish and chips are surely the most perfect version of this British staple (confession: I was born here so might be just a teeny bit biased). But seriously - that queue outside is there for a reason. Best enjoyed doused in vinegar, sitting on the pebble beach with wind whipping at your hair.
You can find out more about Hastings at Visit1066Country.