You have decided to explore West Sussex in England. That is perfect – this county in South East England offers breathtaking natural beauty. In truth, tourists often overlook this region, but it has numerous attractions worth exploring. Choosing the best things to do in West Sussex wasn’t an easy task. There are many gorgeous places to visit in West Sussex, and it was hard to choose only a few. We have picked 18 locations that attract visitors for various reasons.
What is West Sussex famous for?
West Sussex on the southeast coast is famous for its rich history. It has beautiful castles, lively towns and pretty harbour villages. Stunning beaches and lovely walking and cycling trails in the South Downs National Park make West Sussex a hidden delight for visitors.
West Sussex is also worth visiting because it is home to the English Sistine Chapel and has the largest school chapel in the world. Also, this county has one of the oldest cinemas in Britain and one of the largest Roman villas open to the public in the UK.
18 Best places to visit in West Sussex
Here are the best things to do in West Sussex when planning to escape to this gorgeous part of England.
The best things to do in West Sussex for castle lovers
1. Arundel Castle
One of the first destinations most people head to is Arundel. This market town is one of the best places to visit in West Sussex because it has beautiful listed buildings and scenic surroundings. The highlights are the Roman Catholic Cathedral, a museum and, of course, Arundel Castle.
Visiting Arundel Castle is one of the best things to do in West Sussex because it is one of the most visited attractions in this county. But that is not the only reason to visit this castle. 11th-century Arundel Castle is one of the best medieval castles in England. In fact, it is one of the most complete medieval castles in the country. Even Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, stayed here for three days in the 19th century.
Arundel Castle has been home to the Dukes of Norfolk for almost a thousand years. It has many original features, such as the Norman keep and gatehouse from the Middle Ages. Also, it has beautiful castle grounds and towers that offer gorgeous views across the South Downs and the River Arun. Moreover, Arundel Castle has a fine collection of furniture and even personal possessions of Mary, Queen of Scots.
2. Petworth House
Petworth House dating back to the early 1300s.
It is easy to see why Petworth House is one of the best places to visit in West Sussex. This late 17th-century Grade I listed country house is one of the most famous National Trust attractions. Many tourists also flock here because Netflix filmed its popular Bridgerton series here.
Exploring Petworth House is one of the best things to do in West Sussex because this gorgeous building once rivalled the palaces of Europe. Because of that, many refer to it as the English Versailles. Explore its State Rooms, where you can find a portrait of Henry VIII and paintings by Titian, Van Dyck and Turner. Also, do not forget to stroll through the 700-acre deer park, which offers gorgeous views of Petworth House.
3. Cowdray Ruins
If you find yourself near Midhurst, we recommend you check out 13th-century Cowdray Ruins. Many refer to it also as Cowdray Castle, but it is not a fortress.
Cowdray House is the ruins of one of the most important early Tudor houses in England. This fortified manor house was once comparable to great palaces and country houses of that time. Because of that, Cowdray House is one of the best places to visit in West Sussex.
Did you know King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I visited Cowdray House?
GOOD TO KNOW:
Unfortunately, the fire destroyed it during the reconstruction in the 18th century, and now it is only in ruins. Even though Cowdray House is not open to the public for general visits, you can see it from the park. Alternatively, you can explore Cowdray House during one of Cowdray’s heritage events, such as Christmas at Cowdray.
Cowdray House is only a short drive from Petworth House.
4. Bramber Castle
If exploring fortresses is your thing, there is also Bramber Castle near Steyning. This castle was once the Sussex seat of the de Braose Family for over 250 years. If you do not know, William de Braose fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. He got this land as a reward for his support. He built it after the Norman Conquest to help protect newly won territories.
Today, this 11th-century Norman motte-and-bailey castle is in ruins. You can see only one surviving 14-metre-tall wall of the gatehouse tower. There are also the foundations of what once were the living quarters and a guardhouse. Unfortunately, more is not visible because the locals used the stone later for the construction of the bridge and other buildings in the village.
After you explore the ruins, climb to the top of the motte for beautiful views.
Best things to do in West Sussex for history lovers
5. Bignor Roman Villa
If you are interested in Roman history, it is also worth visiting Bignor Roman Villa. You can find it in the heart of the South Downs National Park, near Amberley village. Maybe you do not know, but the Romans built over a thousand villas across Britain after they invaded Britain in the first century AD. Bignor Roman Villa is one of them. The villa still remains in the ownership of the Tupper family. Their ancestors discovered it in the 19th century whilst ploughing.
Exploring Bignor Roman Villa is one of the unusual things to do in West Sussex because it has some of the best Roman mosaics in Great Britain. This large courtyard villa is today a museum where you can see the remains of the longest corridor mosaic in Britain.
Bignor Roman Villa is also one of the best places to visit in West Sussex because it’s one of the largest villas open to the public in Britain. This once elegant Roman home has the original mosaic floor dating back to 350 AD.
6. Fishbourne Roman Palace
If you want to soak up the country’s rich Roman past, add Fishbourne Roman Palace to the list of the best places to visit in West Sussex. Fishbourne Roman Villa is the largest Roman home in Britain and one of the most famous Roman sites in the UK.
This rectangular palace had once formal gardens and dates back to 75 AD. The Romans built it around 30 years after the Roman conquest of Britain. But its origin dates back to the 1st century, just a few decades after the Romans came to the island.
Fishbourne Roman Palace was as big as the imperial palaces in Rome. The footprint of this palace was nearly twice the size of Buckingham Palace.
Seeing Fishbourne Roman Palace is one of the unusual things to do in West Sussex because it was once the grandest Roman Palace in northern Europe. This luxurious residence once had 100 rooms. It even had an underfloor heating system, a bathhouse and over 60 mosaic floors. Today, you can see more than twenty mosaics in various states.
The mosaics still sit where the craftsman laid them 2,000 ago and are some of the earliest floors yet found in Britain. The highlights are the Dolphin mosaic and the shell mosaic with dolphins. Also, do not forget to explore the restored Roman gardens. You can learn more about herbs and flowers used by the Romans.
GOOD TO KNOW :
Entry fee to Fishbourne Roman Palace is £13 for an adult, £6.50 for a child and student and £12 for a senior. Fishbourne Roman Palace is open from 10 am until 5 pm between March and October. If you visit in November, you can do that between 10 am and 4 pm. You should know that Fishbourne Roman Palace remains open from mid-February to the end of November.
7. Lancing College Chapel
Not many would place Lancing College Chapel on the list of the best places to visit in West Sussex, but it would be a mistake. Did you know this unusual building is a fine example of Gothic revival architecture? This Sussex landmark, which lies on the hill overlooking the busy A27 north of Shoreham, is, in fact, too beautiful to skip.
Yes, that is right, visiting Lancing College Chapel is one of the best things to do in West Sussex because this Grade I listed building has the largest school chapel in the world. Its chapel is one of the tallest interior vaulted churches in the country. It also has a beautiful rose window – the largest in England.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You can visit Lancing College Chapel from 10 am until 4 pm from Monday to Saturday. If you want to visit Lancing College Chapel on Sunday or Bank Holiday, you should know that it is open only from 12 noon until 4 pm. Lancing College Chapel remains closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Easter Sunday.
Though you may not find it on the cover of a tourism magazine, Amberley is also one of the most beautiful places to visit in West Sussex. This picture-perfect village at the foot of the South Downs National Park may not be as famous as other places, but it is well worth a visit.
Did you know that Amberley is the most picturesque village in West Sussex? It has beautiful thatched cottages with flowers decorating their walls and front gardens.
This pretty village is also famous for Amberley Castle (now home to a hotel) and the open-air Amberley Museum, which preserved the industrial heritage of South East England. There is also Amberley Wildbrooks Nature Reserve, which offers beautiful views of the untouched countryside. Because of that, exploring Amberley is one of the best things to do in West Sussex if you are looking for a rural escape.
9. Weald and Downland Living Museum
Museum lovers looking for unusual things to do in West Sussex should visit the Weald and Downland Living Museum because this museum shows how rural life looked like in South East England for over 1,000 years. Yes, you are right – this open-air museum preserves the history of rural England. It has over 50 historic buildings with authentic furnishing dating from 950 AD to the 19th century.
The Weald and Downland Living Museum covers 40 acres (16 ha) of landscape in the South Downs National Park. When you visit it, you can see what life was like for people living in years gone by. You can also take courses in traditional trades and crafts or walk in the woods.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You can find the Weald and Downland Living Museum in Singleton. A ticket to the Weald and Downland Living Museum costs £15.50 for an adult and £7.50 for children (5-7 years old).
Chichester is, by all means, one of the most popular places to visit in West Sussex. This attractive cathedral city is the only city in West Sussex. Chichester dates back to the Roman times. Many believe it has played a significant part during the Roman invasion in 43 AD.
Chichester stands on the foundations of the Romano-British city. This city once had Roman walls, baths, an amphitheatre (now a park), and the old Roman Road State Street linked Chichester with London. One of the highlights of Chichester is its beautiful cathedral, which is the only English cathedral visible from the sea. Not only this cathedral has many artworks, but it also has Roman mosaic pavement. You can see it through a glass window.
Other must-see attractions are the Market Cross, the Bishop’s Palace Gardens and the Novium Museum, which documents the city’s history. Also, don’t forget to visit Fishbourne Roman Palace – it is the largest Roman home in Britain.
Exploring Chichester is one of the best things to do in West Sussex because this cathedral city has a Roman heritage. Also, it has a more than 900-year-old cathedral and many attractions connected to the city’s Roman past.
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Things to do in West Sussex if you are looking for a seaside escape
If you are looking for a seaside escape, then make sure you visit Worthing. This underrated coastal town is one of the largest towns in West Sussex. While it lies just a short drive from its more fashionable neighbour, Brighton, only a fraction of tourists visit this Victorian seaside town. They might not be fully aware of how much they are missing out.
Exploring Worthing is one of the best things to do in West Sussex because this town has an award-winning pier, a beautiful pebble beach and the second-largest hill fort in England. This coastal town also has the only replica of the Sistine Chapel in the world.
Yes, that is right, Worthing has a copy of Michelangelo’s masterpiece in one of its churches. It also has a unique chalk garden with an extensive collection of rare plants and trees. This once favourite destination of Oscar Wilde with a unique microclimate is definitely well worth a visit. Make sure you do not skip it when exploring West Sussex.
READ MORE: Top things to do in Worthing
12. West Wittering
You cannot take a trip to West Sussex without visiting West Wittering Beach. This blue flag beach, located between Brighton and Portsmouth, is a popular spot – and for good reasons.
If you do not know, West Wittering is a long beach with beautiful sand dunes south of Chichester. This pretty beach with crystal clear waters is a perfect place to spend a day sunbathing, swimming or playing in the sand. You can even hire kayaks, paddle boards or jet skis here.
West Wittering has a Caribbean feel and is undoubtedly the best beach in West Sussex. It needs to be on your itinerary because it is a popular staycation hotspot for those who do not want to travel far. West Wittering is also one of the most beautiful beaches in England and one of the popular day trips from London.
Because of that, spending a day on West Wittering Beach is one of the best things to do in West Sussex.
We also recommend you to visit Bosham, which you can find on an arm of Chichester Harbour. Not only this charming coastal village is only one of the most photogenic locations on the South Coast, but it also has a long history.
You probably do not know, but the history of this tiny village dates back to Saxon times. This village is the place where King Canute (King of Denmark, Norway and King of England) buried his younger daughter. She drowned in Bosham Mill stream in the 11th century. You can find her final resting place (a stone with the black raven) in Bosham’s Holy Trinity Church.
It is hard to believe that some historians think King Canute lived in this small village. During the Saxon period, Bosham was an important place. Some say King Canute had a palace here in the 11th century. King Canute also sat on his throne in Bosham and ordered the waves to go back (an object lesson to his courtiers).
But that is not all – many think Bosham is the birth and burial place of the last crowned Anglo-Saxon English king (Harold Godwinson). Find the replica of the Bayeux Tapestry in Bosham Church – it depicts Harold II praying in this church before sailing to Normandy. This voyage in the 11th century cost him his kingdom because a storm cast him into the hands of William of Normandy.
If you look closely at the tapestry, you can see the arch inside this church.
Visiting Bosham’s Holy Trinity Church is one of the unusual things to do in West Sussex for history lovers because it has links with King Canute and the last Anglo-Saxon English king, Harold Godwinson.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Be careful where you park your car in Bosham. When the tide comes in, it floods the road next to the harbour. Pay attention to the warning signs, check the tide times and park there only during the low tide.
Places to visit in West Sussex for garden lovers
If you want to escape the noise of the town, we recommend you to go to Nymans Garden near Haywards Heath. Nymans is an English garden with an important plant collection containing species from around the world. Three generations of the Messel family developed this garden for nearly 130 years.
Today, Nymans is one of the famous National Trust Properties. This premier garden with a romantic house is one of the largest gardens in England. It is also one of the best day trips for everyone who wants to spend a day in nature. Because of that, exploring Nymans is one of the best things to do in West Sussex.
Once here, take a map at the ticket office and explore the gardens. Do not miss the Rose Garden and elegant house in the middle of the park. Even though it is partially in ruins, it is well worth a visit. This Grade II listed building has small rooms furnished with tapestries, works of art and treasures collected by the Messel family.
Ask volunteers what’s on, including the guided garden walks.
If walking in the gardens is your thing, Wakehurst should be on your list of the best places to visit in West Sussex. Wakehurst is Kew’s wild botanic garden in West Sussex. It is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. These gardens are also home to the world’s largest wild seed conservation project, the Millennium Seed Bank. Because of that, exploring Wakehurst is one of the unusual things to do in West Sussex.
Wakehurst has over 202 hectares (500 acres) of gorgeous ornamental gardens. Scientists arranged them geographically – and they have species from Australia, South America and Africa. Wakehurst also has woodlands and a grand Elizabethan country house.
Did you know the Millennium Seed Bank is working to conserve 25% of global plant species? Wakehurst’s Millennium Seed Bank has more than 2 billion seeds from over 40,000 wild plant species from more than 100 countries. Scientists stored them in an underground vault – large enough to fit 38 double-decker busses. You can even see the scientists in action at the Millennium Seed Bank.
Do not miss the rooftop walkway of the Mansion while it undergoes roof restorations. It offers beautiful views of the gardens.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Wakehurst is a National Trust property – its members do not need to pay for entry (parking charges apply). If you are not a National Trust or Kew Gardens member, expect to pay £16.50 for an adult to access Wakehurst. Opening times at Wakehurst are from 10 am until 6 pm (the last entry is 5.30 pm).
16. Leonardslee garden
Get into the festive spirit and visit Leonardslee Garden during Christmas.
If there is one more garden you should visit when exploring this part of England, it is Leonardslee. This gorgeous landscape and woodland garden in Lower Beeding opened its doors in 2019 after a closure of 10 years. Leonardslee has undergone the largest garden restoration in England after it was nearly lost forever.
Today, this gorgeous Grade I listed garden is open to the public, and you can visit it next time you explore West Sussex. Leonardslee Garden, set in 240 acres of woodland, is one of the finest woodland gardens in England. Because of that, visiting Leonardslee Garden is one of the best things to do in West Sussex.
If you do not know, Leonardslee Garden contains seven lakes, and an impressive collection of mature trees and beautiful flowers. The garden is at its best in April for magnolias and in May for rhododendrons and azaleas. But it is also well worth visiting it during Christmas when there is a perfect winter trail with light, sound and colour. A winter trail with illuminations and interactive installations takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You can visit Leonardslee Garden during the peak season (26th March – 29th October) from 9 am until 5 pm. If you visit during the low season, the gardens are open only until 4 pm (closed on Christmas Day). The entry ticket for an adult to Leonardslee Garden costs £14.50 and £6.50 for a child (5 -16 years old).
If you want to explore the gardens on the winter trail Leonardslee illuminated, do not forget to book in advance. Your ticket for an adult costs £16 or £9 for a child (under 16).
Other things to do in West Sussex
If you prefer something a little quieter, consider visiting Halnaker. Halnaker is a hamlet in the Chichester district, known for its lovely windmill and tunnel of trees. Halnaker sits on the border of the South Downs National Park, which has one of the most diverse landscapes in the UK.
Head along Mill Lane to the top of Halnaker Hill, where you can find the recently restored Halnaker Windmill. This beautiful windmill dates back to the 18th century and was a working mill until the lighting struck it in 1905.
Visiting Halnaker is one of the unusual things to do in West Sussex because this tiny village is home to the iconic Halnaker Windmill and the famous tunnel of trees. Also, Halnaker Hill offers beautiful countryside views. On a clear day, you can even spot the sea.
18. Devil’s Dyke
If you want to spend a day in the countryside, consider hiking to Devil’s Dyke, which offers stunning countryside views. Scientists believe this unusual valley formed naturally over 10,000 years ago during the last ice age. Others think it was the Devil who dug this gorge to drown the parishioners of the Weald.
Devil’s Dyke is a legendary beauty spot in the South Downs National Park. According to a National Trust, almost a mile-long Dyke Valley is the longest, deepest and widest dry valley in the UK. This 100-metre deep V-shaped valley is also the largest chalkland dry combe in Britain.
Because of that, hiking Devil’s Dyke is one of the unusual things to do in West Sussex.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You can find Devil’s Dyke 5 miles north-west from Brighton. Devil’s Dyke car park is 2 miles north of A27 Brighton ring road – for your sat nav, use BN18YJ.
Now you know what are the best things to do in West Sussex!
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