Where the silky landscape of the South Downs meets the rousing English Channel, Eastbourne is slowly shaking off its image as a sleepy destination.
In 2019, when German artist Lothar Götz emblazoned the exterior of Towner Eastbourne — the resort’s mood-lifting modern art gallery — it marked a point of transformation. This seaside idyll now boasts intimate wine bars, locavore restaurants and a boutique hotel just a stone’s throw from the seafront. It’s also the host of the 2023 Turner Prize award ceremony.
Visit to gaze at head-turning modern art, kick back in a beach hut, and stomp around one of the most beautiful Victorian piers in the UK.
WHAT TO PACK
You’ll spot this boutique bolthole by its charcoal-hued facade when you arrive on Eastbourne’s Royal Promenade. Opened in 2021, Port is set in a double-fronted Victorian townhouse with 19 rooms, a restaurant, and a bar. Designed by Imraan Ismail, Port features a soothing colour palette of fawn, oatmeal and soft pink, while the walls champion local artists.
Plump for one of the six Sea View rooms to enjoy morning coffee with vistas of the shingle beach and 1870-built pier. Characterful rooms feature high ceilings and large windows, fitted with super king beds, Hypnos mattresses, and terrazzo bathrooms. Request a room with a freestanding bath (there are two in the Sea View category). Studio, Cabin, Family and Dog-Friendly rooms are also available.
EAT + DRINK
The Roastery on Station Parade draws patrons for its velvety coffee and heavenly brunches. Operated by Nelson Coffee Roasters, the ethically-sourced, single-origin coffee is roasted onsite.
This buzzy spot is fast becoming an institution for its Australian-inspired brunches. Highlights include stacked pancakes with cinnamon roasted plums and blueberry compote, and the ‘eggs benny’ of cheddar, red pepper and jalapeño cornbread, free-range poached eggs, and chive hollandaise. Brunch at The Roastery segues into lunches of poke bowls, sandwiches, and burgers.
The meat-free movement continues to evolve in Eastbourne with Green Bro’s plant-based cafe on upmarket Compton Street. Opened in February 2022 on the site of the former Green Almond veggie bistro, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot in town for a fully-fledged vegan menu. Tuck into comforting bowls of sweet potato and carrot falafel with creamy hummus; red lentil and jackfruit curry; mushroom ramen and coconut dahl.
The Beach Deck
It would be amiss to write about Eastbourne — one of Britain’s favourite seaside towns — and leave out fish and chips. One of the top spots is The Beach Deck, right on the shore. Order battered cod with chips doused in mushy peas, curry and tartare sauce. Garlic-infused mussels cooked in white wine with skinny fries, and a gorgeous chowder with chunks of smoked haddock, sweetcorn and bacon are also a triumph. Take a seat outside to watch the waves crash onto the shore as you dine.
A subterranean Wine bar, bottle shop and restaurant, Cru is a sumptuous spot to sip on biodynamic, organic, and old-world wines, with 200-plus options on the menu. Once you’ve settled on your drinks, graze over a selection of brilliant small plates. There are wild mushroom and manchego croquettes; seared and roasted diver-caught scallops, and blue-corn tacos layered with the fish of the day, chipotle mayo, shredded lettuce, and Salsa Criolla. Go in for more with the impossible-to-turn-down short ribs and the half-grilled native lobster thermidor.
Port Restaurant & Lunar Bar
With clever brunch, lunch and dinner menus, you may struggle to tear yourself away from Port during your stay in Eastbourne. Enjoy sundowners on the outdoor terrace or pre-dinner cocktails inside at Lunar Bar. Espresso Martinis and Whiskey Sours are served alongside Lunar’s exquisite homespun Pear and Elderflower Martini, featuring house-infused pear gin, elderflower liqueur, and zesty lemon.
Head chef Alex Burtenshaw has crafted menus that hone in on Sussex produce, with a goal of sourcing as much as possible within a 30-mile radius. The result is a glorious feast of buttermilk popcorn mussels, a local charcuterie of cured meats from Beal’s Farm, and beer-battered fritto misto with squid ink aioli. Brunch is divine, too, with dishes such as the seasonal hash with fried eggs, sriracha, and rashes of smoked bacon, or the homemade waffle stacks with smoked bacon drizzled in maple syrup.
Marvel at the Towner Eastbourne
Eastbourne’s magnum opus is the head-turning Towner gallery, which celebrates its centenary in 2023. Gaze at the Towner’s much-Instagrammed exterior — a cheery geometric mural called ‘Dance Diagonal’ — by German artist Lothar Götz. Delve into the gallery’s rotating exhibitions and 5,000-strong Towner Collection with a focus on modern British art. Alan Davie, David Hockney, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, and sisters Christine and Jennifer Binnie are among the artists to have shown at the Towner in recent years.
Marking the gallery’s 100th year is the Turner Prize 2023. The gallery will host the coveted contemporary art prize (September 28, 2023, to January 14, 2024) along with a series of special anniversary exhibitions throughout the year. On a rainy day, you could also take a seat at Towner’s arty cinema, showing a mix of new releases, classics, queer, and cult cinema. Pick up jaunty art, books, gifts and homeware from the gallery’s ground-floor shop.
Trace the foreshore on a bracing coastal walk
Wrap up warm to follow the tidal patterns of Eastbourne’s foreshore on a spectacular coastal walk. The dramatic cliffs of Beachy Head are less than four miles from Eastbourne, making it the perfect destination for an afternoon yomp. Head west via the Italian Gardens, gradually inclining as you reach the verdant Foyle Way.
You’ll pass thick heather, clinging to the chalk-white cliffs, as the shimmering English Channel comes into view. Take a break at Beachy Head cliffs, where the iconic red-and-white-striped lighthouse beams from below the clifftop.
You could continue along the coast to Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters. Soak up the swathes of serrated coastline where the South Downs National Parks rolls into the sea.
Take a pottery class at Eastbourne Studio Pottery
Eastbourne Studio Pottery is a delightful hub of creativity offering pottery classes and workshops, on Seaside Road. Opt for a 3.5-hour taster session for demos with potter Adam Gower. You can try making a small piece of pottery, or opt for a full-day workshop to refine your pottery skills, create new shapes and gain confidence in ‘throwing’ on the wheel to create one-of-a-kind glazed ceramics.
Shop for antiques
From wartime memorabilia and crockery to books and artwork, Eastbourne is a treasure trove of antique finds. Start at the Eastbourne Antiques Centre, the town’s oldest antique dealer, on Terminus Road. Browse the 20 stalls selling Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian antiques, Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewellery, silver, and 20th-century collectibles. You’ll also find an enormous array of antiques at Grove Road’s Chelsea Antiques Emporium, the largest antique dealer in Eastbourne.
An overwhelming number of secondhand and antiquarian books are crammed from floor to ceiling inside the charming Camilla’s Bookshop, also on Grove Road. Penguin Classics, travel, cookery, local history, nature and Harry Potter are among the stash of tomes stocked at Camilla’s.
Barley Sugar, a part-deli-part-vintage store on Cornfield Terrace, lures magpies for its eclectic stock and lines of plump sourdough loaves. At first glance you might assume the vintage and antique pieces are props, but they’re also for sale. Pick up joyous ceramics, paintings, furniture and decorative homeware.
Relax in a beach hut
There is something sublimely nostalgic about British beach huts. Eastbourne’s photogenic huts are available on Grand Parade, Holywell, and Sovereign beaches. Opt for one of the new huts on Sovereign Beach as they’re more spacious and feature a kitchenette, running water, and electricity. Grand Parade and Holywell beach huts are equipped with two deck chairs, though no other facilities. Pack a flask of tea, some Sussex fizz, and a picnic of local goodies from Barley Sugar. Their deli is an epic Sussex larder, with flavourful charcuterie, cheeses, freshly made breads, jams, chutneys, olives, and more. You’ll also want to pack towels to dry off if you brave a swim.
Lead photo credit: James Eades via Unsplash