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Travel – Elegant Eastbourne

Brighton boring? Adrian Gillan heads mere miles down coast to find Eastbourne far from retiring!

Of course it’s hard to beat Brighton, undisputed gay capital of England’s south coast. But if you’re after something arguably less brash, a tad more genteel, 100,000-populated Eastbourne offers a welcome alternative! Eastbourne has a similar history to its larger East Sussex rival – pebble-beached Georgian sea-spa town veering more towards mass tourism with the arrival of the Victorian railways – but it feels even closer to the glorious South Downs, not least where nearby chalk cliff so dramatically meets sea.

The town may have a reputation as a haven for the “more mature” but its age profile is, in fact, shifting downwards a tad as the town lures students, families and those commuting to London or Brighton. Apart from the seafront and surrounding hills and coastline, it has a host of cultural attractions – theatres, museums and galleries. What is more, by some kind measures, it is officially England’s sunniest town!


Few hotels in Eastbourne can possibly rival luxury AA 4-star guest accommodation, The Royal (8-9 Marine Parade, Eastbourne, BN21 3DX; T: 01323 649222;), for friendliness, service and location – slap-bang on Eastbourne’s historic seafront and beach. A lodging house since Regency times, the Royal was completely revamped in the early 20th Century and then again, quite recently. This charming character property – one of the town’s original old ‘Sea Houses’ – has offered rest, relaxation and spectacular sea views to Eastboune’s visitors for over 170 years. Of course, today’s guests enjoy modern amenities in the 10 spacious guest rooms, from free WiFi to power showers – alongside old-fashioned hospitality! Moreover, The Royal is proudly pet-friendly; plus also eco-friendly, with an active green policy. Lovely hosts Eddie and Lynda make amazing breakfasts too, using organic, fair-trade, sustainable and locally sourced produce whenever possible – cue mounds of delicious homemade bread, muffins, muesli, yoghurt and jam!


Drop into the recently opened Western View Café (King Edward’s Parade), slap-bang on the seafront, offering stunning views of Beachy Head alongside a wide range of tasty snacks including scones, pastries and crisps plus hot and cold beverages. Open 9am ‘til 6pm daily.

See & Do

Naturally, you could spend your entire time strolling the elegant 3-mile-long seafront promenade, taking in, west to east, its Wish Tower, bandstand, Victorian pier and Redoubt Fortress, ending up at the vibrant marina district.

Then you can head mere minutes westwards to walk amidst Eastbourne’s neighbouring natural glories – notably the Seven Sisters Country Park, featuring the eponymous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs of the South Downs; and nearby Beachy Head, the highest chalk sea cliff in Great Britain and an area of outstanding natural beauty. The best way to access such places, plus get a running commentary on the area, is via a hop-on-off CitySightseeing bus.

As if all that wasn’t enough, check out the state-of-the-art Towner Art Gallery for a fine collection of art, old and new. And there’s a whole raft of other top-notch museums, including the ‘How We Lived Then’ Museum of Shops (20 Cornfield Terrace; T: 01323 737143) for replica Victorian stores; the wonderful Redoubt Fortress & Military Museum (Royal Parade; T: 01323 410300;) covering 300 years of conflict – perhaps trying one of their spooky torch-lit Twilight Tours in October; and the RNLI Lifeboat Museum (King Edward’s Parade; T: 01323 730717; open Apr-Oct only; free) for the story of Eastbourne’s Lifeboats from 1853 onwards, with a fine collection of models.

Or you can always catch a concert or show at any of the Congress Theatre, Royal Hippodrome Theatre, Winter Garden, or Devonshire Park Theatre. And there is a whole calendar of festivals in town throughout the year. The annual Eastbourne Beer Festival, at the Winter Garden every October, is especially popular.


Just back from the front, The Hart (89 Cavendish Place; T: 01323 643151;) is, indeed, the town’s gay heart and soul – not just its busy, friendly bar, but its Clubroom round the back.