12 Unique Things to Do in Hastings

by Andrea Gambaro  |  Published January 12, 2022

Well known for the Battle of Hastings in 1066, this East Sussex destination is also a celebrated fishing hub and coastal resort of Victorian flavour. Discover these many facets through a range of attractions and unique things to do.

Hastings’ beach-launched fishing fleet (Brian Adamson via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

In Hastings, the typical features of the British seaside combine with quirky attractions and notable historic sites. The town lends its name to the decisive battle of the Norman Conquest (1066), whose legacy includes a medieval abbey and what remains of the clifftop castle overlooking the Channel. Record-breaking funicular railways bear testimony to the Victorian days, while the ‘Stade’ district keeps fishing and maritime traditions, dating back centuries, alive and well. And even more discoveries await in the main lanes and hidden nooks of the old town.

Take the funicular railways to the clifftops

The local Victorian heritage includes two funicular railways linking the town to the clifftops. The West Hill Lift features original wooden coaches and runs partly through a tunnel, otherwise offering spectacular views over the beach and the Channel; a scenic cafe, clifftop lookouts and the ruins of Hastings Castle can be found at the top. The East Hill Lift is the steepest railway of its kind in the UK, looking out on The Stade while providing easy access to Hastings Country Park.

West Hill Lift – 43 George St, Hastings TN34 3EA (closed for maintenance at the time of writing)

East Hill Lift – Rock-a-Nore Rd, Hastings TN34 3EG

One of Hastings’ funicular railways (Photo: Mark via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Visit the ruins of the castle

Easily reached via the West Hill Lift, Hastings Castle was built on an earlier wooden fortress after the famous 1066 battle. Parts of it were lost to the sea during prolonged violent storms which hit the south coast towards the end of the 13th century. As Hastings lost strategic importance along with its harbour, its castle too fell into decay. The ruins we can visit today were rediscovered in Victorian times as a tourist attraction, and include less than half of the original structure. An audio-visual guide explores the history of Hastings and its castle over the centuries.

Castle Hill Rd, Hastings TN34 3J

Roam around the fishing fleet at The Stade

Hastings’ maritime history dates back over a thousand years, and a stroll around the fishing beach is the best way to soak it all up. The Stade, a Saxon term for ‘landing place’, is said to host Europe’s largest fleet of beach-launched fishing boats, while the tall and dark ‘net shops’ stick out as one of its most distinctive features. Visitors are free to roam around the fleet and the fish stalls, but in doing so they should bear in mind that this is primarily a working beach. The local Fishermen’s Museum is free to visit.

Fishermen’s Museum – Rock-a-Nore Rd, Hastings TN34 3DW

Roaming through The Stade’s boats and fish stalls (Photo: Andrea Gambaro)

Tuck into fish and chips at Maggie’s

It doesn’t get much fresher than Maggie’s when it comes to fish and chips in Hastings. This warm, no-frills cafe sits directly above the fish market, offering excellent views of Fisherman’s Beach. Cod & chips is the best seller, served in hearty portions but also available as a double for the extra hungry. Other classic fishy meals are listed on the menu, alongside a basic selection of house wine and prosecco (yes, they’re licensed too!). Enquire about the day’s special before making your choice.

Fishmarket Road, Rock-A-Nore Road, Hastings, TN34 3DW

Visit the battlefields and William the Conqueror’s abbey

As it turns out, the battle that Hastings is famous for was in fact fought some six miles (10km) inland. The historic site is today part of a small town called – you guessed it – Battle, a 15-minute train ride from Hastings. An audio guide and a wood-carved sculpture trail enliven the battlefields, bringing visitors face to face with Norman and Saxon combatants. The main landmark are the ruins of William the Conqueror’s abbey, whose altar is said to mark the very spot where King Harold fell. An exhibition and a walled garden also form part of the site.

Butter Cross, High St, Battle TN33 0AE (advance booking essential)

Meander through the old town

Once protected by walls, the old town of Hastings lies in a valley wedged between the east and the west cliffs. The now-covered Bourne Stream used to separate its main thoroughfares, the High St and All Saints. The latter provides a picturesque route towards the church of the same name, the only medieval church in town along with St Clement’s. A profusion of independent shops, pubs and cafes lines the High St, then continuing onto the lively George Street. Quaint corners and unexpected finds hide among the twittens (‘narrow street’ in Sussex) meandering in between the main streets.

The old town backdropped by the east cliff (Photo: Andrea Gambaro)

Enjoy Thai food surrounded by books

Hastings seems to have a thing for cafe-bookshop mashups, and Boulevard Books & Thai Cafe is its most eccentric. Expect exactly what the name suggests: authentic Thai food served among lines of beautifully packed bookshelves. The menu includes some of the best classics Thai cuisine has to offer, from creamy curries to street food-like fry-ups. Everything is freshly made and the distinctive home cooking style pairs perfectly with the informal atmosphere. Guests are welcome to bring their own drinks. Just a few doors away, Hanouska Coffee House also brings together books and refreshments.

Boulevard Books & Thai Cafe – 32 George St, Hastings TN34 3EA

Meet the flower makers

A true hidden gem of the old town, the Flower Makers’ Museum is tucked away in the basement of the Shirley Leaf and Petal shop. This unique family-run business has been going for over a hundred years, gaining global reputation as a supplier of artificial flower props for major film, TV and theatre productions. The many original pieces on display are made from all sorts of materials, providing an insightful overview of this ancient trade. Those who feel inspired enough can join a workshop with owner and manufacturer Brenda Wilson.

58A High St, Hastings TN34 3EN

Visit the Shipwreck Museum

Another homage to the town’s maritime history, this museum features artefacts from a range of shipwrecks that occurred over the centuries, the most ancient of which dates back to Roman times. Dinosaur fossils and other relics are also displayed, as part of a multi-sensory experience. The standout treasure is still resting at Bulverhythe Beach, where it was run ashore in 1749. The ‘Amsterdam’, the world’s best-preserved East Indiaman, sticks out at low tide and actually emerges at exceptionally low peaks, showing itself as one of Hastings’ most unusual attractions (bear in mind that it takes a very well-timed visit to be able to see the vessel).

Rock-a-Nore Rd, Hastings TN34 3DW

Entrance to the Shipwreck Museum (Photo: courtesy of the Shipwreck Museum)

Discover a scenic country park

Stretching along the coast for 5km, Hastings Country Park offers stunning sea views and country walks. Its 345 hectares comprise historical and archaeological sites, as well as ancient gill woodland, heathland and farmland. The varied wildlife and fossil-rich sandstone cliffs have earned the area national and scientific attention, but the viewpoints alone make the visit worthwhile. If visiting from Hastings, the East Hill Lift provides the best access to the park.

Indulge at the Seafood and Wine Festival

Every year in September, The Stade plays host to a two-day festival celebrating food and wine. Hastings’ fleet and net huts are a perfect backdrop to the plethora of fish marquees crowding up the area, which showcase the best the local cuisine has to offer. A range of wine stalls provide plenty of pairing options, while activities, live music and entertainment complete the programme. Similar vibes can be enjoyed during the Midsummer Fish Festival and the Herring Fair, also held at The Stade in June and November respectively.

Not a bad location for a seafood festival (Photo: Andrea Gambaro)

Enjoy art at Hastings Contemporary

This modern and contemporary art museum first opened as Jerwood Gallery in 2012, not without opposition from sections of the local community protesting against the ongoing gentrification. Today, it is an established member of the Stade district, featuring black-tiled exteriors which harmonise with the surrounding landscape. The programme focuses on painting and modern British art, although international artists, contemporary art and emerging practitioners are also featured. The gallery made headlines in 2020 for running innovative remote robot tours during the first national lockdown.

Rock-a-Nore Rd, Hastings TN34 3DW

Take a stroll at Alexandra Park

This typical Victorian park was originally designed in 1878 by Robert Marnock, one of the finest landscape gardeners of his time. Its linear layout splits between a lower part rich in ponds and well-kept gardens, and a wooded higher section. Regenerated in the early 2000s, the park boasts an excellent collection of rare trees, a cafe, a play area, a greenhouse and a miniature railway. It’s the locals’ favourite urban green area, located only a ten-minute walk away from the centre.