You couldn’t ask for a better stretch of beaches in the UK than the one you’ll find along the south coast around Brighton and in the broader Sussex area. This is the ideal place to take full advantage of your hire car and experience the coastal lifestyle at your leisure.
Of course, the Brighton to Hove beach strip is probably the most well known in Britain, with its iconic pier and the famous Brighton Music Hall. It’s become quite an entertainment hub down the years, so surrounding the beach itself you’ll find fairground entertainment, train rides, restaurants and nightclubs. There are tons of shopping to be had too, with a revitalised district of independently-run local shops and boutiques. One of the most popular attractions is the British Airways i360, where you can travel 500 feet up in the air in a glass pod and get a bird’s-eye view of the city and the sea. A fifteen-minute walk to the western end of the beach stretch will bring you to the Hove side, where you can enjoy water sports on Hove Lagoon, while the kids can play safely in their own paddling pool and amusement area.
ROTTINGDEAN TO SALTDEAN BEACH
Once you’ve had your fill of Brighton, head a short way east along the coast to get to the next beach, nestled between two little villages. The main attraction here are the white cliffs and undercliff pathway that you can walk along from one to the other. It can get quite dramatic at times, with waves crashing over the retaining wall to your one side, but it’s perfectly safe and great fun. This beach is known for its wonderful rock pools, teeming with marine life. You can also hire a bicycle and take the cycle track from Saltdean to the marina, where you’ll find plenty of coffee shops and restaurants where you can reward yourself for the day’s exertions.
CUCKMERE HAVEN BEACH
Drive a few miles further east and you’ll reach Cuckmere Haven, which is a nature resort on the estuary where the River Haven meets the ocean. The country is a little wilder here, with the Seven Sisters cliffs hovering over the landscape in the distance. It’s a favourite spot for hiking and canoeing, and the hiking trails are well marked, with picnic facilities along the way. At ebb tide you can even walk across to the other side of the river if you don’t mind getting your feet a bit wet. There’s also a welcoming Visitors Centre where you can enjoy a refreshing cuppa after your walk.
BIRLING GAP BEACH
This beach is less about amenities and more about communing with nature. It’s right in the shadow of the Seven Sisters cliffs, made from the same white chalk as the famous cliffs of Dover. You make your way down to the beach from the top, where you’ll find plenty of fascinating rock pools. Crabs can be caught here too, and the area has become something of a fossil hunting destination. If you’re feeling particularly energetic, there is a circular walking route from the lovely country pub that is the Tiger Inn in East Dean down to the beach and back again. It will take you around an hour and a half, just in time for a good old traditional pub lunch.
CAMBER SANDS BEACH
This beach will be your last stop on the eastern leg of the south coast beaches near Brighton, and also one of the highlights of your trip. Its sandy strip stretches for miles, bordered by dunes to your left, and the sea beside you on the right. Rocky outcrops create plenty of tidal pools to explore or simply float around in. It’s best to visit the beach at high tide, as the water recedes quite far out during low tide, creating a pretty long walk to get to the water’s edge to go swimming. The beach is just outside the town of Rye, which is utterly charming with its medieval houses and cobbled streets. And since you’re quite a way from Brighton now, why not stay overnight at one of the many little guesthouses.
If you head west from Brighton, the first beach you’ll reach is at the town of Worthing, roughly 12 miles away. It’s a wonderful place for the whole family to relax and enjoy the pebble beach with its expanses of grass alongside, a skate park and a children’s play area. Cafes provide everything from fresh cake and coffee to full meals. You can sit in one of these and watch the kite surfers: this is one of the most popular spots for the pastime. Or go down to the beach and try it out for yourself, under the guidance of experienced instructors. Cycling enthusiasts can pack their bikes and explore the South Coast Cycle Route, a safe place to cycle where you won’t encounter any vehicles to worry about.
Venture another 10 miles or so and you’ll come across one of the best beaches along this stretch of coast. There’s the East Beach, which is the more touristy part. It has an amusement park, restaurants, and lovely gardens where you can stroll or picnic. The West Beach is more about nature itself. It’s a sandy beach with dunes backing it, and not much in the way of modern amenities to break the spell of being out in the wild. You can walk between the two beach sections via a footbridge over the River Arun – it’s only two miles from one to the other. Otherwise, you can take the ferry that runs in summer. Kids can travel on a little train, to their great delight, with ice-cream and doughnut stalls adding even more excitement.
This is another rather special little beach. Less than an hour’s drive from the city of Brighton, at high tide it appears to be merely a patch of pebbles leading into the sea. Once the tide goes out, however, a white sandy beach is revealed, allowing all the traditional beach activities like building sandcastles, swimming in the breakers, flying kites and walking dogs. It’s a large beach too, with grassy verges, so there’s plenty of space to unwind. Facilities are limited, but there’s a really great family-run cafe where you can order meals made from local produce, or choose some delicious cake for tea. The nearby Bailiffscourt Hotel and Spa is an excellent choice if you wish to stay the night, or are looking for a romantic weekend getaway.
BOGNOR REGIS BEACH
Famous as the Butlins holiday destination, the beach at Bognor Regis is another one that hides its treasures at high tide. At low tide it becomes a beach lover’s paradise, with sand that goes on for acres. There’s a promenade area with all manner of refreshments and entertainments on offer, including a children’s play area and a skate park for the older ones. The pier itself is fashioned in the style of an old amusement arcade, making it rather quaint at the same time. An insider tip is that the east end of the beach is the usually busiest, as it’s next to Butlin’s, so if you want more solitude and peace and quiet, head to the west end.
WEST WITTERING BEACH
We’ve saved the best for last, and this beach also happens to be the last stop of your westward beach explorations. It has a sea vista that could easily compare to a beach on the Mediterranean. This is a classic beach, in that there are sand dunes on one side and a vast expanse of ocean on the other, with plenty of beach in-between. It has rock pools and genuine ocean swimming conditions, which are best experienced at high tide. There are picnic areas or cafes offering food and beverages throughout the day. You can make a weekend of it if you like, by booking in at the Old House, from where you can walk down to the beach in ten minutes.
And there you have it – the SIXT traveller guide to the best beaches in the Brighton area, all just waiting for you to visit in your hire car. No matter how long you’d like to stay, we’ll make sure you can get to enjoy them all.