Why Eastbourne is a sizzling cultural hot spot

View from the pier on the skyline of Eastbourne, Sussex, United Kingdom

The seafront of Eastbourne is virtually unchanged since Victorian times - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Regularly winning the title of the sunniest spot in the UK, and with the South Downs National Park on its doorstep, the seaside town of Eastbourne is easy to warm to  


Nestling at the foot of the South Downs, Eastbourne is situated virtually in the middle of the East Sussex coast. Growing from a small agricultural community around the Bourne stream -which gave the town its name - Eastbourne was a late developer as a seaside resort, with a population of 3,000 in 1830 when Brighton was home to more than 65,000. 

The arrival of the railway in 1849 sparked the town’s popularity, overseen by wealthy landowners who paved the way for the elegant streetscapes that remain clearly visible today. Covenants drawn up in Victorian times are the reason you won’t see any shops lining the seafront. The promenade retains a very traditional air, with many of the original grand mansions now hotels and virtually unchanged. 

This is a view of the blue sea, Belle Tout Lighthouse, seagulls, road to the lighthouse, East Sussex

The Belle Tout Lighthouse at Beachy Head has rooms to stay in with spectacular views - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Always happy to be the quieter coastal cousin of cosmopolitan Brighton, that doesn’t mean Eastbourne is stuck in a time warp. More recent developments include Sovereign Harbour, northern Europe’s largest marina complex combining boat moorings with housing and an attractive waterfront lined with bars and restaurants. 

Eastbourne has worked hard to shift its image as a retirement town, and an increasing number of younger singles, couples and families with children are drawn to a life beside the seaside. Figures from the National Office for Statistics show the average age is 45.8. 

The year-round arts scene includes three main theatres, a host of smaller playhouses, live music venues and an award-winning gallery. And as one of the sunniest places in the UK it’s no wonder house-hunters warm to Eastbourne.  

FAMOUS FACES 

Most Read

From Eastbourne-born thespians Jean Anderson, who appeared in the TV wartime drama Tenko, to Theodore Zichy from the classic 1940s film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the town has attracted an A to Z of famous names, including former British number one tennis player Johanna Konta who lived at Sovereign Harbour and artist Eric Ravilious who went to Eastbourne Grammar School and Eastbourne School of Art. 

Rumer Godden, whose 60-plus books include Black Narcissus, attended Moira House School and fellow novelist Angela Carter was born here. Before going to Eastbourne College comedian and actor Eddie Izzard was a pupil at Bede’s, where other alumni include actor Nicky Henson who was married to Una Stubbs. 

An iron silhouette of comedian Tommy Cooper, complete with his trademark fez can be seen on the side of his holiday home near Motcombe Gardens, and Eastbourne was the birthplace of fellow funny man “cheerful” Charlie Chester. 

FOOD AND DRINK 

Eastbourne’s most historic watering hole is Old Town’s distinctive black and white timbered Lamb Inn which dates back to 1240 and has welcomed patrons such as Charles Dickens. Today it’s an atmospheric spot to sample award-winning ales from Harvey’s Brewery based in nearby Lewes. 

Down on the seafront the western end of the promenade is overlooked by the ‘white palace’ of the Grand Hotel, the only five-star hotel on the British coastline. It provides a classic setting for Champagne high tea or evening to remember at the stylish Mirabelle Restaurant, where seasonal dishes include a seven-course tasting menu.  

In recent years the town centre has welcomed a raft of independently owned cafes, such as Skylark which showcases local food and wine producers and has imaginative vegetarian options. And take time to call by at the tiny coffee shop run from an old telephone box next to the pier. 

EWWCPX A Man Serves Ice Cream From A Converted Old Red Telephone Box, Eastbourne, Sussex, UK

Hang on, is this Britain's smallest ice cream shop? - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

BOUTIQUE SHOPPING 

All manner of eclectic small shops selling fashion, food, crafts, collectables and much more can be found rubbing shoulders in the charming ‘Little Chelsea’ area of Grove Road and adjoining South Street. Camilla’s Books is a treasure trove for bookworms with around 500,000 antiquarian and second-hand titles piled high over three floors. Take as long as you want to browse around the Little Chelsea Antiques Emporium, the town’s largest antiques centre, which positively promotes ‘time wasters welcome’.  

Eastbourne Enterprise Centre is housed inside a glass-roofed Victorian goods shed next to the station. It’s packed with idiosyncratic outlets such as the Faerie Shop, with crystals, jewellery and holistic therapies, and Aurelie & Rose where you’ll find vintage inspired dresses, retro gifts and quirky cards. 

Tucked behind the Grand Hotel is a small parade of shops that include the contemporary Nigel Greaves Gallery with many pieces inspired by the sea and surrounding landscape. 

MUST SEE 

2DA2F1H UK, England, East Sussex, Eastbourne, Devonshire Park, colourful Towner Art Gallery

The Towner Gallery is itself a colourful piece of art - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

With a newly revamped ground floor area following months of refurbishment, there’s even more reason to visit the Towner Art Gallery. In 2009 the Towner relocated to a new building - the largest purpose-built gallery in the South East - and as well as earning awards for its striking architecture, it won the 2020 Art Fund Museum of the Year title. Works from the permanent collection share space with a changing programme of special exhibitions and the Towner also has a cinema screening new releases, timeless classics and art house films. 

MUST DO 

View of the beachy head lighthouse near Eastbourne, England, Seven Sisters National Park, UK, select

Beachy Head and the Lighthouse attract tourists from all over the world - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Head up to Beachy Head, the town’s most famous landmark where Britain’s highest chalk sea cliffs soar 530ft above the candy-striped red and white lighthouse. Visit the Beachy Head Story to discover more about this scenic stretch of coastline in the South Downs National Park, along with the people who have shaped the landscape. Walk further westwards to reach Birling Gap and the iconic sight of the rollercoaster Seven Sisters cliffs before taking a well-earned break at the National Trust cafe. Alternatively, catch the open top hop-on hop-off bus that runs from the pier from April to October. 

MAKING THE MOVE 

Enticed by the thought of moving to Eastbourne? Sheltered by the sweep of the South Downs, the town regularly boasts more sunny days than anywhere else in the UK making it the perfect spot for seaside living. It’s an hour by train to Gatwick Airport and 90 minutes to London Victoria.  

The average price of a property is £315,199, and the majority of sales last year were flats which sold for an average of £225,656. Terraced properties sell for £301,031 and semi-detached properties fetch an average of £346,304. Last year prices were five per cent up on the previous year. Popular areas include the ‘villages’ of Meads and Old Town, and Sovereign Harbour where some properties have private berths. 

There is a wide choice of some 40 primary and secondary schools in the town which include Gildredge House Free School, Bede’s independent prep school situated on the seafront and Eastbourne College day and boarding school. 

3 of the best properties to buy 

Willingdon Park Drive, West Hampden Park Offers over £550,000 

Willingdon Park Drive, Eastbourne 

Willingdon Park Drive, Eastbourne - Credit: Taylor Engley

This three-bedroom detached house on the border of West Hampden Park and Willingdon  has a 100ft rear garden with a garden room housing a hot tub making it the perfect family home for the sunshine coast. There's an L-shaped living/dining room, separate kitchen with a rear extension currently being used as a family room. There's also an on-site garage and off-road parking. 

Church Mews, Willingdon £435,000 

Church Mews Willingdon

Church Mews, Willingdon - Credit: Taylor Engley

Situated in the pretty Willingdon 'village', this three-bedroom mews home has Sussex flint elevations to the front and is cosy on the inside with gas central heating, a dining room, sitting room and fitted kitchen. There's a garage and a rear southerly aspect courtyard for entertaining and dining al fresco. 

Hamilton Quay, Sovereign Harbour Guide Price £550,000 

Hamilton Quay in Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne 

Hamilton Quay in Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne - Credit: Taylor Engley

Overlooking Sovereign Harbour, this two-bedroom waterside apartment is part a the prestigious Hamilton Quay gated development. It has an open plan living room, kitchen, two double bedrooms, both with ensuite, and two large patio terraces with direct views across the north harbour waters. There's also a cloakroom, two allocated car parking spaces within the secure underblock communal parking area and a lock-up store room.

Taylor Engley 01323 722222 eastbourne@taylor-engley.co.uk

www.taylor-engley.co.uk