Things to see & do in the South downs

Things to do in the South Downs

Our top activities in the south downs national park

Get active

Best known for the South Downs Way, there is actually a whole network of walking and cycling trails that criss-cross the park. These enable tourists to access the Way more easily but also to do so from the generous spattering of railway stations – many of which have have cycle hire options nearby. You can travel independently, as routes are so well marked that it is hard to get lost, although it is still best to carry an OS Map. For an even more hassle-free break, however, an organised walking or cycling holiday takes care of the logistics, leaving you the freedom to just follow the paths and blow away the cobwebs. And if you would rather use four feet instead of two, there are numerous options for riding a horse across the park.

In the South Downs National Park you are never too far from a quaint village or market town. So if you enjoy wild heathlands or gentle river paths, but also love the warm glow of a village pub as the sun begins to set, this park ticks all the boxes.

Food & drink

All that walking and cycling is hungry and thirsty work – not to mention the appetite-enhancing sea air. With a tradition of inns and eateries, markets and farm shops, you are never far from fine fare, local produce and mouth-watering, memorable foodie experiences. And with an abundance of railway stations and bus links, you can still enjoy a drink or two to wash it down. The landscape is just bursting with breweries and vineyards, so you will be glad you did choose to leave the car at home. The rich agricultural land has been a pull for farmers for generations, and fine artisan producers, and chefs who celebrate their outputs, are scattered all over the park. Consequently, there is a wonderful selection of cafes, restaurants and pubs to turn a day of sightseeing into a full-on feast. Stop by the farmers’ markets and shops to fill your backpack or pannier with fine fare, or even better – go the whole hog (sometimes literally) and head down for one of the many food festivals taking place throughout the year. These South Downs folk know how to throw a party.


The South Downs’ history has been defined by its landscape. Flanking the coast, it was vulnerable to attack, and has been used as a vital look out as far back as the Iron Age, with hill forts that can still be seen. Some of the pretty inclines you see are actually Bronze Age burial barrows. Saxon and Norman churches still stand proud, with historic and picture postcard beautiful houses usually flanking them.

There are plenty of places to visit in the South Downs National Park. But rather than calling them attractions, we like to think of this as a place where you will fall upon what feel like curious secrets or historic hideaways, making you feel that you are the only ones who know about them. There are so many people who make up the park, from farmers to curators of National Trust properties, the network of Youth Hostels, publicans and vintners; each with a story to tell about how they fit into the vibrant, giving community of the South Downs National Park.

Daytrips without the driving

Unlike many national parks, which are virtually inaccessible without a car, the South Downs has a variety of daytrips which are easily managed on public transport – or simply by walking or cycling out of the nearest town. This is perfect for the car-free, or for those who’d love to take advantage of the prolific pubs, breweries and vineyards along the way.
Farnham is an ideal leaping off point for Alice Holt Forest – as well as the Go Ape centre here. Lewes is a wonderful destination in itself, with its freshwater swimming pool and Norman castle – but you can also bus or walk to the delightful Spring Barn Farm – a great spot for families.
Chichester opens up the western half of the South Downs National Park, just a bus ride away from the 17th century Petworth House, Cowdray Park and the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, telling the story of those who worked this land for centuries. And for those who look beyond Brighton’s beach, why not walk or take the bus to Devil’s Dyke, a beauty spot on the South Downs Way offering stunning views of the surrounding land and seascapes? Or go coastal, with a daytrip to Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters Country Park – brilliant for for bicycle rides.
Photo credits: [Cycle path leading to St Catherine's Hill : Mischa Haller] [Fruit stand in Lewes : Mischa Haller] [Norman Church: Andrew Bowden] [Daytrips without the driving: Matt Davis]
Written by Catherine Mack
Beachy Head lighthouse B&B (Belle Tout), South Downs, England

Beachy Head lighthouse B&B (Belle Tout), South Downs, England

Beachy Head lighthouse B&B with panoramic South Downs view

From £138 per room per night
South Downs farm camping & caravan site, England

South Downs farm camping & caravan site, England

Peaceful caravan site in idyllic South Downs setting

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Sussex shepherds hut B&B, South Downs, England

Sussex shepherds hut B&B, South Downs, England

Magical shepherds hut retreat in the Sussex countryside

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South Downs yurts in Hampshire, England

South Downs yurts in Hampshire, England

Elegant yurts in 150 acres of ancient woods river & wildlife

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South Downs Way walking holiday, England

South Downs Way walking holiday, England

Walk The South Downs Way in Southern England.

From £770 11 Days ex flights
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