Where to go in the South Downs

South Downs National Park map & highlights


Make the most of your time

Within easy reach of London and ringed by the towns and cities of Winchester, Chichester, Haslemere, Brighton and Eastbourne, the South Downs National Park is supremely accessible. Arriving and exploring by train is an absolute pleasure, with country views you wonít see any other way except by bike or on foot. There are around a dozen railway stations in the park and many more nearby, plus a decent network of bus routes, particularly on the east side of the park.
The A27 and A272 run roughly parallel to the coast and will get you from one region to another fairly speedily. But there are large tracts of land in the heart of the park with nothing but lanes, bridleways and footpaths crisscrossing them Ė great news for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
South Downs Way River Itchen Selborne Common Petersfield Black Down & the Serpent Trail Midhurst Petworth House Arundel Ditchling Beacon Lewes Alfriston Sussex Heritage Coast

Alfriston

Picture a perfect downland village with medieval pubs and cottages, cute tea shops, a splendid flint church and a grassy village green. Got it? Thatís Alfriston. Set beside the lovely River Cuckmere, itís home to the Clergy House, the first property acquired by the National Trust. The South Downs Way runs right through the village, making it a crossroads for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

Arundel

You canít miss Arundel Castle Ė a muscular display of medieval power, brooding above the River Arun. The nearby Catholic cathedral makes a worthy counterpoint, tall, Gothic and imposing. Together, they dominate the small, but rather grand, market town of Arundel. It was West Sussexís first Fairtrade Town, signing up in 2004, and is a good place to shop for antiques.

Black Down & the Serpent Trail

With magnificent deciduous woodlands, swathes of heather and panoramic views, itís no wonder that Black Down has inspired poets and dreamers Ė among them, Alfred Lord Tennyson. At 280m, this hill is the highest point in the national park and a highlight of the Serpent Trail, which winds through the heathlands of West Sussex. You can walk here from the attractive town of Haslemere where the Trail starts.

Ditchling Beacon

Just seven miles north of Brighton Pier, this stunning hilltop spot, the highest point in East Sussex, has fabulous views and is a good starting point for walks. Brighton and Hove Breeze Buses run up here hourly on Saturdays and Sundays. The road from the pretty village of Ditchling is unforgivingly steep Ė if you ever cycle from London to Brighton, youíll never forget it.

Lewes

Modest for a county town, Lewes is an arty, one-of-a-kind place, with great bric-a-brac shops and cosy pubs. It was one of the first towns to join Totnes in the Transition Network, creating its own currency, the Lewes pound, to support local businesses. Its outdoor swimming pool, The Pells, is enchanting in summer and its November Bonfire processions are the biggest and maddest in Sussex.

Midhurst

This pretty little West Sussex town is the South Downs National Parkís centre of gravity. Itís home to the South Downs Centre, a listed building thatís been given an eco-friendly makeover to turn it into an information point and community hub for the park. Inside, thereís an exhibition introducing the landscapes, geology, produce and heritage of the region.

Petersfield

Once a staging post for horsedrawn coaches, this handsomely historic town sits at a crossroads between London, Portsmouth, Winchester and Royal Tunbridge Wells. Its market used to deal in livestock, but these days the twice-weekly gathering is all about local flowers, food and household oddments. Secrets of the Heath is a free family event each August, celebrating the wildlife and history of heathlands.

Petworth House

Wider than Buckingham Palace and with grounds twice the size of Hyde Park, Petworth House is thoroughly impressive from the outside. But wait till you see the interior. An astonishing art collection featuring works by JMW Turner and Van Dyck takes pride of place alongside extraordinary ornamental carvings by Grinling Gibbons. Helpful guides are on hand to show you every detail.

River Itchen

Clear, glossy and just 45km long, the Itchen is one of the loveliest of the National Parkís rivers. Its chalk-filtered water creates a perfect habitat for watercress and wildlife such as water voles, otters, white-clawed crayfish, brown trout and salmon. It curves around the far west of the park and flows through the beautiful city of Winchester before heading south to Southampton.

Selborne Common

Immortalised in the expressive writings of Gilbert White, an 18th century parson with a passion for natural history, Selborne Common remains a leafy retreat of beech woods and wildflower meadows, home to woodpeckers, whitethroats and rare plants. Managed by the National Trust, itís free for anyone to explore.

South Downs Way

What could be more satisfying than exploring the only National Trail to run right through a national park? There are loads of short, manageable sections to choose from. Cover all 100 miles, and you can expect a tremendous sense of achievement. People of average fitness can walk its full length in under a fortnight. By mountain bike, it takes two to four days Ė or just one, if youíre superfit.

Sussex Heritage Coast

The first stretch of British coastline to be designated a Heritage Coast is classic walking country. The South Downs Way leads from the bird-rich bends of the Cuckmere, up over the white cliffs and down to the genteel resort town of Eastbourne, passing the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, Birling Gap and Belle Tout Lighthouse. Reach it by a scenic bus route between Brighton and Eastbourne or the open top tour from Eastbourne.

South Downs National Park Itineraries


Days Out

All of these day trips within the South Downs National Park are linked into public transport, either by train, or using bus networks which you can buy a pass for, called the Discovery Ticket. You can read more about the transport options on the South Downs National Park website. As one of the most populated national parks, it is blessed with a convenient combination of public transport networks, which enable you to leave the car at home while still allowing you quick access onto remote hills, wild and windy cliffs, ancient forests, and peaceful river walks.

Best one day walking itinerary

Best one day cycling itinerary

Day trips from Brighton

Day trips from Chichester

Day trip from Farnham

Day trip from Lewes

Travel times in the South Downs National Park


The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in the South Downs National Park.
 
  • London to Petersfield: 1 hour by train 
  • London to Lewes: 1 hour by train
  • London to Haslemere: 1 hour by train
  • Gatwick Airport to Lewes: 34 minutes by train
  • Winchester to Petersfield: 35 minutes by car
  • Petersfield to Midhurst by bus: 26 minutes (bus) or 17 minutes (car)
  • Midhurst to Arundel: 30 minutes by car
  • Arundel to Brighton: 40 minutes by car 
  •  Brighton to Lewes: 15 minutes (train) or 20 minutes (car)
  • Lewes to Eastbourne by train: 18 minutes (train) or 31 minutes (car)
  • Brighton to the Sussex Heritage Coast: 75 minutes by bus
  • Havant to Haslemere: 27 minutes by train

Plan your trip with the South Downs National Parkís new interactive journey planning tool and Discovery Map

Photo credits: [Train: Matt Buck] [South Downs Way: landhere] [Overlooking the River Itchen: Mischa Haller] [Selborne Common: Will Jackson] [Petersfield: James Cridland] [Black Down & the Serpent Trail: Leimenide] [Midhurst: Bonio] [Petworth House: Steve Slater] [Arundel: Karen Roe] [Ditchling Beacon: peter castleton] [Lewes: Miles Sabin] [Alfriston: Bev Sykes] [Sussex Heritage Coast: Matthew Black]
Written by Emma Gregg
South Downs farm camping & caravan site, England

South Downs farm camping & caravan site, England

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South Downs Way walking holiday, England

South Downs Way walking holiday, England

Walk The South Downs Way in Southern England.

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Chichester bed & breakfast accommodation, England

Chichester bed & breakfast accommodation, England

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South Downs yurts in Hampshire, England

South Downs yurts in Hampshire, England

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Sussex shepherds hut B&B, South Downs, England

Sussex shepherds hut B&B, South Downs, England

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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

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Sussex bushcraft school, South Downs, England

Sussex bushcraft school, South Downs, England

Bushcraft and wildlife in the heart of the South Downs

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Double decker bus accommodation in Sussex, England

Double decker bus accommodation in Sussex, England

a converted 1982 mcw double decker bus as seen on channel 4

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Navigation Course, South Downs National Park, England

Navigation Course, South Downs National Park, England

Navigation courses for all in the stunning South Downs

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South Downs budget campsite with yurts, England

South Downs budget campsite with yurts, England

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East Sussex cabin B&B, South Downs, England

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South Downs Way campsite, nr Lewes, England

South Downs Way campsite, nr Lewes, England

Housedean Farm Campsite on the South Downs Way near Lewes

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