The Southeast

We’ve compiled the best of the best in The Southeast - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Arundel Castle

    You've probably already seen Arundel Castle without knowing it, at least on screen; the castle's striking resemblance to Windsor means that it's frequently used as a stand-in for its more famous cousin in movies and television. Begun in the 11th century, this vast castle remains rich with the history of the Fitzalan and Howard families and holds paintings by van Dyck, Gainsborough, and Reynolds. During the 18th century and in the Victorian era it was reconstructed in the fashionable Gothic style—although the keep, rising from its conical mound, is as old as the original castle (climb its 130 steps for great views of the River Arun), and the barbican and the Barons' Hall date from the 13th century. Among the treasures here are the rosary beads and prayer book used by Mary, Queen of Scots, in preparing for her execution. The formal garden, a triumph of order and beauty, is also worth a visit. Special events happen year-round, including a week of jousting, usually in late July. (Ticket prices rise slightly during event weeks.) Although the castle's ceremonial entrance is at the top of High Street, you enter at the bottom, close to the parking lot.

    Off High St., Brighton, Brighton and Hove, BN18 9AB, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £25; gardens only £13, Closed Mon. and Nov.–Mar.
  • 2. Battle Abbey

    Situated six miles northwest of Hastings, this great Benedictine abbey was erected by William the Conqueror on the site of the Battle of Hastings—one of the most decisive turning points in English history and the last time the country was successfully invaded. All of this meant little to Henry VIII, of course, who didn't spare the building from his violent dissolution of the monasteries. Today the abbey is just a ruin, but a very pretty one. Start at the visitor center to get the full story through a series of films and interactive exhibits before taking a walk around the abbey site, including up to the first floor. A memorial stone marks the high altar, which in turn was supposedly laid on the spot where Harold II, the last Saxon king, was killed. You can also follow a trail around the 1066 battlefield, lined with a series of intricately carved wooden sculptures of Norman and Saxon soldiers, or climb the gatehouse for an exhibiton on the site's post-invasion history as well as spectacular rooftop views of the town. For a potted history of Battle, head to nearby St. Mary's Church, where the three-meter-long Battle Tapestry artfully illustrates how the town developed around the abbey.

    High St., Rye, East Sussex, TN33 0AE, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £13.90; parking £4, Closed weekdays early Nov.–mid-Feb. and Mon. and Tues. mid-Feb.–Apr.
  • 3. Bodiam Castle

    Immortalized in paintings, photographs, and films, Bodiam Castle (pronounced Boe-dee-um) rises out of the distance like a piece of medieval legend. From the outside, it's one of Britain's most impressive castles, with turrets, battlements, a glassy moat (one of the very few still in use), and two-foot-thick walls. However, once you cross the drawbridge to the interior there's little to see but ruins, albeit on an impressive scale. Built in 1385 to withstand a threatened French invasion, it was partly demolished during the English Civil War of 1642–46 and has been uninhabited ever since. Still, you can climb the intact towers to take in sweeping views of the surrounding vineyards and countryside, and kids love running around the keep. The castle, 12 miles northwest of Rye, schedules organized activities for kids during school holidays. For a unique way to approach Bodiam Castle, take a 45-minute river cruise through the pretty Sussex countryside. Boats leave from the riverbank in Newenden; find more information and sailing times at

    Off Main Rd., Bodiam, East Sussex, TN32 5UA, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £11.40
  • 4. Canterbury Cathedral

    The focal point of the city was the first of England's great Norman cathedrals. Nucleus of worldwide Anglicanism, the Cathedral Church of Christ Canterbury (its formal name) is a living textbook of medieval architecture. The building was begun in 1070, demolished, begun anew in 1096, and then systematically expanded over the next three centuries. When the original choir section burned to the ground in 1174, another replaced it, designed in the new Gothic style, with tall, pointed arches. The cathedral was only a century old, and still relatively small, when Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered here in 1170. Becket, as head of the church, had been engaged in a political struggle with his old friend Henry II. Four knights supposedly overheard Henry scream, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" (although there is no evidence that those were his actual words—the only contemporary record has him saying, "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"). Thinking they were carrying out the king's wishes, the knights went immediately to Canterbury and hacked Becket to pieces in one of the side chapels. Henry, racked with guilt, went into deep mourning. Becket was canonized, and Canterbury's position as the center of English Christianity was assured. For almost 400 years, Becket's tomb was one of the most extravagant shrines in Christendom, until it was destroyed by Henry VIII's troops during the Reformation. In Trinity Chapel, which held the shrine, you can still see a series of 13th-century stained-glass windows illustrating Becket's miracles. (The actual site of Becket's murder is down a flight of steps just to the left of the nave.) Nearby is the tomb of Edward, the Black Prince (1330–76), warrior son of Edward III and a national hero. In the corner of Trinity Chapel, a second flight of steps leads down to the enormous Norman undercroft, or vaulted cellar, built in the early 12th century. A row of squat pillars engraved with dancing beasts (mythical and otherwise) supports the roof. To the north of the cathedral are the cloisters and a small compound of monastic buildings. The 12th-century octagonal water tower is still part of the cathedral's water supply. The Norman staircase in the northwest corner of the Green Court dates from 1167 and is a unique example of the architecture of the times. Another highlight is the almost Disney-like stained glass window "Salvation" by Hungarian artist Ervin Bossányi. Look out for a little padlock with a swastika, a reference to the atrocities that occurred during World War II. You could spend a whole day just appreciating the stained glass panels throughout the cathedral, with some dating all the way back to the mid-1100s (making them among the oldest anywhere in the world). At the entrance to the cathedral, by Christchurch Gate, is a free-to-enter visitor center, which has more information on the history (and myth) of Canterbury Cathedral. The cathedral is popular, so arrive early or late in the day to avoid the crowds.

    The Precincts, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 2EH, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £14; free for services; £5 tour; £2.50 audio guide
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  • 5. Charleston

    Art and life mixed at Charleston, the property that Vanessa Bell—sister of Virginia Woolf—bought in 1916 and fancifully decorated, along with Duncan Grant (who lived here until 1978). The house, which is more farmhouse than grand country manor and lies seven miles east of Lewes, soon became a refuge for the writers and artists of the Bloomsbury Group. On display are colorful ceramics and textiles of the Omega Workshop—in which Bell and Grant participated—and paintings by Picasso and Renoir, as well as by Bell and Grant themselves. Entry to the house is by guided tour; you can buy tickets when you arrive (first come, first served) or book in advance online. There are also art exhibition spaces to explore, a lovely little walled garden, and a branch of Lewes-based Italian restaurant Caccia & Tails. Come in May for the annual Charleston Festival, which attracts big-name writers and artists from all over the world. The house isn't suitable for those with mobility issues, although reduced-price ground-floor-only tickets are available.

    Off A27, Firle, East Sussex, BN8 6LL, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £16; exhibitions £9.90, Closed Mon. and Tues.
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  • 6. Chichester Cathedral

    Standing on Roman foundations, 900-year-old Chichester Cathedral has a glass panel that reveals Roman mosaics uncovered during restorations. Other treasures include the wonderful Saxon limestone reliefs of the raising of Lazarus and Christ arriving in Bethany, both in the choir area. Among the outstanding contemporary artworks are a stained-glass window by Marc Chagall and a colorful tapestry by John Piper. Keep an eye out, too, for the memorial to Gustav Holst: the composer's ashes were interred here as he wished to be close to his favorite Tudor musician, Thomas Weelkes. Entrance to the cathedral is free, though donations are very welcome, particularly as the roof is in the midst of a £5 million restoration. Forty-five-minute "drop-in" tours (£4 per person) begin every day except Sunday at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm, or you can prebook private tours that concentrate on areas like art, stained glass, and the cathedral's transatlantic ties with the United States; call or go online for details. After visiting the cathedral's interior, be sure to walk around its pretty cloisters, where you'll also find a lovely café and shop.

    Off West St., Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1RP, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free (£5 suggested donation); tours £4
  • 7. Church of King Charles the Martyr

    This important parish church dates from 1678, when the area was little more than a mineral spring surrounded by fields; the modern town of Tunbridge Wells grew up around it. Dedicated to Charles I, who had been executed by Parliament in 1649—and whose son, Charles II, was restored 11 years later—the church's plain exterior belies its splendid interior, with a particularly beautiful plastered baroque ceiling. The entrance is on the corner of the A26 and the A267, across the road from the Pantiles.

    Chapel Pl., Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 5TA, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free; donations welcome, Closed Sun. except for services
  • 8. Dover Castle

    Towering high above the ramparts of the city's famous white cliffs, spectacular Dover Castle is a mighty medieval castle that has served as an important strategic center over the centuries. Although it incorporates some older features, including a Roman lighthouse (one of the oldest in the world) and an Anglo-Saxon church, most of the castle dates to Norman times. It was begun by Henry II in 1181 but incorporates additions from almost every succeeding century. The Great Tower re-creates how the opulent castle would have looked in Henry's time, complete with sound effects, interactive displays, and courtly characters in medieval costume. History jumps forward the better part of a millennium (and becomes rather more sober in the telling) as you venture down into the labyrinthine Secret Wartime Tunnels. The castle played a surprisingly dramatic role in World War II, the full extent to which remained unknown for years afterward. These well-thought-out interactive galleries tell the complete story. The tunnels themselves, originally built during the Napoleonic Wars, were used as a top-secret intelligence-gathering base in the fight against Hitler.

    Castle Hill Rd., Dover, Kent, CT16 1HU, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £23.60, Closed weekdays Nov.–mid-Feb. and Mon. and Tues. in mid-Feb.–Mar.
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  • 9. Herstmonceux Castle

    With a banner waving from one tower and a glassy moat crossed by what was once a drawbridge, this fairy-tale castle has everything except knights in shining armor. Situated 13 miles northwest of Hastings in the direction of Lewes, the redbrick structure was originally built by Sir Roger Fiennes (ancestor of actor Ralph Fiennes) in 1444, although it was altered in the Elizabethan age and again early in the 20th century after it had largely fallen to ruin. Today, most visitors come to explore the castle's stunning grounds, comprising hundreds of acres of themed gardens (including the formal walled Elizabethan garden), lily-covered lakes, and winding woodland paths. Kids will also enjoy the rope maze. The castle itself is owned by the Canadian Queen's University, so opportunities to get inside are limited—though check the website for occasional guided tours. If you do make it inside, don't miss the stunning Tudor staircase (see if you can spot the odd one out among the lion sculptures) and the corner room with a medieval dungeon and an escape tunnel. Families visiting Herstmonceux Castle may also want to stop at the neighboring Observatory Science Centre (;  £9.50) for its entertaining and hands-on astronomical exhibitions.

    Off Wartling Rd., Herstmonceux, East Sussex, BN27 1RN, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £8, Closed Nov.–mid-Feb.
  • 10. Hever Castle

    It's hard to imagine a more romantic castle than this: a maze of turrets and battlements encircled by a water lily–bound moat filled with fabulous beasts (enormous Japanese koi carp) and nestled within rolling hills. The childhood home of Anne Boleyn, this is where the second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I was courted by Henry. He was enamored with her for a time but had her beheaded in 1536 after she failed to give birth to a son. He then gifted Boleyn's home to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Famous though it was, the castle fell into disrepair in the 19th century. When American millionaire William Waldorf Astor acquired it in 1903, he needed additional space to house his staff. His novel solution was to build a replica Tudor village, using only methods, materials, and even tools appropriate to the era. The result is more or less completely indistinguishable from the genuine Tudor parts. Astor also created the stunning gardens, which today include a wonderful yew maze, ponds, playgrounds, tea shops, gift shops, plant shops—you get the picture. There's a notable collection of Tudor portraits, and in summer, activities are nonstop here, with jousting, falconry exhibitions, and country fairs, making this one of southern England's most rewarding castles to visit. In one of the Victorian wings, B&B rooms go for upwards of £175 per night for a basic room; there's also a four-bedroom holiday cottage available for £4,150 a week.

    Off B2026, Hever, Kent, TN8 7NG, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £21.80; grounds only £18
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  • 11. i360

    Designed by the same people who made the London Eye, this seaside viewing platform ascends 531 feet into the air, allowing an incredible view of the coastline and the South Downs. On clear days you can see the Isle of Wight. The ride (or "flight" as sponsor British Airways insists on calling it) lasts about 25 minutes. Booking is advisable, especially in summer; it's also 10% cheaper if you reserve online. Check out the website for special packages that include dinner. i360 stays open in all weather, other than exceptionally strong winds. It's so peaceful inside the doughnut-shaped pods, you'd never guess the storm that raged over the £43 million structure, ahead of its eventual opening in 2016. Locals worried it would ruin the character of the promenade. After you take in the sweeping view, you've got the leisurely descent back to street level to decide if you agree with them.

    Lower King's Rd., Brighton, Brighton and Hove, BN1 2LN, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £17.50
  • 12. Leeds Castle

    Every inch a grand medieval castle, Leeds is more like a storybook illustration of what an English castle should look like, from the fortresslike exterior to the breathtaking rooms within. Ramparts and battlements? Check. Moat? Check. Ancient stone walkways on which a knight in shining armor might pass by at any second? Pretty much. Leeds—not to be confused with the city in the north of England; the name comes from its mention as "Esledes" (meaning "hill" or "slope") in the Domesday Book of 1086—has all this and more. One of England's finest castles, it commands two small islands on a peaceful lake. Dating to the 9th century and rebuilt by the Normans in 1119, the castle became a favorite home of many medieval English queens. Henry VIII liked it so much he had it converted from a fortress into a grand palace. The interior doesn't match the glories of the much-photographed exterior, although there are fine paintings and furniture, including many pieces from the 20th-century refurbishment by the castle's last private owner, Lady Baillie. The outside attractions are more impressive and include a surprisingly tricky maze (made from 2,400 yew trees), which leads to an atmospheric rock-carved grotto, as well as two adventure playgrounds, an aviary of native and exotic birds, and woodland gardens. There are also several dining options, including the informal but excellent Castle View Restaurant (try the haddock-and-chips) while large groups can also book a stay at the historic Battel Hall on the edge of the estate. Leeds Castle is 12 miles southeast of Rochester, off the M20 highway. All tickets are valid for a year, in case you don't manage to see everything in one day.

    Off M20, Maidstone, Kent, ME17 1PL, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £32
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  • 13. Pallant House Gallery

    This small but important collection of mostly modern British art includes work by Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. It's in a modern extension to Pallant House, a mansion built for a wealthy wine merchant in 1712 and considered one of the finest surviving examples of Chichcester's Georgian past. At that time, its state-of-the-art design showed the latest in complicated brickwork and superb wood carving. Appropriate antiques and porcelains furnish the faithfully restored rooms. Temporary and special exhibitions (usually around three at once) invariably find new and interesting angles to cover.

    9 N. Pallant, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1TJ, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Ground-floor galleries free; rest of museum £12.50, Closed Mon.
  • 14. RHS Garden Wisley

    Wisley is the Royal Horticultural Society's innovative and inspirational 240-acre showpiece, beloved by horticulturalists across this garden-loving country. Both an ornamental and scientific center, it claims to have greater horticultural diversity than any other garden in the world. Highlights include the flower borders and displays in the central area, the rock garden and alpine meadow in spring, and the large and modern conservatories; look out for the giant strelitzia (birds of paradise) plants. There's also an impressive bookstore and a garden center that sells more than 10,000 types of plants. The garden is eight miles northeast of Guildford.

    Off A3, Woking, Surrey, GU23 6QB, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £15.95
  • 15. Royal Pavilion

    The city's most remarkable building is this delightfully over-the-top domed and pinnacled fantasy. Built as a simple seaside villa in the fashionable classical style of 1787 by architect Henry Holland, the Pavilion was rebuilt between 1815 and 1822 by John Nash for the Prince Regent (later George IV). The result was an exotic, foppish Eastern design with opulent Chinese interiors. The two great set pieces are the Music Room, styled in the form of a Chinese pavilion, and the Banqueting Room, with its enormous flying-dragon "gasolier," or gaslight chandelier, a revolutionary invention in the early 19th century. The gardens, too, have been restored to Regency splendor, following John Nash's naturalistic design of 1826. For an elegant time-out, a tearoom serves snacks and light meals.

    Off Church St., Brighton, Brighton and Hove, BN1 1EE, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £17
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  • 16. Sissinghurst Castle Garden

    One of the most famous gardens in the world, unpretentiously beautiful and quintessentially English, Sissinghurst rests deep in the Kentish countryside. The gardens, with their many different themed "rooms," were laid out in the 1930s around the remains of part of a moated Tudor castle by writer Vita Sackville-West (one of the Sackvilles of Knole, her childhood home) and her husband, diplomat Harold Nicolson. The relationship was clearly loving but also complicated, as both had a string of extramarital same-sex affairs; Vita, famously, had a decade-long romance with Virginia Woolf. Climb the tower for a wonderful overview of the gardens—as well as a peek inside Vita's study en route—then descend to see them up close. There's the stunning White Garden, filled with snow-color flowers and silver-gray foliage; the herb and cottage gardens, which showcase Sackville-West's encyclopedic knowledge of plants; and the Delos Garden, which brings a slice of the Mediterranean to the heart of Kent (as well as finally realizing a dream of Vita and Harold's following their visit to Greece in 1935). As well as the gardens, there are woodland and lake walks all around, making it easy to spend a half day or more here. If you love it all so much you want to stay, you can—the National Trust rents the Priest's House on the property for a minimum stay of three nights; prices start at around £750 and rise to upwards of £1,800 in midsummer. See the National Trust website for details (but be warned, you'll need to book well ahead). Sissinghurst Castle Garden is 22 miles south of Rochester on the A229, and 16 miles east of Tunbridge Wells on the A262.

    Off A262, Cranbrook, Kent, TN17 2AB, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £15; parking £4
  • 17. St. Nicholas Church

    Just across the road from Arundel Cathedral is another equally impressive—and equally oversized—religious building. This 14th-century parish church, built on the site of a far older priory, was almost certainly the work of Henry Yeveley and William Wynford, who also contributed to Canterbury and Winchester cathedrals. Interestingly, the church is today divided into two separate parts according to denomination: the main part, the nave, is Protestant, while the chancel is Catholic. The latter, seized during the Reformation, is where the dukes of Norfolk are buried. Wander around to see some of the decorative highlights, including the remarkable stone pulpit, the unusually large Royal Coat of Arms, and some surviving fragments of medieval wall paintings.

    Off London Rd., Arundel, West Sussex, BN18 9AT, England
  • 18. The Historic Dockyard

    The buildings and 47 retired ships at the 80-acre dockyard across the River Medway from Rochester constitute the country's most complete Georgian-to-early-Victorian dockyard. Fans of maritime history could easily spend a day at the exhibits and structures. The dockyard's origins go back to the time of Henry VIII; some 400 ships were built here over the centuries. Highlights include Maritime Treasures, a museum of naval artifacts including some fascinating 18th-century scale models; the Victorian Ropery, where costumed guides take you on a tour of an old rope factory, including its impressive quarter-mile-long "rope walk"; and the Courtyard, part of the old Smithery (blacksmith), where special events are sometimes held, including pirate-themed fun days for kids in summer. There's also a fascinating exhibition on the mystery of the "Ship Beneath the Floor," as well as guided tours of the submarine HMS Ocelot, the last warship to be built for the Royal Navy at Chatham (though this is best avoided if you aren't a fan of tight spaces). For a (slightly) hidden gem, climb to the top of "the Big Space" to see the stunning, 19th-century wood-beamed roof. Note that the Historic Dockyard is a 40-minute walk (or a 10-minute drive) from the center of Rochester; there's no direct bus. Book online in advance for good discounts on admission.

    Main Gate Rd., Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TZ, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £26.50, Closed mid-Nov.–Jan.
  • 19. Watts Gallery and Memorial Chapel

    An extraordinary small museum, the Watts Gallery was built in tiny Compton in 1904 by the late 19th-century artist George Frederic Watts (1817–1904) to display his work. His romantic, mystical paintings have been somewhat rediscovered in recent years, with his 1886 painting Hope being a favorite of Barack Obama. A marvelously higgledy-piggledy studio displays his sculptures, which are astonishing both for their size and their near-obsessive attention to detail, while nearby Limnerslease House gives an insight into the life and works of Watts and his wife, fellow artist Mary Seton Watts (1849–1938). Though virtually unknown as an artist both then and now, some critics contend that Mary's talent actually eclipsed her husband's—and if you follow the short, signposted walk to the Watts Memorial Chapel, you may become one of them. Designed by Mary, this tiny chapel is a masterpiece of art nouveau style, from the intricately carved redbrick exterior to the jaw-dropping Mucha-esque painted interior. You could easily spend half an hour trying to decode all the symbolism and allegory woven meticulously into the gilded walls. The museum, house, and chapel are located three miles west of Guildford.

    Down La., Compton, Surrey, GU3 1DQ, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Museum and house £13.50; chapel free
  • 20. White Cliffs

    Plunging hundreds of feet into the sea, Dover's startingly white cliffs are a spectacular sight, and one of the most iconic symbols of England. The cliffs, which are composed mainly of chalk with slivers of flint, are eroding at a rather alarming rate: more than a foot (30 cm) a year on average. Because of this, you must be cautious when walking along the cliffs—experts recommend staying at least 20 feet from the edge. The cliffs stretch for around eight miles altogether, but the most popular section to visit is the one managed by the National Trust, about two miles east of town. The visitor center has five miles of walking trails heading farther east to the 19th-century South Foreland Lighthouse and St. Margaret's Bay, with spectacular views along the way. There are also some lovely coastal walks to the west of Dover with good views of the cliffs, inclduing Samphire Hoe, Folkestone East Cliff, and Warren Country Park. Signs will direct you from the roads to scenic spots.

    Upper Rd., Dover, Kent, CT16 1HJ, England

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free; parking £5

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