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Lewes

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Lewes is the county town of East Sussex.

Get in

By train

By train to 1 Lewes Station from London Victoria (70 min), Brighton (20 min) or EastbourneHastings.

By bus

By bus from Brighton (30 min), Eastbourne or Tunbridge Wells via Uckfield.

Get around

On foot

There are local bus services operating within the town, but realistically you can walk from one end of the town to the other in half an hour at a very leisurely pace. Those with mobility problems may have difficulty as the town is notoriously hilly.

By bicycle

Cycling is easy within the town and is encouraged as an easy, healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to car use.

By car

Lewes is notoriously unfriendly for car users. Unless essential, car use is unnecessary within the town; everything can be reached using a bike, a bus or your feet! The High Street is a nightmare during rush hours, as it is the main road through town and very restricted in width (narrowing at one point to the extent that traffic lights are required). A number of one-way streets, pedestrianised areas and most notably the parking situation make bringing a car to town a bit of a waste of time and money. Some roads are also so narrow that you wonder why they are even roads. Lewes has probably the most parking attendants per a head in the UK, and therefore you are almost certain be caught if you park incorrectly; also fines are quite steep. If you plan to visit by car use one of the town's car parks (there are surprisingly few, but they are for the most part conveniently located). Lewes District Council has more information.

See

  • 1 Lewes Castle, ☏ +44 1273 486290. 10AM-5:30PM.
  • 2 Anne-of-Cleves' House, 52 Southover High St, BN7 1JA, ☏ +44 1273 474610.
  • 3 Monk's House, Rodmell, BN7 3HF, ☏ +44 1273 474760, ✉ monkshouse@nationaltrust.org.uk. The former home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, some of their personal possessions are on display. Owned by the National Trust.

Do

  • 1 Glyndebourne, New Rd, BN8 5UU, ☏ +44 1273 812321. An internationally renowned opera house, a few miles from Lewes. Enjoy great opera in a purpose built opera house situated in the grounds of an English stately home. The 80-minute intervals allow you to enjoy a picnic on the lawns.
  • 2 Southover Grange Gardens, Southover Road, BN7 1AB, ☏ +44 1273 484999. Southover Grange is a house built in 1572. It is not open to visitors, but has lovely gardens which are. Beautiful flowers and trees (including, at 350, one of the oldest mulberry trees in the country), and a knot garden with a fountain. The park is open from dawn to dusk all year round, and has a tea and ice-cream kiosk in the summer.
  • Walking on the South Downs, through the riverside Railway Land, through the Landport Woods, anywhere along the river Ouse.
  • Shopping From antiques, organic clothing and art to old-school penny sweets, vinyl and skateboarding equipment, Lewes offers a real variety of shops alongside many coffee shops, tea rooms and general cafés.
  • Beach Aside from the infamous Brighton beach, taking a short trip outside of Lewes one can discover several beaches that are more traditional, quiet and less crowded or spoilt, such as Newhaven, Tide Mills and the like.
  • Local events easily found listed and promoted via the Lewes magazine (in print and online, Lewes caters to all tastes with year-round festivals and celebrations of food, music, art, film and many other attractions. Just outside of Lewes one can find "Middle Farm" which hosts cider festivals, there are beer festivals, organic food markets galore and that's not even counting the regular farmer's markets in the precinct or the regular French Market in town.
  • Whilst the course at Lewes closed in the 1960s, you can still Spend a day at the races at the nearby Brighton (flat) or Plumpton ("jumps") courses.
    • Plumpton Racecourse, Plumpton Racecourse Ltd, Plumpton, East Sussex, BN7 3AL, ☏ +44 1273 890383, ✉ racing@plumptonracecourse.co.uk. list of meetings. A smaller National Hunt ("Jumps") course. Adjacent to the railway station. (as of 2019) £ 21 (Grandstand Ticket), Under 18's with an accompanying paying adult - Free..

Bonfire

Lewes has an extensive Bonfire tradition, celebrated annually on the 5th of November – unless the 5th lands on a Sunday, in which case it is celebrated on the 4th. The celebrations are known locally simply as 'Bonfire'. Practical information can be found at the Lewes Bonfire Council website. An extensive history of the celebrations can be found at any of the society webpages, including that of the well-known. Cliffe Bonfire Society.

A number of "Bonfire" societies parade through the town in costume in grand processions displaying banners and effigies. The costumes range from the historical to the luxurious to the down-right bizarre. The processions eventually culminate in each society reaching a "fire-site" where the main fireworks displays are held.

For reasons to do with crowd safety and insurance, admission to all societies "fire-sites" is now by advance ticket only. They must be bought well in advance of the event, as local demand is understandably high. Without a ticket you will not be admitted to those sites under any circumstances.

Claimed as being amongst the largest such celebrations in the UK, Bonfire is a true spectacle to behold – with several bonfire sites throughout town (each home to an individual society) which host a bonfire, the burning of effigies (often cuttingly political in the case of the Cliffe Society) and, of course, fireworks.

The processions are torch-lit with more hand held paraffin torches than you are likely to ever see anywhere else. The entire night is one large party, but one that locals take very seriously. An incredible amount of time, money and energy goes into the organization of the night each year, and traditions such as the death march are observed with the same pride as they would have been four hundred years ago.

Despite the vigour with which the town mounts its Bonfire, visitors from outside the local vicinity of Lewes are actively and strongly discouraged from coming to town for Bonfire by locals. This is because trouble, bad press and a number of misunderstandings are perceived to stem from outsiders who do not understand the tradition and organization of the night, mistaking it often as a chance to get drunk in public and act inappropriately. Antisocial behaviour by visitors has also in previous years led to a firm response from those policing and marshalling the events.

For safety reasons, all roads in and out of town are closed off in the late afternoon on the 5th and do not re-open until after the celebrations are over (which can be well into the small hours of the next day). In addition a number of side streets are also closed along with certain car parks, so that emergency response staff have clear access routes to and from any incidents. Bonfire is not suitable for children, or those of a nervous disposition.

Buy

Lewes is proud of being one of the least "modernised" towns in England. You'll find lots of small independent businesses here, and Lewes shops are particularly good for old women's clothing, art, secondhand books and antiques. Almost opposite the castle entrance is Catlins, an old-fashioned sweet shop with a large range of loose sweets, fine chocolates, tobaccos and pipes.

Lewes not only retains its historic atmosphere through its old shops and buildings, it also produces its own currency, the Lewes Pound. Historically the town produced its own notes, and as a tradition it continues to do so. The Lewes Pound is valid only in Lewes – nowhere else in the UK.

Eat

Lewes boasts a range of international cuisine including Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Polish and good old traditional English pub grub.

  • The Snowdrop Inn (in Cliffe, at the bottom of town). For a more upmarket twist on the traditional pub food menu.
  • Elephant and Castle (just off of the High Street). Give the legendary "Elly Burger" a go.
  • Famiglia Lazzati (near the War Memorial on the high street). For an intimate and strictly Italian experience.
  • Pailin, Station Street. For an oriental flavour, wonderful Thai restaurant.
  • Late night revellers can try to stave off (or encourage depending on your point of view!) a hangover with chips in pitta from either the Charcoal Grill or Effies kebab houses, both found on School Hill, and try again in the morning with a "greasy spoon" full English from either The Cafe (formerly Eddie's cafe) by the Prison, or the Casbah in the bottleneck part of the High Street.
  • For the healthier palate, nothing quite beats breakfast/brunch at Bill's Produce Store on Cliffe High Street, where you can have a delicious plate of food, and then have a browse in the grocers/produce shop under the same roof!

Drink

The night life is essentially pubs and restaurants, but Brighton is 20 minutes away by train, a little more by bus, with all the varied and often loud and bustling night life that you could ever ask for. Taxis will take you to and from Brighton, but expect to pay £20 upwards for each journey.

  • Harvey's bitter. One of the oldest independent breweries is right in the middle of town. Sample their wares at the John Harvey Tavern, or get take-aways from the Brewery shop on Cliffe High Street. Fine wines, too.
  • Lewes has an unusual atmosphere at night, with most pubs serving both the younger and older crowds simultaneously and in harmony. It is not unusual for newly legal 18-year-olds to be seen sharing a pint with their parents at the same bar! There are, as with all places, exceptions, but Lewes is an extremely safe place to be at any time of day or night, and the locals are friendly and accommodating. Pubs are closing nationally, and Lewes is no exception; but as pubs close they are usually reopened by new owners, bringing with them a different atmosphere and attracting different clientele. The Lewes Arms, Dorset, Snowdrop, Black Horse, Brewers and Gardeners are quieter pubs, in volume rather than customer traffic – in fact the Lewes Arms is often bustling with people, whereas the Elephant and Castle (known locally as the Elly), Lansdown, Lincolns and The Lamb are often regarded as the busier and louder pubs... but again this is constantly changing. The only pub in Lewes that seems to stay the same is the infamous Tally Ho situated on the outskirts of the main town at the edge of the Landport housing estate. Frequented almost exclusively by Landport residents, it is the only pub to maintain a constant "bad" reputation. In reality this pub is just another Lewes pub; but because of its limited clientele, it can feel quite intimidating to newcomers; however it has a brilliant atmosphere during big sporting events, especially anything to do with football!
  • Check Viva Lewes for info on "nights" held in local pubs, often featuring folk music, DJs and the like. Also be aware that cafes in town occasionally open late and host event nights – the Needlemaker's Cafe is particularly good for this. Try to catch one of their world nights which include music and food of a particular country – great fun.
  • The youth of Lewes tend towards the more bohemian and creative than obnoxious and urban, and as such, tend to create their own fun in town. The mostly unattended industrial estate in town has become a recent hotspot for those under 30 (indeed anyone from the age of 15 upwards really) with warehouses being commandeered to house parties. Do not be overly cautious with these events, as they are probably not what you would expect from a youth illegal party – these tend to be less about drugs, rave music and bad behaviour, and more about live music, art, and the occasional pizza oven!

Sleep

  • Pelham House, Saint Andrews Ln, ☏ +44 1273 488600.
  • The Shelley's hotel.

Go next

  • Brighton
  • Eastbourne



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