Wondering where all the fresh-air seeking Londoners are flocking for their short breaks? Look no further than South Downs National Park. Known for its award-winning streak, this national park is the UK’s newest park to be granted national park status. If you visit South Downs and reside in a self-catering cottage, expect nothing more than gorgeous houses and gardens. And stretching from Hampshire to Eastbourne, there are dozens of gems waiting to be explored.
1. Brave the South Downs Way Trail
Location: Hampshire to East Sussex
Lace up your boots folks because it’s time to hit the South Downs Way. The only National Trail to stretch the length of a recognised National Park, this trail explores 100 miles of country park, passing from the gorgeous countryside in Winchester to the white chalk cliffs of Eastbourne in East Sussex.
Whether you choose to walk or cycle, a walk can take up to four days to complete whereas a cycle can take two. But there’s plenty of pit stops for an all-important refuel. The Tiger Inn and The Jolly Sportsman are just two of South Down’s renowned pubs on the trail. And with structures like the breathtaking Belle Tout and Petworth House to pause and marvel over, you won’t want this journey to end.
2. Treck Devil’s Dyke
Location: West Sussex
If braving the whole of South Downs Way Trail sounds a little overwhelming, then take things down a notch at Devil’s Dyke in West Sussex. Part of the South Downs Way Trail, this 100m of deep V-shaped rolling hills is a treat for hikers.
But the fun doesn’t stop there – take to skies and paraglide over this valley for phenomenal views of this idyllic countryside. A National Trust treasure, you’ll find beautiful photo spots, great pubs and unparalleled sights along the way.
3. Feel majestic at Arundel Castle
Location: West Sussex
On the edge of the National Park hides a little market town in a steep valley, dominated by a grand palace. It might sound like a Tolkienian creation but Arundel Castle is, in fact, a wonderfully historic spot a few miles from the South Downs Way. Arundel Castle and its gardens are an iconic South Downs site, not to mention they put on events that keep the whole family happy. It’s true fairytale castle so make sure you bring your camera to snap some photogenic delights!
4. Enjoy a spot of wine at Breaky Bottom
Location: East Sussex
Did you know that the south-facing chalky soil of the South Downs is of a similar composition to that of the Champagne region in France? It produces wine so good the French are after buying the vineyards for themselves!
The South Downs are famed for their sparkling wine, with some great vineyards to visit. Over in Lewes is Breaky Bottom. It’s a serious producer that offers a wine tasting experience if you pre-book in advance. Another, slightly more touristy vineyard, can be found at Ridgeview in Ditchling, offering a range of tours.
5. Unleash your inner-Austen at Jane Austen’s House Museum
Location: East Hampshire
South Downs was home to many well-known faces, including Gilbert White and William Collins, but none compare to the great literary giant, that was Jane Austen. One of England’s most famous female authors, Austen spent most of her life in her South Downs home in Chawton and now rests in Winchester Cathedral. In homage to her classical portrayal of English life, it’s only right to pay a visit to the home she penned her best-selling works in.
6. Get close to nature at Marwell Zoo
Home to animal kingdoms and fine eateries, Marwell Zoo has been keeping families entertained for years. Boasting 1,200 animals of 135 species, this 140-acre zoo is a delight for animal lovers alike. Owned and run by the registered charity Marwell Wildlife, the zoo constantly impresses with the level of animal care and extra surprises. From miniature railways to zookeeper experiences, you’ll find it all here.
7. Visit the hustle and bustle of Brighton
Location: East Sussex
Located in East Sussex, you’ve got one of South Downs’ best loved, most celebrated seaside resorts – Brighton. Artsy, colourful and kitsch, it’s the ultimate traditional promenade-meets-progressive town.
The best bits include a gravity-defying ride up the British Airways i360, a trip to the bizarre but wonderful Royal Pavilion and a movie night at England’s oldest functioning cinema, the Duke of York’s Picturehouse. However, this list wouldn’t be complete with mentioning a night out on Brighton Pier. Tuck into sugary doughnuts and having a spin on the carousel.