South Downs National Park in the south of England is absolutely beautiful. If you’re heading that way for a weekend, this travel guide will tell you all the best things to do in the South Downs and the best places to visit in South Downs National Park.
The South Downs is one of the most beautiful places to visit in England. I love being outdoors in general, especially in the UK National Parks, but the South Downs is special because it’s so underrated. In this blog post, I am going to share with you all of the fun things to do in South Downs National Park. From Alpaca walking and hiking to country pub recommendations, kayaking and even unique things to do in England such as foraging… there’s plenty of outdoors and history to dig into here. The walks in the South Downs are some of the best walks in England, and let’s not forget that cycling the South Downs way is a really popular thing to do as well.
I am so over the moon that I had the chance to see so many beautiful corners of England as part of my partnership with Visit England on their #MyMicrogap campaign. Visting the South Downs National Park should definitely be on your England bucket list. I uncovered the adventures on offer in The Lake District, Leeds, Bournemouth and also the South Downs.
If you have no idea what I’m going on about, you can read more about microgaps and what they involve here.
Get your notepads at the ready and prepare to fill it with ideas of things to do in South Downs National Park!
South Downs National Park, England: my guide and the best things to do…
Where is the South Downs National Park?
If you came here wondering ‘where is South Downs National Park’, ‘where are the south downs’, or ‘what does a map of South Downs National Park look like’ you’re in the right place. South Downs National Park stretches across Hampshire, East Sussex, West Sussex. It is one of 15 National Parks in the UK.
Sized at 1,600km squared, this National Park in the southern region of the UK was actually only given its official National Park title in 2011. This is possibly a reason that’s it’s seemingly a lesser talked about and visited destination than the likes of the Lake District and Snowdonia.
If you’re from London, heading to the South Downs is much closer in distance and for a 3-day getaway. It’ll leave you that much more time for exploring. YAY.
Check out this map of South Downs National Park to see where it is in England:
On this map of South Downs National Park, you can see some of the main towns in the park and the route of the South Downs Way.
South Downs National Park as a destination is rich in culture, adventure, countryside, villages and (a personal favourite) gorgeous country pubs. It’s West Sussex neighbours host gorgeous stretches of coastline, cliffs (white cliffs of Seven Sisters) so you can combine them all into a super versatile weekend full of adventure, fun and walks in the South Downs… just like we did.
How do you get to South Downs National Park?
Because of the South Downs close links to big transport hubs such as London, Brighton, Portsmouth and Southampton, there are regular buses and trains to and through the South Downs National Park. You can use the Traveline journey planner to plan your journey to the South Downs.
It’s actually recommended that you don’t drive to the National Park, because the roads frequently get congested.
Where can you stay in South Downs National Park?
My love of van life made the question ‘where to stay in the South Downs’ very easy! When I visited the South Downs National Park, I didn’t have my van, but I still fully embraced van life! I would choose van life over a car and motel any day of the week and on this adventure we got to experience exactly that – in a gorgeous vintage VW T3 1991 camper. Rent your camper van here.
Equipped with all the basics you need (cooker, fridge, bed, electricity and lights) for a few days in the outdoors – this VW made for the perfect home on wheels. Fancy a cup of tea? Pull over and make one. SO GOOD.
If you’re wondering where to stay in the South Downs and looking to go camping in South Downs National Park, albeit basic in terms of amenities we stayed at Gee’s Campsite which is walking distance from the ocean and is family fun with world-class hospitality. Definitely recommend.
If you’re looking to go camping in the South Downs with a tent, remember that wild camping isn’t generally allowed in England (with the exception of Dartmoor and the Lake District), even if lots of people do it anyway. To go camping in South Downs National Park you need to get permission from the landowner, or stay at a registered campsite.
There are also lots of cute towns and villages in the South Downs to stay in, if you prefer staying a little closer to civilisation. In terms of where to stay in the South Downs, try Arundel, Petersfield, Lewes, Alfriston, or Midhurst.
The best things to do in the South Downs National Park…
1. Go hiking or walking in South Downs National Park.
Sure, if you’re planning time off of work you deserve a treat, but a treat doesn’t always have to have a big price tag attached to it. Why not treat yourself to some long walks in the South Downs, take in all the country air whilst stopping at pubs, castles and tea shops on the way.
Walks are one of the most beautiful ways to see the South Downs and are definitely one of the best things to do in the South Downs.
Yep – we did all of the latter in our 15km walk in South Downs National Park designed by Vespucci Adventures starting and finishing at Amberley Train Station (it took a total of 4 hours at a medium pace).
You really aren’t stuck for countryside here in the South Downs so just drive, park up and follow the ‘public bridle way signs’. There are so many different South Downs National Park walks that you could do a different one every day for your whole holiday and still not get bored!
Best hikes and walks to do in the South Downs:
- Devil’s Dyke
- South Downs Way
- Wander Kingley Vale & The Devil’s Humps
- Butser Hill
How long to walk South Downs Way? Most people take 8-9 days to walk the South Downs Way, so perhaps choose a part of it if you want a day hike in the South Downs, or if you want to walk the whole route, plan your stops in advance!
2. Catch the sunrise or sunset.
Down in the South Downs, you aren’t far at all from the coastline so if the sun’s due to shine, go catch the sunrise or sunset colours by the ocean. We caught the sunset on our first evening with an ice cream from Billy’s on the Beach cafe, can’t beat it.
The Trundle, atop St Roche’s Hill, near Chichester, is also a beautiful place to get the sunset! Sunset is one of the most magical and the best things to do in the South Downs whilst you’re here!
3. Tuck into some countryside pub grub – you HAVE to!
No matter what the weather is saying, add in an English country pub dinner / cosy up with a drink to your itinerary and you’re doing England right. Heading into a country pub to warm up / quench your thirst / have a chat with the locals is honestly one of my favourite things to do in England.
We did it a couple of times, once on our 15km walk to quench our thirst and second after the walk to fill our deserving tummies at The Earl of March.
Oh gosh. You know when you accidentally eat too much because the food is just that good and you can’t stop? Guilty. The food here at The Earl Of March is second to none which is no surprise considering the owner Giles is the former Executive Head Chef of The Ritz London. Yes, it’s THAT GOOD. Admittedly not cheap, but a nice meal out that’s worth every penny. See the menu here and see the food we went for below…
4. Get up close and personal with nature… by eating it!
When I say eat it, I’m not advising you to head out into the wilderness alone hunting for your dinner. I’m talking about a foraging experience!
I’m not kidding. This was the coolest, most random but memorable (and yummy) experience. I mean, how many of you go on a walk in the woods and spot things along the way that you could eat (and not poison yourself with)?
Knowing which plants are edible is such uncommon knowledge but by booking an experience with fungi and wild food teacher and author, Geoff, you have the chance to be enlightened.
This, for me, was the best thing to do in the South Downs. My favourite anyway!
We spent an hour searching the wild before us (albeit slightly early in the season for most things still), picked a selection of greens and cooked them up beside our camper. Genuine awesomeness. Geoff is an absolute legend – I hope one day you all get to meet him.
The price of this tour is usually £90.
Some of the things we foraged and ate:
- Alexander’s (celery type plant found along the south coast)
- Hogweed (located all over UK, April is prime time)
- Sea plantain (strictly found in coastal areas, salt marshes and at the base of sea cliffs)
5. Try something new – get a slice of adrenalin!
It wouldn’t be a microgap without stepping out of your comfort zone in one way or another, would it? Fair enough if you’d rather read a book in the country pub up the road but heading out and sourcing a bit of adrenalin on your trip is going to make the rewards of a pub dinner that much more satisfying.
We chose to head out from Arundel on a 1 hour kayak experience with local legend and expert Adrian aka The Kayak Coach.
Did you know that the River Arun is the second fastest flowing river in the UK?
It’s an arm work out heading one way down the river and a breeze heading back the other. Combining a very peaceful morning with a fulfilling workout too. Adrian is so experienced and all around awesome. He will cater for every level of ‘kayaker’ – no need for any previous experience. Get involved!
See more things to do whilst you’re in the South Downs here.
P.s. If you’re into wildlife and find yourself in Arundel, head to WWT Arundel Wetland centre. You can even jump on a boat ride around the park with a guide to see what wildlife you can spot.
6. Tick something off your bucket list!
Where possible – always book a bucket list experience.
I headed on this microgap with my best friend Harriet who had had Alpaca walking on her bucket list for a long while. Initially hesitant, I joined her and absolutely loved it. Alpacas have such a loving calm nature (they are often taken into hospices to cheer up the patients) and they have such funny tendencies. Harriet’s alpaca kept throwing himself into the holly bush because apparently, it’s how they itch themselves in the wild through their fur! Hahaha!
Alpaca walking is one of the most popular and the best things to do in the South Downs – give it a try when you’re next here!
Book your alpaca experience here at Dunreyth Alpacas (where we went).
7. Go back in time in Arundel.
This historical town in England is famous for its castle which overlooks the town. Not only can you admire the beautiful castle building, but you can watch a castle siege enactment, or meander through the tranquil gardens. This quaint town has the beautiful river Arun running through it, so make sure you fit in time for a walk along the river bank after you’ve wandered through the market town. Grab lunch in a pub and then enjoy some afternoon tea.
8. Admire the Seven Sisters.
The White Cliffs of Dover aren’t the only famous cliffs in England… The Seven Sisters in Eastbourne are iconic too! They are considered one of the best sight and the best things to do in the South Downs.
Formed when Britain was still underwater, about 80 million years ago, these cliffs have stayed strong through the effects of time, wind and erosion.
Be careful though… the cliffs are quite fragile, so don’t stand near the edge in case there is an unexpected collapse.
9. Spend the day on a real country farm!
There’s more than one way to experience the English countryside. But you can’t get more authentic than with the farmers themselves. We concluded our microgap to South Downs with a unique experience. We went behind the scenes of a working, family-run dairy farm in Hosted Keynes at High Weald Dairy.
A little more expensive of an experience than the others, but certainly a once in a lifetime one and one perfect for treating a friend, partner or loved one. Over the course of the afternoon, owners Sarah and Mark took it in turns to show us around. We got our working overalls on and got hands on making and packing the cheese, and (the best bit of course) eating it.
After working our way through a guided tour of the full cheese making operation, we were taken up to the converted loft where Sarah had already prepared a spread of all their cheeses made in house alongside a platter of meats, breads, crackers and chutneys. You can imagine how ready we were to try some cheese after the tour!
Whilst contemplating which was our favourite from all of the cheeses in front of us, Sarah and Mark told us their story and how they operate the business selling to the likes of WholeFoods. There’s an incredible amount of work and technicalities involved in the cheese making industry and it was such an honour to get such an insight into the behind the scenes on our microgap.
P.s. My favourite cheeses were definitely the sheeps milk halloumi, the Brighton Blue (it’s mild and lovely!!) and their Sussex slipcote.
10. Go stargazing.
The South Downs National Park is home to an International Dark Sky Reserve. If you can time it with the weather, this is without a doubt one of the best things to do in the South Downs.
The sky here is protected from light pollution, and so get snuggly and look up into the starry sky! Some of the best stargazing points in the South Downs National Park are Devil’s Dyke, the Birling Gap, and Butser Hill.
11. Take on the South Downs Way.
The South Downs National Park is home to the South Downs Way. Some people cycle the South Downs Way, some people walk the South Downs Way… it’s really up to you! It’s 100 miles / 160km long.
How long to walk South Downs Way? Most people take 8-9 days to walk the South Downs Way, achieving around 25km per day, so perhaps choose a part of it if you want a day hike in the South Downs, or if you want to walk the whole route, plan your stops in advance!
How long to cycle South Downs Way? Did you know that the South Downs Way is the only trail in all the UK National Parks that you can complete entirely by bike? If you’re used to cycling off road, you can cycle the South Downs Way in 2-3 days. Some say it is possible to cycle the South Downs Way in one day, but that’s quite the challenge!
In your opinion, what are the best things to do in the South Downs National Park?
Is there anything else you’d add to a South Downs bucket list? I’d love to know!
Love as always + happy adventuring,
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