Everyone knows about the 'White Cliffs of Dover' but have you heard about the White Cliffs of Beachy Head? No? I'm not surprised, it's kind of a local secret and that's what makes them so good. Just one county over in East Sussex, lay a chain of impressive white cliffs with drops and views to rival Dover's and best of all they're much more accessible than those in Dover and can be viewed from the shore. They're one of the best things to do in East Sussex and in our opinion the most impressive chalk cliffs in England.
Before you visit Beachy Head, you'll need a plan in place. The cliffs can be accessed from multiple points and depending on how much time you'll have and what you'd like to see, it's best to have a plan in place before you visit. This guide will give you an idea of what you can see at each location and help you plan the perfect visit.
Seven Sisters Beachy Head is located in East Sussex, a lush green county to the south of London. Home to the South Downs and these gorgeous chalk cliffs, it's a location well known amongst hikers, but surprisingly less so by overseas visitors and day trippers.
Lewes is the hub of East Sussex, but you'll need to head towards Eastbourne to visit the chalk cliffs. It's an easy hour on the train from London Victoria station or you can make you way via Brighton on the motorway.
If you don't have access to a car the easiest way to visit Beachy Head is via bus. The busses leave on the hour from Eastbourne train station and will take you to the chalk cliffs at Beachy Head. This is the most accessible point via public transport. We suggest a car for the other locations due to their more remote nature and irregular public transport options. Taxis will happily venture to all areas listed, so train and taxi / Uber is also a viable option.
To best enjoy your trip to Beachy Head and see the chalk cliffs in their best light, you'll need to plan your trip in advance. The chalk cliff coastline runs for around 13km and can be explored in parts in a day, or you can choose to really enjoy a location or too and come back and visit another time.
The cliffs are split up into four distinct areas.
Rising an impressive 162 metres from sea level, Beachy Head is highest chalk sea cliff in Britain and one of the most impressive things to do in East Sussex. It is a great vantage point to view the Seven Sisters and on a clear day you can almost see all of the way to Cuckmere Haven.
Flanked by green rolling hills and featuring impressive drops to the ocean below, the views from the peak of the chalk cliff will not fail to impress. Most areas are not fenced, but due to the fragile nature of chalk and the regular rock falls, we don't suggest taking 'foot hanging' photos here. Instead, walking along the undulating hills and enjoy the opportunity to look down to the water below from around 1.5 metres back from the cliff face.
Once a notorious spot for fishermen, Beachy Head is also home to the Belle Tout Lighthouse a decommissioned light house that is now one of the areas most unique accommodation options. It is also home to the iconic red and white striped Beachy Head Lighthouse which is situated on the shore below the cliffs and on very low tide days can be accessed by foot.
The Beachy Head Pub is renowned in the area and serves delicious pub style meals. If you sit towards the back of the pub you can enjoy the view of the rolling hills stretching out for miles. The Beachy Head area is agricultural in nature with acres of paddocks and flocks of sheep. During the warmer months you can enjoy your meal or a pint in the outdoor seating area. The area is known for being windy so even on a warmer day you may like to pack a windproof jacket to stave off the chill. The wind makes the area popular with paragliders who make use of this and the thermals. They're a delight to watch gliding over the hills.
When it comes to things to do in East Sussex, Birling Gap is a local favourite. Most beaches in East Sussex are pebble, but at Birling Gap, when the tide is low, expanses of sand are exposed. Now it isn't an expanse in Australian terms, but for the locals it is a favourite spot to enjoy building sandcastles. Birling Gap Beach becomes busy of an summer's evening as people bring their portable barbeques and enjoy a picnic by the shore.
On very low tide days Birling Gap Beach provides a pathway past the chalk cliffs all the way to the Beachy Head Lighthouse, which is usually in the ocean. Walking to the lighthouse is possible several times a year and is a favourite activity of locals.
Unlike Beachy Head, Birling Gap has a staircase leading down to the beach so you can explore the cliffs from all angles. The Birling Gap Beach is unique in that it features rock pools. At low tide they're easy to explore explore, and if you're game to negotiate the seaweed covered rocks, you can wander out to the waves and go for a splash. Beware the rocks are quite slippery, so a good pair of shoes is required.
With your back towards Beachy Head and your head focussed down the coast, you are greeted with spectacular views of the Seven Sisters. We recommend visiting in the afternoon to catch the glow of the warm afternoon sun lighting up the chalk cliffs and turning them a golden shade of umber.
The visitors centre is a great place for a hot drink or even lunch. The store is well worth a visit and not for the merchandise. Geologists have made predictions on the erosion of the chalk cliffs based on historical rates. There are lines drawn on the shop floor showing where the cliffs will sit at future dates. Like many buildings before it, the visitors centre is sitting on borrowed land and in a few short years it will need to be relocated.
Unlike Beachy Head and Birling Gap, the Seven Sisters Country Park is a valley in between peaks. The meandering Cuckmere River cuts its way through the valley and provides a scenic contrast to the surrounding hills. If you're keen on a hike you can walk from Birling Gap to the Seven Sisters Country Park, however it is also an easy 5 minute drive.
It's around a 10 minute stroll from the carpark to the coast. The pathway follows the river and in parks there may be water on the path. A pair of sturdy shoes or welly boots (gum boots) are handy during the winter months. The main walking path leads straight to the beach, however the Seven Sisters Country Park spans 280 hectares, so if you're willing to head off track you can literally get lost.
The beach at the Seven Sisters Country Park also features some sandy zones like the Birling Gap Beach. Being a valley, you can get right up close to the chalk cliffs at the low level, which allows you to explore the rock face without worrying about falling rocks from above. The chalk cliffs are extremely fragile, so its not uncommon for small or even larger chunks of rocks to fall. Always be wary of this whilst walking near the cliffs.
This part of the coastline is particularly dramatic during stormy days where the waves crash up against the cliff face in full view from the valley floor. Rug up and enjoy! Unlike Beachy Head and Birling Gap, the cafe is located in the car park. We suggest grabbing a take away coffee and taking it on your stroll. In the summer months a soft serve van positions itself in the car park on weekends.
We suggest that you follow the river path towards the mouth of the river and then enjoy the beautiful views of the cliffs. On a clear day, you'll be able to just make out the buildings at Birling Gap.
Towards the east, the cliffs taper down to the valley and if you're feeling fit you may like to ascend the path and view the meander below. The park is part of a working farm, so you may spot some sheep grazing on the rolling hills. If you do bring a dog with you, remember to keep them on leash at all times.
If you are keen for a hike, or would like more information on the archaeological and geographical history of the site, the visitors centre across the road is the perfect place to pick a local's brain on the area.
To the west of the valley where the Seven Sisters Country Park lies, the cliffs rise again to form Cuckmere Haven. Not quite so high as the Seven Sisters, Cuckmere Haven is the most special location because of its name. It truly is a haven! It is a little harder to find, so use this handy map to help you find your way. Cuckmere Haven Beach is favoured by the locals as many tourists don't find their way this far from Beachy Head, so it is lovely and quiet.
There's two ways to explore Cuckmere Haven. To the west is a coastal walk. The path takes you along the chalk cliffs around 2 metres up from the sea below. It's an undulating and easy walk and a nice way to see both the water and the cliffs as you walk. The landscape is green and lush all year round.
Option two is to head east along an inviting country road. You'll be heading back towards the Seven Sisters Country Park and you'll come out on the opposing side of the Cuckmere River. You'll see the chalk cliffs before you see the beach. They cast an impressive figure soaring above the coast below. Cuckmere Haven is the perfect spot to view the coastline as a whole. You'll truly appreciate just how big the chalk cliffs are here and the length of coastline they span.
During the spring months, blackberries grow wild here and are ripe for the picking. The Haven - a small village of a life saving cottage and a few other scattered cottages sits on the hill just before Cuckmere Haven Beach. Take some time to stop and read the plaques on the houses. Several were settled by no more than squatters rights, with their ownership later becoming legal. The combination of shacks and cottages with English gardens is certainly picture perfect and one can't help but to dream of moving in.
The river mouth teamed with the lower lying chalk cliffs make Cuckmere Haven Beach quite spectacular on a rough day. You can get up close to the coastline and appreciate the power of the water and the impact that it is having on the porous chalk cliff coastline. There are no facilities at Cuckmere Haven Beach, so make sure you bring what you need, especially a camera!
When it comes to things to do in East Sussex, it is hard to go past the chalk cliffs. From Beachy Head to Cuckmere Haven Beach, there are so many unique and impressive spots to view this magnificent coastline from. Unlike Dover which is well fenced and often netted for erosion, you can enjoy unadulterated views of the cliffs at Seven Sisters Beachy Head and its surrounds, making for an impressive and unique experience.
Allowing the cliffs to erode naturally allows the chalk cliff's natural beauty to shine through and they are spectacle in all seasons (hold your hat if you brave them on a windy day!). Our favourite time of day is the afternoon as the sun gives the most beautiful glow. If you are feeling like you've been here before, or are having a little de ja vu, Beachy Head was one of the standard wallpapers on Windows 7, so you may have already been enjoying the view from the comfort of your own home.
Allow a full day to properly explore the area. They're best enjoyed at a slow pace and with food and drink stops along the way. The views and the pubs in the area are magnificent. If you come by car please note that it is free to park at Cuckmere Haven, but most other places have metered parking and you'll need a different parking ticket for each area as they're run by different people. Make sure to bring some change with you!
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