Great houses, gardens & grapes of Sussex

Fill your cup with grand halls and glorious gardens, topped up with a splash of wine from some of England’s finest vineyards.

Sprawled across the rolling hills of Sussex are some of the UK’s finest country estates – beautiful stately homes surrounded by manicured lawns, wild meadows and vibrant blooms. In between, rows of vines bejewelled with juicy grapes catch the sun’s rays. It’s no wonder the area brims with royal stories.

You don’t need to be a member of the nobility to appreciate this heady combination of extraordinarily beautiful surroundings and award-winning wines … but feel free to make-believe!

How to plan: This short break itinerary gives an overview of eight of the best historic houses and gardens plus three exquisite vineyards in Sussex. That’s more than you can comfortably fit into two days so take your pick! We recommend one or two houses or gardens and one vineyard per day – and plan to come back to experience the rest!

Day 1: Gardens a go-go

Get ready for a day filled with flowers. Borde Hill Gardens, Wakehurst and The Priest House all sit in the northeast corner of West Sussex. Wakehurst is huge so choose between a full day here or splitting your day between Borde Hill Gardens and The Priest House.

Daffodils at Wakehurst Place
Wakehurst ©National Trust Images/Gary Cosham

Option 1: Wakehurst is the Sussex outpost of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. King Charles, a keen horticulturalist, is the organisation’s patron. This place is for you if you love enormous gardens with a scientific twist. Its 500 acres are filled with all manner of botanical delights and you can watch scientists at work in the Millennium Seed Bank, which stores over 2.4 billion seeds from around the globe.

Join one of Wakehurst’s guided tours or follow your nose through the gardens. You can walk through landscapes planted with flora from the Himalayas, North American prairies or Australasian woodland. Spot frogs, newts and dragonflies in the Bog Garden. In summer, be carried away on a wash of colour and water features in the dazzling Iris Dell; even on the wintriest days, there are pops of colour in the Winter Garden. (Open year-round.)

Flowers in bloom at Borde Hill Garden
Borde Hill Gardens

Option 2: Borde Hill Gardens has a quirkier royal connection. The house was built by the grandson of Henry VIII’s private herbalist and physician, Stephen Borde, who was later knighted by James I. Since then, the estate has built a reputation as one of the nation’s most important gardens. It’s perfect if you love gardens with a more personal touch; the same plant-loving family has owned it for the last 130 years. From spring’s soul-lifting displays of magnolias and camelias to autumn’s fiery canopies, there’s always something to see. (Closed November – early February.)

A 15-minute drive into the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty takes you to The Priest House. This pretty timber-framed cottage to have a royal history has been owned by Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Anne of Cleves and Elizabeth I. The garden is planted with over 170 useful herbs and the house is furnished with 17th and 18th century furniture. If you’ve ever wondered what well-heeled rural life was like before electricity and flushing toilets, The Priest House is your answer! (Closed November – February.)

View of Rows & Vine Restaurant at Ridgeview
Rows & Vine, Ridgeview Wine Estate

Eat & Sleep:  In between visits to country piles, stretch your legs – or put your feet up – in a Sussex vineyard. The Bolney Estate and Ridgeview each offer tours and tastings in their heartachingly beautiful vineyards, and both have great restaurants.

Bolney’s Eighteen Acre Café is perfect for brunch or lunch overlooking the vines. In 2019, Camilla, the Queen Consort (then Duchess of Cornwall) opened Bolney’s new state-of-the-art winery; she grew up around 10 miles away.

Ridgeview’s unique open-air restaurant The Rows & Vine is open Thursday to Sunday. Sunday lunch here is the perfect pairing with a tour and tasting of Ridgeview’s classic method sparkling wines, even in winter.

In the grounds of Ockenden Manor
Ockenden Manor

Feeling hungry at Wakehurst? Refuel in the on-site cafes and restaurants. You can pick up a light lunch and dine al-fresco at Borde Hill’s Gardener’s Retreat café, or stop off at The Cat Inn close to The Priest’s House. The Cat’s bedrooms are comfy, too. (The Cat pub is closed Mon-Tue.)

For a stay with serious wow factor, spend the night at Ockenden Manor. Set in an Elizabethan manor house, it has a Michelin-starred restaurant and an award-winning spa in an innovative copper-clad building – all surrounded by acres of gardens. It oozes style and the walls whisper with centuries of stories.

View of Tinwood Lodges
Tinwood Lodges

If you’re planning to explore Parham House, Petworth or West Dean Gardens, spend the night among the vines at Tinwood Estate. Before you watch the sun set over the rows of vines from the decking of your luxurious lodge, join a tour of the vineyard, taste their sparkling wines, indulge in afternoon tea, or order a picnic hamper and sprawl out among the vines.

Day 2: Grand country piles

Two options: will you head west to Petworth, West Dean Gardens and Parham, or east to Brighton Pavilion and Herstmonceux Castle?

View of Petworth House
Petworth House & Gardens

Option 1: A grand 17th-century country mansion with 900 years of history, Petworth was forged from royal allegiances and apprehensions. It stands on land gifted by Henry I’s widow to her brother, who married into the Percy family – the same family that still lives here. Back then, the Percy family’s stronghold was in the north and they only visited Petworth occasionally. When Queen Elizabeth I became suspicious of the family’s loyalty to Mary, Queen of Scots, she banished the family to Petworth.

Over the next 400 years, the estate grew into an enormous house filled with beautiful carvings, glorious chandeliers and paintings by internationally renowned artists. Life below stairs is just as interesting. Don’t miss the 18th-century servants’ quarters and the kitchen fitted with steam-powered technology. Outside, the grounds were landscaped by renowned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, ‘England’s greatest gardener’. (Open daily.)

Friends looking at the map in Parham Gardens
Parham House & Gardens

It would be easy to spend the whole day at Petworth but tear yourself away to see Parham House & Gardens. This beautiful Elizabethan manor house at the foot of the South Downs is filled with Tudor and Stuart portraits and exquisite needlework and tapestries. (Open Easter – early October.)

In the gardens of West Dean
West Dean Gardens

Or, if you’d rather spend the day outside, make a beeline for West Dean Gardens. These beautifully restored gardens overflow with historic features such as the restored walled garden, 13 working Victorian glasshouses and a 90 metre (300ft) pergola designed by Harold Peto, one of Britain’s finest 19th-century garden designers. (Open daily.)

View of Brighton Pavillion
Brighton Pavilion, East Sussex

Option 2: For something completely different, start your day at Brighton Pavilion. King George IV’s opulent seaside retreat is the palace of your most outrageous fantasies! Think golden dragons, silk wall panels and a mahogany four-poster bed with six mattresses (it was Queen Victoria’s). George even used to show the kitchen to visitors! (Open daily.)

View of Herstmonceux Castle
Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex

Less than an hour’s drive to the east, Herstmonceux Castle is the UK campus of Canada’s Queen’s University but the spectacular gardens are open to everyone. The most prestigious of these gardens is the formal Elizabethan Garden but don’t miss the intriguing Apothecary Garden and the 80-metre (260ft) Long Border. Tie in a trip to The Observatory Science Centre on the estate; this interactive science centre was the home of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. (Open mid-February to early November.)

Looking for more royal inspiration?

Check out our other regal itineraries

Whether you’re looking for ways to celebrate the Coronation of The King and The Queen Consort or if you’re just feeling inspired to spend a few days exploring Sussex, we’ve got plenty of regal highlights to make sure you have a trip you’ll remember forever!