From William the Conqueror to Camilla, the Queen Consort, the Sussex coastline is home to a millennia’s worth of royal stories.
This royal-themed itinerary shows you the Sussex coastline through a right royal filter, from Bognor Regis’s pared-back pier to the thriving pleasure piers of Brighton and Eastbourne.
In between, you’ll discover places that have gained a royal seal of approval, as well as miles of sandy beaches, World War II history and some 20th-century nostalgia.
It was George V, Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather, who conferred the ‘Regis’ (Latin for ‘of the king’) on Bognor, in 1929. During the 13 weeks he spent here recovering from a lung operation, he was visited by three future heads of state: Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II.
It’s easy to while away a day in this charmingly nostalgic seaside resort. Bognor is known as the UK’s sunniest town so make the most of the weather with a stroll or cycle along the 4-miles (6.5km) of promenade and check out the pier; it’s less than half the length it was when George V visited but still a great spot for some fish and chips. The promenade is part of the South Coast Trail Route, which you can follow for miles in either direction. Alternatively, you can pedal along the network of cycle routes and trails that weave through Bognor and past beach huts, vineyards and nature reserves. Adult bike hire is available from Bognor Bike Hub. Would you rather explore on foot? Follow one of the six Bognor Regis Heritage Trails.
To uncover more about the town’s captivating past, head to Bognor Regis Museum. It covers the town’s transformation from a humble fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort, through a plethora of quirky tales and memorabilia. Expect everything from ghosts to vintage cameras. (Closed Mondays and throughout winter.)
Bognor’s independent shops are worth browsing too, and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants. As evening falls, make your way east along the coast to Brighton. On the way, stop off in Shoreham-by-Sea for a dip. Camilla used to swim here as a child.
Eat and sleep:
Bognor Regis and Brighton are packed with restaurants, cafes and bars, but don’t miss the chance to try traditional fish ‘n’ chips, best eaten straight from the paper by the sea. If you don’t think that sounds very royal, remember that fish ‘n’ chips were The Queen’s favourite takeaway, and Camilla is known to be partial to them too!
For something more traditionally regal, take afternoon tea at The Grand, a luxurious hotel slap-bang on Brighton’s seafront that’s known as “the original palace by the sea”. Work your way through three tiers of sweet and savoury treats as you take in the views between the famously lively Brighton Palace Pier and the bleakly beautiful ruins of West Pier.
Spend the night at Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa, (an award winning contemporary spa) in 30 acres of grounds a short stroll from Climping Beach. This cluster of thatched houses, follies and a medieval-style house looks ancient but was built in the 1920s for Lord Moyne using original and salvaged materials.
For a quirkier place to stay, follow the coast towards Eastbourne until you reach Belle Tout Lighthouse B&B, high above the English Channel. The views along the white cliffs are fit for kings and queens!
Thanks to the royalty that visited before you, there’s plenty to keep you busy in East Sussex too! Brighton’s Royal Pavilion embodies the decadence of King George IV. The King, then Prince of Wales, first visited Brighton in the 1780s, to take advantage of the therapeutic qualities of “dipping” (full immersion in sea water). By the middle of the 1820s, King George had transformed his small lodgings into the enormous, indulgent pleasure palace you can visit today. (The Royal Pavillion is open daily.)
Today, Brighton’s vibrant shops, seafront and pier could easily occupy you for a few days but tear yourself away and follow the coast around to Eastbourne. Occupying a sandy stretch of coast between Brighton and the towering white cliffs of Beachy Head, the resort town has a Victorian pier, 3 miles (5km) of palm-lined promenade and a renowned art gallery. One of the most interesting ways to explore Eastbourne is on the Blue Plaque Heritage Trail. Among the plaques dedicated to the notables who have stayed here – including Charles Dickens, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Mabel Lucie Attwell – you’ll see a green plaque marking the beach chalet used by King George V and Queen Mary in March 1935. It’s an excellent spot to try “dipping”!
About 5 miles (8km) inland is Pevensey Castle. This ruined Roman Saxon fort dates from the 4th century and played a standby role in World War II but it’s most famous as the landing place of William the Conqueror in 1066. (Open daily April – October; weekends only November – March.)
If you have more time on your hands, trace the route of William and his conquering army along the 31-mile (50km) 1066 Country Walk. The trail maps the invasion from Pevensey via Herstmonceux Castle to the 1066 Battlefield and Battle Abbey where King Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, was slain, changing the course of England’s history and its royal family for ever.