The East Sussex coastal town of Hastings isn’t exactly a go-to beach break for Brits, or visitors to the UK. But with a brand new pier and the world’s largest underground BMX skatepark, it’s just put itself firmly on the British seaside map. Lottie Gross went to find out what makes Hastings one of Britain’s best beach breaks.
Think of seaside holidays in Britain and you probably picture gaudy resorts with brash amusement arcades or fish and chips on a beach lapped by the freezing cold Atlantic.
Hastings has all of those things – if you wish to lose your change in the 2p machines or gorge on fried food along its windswept pebble beach – but it has so much more, too.
This year saw the opening of two major attractions in Hastings: the Source Park, an enormous – in fact, the world’s largest – underground skate and BMX park; and a brand new pier.
Hastings’ new pier – which opened in May 2016 after an £11.4 million renovation of its fire-devastated predecessor – is exactly how seaside piers should be. It’s a pier designed for people: there’s no arcade, no gimmicky attractions, and there’s no toll to walk across the 42 miles of hardwood decking that make up its 280m length. Instead, it’s a classy construction, with minimalist design and little black wooden kiosks that match the fishing huts further up the seafront.
Stretching out over the water, there’s a viewing platform in the centre, affording even better views over the beach and the pier itself. The glass-fronted restaurant that looks out along the coast is a perfect spot for a sundowner.
To quote an over-used travel saying: it’s not the destination but the journey that matters. And this is true in Hastings. There are plenty of things to do – the Shipwreck Museum, the Jerwood Gallery, the Smugglers Adventure caves – but it’s in exploring that the real pleasure lies.
One of the best ways to enjoy the long seafront is by bicycle. There are wide cycle lanes alongside the promenade, and there are normal and electric bikes for rental at the Seaside Cycle Hire shack near the Old Town. Head along the seafront all the way past St Leonards to the old lido. There’s a gorgeous little café hut with deck chairs and glorious views over the endless ocean. If you want to head further afield, you can cycle all the way Bexhill along the coast.
If you’re not keen on two-wheeled adventures, you can get around on a cycle rickshaw. The ride along the seafront is pleasant but can be long, so if you’ve got kids in tow with tired legs, a Seashore Rickshaw tour from the pier can be great fun.
One of the more intriguing attractions are the rickety old funiculars that scale the tall cliffs that back the town. Head up the East Cliff Railway for superb views over the town and beaches, then wander along the network of trails that criss cross the Hastings Country Park heathland and woodland.
Finally, Hastings Old Town, particularly around George Street, has a wonderful selection of antique shops and boutiques that will keep any shopper busy for at least half a day.
In a town with the UK’s largest land-launched fishing fleet, seafood has to be your meal of choice. For a rustic lunch, head to the Rock-A-Nore end of the Old Town, where fresh-off-the-boat seafood and fish (think pints of prawns, mussels and cockles, and lobster tails for £1) is sold from a few of the tall, black fisherman’s huts behind the beach.
Buy your chips from any one of the open-front shops on the seafront, then wander through the hulking fishing boats on the beach and eat listening to the sound of the sea (and gulls).
For a more formal setting, Rock a Nore Kitchen is a really special little establishment. With only three members of staff and just 24 seats, they only do one sitting per night. The menu and wine list sit on huge blackboards and are passed between the tables as customers order different courses.
A huge sharing platter of Hastings-caught fish will set you back just £30 ($42), with two whole fish (usually sea bass and plaice), whitebait, a selection of seafood, as well as roast potatoes and veg. Be sure to book at least a week in advance.
On the main drag along the seafront, newly renovated The Old Custom House serve fresh fish in a piquant Spanish Stew, alongside a selection of refreshing cocktails. The outdoors seating is prime location for summer evening oysters.
And of course, no seaside break would be complete without ice cream: go to Di Pola’s for delectable gelato in flavours like amaretto and pear, and sea-salt caramel.
Hastings has a few good accommodation options – the Zanzibar International on the seafront is a gorgeous boutique hotel with individually designed rooms – but rental apartments really come into their own here. Bramley & Teal have the best bunch and are situated all over town; their Bird’s Eye View property has lovely views of the ocean from a hill in the St Leonards area.
For more information about what’s going on in Hastings, head to visit1066country.com. Southeastern run a reliable service from London to Hastings daily; buy online at southeasternrailway.co.uk or download their free mobile app. Advance single fares from London to Hastings are available at £12.20 each way.