If you are in the Conwy North Wales area in the spring, lucky you! Make sure you swing by the National Trust property, Bodnant Gardens to catch its famous Laburnum Arch in bloom. Planted during Victorian times, the Bodnant Gardens Laburnum Arch is a golden tunnel of blossom and sunshine. Also part of the Bodnant Estate, a stroll around the gardens should be followed up by a visit to the Bodnant Welsh Food centre.
Bodnant Gardens North Wales
It’s readily apparent to even the most casual visitor why these gardens are considered the best in Wales. If you enjoyed visiting the Italianate village of Portmeirion, then you will love Bodnant Gardens Wales as well.
Have a seat and smell the wisteria at Bodnant Gardens Wales
Covering 70 acres, Bodnant Gardens has plenty of space to explore and to find your own private idyll. There are paths that meander through wildflower meadows, lakes, and woodland. The Bodnant Gardens are framed with distant views of Snowdonia National Park.
Woodland, wildflower meadows, Italian gardens. Bodnant Gardens are a visual feast.
Stark and rugged Snowdonia is the exact opposite of this carefully-tended garden but both are beautiful in their own way. Located near each other, it is easy to appreciate both natural and man-made beauty in this little corner of North Wales.
The Bodnant Garden Centre is huge and sells some of the varieties of plants available. Sorry no nearly 150-year old Laburnum arches for sale. Not even a snow-globe version!
Rows of alliums at Bodnant Gardens North Wales
There is a manor house on the Bodnant Estate which is not open to the public. You know the Bodnant Gardens have to be something special for a house this impressive to not be the main attraction of the Bodnant Estate.
Pretty Bodnant House but it’s not open to the public.
Even if you miss the Bodnant Gardens Laburnum Arch, there are plenty of other floral attractions during the year – daffodils start off the show in early spring and are followed by rhododendrons and azaleas. In summer, Bodnant Gardens is abloom with the best of British gardens – roses, clematis and hydrangeas. Then roll on the fabulous colors of autumn with the Acers.
In summer, the water lilies come into their own on the Bodnant Estate.
Bodnant Gardens Laburnum Arch
To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.
– Audrey Hepburn
Planted in 1880, the Bodnant Laburnum Arch has been a labor of love for many generations of gardeners. It reminds me of the Archignassio in Bologna where every scholar in that case (or gardener in this case) does their part to create something great that will outlast them all for the benefit of people far in the future.
The Laburnum Arch at Bodnant Gardens is a 55 meter golden walkway. The nickname for Laburnum is ‘golden rain’ because of the way it droops down. Laburnum foliage glows almost fluorescent yellow against the milquetoast blue of a British sky.
You can see why Laburnum is nicknamed Golden Rain.
During the 2-3 weeks Bodnant Gardens’ Laburnum Arch is in bloom in late spring, approximately 50,000 visitors come to see the arched walkway. That’s almost a 1/4 of the 200,000 visitors the Bodnant Gardens Wales gets annually.
These Laburnum trees were planted in 1880!
The Bodnant Gardens Laburnum Arch is supposed to be the oldest and longest in Britain. It takes 2 gardeners 5 weeks in January to prune the Bodnant Gardens Laburnum Arch to maximise its glory in spring. After the big show, 2 gardeners are needed to deadhead the flowers in July.
The vibrance of the Laburnum contrasts with the other colors of the garden.
Bodnant Welsh Food Centre
After exploring Bodnant Gardens, the best way to cap off the experience is to visit the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre which is part of the Bodnant Estate. As we knew from our previous experiences in Wales, the Welsh countryside has really amped up its foodie credentials with great local restaurants and homegrown celebrity chefs.
The Welsh Food Centre is another foodie heaven devoted to locally sourced farm-to-table fare. It’s fairly comprehensive enterprise with the Bodnant Farm Shop, Furnace Tea Room, Hayloft Restaurant and Furnace Farmhouse.
The Furnace Tea Room is set in the old stables and perfect for a light lunch or afternoon tea.
The Furnace Tea Room with the Conwy valley stretching out behind it.
The Hayloft Restaurant is a more formal experience for lunch and dinner. We went with our children for lunch and did not find it stuffy. The food was delicious!! And, my little fussy vegetarian child found a dish to make her happy.
A salad starter at the Welsh food centre.
In terms of Bodnant accomodation, you can stay at the Furnace Farmhouse. Dating the 18th century, there are 6 rooms available for rent. Like the rest of the Bodnant Food Center, the decor and amenities cater to modern sensibilities. Think charming modern farmhouse style that’s discreetly luxurious.
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Why Bodnant Gardens is a Must-See National Trust Garden in Wales
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If you are in the Conwy North Wales area in the spring, lucky you! Make sure you swing by the National Trust property, Bodnant Gardens to catch the famous Bodnant Gardens Laburnum Arch in bloom. Discover why you should visit Bodnant Gardens, North Wales, in the spring.
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Our kids’ sleep away camp does a week where you can have a family sleepover option with them. Being eating alive by mosquitoes in cabins with communal bathrooms and no WiFi? That’s not our kind of family bonding. We’ll be nearby in Charlottesville Virginia! Although a small town, Charlottesville, Virginia seems to draw us regularly to its environs. Visiting this cool university town where both my brother and his wife went to business school was no hardship.The university is, of course, Thomas Jefferson’s pet project, the University of Virginia (UVA). We are always delighted to explore Charlottesville which shines as a beacon of excellent hotels and great food options near where our kids go to camp in the back of beyond West Virginia.
Lodging in Charlottesville, VA
When you are looking for places to staying Charlottesville, you will have a choice of accommodation because this university town is very popular with visitors. We’ve chosen two bed and breakfasts in Charlottesville downtown and one luxury hotel/inn in the same area. We’ve also picked a couple of boutique hotels in Charlottesville near UVA.
200 South Street Inn
In our opinion, 200 South Street Inn is the best bed and breakfast in Charlottesville VA when you consider value and location.Set in two historic buildings, with the oldest building being the only building on the street when it was built for a son of Thomas Jefferson’s friends.
200 South Street Inn, a Charlottesville bed and breakfast downtown
This Charlottesville bed and breakfast in downtown is a few minutes walk from the pedestrian mall area with its many shops, the Jefferson theatre and eating options. Every Saturday, the celebrated Charlottesville farmer’s market takes place pretty much across the street from this Inn.
Heading to Charlottesville, Virginia? Check out our curated selection of where to stay in charlottesville (as well as where to stay near Charlottesville)
The 200 South Street Inn is spread across two buildings with a parking lot in the back (very handy!)l, The rooms are furnished with antiques and the staff are friendly and helpful. I’ve done a full review of the 200 South Street Inn as well.
Check out the reviews for 200 South Street Inn on TripAdvisor.
The Inn at Court Square
There are lots of chain hotels in Charlottesville (Hyatt Place, Omni Charlottesville etc) but assuming you are looking for unique and charming, the boutique-style of the Inn at Court Square makes it one of the best hotels in Charlottesville, VA. Among the hotels in downtown Charlottesville, VA, the location is super-central.
The Stonewall Jackson statute in Jackson Square Charlottesville VA
The Inn at Court Square is spread out across two restored historic houses which face Stonewall Jackson square. The potential removal of the Stonewall Jackson statue in this square is one of the causes that lead to the violent white national protests in Charlottesville in the summer 2017 .
The Inn at Court Square is beautifully styled as you would expect from the innkeeper and her family being interior designers. Between the two buildings, there are 6 guest rooms, 4 suites. and the family’s antique stores.
Check out the reviews for the Inn at Court Square on TripAdvisor.
The Inn at 400 West High
Continuing with the boutique luxury theme, the Inn at 400 West High is another bed and breakfast in Charlottesville, VA. It is a mix and match of the previously mentioned places to stay in Charlottesville, VA. You get the elegance of The Inn at Court Square with the small bed and breakfast aspect of 200 South Street Inn.
This little gem can accommodate 2-4 people depending on which of the 5 rooms are available. Unlike other inns at Charlottesville, the style at this Inn is less antiques and more contemporaries. Some of the rooms have their own outside private sitting areas.
Check out the reviews for the Inn at 400 West High on TripAdvisor.
Where to eat in downtown Charlottesville
Our casual choice for dining in downtown Charlottesville is South Street Brewery located conveniently next door to 200 South Street Inn. With craft beer and locally-sourced food, this brewery is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week. The South Street Brewery menu is heavy on salads, pizzas and sandwiches.
The South Street Brewery is located very near 200 South Street Inn
Our fine dining option is C&O Restaurant which as been a fixture in downtown Charlottesville since the 1970’s. The restaurant is large but spread out over several dining spaces so you still get the intimacy of a smaller space.
Hotels in Charlottesville near UVA
The Oakhurst Inn is a boutique hotel located close to UVA perfect for book-lovers. Among the inns in Charlottesville, the Oakhurst Inn is unusual for having no hotel lobby. Instead there are 4 communal libraries filled with books, newspapers and other items. You can relax as if you were in the comfort of your own home, and catch up on your reading with a cup of coffee.
The guest rooms are as luxurious as you would expect for luxury hotels in Charlottesville VA – free valet parking, flat screen televisions, free fast WiFI and bathroom toiletries by Malin + Goetz. The suites have pull-out beds which would work for families with children.
The 27 rooms are individually furnished so you don’t get a cookie-cutter look. Although set in historic buildings, the style is clean and contemporary perfect for those people who like their Charlottesville lodging without the fuss of traditional decor.
Check out the reviews for Oakhurst Inn on TripAdvisor.
Dinsmore House Bed & Breakfast
Another one of the hotels near Charlottesville UVA, Dinsmore House was bult in 1822 by Thomas Jefferson’s master builder, James Dinsmore. A recent remodel of this Charlottesville bed and breakfast has left if feeling fresh and contemporary with a twist of traditional elegance. Thing four poster beds and clawfoot rugs – making it one of the best places to stay in Charlottesville VA.
Dinsmore House, a bed and breakfast in Charlottesville VA (image credit: Dinsmore House)
There are 9 guest rooms at this inn in Charlottesville VA. If you are travelling with children, this Charlottesville lodging may not be your best bet because some of the rooms are able to accommodate only one other person on a fold-out sofa or futon.
This hotel in Charlottesville near UVA also is home to the Farm Bell Kitchen, a cafe that serves locally sourced food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Check out the reviews for Dinsmore House on TripAdvisor.
Where to Eat in Charlottesville near UVA
Carrying along with the theme of good eats, Bodos Bagels is a UVA tradition and serves up a good breakfast. It has 3 locations in Charlottesville and is open all day serving bagels, sandwiches and salads.
The Ivy Inn offers fine dining in Charlottesville near UVA.
For a fancy dinner, we recommend the Ivy Inn where the drinks and food were superb which has (you guessed it) a locally sourced menu. We found the dinner crowd to be a mixed group – there was a large party who were there for a wedding weekend, people on date nights, etc. We were a little amused by the table of UVA students (clearly undergraduates) out for a nice meal – clearly they could afford much better grub for a Saturday night out than we could when we were college students!
Places To Stay near Charlottesville, VA
It’s great to realise that when you are looking for where to stay in Charlottesville, there are some great options just outside of the city. Not only are these places bigger, they offer a range of facilities varying from walking trails to full resort-style facilities.
The Clifton Inn
The Clifton Inn is a boutique hotel near Monticello VA with yet another Thomas Jefferson connection. The Clifton was originally built for Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha and her husband, who Jefferson wanted living near him. If you are looking for places to stay in Charlottesville VA without being in the city itself, the Clifton Inn is a good choice because it took us only 15 minutes to get into town.
The elegant entrance to the Clifton Inn, a bed and breakfast near Charlottesville VA
The Clifton Inn is truly one of the best luxury hotels near Charlottesville, VA. Set on 100 acres with beautifully landscaped grounds for you to explore including an infinity pool set in the woods, there are 20 guest rooms and suites some of whom accommodate children. You can read a full review of this Charlottesville resort here.
Check out the reviews for the Clifton on TripAdvisor.
Other hotels in Charlottesville VA near Monticello include Keswick Hall. A pre-eminent Charlottesville resort type, Keswick Hall is a grand Southern resort along the lines of The Greenbrier in West Virginia or the Omni Homestead in Virginia.
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It’s currently undergoing an extensive refurbishment and will be open in 2019. It was recommended previously on this website for being one of the best hotels in North America with kids. When it re-opens, Keswick Hall will be even better than ever!
Check out the reviews for Keswick Hall on TripAdvisor.
The Boar’s Head Inn
The Boar’s Head Inn is another Charlottesville VA resort located. Presumably as soon as you leave the confines of the city, it’s easier to set up resort-style accommodation without space constraints. The Boar’s Head Inn and Resort is owned by the UVA Foundation.
This grand Charlottesville resort set on 573 acres and has 175 guest rooms. Of course, it has a Thomas Jefferson connection. It was originally the estate of Eliza Trist, a friend of Thomas Jefferon’s and whose grandchildren would eventually marry. The Boar’s Head Resort is another one of the Charlottesville resorts that is currently being renovated – but parts are still open during the renovation.
The Boar’s Head Inn has a sports club, a nationally-famed 18 hole golf course and spa facilities. Children under 12 are allowed to have mani-pedis only and under 16’s massages and facials are also allowed if they are accompanied by an adult.
Check out the reviews for The Boar’s Head Resort on TripAdvisor.
The Iris Inn
The Iris Inn is a bed and breakfast near Charlottesville VA.. Unlike the other luxury hotels in/near Charlottesville, VA, the Iris Inn is a purpose-built facility overlooking the Shenandoah Valley in Waynseboro Virginia. In addition to being a bed and breakfast facility, the Iris Inn also has cabin rentals if you are looking for a self-catering experience.
Sunset over an Iris Inn Cabin (image credit: Iris Inn Jumping Rocks)
Two of the cottages are pet-friendly. Children over the age of 10 can stay in either the main Inn or a cottage.
Check out the reviews for the Iris Inn on TripAdvisor.
The Inn at Willow Grove
The Inn at Willow Grove is a boutique-style luxury hotel near Charlottesville, VA set up to look like a little self-contained village. Originally built in 1778 as a historic plantation, the Inn at Willow Grove has been given a total refurbishment to create one of the best places to stay near Charlottesville.
The Inn at Willow Grove is located in Orange Virginia and conveniently close to Montpelier, James Madison’s home, and located about 31 miles (about 45 minutes) from Charlottesville itself. This inn is the furthest of our choices from Charlottesville but many people stay in Charlottesville and come to Montpelier.
The Inn at Willow Grove (Image credit: Inn at Willow Grove)
The 25 rooms spread between cottages and suites of which 3 can accommodate family groups of up to 4 people. Among the amenities is complimentary butler service. There’s a well-regarded restaurant/pub on site. The 3000 s.f. Mill House spa is located in a barn and oozes farmhouse chic.
Check out the reviews for the Inn at Willow Grove on TripAdvisor.
Where To Eat Near Charlottesville
How good does your pizza have to be that it gets praised by both National Geographic and The Food Network? The family-owned business at Crozet Pizza has been run-in since the 1970’s with home made dough, a secret sauce recipe and other locally-sourced ingredients. It’s open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. The original location is in Crozet Pizza but there’s also Crozet Pizza being served at the Buddhist Biker Bar near UVA in Chartlottesville.
1771 restaurant is located at The Clifton, one of the best luxury hotels near Monticello, VA
After a 2018 revamp, the Clifton Inn has emerged with a renewed focus on food. The chef at the 1799, the Clifton’s Restaurant is a one-Michelin starred chef from California. He oversees the preparation of a locally sourced menu of reinterpreted American classics. Meals are served either on a beautiful verandah or an elegant library room. The 1799 refers to the date the property was constructed for Thomas Jefferson’s daughter.
When you are searching for where to stay in Charlottesville VA it’s definitely good to remember the city has lots of great options both for places to stay in Charlottesville itself as well as an assortment of fabulous places to stay nearby, both Bed and Breakfasts as well as resorts.
Where to stay in Charlottesville, VA and where to stay near Charlottesville VA
Charlottesville Virginia has plenty of offer because it is beautiful countryside with lots of history and natural attractions. Just a 2 hour drive from Washington, D.C. means it is also a great weekend escape from the city. There is a reason that we have returned to this area time and time again (and not just for the UVA connection)).
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Among the old city Philadelphia restaurants, City Tavern Philadelphia stands out not only for being the oldest tavern in Philly but for Chef Walter Staib’s recipes which pay homage to colonial-era cooking. Established in 1773, when Philadelphia was the pre-eminent city in colonial America, the City Tavern was the haunt of everyone that mattered in that day and age. When you are visiting the historical aspects of old city Philadelphia, such as the Museum of the American Revolution or the Liberty Bell, visiting the City Tavern is a perfect way to round out your introduction to 18th century Philadelphia. Although the food at the City Tavern Philadelphia is inspired by 18th century colonial fare, the City Tavern’s menu is diverse and suited for people with dietary restrictions as well as children.
A City Tavern Philadelphia PA sign is proud to announce that it was around before the American Revolution.
About City Tavern Philadelphia
The city Tavern Philadelphia is the oldest tavern in Philadelphia. Lots of famous names you know from history class ate, drank and stayed here, such as George Washington, John Adams and Paul Revere.
City Tavern History
The City Tavern was built as an elegant establishment by the great and (possibly) good of Philadelphia’s citizens. Meant to convey that Philadelphia was the top city in Colonial America, the City Tavern Philly had a bar, a coffee room, 2 kitchens, two dining rooms, meeting rooms, a ballroom and lodging..
During the years before the American Revolution, the City Tavern became a hub for the most eminent of the colonists where they could discuss the ongoing issues with Britain. For example, during the First Continental Congress, George Washington stayed in lodging at the City Tavern.
City Tavern Philadelphia: Great Food With a Side of Colonial American History
When Philadelphia was occupied by the British during the American Revolution, prisoners of war were housed at the City Tavern.
Fun Fact! The country’s first Fourth of July celebration was held at the City Tavern in 1777 by the Continental Congress.
After the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers congregated at the City Tavern when they met for the Constitutional Convention.
The tankards remind you that you are in one of old city Philadelphia’s restaurants.
After this heyday in the 18th century, the City Tavern lost its allure to newly formed hotels in Philadelphia. It was demolished in 1854.
City Tavern Philadelphia History – A New Beginning
Saved by the National Park Service!
In 1975 the National Park Service rebuilt the City Tavern faithfully copying the original. It was open in time for America’s bicentennial celebrations in 1976.
As one of the historic taverns in Philadelphia, the City Tavern restaurant and bar were on the ground floor with traveller’s accommodation on the floors above.
Enter Chef Walter Staib. Chef Walter wins congressional approval to be the operator of the City Tavern Philadelphia in 1994. An Emmy Award winning TV presenter (for A Taste of History), chef and culinary historian, who better to oversee the oldest tavern in Philadelphia?
Chef Staib has also written 6 cookbooks, including The City Tavern cookbook and A Taste of History cookbook.
A selfie with Chef Walter Staib who was at the restaurant talking to reporters from CNN.
As if he is not busy enough, Chef Staib is at the restaurant often overseeing the kitchen which is how I got to meet him!
The City Tavern Menu
When we went for lunch my kids didn’t know why the City Tavern menu said “Mid-Day Fare”. Although the words on the City Tavern lunch menu, may have been old world English, the food on offer was surprisingly diverse.
There was something for everyone, including vegetarians and gluten-free options. When I first mentioned trying a colonial restaurant in Philadelphia, I was met with skepticism by my family. My husband had nearly convinced the kids to go to JJ Bootlegger’s, another one of the old city Philadelphia restaurants nearby, primarily because he wanted to try moonshine and the kids wanted tacos. I got to enjoy the feeling of smugness when we all decided we like the City Tavern in the end!
Walter Staib Recipes
Chef Staib has created a menu inspired by 18th century colonial cuisine. Yes, it’s farm to table but that would have totally been an authentic colonial experience. The wait staff are also in full colonial gear adding to the time warp feeling of the place.
The old City Tavern Philadelphia serves you free bed at the table that is true to colonial recipes.
His original source material is the writings from Colonial America. For example, the sweet potato and pecan biscuits above were supposedly Thomas Jefferson’s favourite.
Interestingly the Sally Lunn bread (middle) was based on the Sally Lunn bread first found in the spa town of Bath, England in 1780. They were nowhere as decadently sugary as the Sally Lunn biscuits we tried in Bath. Apparently this type of Sally Lunn bread was served with clotted cream sort of like scones are served today for afternoon tea.
The third of the bread trio was called Anadama Bread – cornmeal sweetened with molasses. I have to say I preferred cornbread like we have it now. Overall, colonial bread was not as sweet as today’s bread.
The folklore of Anadama bread seems to indicate an irate husband who said of his wife “Anna damn ‘er”. In one version, it was on a gravestone expressing a husband’s frustration that Anna was no longer around to make his favourite bread. In another version, a fisherman had a wife (Anna obvs) who would make him nothing but cornmeal and molasses.
City Tavern Lunch Menu
I was totally tempted by the West Indies Pepper Pot Soup on the City Tavern lunch menu but it was such a brutally hot day that I decided I couldn’t cope with habanero pepper! The corn chowder I chose instead was excellent – creamy with chunks of potato.
The City Tavern Menu has the most delicious corn chowder I have ever tasted.
Before you think the pepper pot soup couldn’t possibly be Colonial fare, Chef Walter’s The City Tavern Cookbook explains that it is! Sadly it is related to the story of slavery and the triangular trade with the West Indies. Ships from the Caribbean would bring spices and slaves to Philadelphia so colonists were familiar with these flavours.
In fact, during the long brutal winter at Valley Forge, George Washington had his cook make this soup to feed the starving troops. Presumably the numbness of their tongues from the habanero would take their minds of their frozen numb shoeless feet.
You can find the pepper pot soup recipe in the City Tavern cookbook. Can you believe that the pepper pot recipe that is more than 300 years old?!
Chef Staib has released the City Tavern Cookbook with the Walter Staib recipes he uses at the restaurant.
I also scoffed at the fried tofu entree because it couldn’t possibly be colonial era food. According to the City Tavern lunch menu, however, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter in 1770 on how to make tofu!
My husband was thrilled with the choice of beers (a compensation for not getting his moonshine).. We tried a sampler of the four different choices named after the Founding Father whose recipe was used – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. He preferred the dark chocolatey taste of George Washington’s Porter while I preferred the lighter taste of Alexander Hamilton’s Ale.
Fun Fact! The recipe for George Washington’s porter is on file with the New York Public Library.
The City Tavern Philadelphia menu offered up a flight of beers that were created to the recipes of four of the Founding Fathers.
You can buy Founding Father beer to take away too. Relive your City Tavern Philly experience in the comfort of your own home!
The City Tavern Philly sells founding father beer!
Kids Menu at City Tavern Philly
There’s a kid’s version of the City Tavern Philadelphia menu, too. The closest you get to colonial food is probably the Turkey Pot Pie. We were told the cheese and meat dish is a lot like lasagna. My unadventurous kids went for chicken strips and fish and chips.
Chef Staib has created a new version of ‘shrub’ a colonial drink made with berries.
My kids were more daring on their drinks choices though and both ordered a raspberry ‘shrub’. Colonial-era shrub was a fruit juice vinegar sweetened with sugar (and occasionally spiked with alcohol like rum). The shrub my kids had was made with club soda and they liked it!
Visiting City Tavern Philadelphia PA
The City Tavern Philadelphia is a popular restaurant and reservations are encouraged especially on the weekends and evenings. You can get City Tavern coupons at the nearby Visitors’ Center in Philadelphia.
Want a second opinion? Read the excellent TripAdvisor Reviews of the City Tavern Philadelphia!
The City Tavern is located at 138 S. 2nd Street in Philadelphia. It is open most days for lunch starting at 11:30 and dinner from 3 pm (harkening back to an older time when people ate earlier so that they could get home during daylight).
City Tavern Philadelphia: Great Food With a Side of Colonial American History
It’s right across the street from Welcome Park (which used to be the site of the city home of the Penn family, founders of Pennsylvania). It is also conveniently near other historic attractions in Philadelphia, such as the Museum of the American Revolution and the Liberty Bell.
What is it about the English countryside? Why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?
– Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle
This quote from one of my favourite books (and movies) expresses the more-ness that is the English countryside. Sure it’s pretty but there’s also centuries of history and tradition inextricably woven into the fabric of what you see. When we recently took a road trip to the Seven Sisters Cliffs from London with our Europcar rental car, we were struck again by how very long the landscape has existed and how very small we are in comparison. Beachy Head, The Seven Sisters Cliffs, Birling Gap – the entire South Coast has seen the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066, the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the non-invasion of Napoleon and Hitler. Events jump in spans of hundreds of years. The South Coast may be eroding slowly but it will outlast us all.
Sunset over the Marine Parade sign in Eastbourne.
Days Out in East Sussex
As much as we love London, heading out into the English countryside is a real treat. There’s a lot to be said for fresh country air and wide open spaces. A lot of England is accessible by public transport, but we are definitely road trippers! It’s just a lot easier (and often cheaper) to have your own transport when you are travelling with children, too. You are on your own schedule and can make stops as you choose.
Europcar’s Long Term Car Hire
We were invited to participate in Europcar’s long term car hire program. This program is super flexible and available at every Europcar in the UK. It lets you rent a car for 28+ days at more affordable rates than the usual rental but with more flexibility than owning/leasing. In addition, with one month’s notice you can switch out your car if your needs change.
We had a Volkswagen Golf in London through the Europcar long term program which is a great city car. It’s the right size for running errands and squeezing into small parking spots.
Trading Cars The Easy Way
There are times though when a big car can come in useful. We traded in our Volkswagon Golf for a 7 seater Sharan. Europcar have a delivery and pick up program so the exchange was done in front of our house which was superconvenient. I’m so busy that I don’t know if I’d even get around to changing a car if it wasn’t so easy!
A Europcar UK representative will deliver/pick up the car for free.
We used the Sharan for running some of our bigger errands in London (such as an Ikea trip!), taking visiting friends to the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show and going on a road trip.
We went on a long weekend away to the South Coast and the South Downs National Park. I’ve got a family of bikers so with the extra space we were able to throw our bikes in the back along with our luggage. As any veteran road tripper knows, getting somewhere is as much fun as the destination itself!
The great thing about a road trip is that you can throw as much as you can fit into the back fo a car! (really handy with kids!)
7 Things To Do in Eastbourne
One of the things we take for granted today as a summer ritual, the beach vacation, started only in Victorian times. The Victorian seaside holiday transformed towns such as Brighton and Eastbourne. When the fashionable people decided it was healthier to visit the shoreline instead of taking the waters at a spa town like Bath, everyone else soon followed.
Eastbourne has the unfair reputation for being a sedate town suited for an elderly population. This reputation was gently mocked in the hilarious coming-of-age book Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging where 14 year old Georgia lives in Eastbourne and moans that nothing exciting ever happens to her.
Fun Fact! Filming for the movie, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging was done along the Eastbourne pier and seafront but the house the family lived in was actually located in nearby Brighton.
Like many seaside towns, Eastbourne does attract older folks (just like Florida!)
Don’t trust conventional wisdom! There’s lots to do in this charming town for everyone.
Marine Parade is a seafront road with lots of hotels and cafes. The buildings in this area were built between 1790 and 1840.
One of the hotels on Marine Parade had an old-fashioned Victorian bathing machine on display which my kids found fascinating. Victorian ladies would be wheeled down into the water in this machine by horses so that they could get into the sea with modesty intact.
A restored Victorian beach wagon shows how ladies used to bathe in the sea.
Eastbourne Pier has been blown away by storms, exploded by mines, and ravaged by fire but it’s still standing! The original opened in 1870 but what you see now is the latest 2015 incarnation. Some of the attractions include a fish and chips store (naturally!), a Victorian tea room, a jazz lounge and assorted entertainment events.
Eastbourne Pier in all of its ornate Victorian glory.
The Eastbourne beaches are pebble beaches. There’s a wide swathe of beach right in front of Marine Parade so you don’t need to venture too far. On the other side of Eastbourne Pier there is also the Grand Parade beach.
We saw the most charming contemporary little beach huts at Eastbourne Beach. Our favourite beach hut was on a revolving device so you could move the beach hut view to suit your needs. The exterior had an outdoor shower. The interior had a little kitchen, sitting area and lofted sleeping area. You can rent it for a very reasonable £45/day (£50 in July/August).
A very non-traditional beach hut that you can rent.
Little Chelsea is a trendy area in Eastbourne for eating and shopping conveniently located near the Eastbourne train station. Although not a very big area, it’s got a charming selection of delis, cafes and boutiques.
My kids consider ice cream a main food group in the summer.
The Eastbourne Redoubt was built in the early 19th century as part of the country’s defence against a possible invasion by Napoleon. By the time construction was finished though, the threat of an invasion had passed. During World War I, the redoubt was used by military police and during World War II, it was used for storage.
When they saw this unexploded mine at Eastbourne Redoubt, my kids couldn’t believe how big it was.
Nowadays, the parade area and the top of the fortress are open to the public free of charge. There is a small military museum which does charge admission.
Eastbourne Annual Events
The Eastbourne Open is held annually in June at the Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis Club near Eastbourne town center. The Eastbourne International usually gets a few big names and is the last grass court tournament before Wimbledon. For example, this year Andy Murray played at Eastbourne as part of his comeback from injury.
Sadly, Andy Murray did not fare well at the Eastbourne international tennis tournament.
Every year in August, Airbourne is also the Eastbourne International Airshow. There’s free entry and a 2 mile display along the Eastbourne coast with big name RAF and international flying display squads such as the Red Arrows.
7 Places To Visit Near Eastbourne
All of these places are in the South Downs National Park. The South Downs National Park covers 3 counties in England and runs from the cities of Winchester to Eastbourne. The national park covers over 1600 square kilometres of area where over 110,000 people live. Over 85% of the South Downs is farmland.
An itinerary for a weekend in the South Downs near Eastbourne
Beachy Head East Sussex
Beachy Head East Sussex is the UK’s highest white chalk sea cliffs (not the white cliffs of Dover!). It’s appeared in films (such as James Bond and Harry Potter) and on television commercials. In fact, the Beachy Head cliff is often a stand in for the Dover Cliffs because they are bigger and whiter.
There are lots of beautiful coastal exploring to be done on Beachy Head walks.
Seven Sisters Cliffs and Country Park
The Seven Sisters are chalk cliffs on the South Downs National Park that run from Eastbourne to Seaford. There are technically now 8 sisters because the erosion of one cliff has created another one. You get the best views of the Seven Sisters cliffs from Seaford Head.
Fun Fact! Coastal erosion means that the Seven Sisters erode by an average of 0.4m annually and Birling Gap by 0.7m.
The Seven Sisters Country Park is 280 hectares of cliffs, parkland and river valley. It’s great for walking and cycling. There’s a cafe behind the Visitor’s Center which is located across the road from the entrance to the country park.
The Seven Sisters Cliffs have also been subject to coastal erosion.
Run by the National Trust, Birling Gap is perfect for walking along the cliffs and for playing on the beach. You get to the beach by a staircase from the cliff. Kids will enjoy fossil hunting (remember the Jurassic Coast is a bit further West along the English Channel) and exploring the rock pools that form when the tide goes out.
Coastal erosion has caused the breach at Birling Gap.
Friston Forest is perfect for walkers and for cyclists. The two walking trails are easy to do with children and not very long (between 1- 1.5 miles). The mountain biking is more challenging but there is an easier family route you can take.
Friston Forest is a woodland gem to explore.
Alfriston East Sussex
Alfriston is a village in the Cuckmere Valley which is pretty as a picture. In fact, it was included in The Telegraph Travel’s list of England’s prettiest villages.
Alfriston may be a small village but in true English style, has several pubs. In front of the George Inn, there is a masthead from one of the ships of the Spanish Armada that locals salvaged. The town is also the site of the very first National Trust property ever purchased, a 14th century thatched clergy house.
Fun Fact! The hymn “Morning Has Broken” was written in Alfriston about the village in 1931 and reached worldwide fame in the 1970’s when sung by Cat Stevens.
This house in Alfriston is almost impossibly pretty.
Drusilla’s Zoo is a theme park for young children near the village of Alfriston East Sussex which is perfect for young children.
There is a zoo with lots of interactive exhibits as well as animal exhibits that kids will enjoy – penguins, meerkats, butterflies, snakes etc. In addition, there is a large play area where kids can run around and let off steam. A dedicated Hello Kitty area will delight all fans of this cute Japanese export.
Drusilla’s Park is perfectly sized and themed for young children.
It reminds me of Sesame Place in the USA but more educational and with less water. You can easily spend an entire day here and leave with happy, tired children.
You are reminded that you are in 1066 country at Pevensey Castle. Pevensey was where William the Conqueror landed in 1066 changing the course of English history forever. We are talking 1600 years of history here! Although in ruins, the Castle is still majestic and is run by English Heritage.
The ruins of Pevensey Castle have seen a mind-boggling 1600 years of history!
Where To Stay
Be aware that accommodation in Eastbourne and the surrounding area does fill up quickly because it is a popular domestic vacation spot.
You can stay in pretty little Belle Tout Lighthouse which is a bed & breakfast near Beachy Head where the rooms have stunning views. There is a minimum 2 night stay.
The best hotel to stay in Eastbourne is the 5 star Grand Hotel. It’s located on the side of Eastbourne that’s closest to Beachy Head and near the popular dining and shopping area of The Meads.
The Grand Hotel was full and so we stayed at York House, Best Western. Our room was huge even with a Queen bed, a single bed and a sofa bed. We had a room overlooking the sea and fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
Where To Eat
The Crown and Anchor is a pub on Marine Parade which not only serves food but also offers live music on the weekends.
Fusciardi Ice Cream Parlour on Marine Parade serves more than delicious ice cream. You can get breakfast there as well as simple dinners like jacket potatoes and sandwiches.
Italian food seems to be a winner in Eastbourne. There’s also La Locanda del Duca for a fancy Italian meal and its more casual sister restaurant, Pomodoro e Mozzarella.
Cuckmere Inn has good views of the Seven Sisters Country Park and also offers outside seating.
How To Get There
You can drive to Eastbourne and its environs from London relatively easily. From the M25 ring road, take the M23 which becomes the A23. At Brighton take the A27 which goes all the way to Eastbourne.
Although Eastbourne has a train station, you definitely need a car to visit the South Downs easily.
The glorious coastline of the South Downs National Park
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