Technically, it was our road trip through Kent, England. Then we learned about the historic town of Rye, just over the border in Sussex. We couldn’t let an imaginary line stop us, and we’re glad we didn’t.
Stuck in time, Rye is like a time capsule. In the town center, aged Tudor buildings lean over the cobbled stone streets. Once home to pirates and smugglers, Rye is full of legends, ghost stories, and secret passageways. With low ceilings and crooked floors, even the local shops have tons of character.
In this post we explore what makes the tiny seaside town of Rye worth visiting, and what you’ll see while exploring its ancient, pebbled streets.
Stroll the Cobbled Streets of Rye
The best thing to do in Rye is absolutely free. A labyrinth of cobbled stone streets and tiny passageways make Rye an interesting town to explore on foot.
We started on Mermaid Street, where the Tudor period houses and shop fronts complimented the cobbled stone street.
Our visit was on a cold February’s day. If you’re there in summer, grabbing an ice cream from the Mermaid Street Cafe may make a nice start to your journey.
Stop by the Historic Mermaid Inn
Mid-way up Mermaid Street we stopped to admire The Mermaid Inn.
With 12th century Norman cellars and secret passageways, The Mermaid Inn is an historic treat.
Rye was once a thriving port town. Rebuilt in 1420, with additions in the 16th century, The Mermaid Inn once served as a smuggler’s hideaway. The Hawkhurst Gang used The Mermaid Inn between the 1730s and 1740s as their refuge, hence the secret passageways.
Today, The Inn retains most of its historical features, including hidden stairs behind a bookcase.
Honestly, we regretted not staying a night at The Mermaid Inn, but at least we could grab a quick drink in the pub.
Admire Old World English Charm in Church Square
From Mermaid Street, we took a right on West Street. Then followed the road around to Church Square.
One of the things we love about Old World English towns, like Rye, are all the wonky buildings. With uneven, crooked, and bulging walls, these old buildings always have the tiniest doorways.
In the center of Church Square is Saint Mary’s, a modest 12th century parish church. It isn’t as grand as other English churches you can visit, but it is worth popping in for a peek. For a small charge, the church tower allows for a great view of Rye.
Learn Some History at Ypres Tower and the Gun Garden
The commanding Ypres Tower, stood just around the corner from the church.
Though chocked full of historical information, it only took us around twenty-minutes to browse the tower’s tiny museum. There was a small admission fee.
Whether you decide to enter the Ypres Tower Museum or not, it’s worth visiting the free Gun Garden below for fantastic views over the River Brede.
Look For Ancient Artifacts
From Ypres Tower, we continued to wander the old-world streets of Rye looking for other ancient artifacts.
Just behind the church we found the 16th century brick Rye Water House. This might not seem like a big deal nowadays, but this ancient water tank predates Victorian water systems by about one hundred years. Prior to this tank, locals needed to pump and carry water by hand.
On the other side of the church, we found The Quarter Boys. Sitting above the clock tower, these cute 1760 cherubs chime the bells every quarter past the hour.
The inscription between them read, “Our time is but a shadow that passeth away,” a reminder that life is brief.
Part of the old city walls, The Landgate on E Cliff Street was another great find. Built in 1329, the tower is the only one of four original gates that survived the centuries.
Pop Into a Few Local Shops
As we wandered the town, we popped into browse the local shops. Here are a few favorites we found.
- Knoops Chocolate Shop – Next to The Landgate, this tiny chocolate shop was a welcome find. A cup of yummy hot chocolate was just what we needed to warm up our day. In summer, opt for their iced chocolate or a milkshake.
- Rye Pottery – Gallery of hand-made and painted contemporary pottery. It doesn’t suit everyone’s budget, but they have some unique and beautiful pieces.
- Lola & SiDney – We loved this quirky little gift shop on the High Street.
- Rye is also filled with various antique shops. We didn’t find a favorite as they were all worth checking out.
Keep a look out for Needles Passage. This tiny alleyway cuts between Cinque Ports Street and The Mint / High Street. Like the cobbled stone streets, this narrow alley is another remnant of Rye’s historic past.
Grab Lunch at The Cobbles Tea Room
Somehow in our wandering we found the The Cobbles Tea Room, and we are glad we did.
Stopping for a late lunch, their Afternoon Tea was tempting. However, since we already booked Afternoon Tea for the following day in Royal Tunbridge Wells, we decided on the brie and bacon baguettes. Though, we did slip in a piece of their chocolate cake. If you can’t tell, we both have a terrible sweet tooth.
Where to Stay in the Historical Town of Rye
- Mermaid Inn – Gorgeous and historical, with secrets (or staircases) lurking behind every bookcase. It’s a one-of-a-kind hotel in the center of the town. It even has free private off-street parking.
- The Lookout Rye – Perfect if you want something with character, but maybe a little more modern. This sweet B&B is just off the High Street. It does have parking for a very small daily fee.
Looking for more on the area? Here are a few of our favorite posts.