St Leonards and Hastings are old seaside towns in Sussex, literally next to each other, about two hours from London. St Leonards & Hastings used to be a second home to European royalty during the summer breaks, but now it is mostly famous for its pier and its fishing heritage. Nowadays, anyone can access the area and a weekend trip to Hastings and St Leonards can be an actual eye-opener and at times very educational.
If you are a computer nerd, you might have also heard of Alan Turing, the “grandfather” of computing. He lived here as a child and there is now a plaque on the wall of his old house commemorating this.
Why Visit St Leonards and Hastings
People come to St Leonards and Hastings to experience what this quintessential English seaside resort has to offer. History lovers can indulge in the knowledge that the Battle of Hastings took place just up the road!
I shot the below video about Alan Turing and Hastings to show where he lived, played and probably cried as a child. Unfortunately the poor guy lived in the wrong time as he was gay and back then it was illegal! So even though he saved the UK from certain destruction during the second world war, he was chemically castrated, put on the sex offenders register and fired from GCHQ.
How to Get to St Leonards and Hastings
The road network is quite poor so it will take you at least two hours to get down here from London. The main issue is that the dual carriageway ends in Tunbridge Wells and afterwards it is a narrow, winding old road built two hundred years ago.
Taking the train is not much more fun either and it takes even longer. There are direct trains from London Bridge, Victoria as well as Canon Street but they all take at least two hours if not more.
Hastings and St Leonards Points of Interest
The architecture in St Leonards can be pretty stunning and resembles parts of London, such as Marylebone and Regents Park. St Leonards started out as a seaside spa town in the early 19th century. James Burton designed St Leonards Gardens in 1828, a green heart for his new seaside resort in the Regency style. Originally just for wealthy subscribers, the Hastings Corporation bought the gardens in 1880 and opened them to the general public.
The houses around this area were the residences of visiting nobles and the nouveau rich. The problems started when Brighton got its railway lines first, with a direct connection to London. As soon as the British Royals started flocking to Brighton they set the trend and everyone wanted to follow them. This was pretty much the first nail in St Leonards’ coffin.
After about 150 years of decline the city is now experiencing a “come-back”. This is mostly because property prices are so much lower here than in any city in the area and people move here even from London! It is a no brainer in many respects. A one bed flat in London sets anyone back by £250-450,000, depending on location. The same size flat in Hastings is between £60-100,000 and the train ride is only 1.5 hours!
Things to Do in St Leonards and Hastings
When you come from London Victoria, Brighton or Eastbourne, get off the train at St Leonards. If you are coming from Cannon Street, Ashford or London Bridge, get off at Hastings and do the same tour in the reverse direction.
From St Leonards train station walk to Warrior Square. Here you can see some nice historic tenement buildings and the park itself. There are some galleries on Norman road which are worth visiting. Once you’ve done this, go to the beach and walk along the promenade toward the Old Town. Stop off at the newly renovated pier and walk to the end to take photos of the waterfront.
When you get to the kiosk at the traffic lights, you can either carry on walking or cross the road to the shopping street. There are some restaurants and pubs here and a Debenhams, Cafe Nero and Costa. There is also a shopping center just at the end of the street with the usual chain stores.
Museums in Hastings and St Leonards
Walk back to the beach from the shopping center to reach the Old Town. The Old Town of Hastings is home to two cliff rails, elevating passengers from sea level to the top of the cliffs. They are the East and West cliff. The best is to take the West Cliff up and walk to the East Cliff to descend. You will have some amazing views of the city from atop the cliff.
If you like watersports, there is a great way to enjoy the sea by doing a bit of kayaking. Calypso Kayak Hire in Hastings offers rentals near the promenade, just below the brand new cafe you can see on this image below.
Most museums are in the Old Town, so it’s best to stick around here for at least an afternoon. Visit the Stade, the Fishermen’s Museum, the Jerwood Gallery, the Blue Reef Aquarium and local churches. By this time you should be pretty hungry, so why not eat at one of the local fish and chips shops. My local favourite is Old Town Fryer.
If you are not planning to stay overnight then head back towards Hastings station, which is about 20-25 minutes away from Old Town.