Studying in Brighton has so many benefits, with one of the main ones being its proximity to some incredible attractions the wider county of Sussex has to offer. From the rolling green hills of South Downs’ stunning countryside to nearby medieval castles in surrounding towns, there’s plenty of places to visit near Brighton. And, whether you want to visit historic battle sites or experience traditional seaside towns, there are countless places that are easy to reach from the city centre. 

So if you’re keen to uncover the histories and mysteries of Sussex, spot wildlife in its natural habitat or simply find a peaceful spot to relax, here are five must-visit places all within easy reach of Brighton by car, public transport, bike or on foot. Pack your walking boots, camera and curiosity, and prepare for mini adventures a beach pebble’s throw away. After all, you’ll be studying in Brighton – why not make the most of it?

1. Arundel

Arundel - places to visit near Brighton

Arundel flawlessly blends a sense of medieval history with traditional village charm. There’s no better introduction to the heritage of Sussex than a day spent exploring the castle, strolling the winding lanes of the town and relaxing amid picturesque English countryside. With architectural marvels, culinary treats and natural beauty all within steps, Arundel makes for a perfect escape from the bustle of Brighton.

It’s only about a 30-minute drive from Brighton and there are frequent trains too, so this is an easy day trip. As you arrive, you’ll find Arundel Castle dominating the skyline. It’s a striking mediaeval castle that has stood for nearly 1,000 years, set high on a hill overlooking the River Arun and lush surrounding countryside.

Explore the castle and its sprawling grounds, which feature stunning gardens, a Gothic library and a 17th-century chapel. Have your camera ready for breathtaking views from the castle ramparts across Arundel and beyond.

2. Lewes

Lewes Brighton Sussex

With a character all its own, Lewes is a perfect blend of creativity, charm and culture. Spend your day exploring England as it once was, then catch a bus back to the 21st century – you’ll return to Brighton with stories to share over drinks with friends. A day trip to this unmissable town will leave you wishing you’d stayed longer.

Start at Anne of Cleves House, a 15th-century timber-framed Wealden hall house that offers a glimpse into Tudor-era Sussex. Then make the steep hike up to the ruins of Lewes Castle, where you can tour the remains of the Norman Fortress, witness to the Battle of Lewes in 1264. The panoramic views from the Castle ruins over the red-tiled rooftops of Lewes and the green hills beyond are worth the climb.

Wander the narrow twittens (alleyways) of Cliffe, the oldest part of Lewes, stopping in at antiques shops, indie bookshops and traditional British pubs along the way. Don’t miss Harveys Brewery, an historic brewery that has produced real Sussex ale on the banks of the River Ouse since 1790. Take a tour to learn about the brewing process in a setting that hasn’t changed in centuries, with tasters in the tasting room.

3. South Downs National Park

South Downs National Park
Source: South Downs National Park

Just north of Brighton lies the South Downs National Park, over 627 square miles of rolling green hills, tranquil villages and woodlands. Believe it or not, there’s 1,600 miles of trails, making it  a paradise for hiking, cycling and horse riding. The trails lead you to some of the most stunning viewpoints in southern England.

For panoramic views over Brighton and the sea, hike or bike to Ditchling Beacon, one of the highest points of the Downs. At 248 metres, you’ll be rewarded with views across Sussex and Kent on a clear day. It’s a popular spot, but there’s plenty of space to find your own scenic picnic spot.

The hills are especially stunning during summer when wildflowers bloom, or in autumn when the beech trees turn a fiery orange. If you’re lucky, you may spot some of the wildlife that inhabit the Downs, like woodland birds, badgers, kestrels, or fallow deer. Pack a picnic, your camera and walking shoes, and escape the bustle of Brighton in a landscape that hasn’t changed over thousands of years.

This is a photographer’s paradise – whether you’re looking to capture incredible shots of wildlife, or snap the scenery, it’s almost impossible to look around without finding something worth photographing.

Just a 30 minute bus or train ride from central Brighton, a trip to the South Downs National Park feels like you’ve journeyed to another world. Lose yourself in the sweeping landscape and soak in the timeless beauty all around you. Inhale the fresh air, walk until your legs ache, then sit in silent contemplation of the sea of green hills folding into the distance. This is soul food at its finest.

4. Hastings

Hastings Castle is a great day trip from Brighton
Source: Kreepin Deth, WikiCommons

Hastings is about an hour east of Brighton (depending on the notoriously changeable A27 traffic) and offers a perfect escape from bustling city life. With a shingle beach, amusement arcades, fresh seafood and a picturesque old town, Hastings feels wonderfully retro and unpretentious.

Start by exploring the narrow lanes and half-timbered houses of the Old Town, with St. Clements Caves and Hastings Castle ruins atop the West Hill. The Hastings Country Park overlooks the sea, a tranquil spot for walking, birdwatching and pausing to take in the sea air.

No trip to Hastings is complete without time spent on the beach. Go for a swim in the sea, fly a kite, or sunbathe while enjoying fish and chips or an ice cream. Check out the amusement arcades along the seafront, grab 2p pieces and enjoy old-school games.

5. Battle

Battle Abbey near Brighton is a great place to visit
By WyrdLight.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, WikiCommons

It was here in 1066 that William, the Duke of Normandy, invaded England and fought King Harold’s army in the pivotal Battle of Hastings. Today, Battle is a living monument to that watershed moment that shaped the nation.

Start at Battle Abbey and the battlefield, where the remains of the abbey William built after his conquest stand on the very site where thousands of Anglo-Saxons and Normans clashed and Harold was defeated. You can still see the undulating landscape that gave William’s archers the advantage in the fight. Interactive exhibits and reenactments bring the day of the battle to life.

The charming village surrounding the battlefield revels in its history, with ruins, museums and streets named after key characters from 1066. After exploring the past, stop in at one of the cafes or restaurants for lunch – on a sunny day, enjoy it al fresco in view of the lush Sussex countryside that was witness to the end of an era.

While Brighton itself offers a buzzing nightlife that’s perfect for its student population, with its own eccentric shopping districts and of course seaside attractions, it’s definitely worth venturing further. You’ll be rewarded with a wealth of culture, adventure and unforgettable scenery. There’s nothing quite like exploring the English countryside on a sunny afternoon or strolling through the cobbled streets of an ancient village. The question is, which of the places near Brighton see are you going to visit first?

If you’re happy to travel a little further to make it more of a holiday, then why not check out our cheapest staycation ideas across the UK? Some aren’t too far from Brighton while others might be a little longer to get to. But they’re some of the best holidays to go on while sticking to a student budget.