ONCE nicknamed God’s waiting room, Eastbourne is shaking off its fusty image with a bunch of boutique hotels, cool coffee shops and live music venues.
Squeezed between brash, boho Brighton and arty party town Hastings, it has often been seen as the prim older sister of the Sussex seaside towns. Until now.
For the Victorian resort has won the top spot on Time Out’s The Best Place To Visit In 2023 list, and posh publishing giant Conde Nast has named it one of the UK’s Best Places To Go next year.
Growing up in Sussex, Eastbourne was a regular haunt for me and my friends, shopping at The Arndale Centre — out partying at Roxy’s on the pier or riding the flumes at the Sovereign Centre pool.
And while the silver-hair brigade still pootle along the prom, the demographic has got decidedly younger as the town attracts young families and millennials away from London with its good-value housing and excellent schools.
Claiming to be the sunniest town in England, Eastbourne is perfect for a beachy weekend away. Stay at the Port — a black-clad boutique hotel on Royal Parade, and a far cry from the fusty hotels of Eastbourne past.
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It has stylish rooms, a trendy cocktail bar and a smart restaurant which serves a cracking brunch with dishes such as Sussex trout royale.
In January it is getting in on the latest craze for pop-up beach saunas by collaborating with Samphire Sauna, a wood-fired wellness experience in a converted horse box.
Spend an afternoon pottering around Little Chelsea, a boho clutch of Victorian streets a few roads back from the seafront. It is packed with independent shops such as Camilla’s Bookshop, the Little Chelsea Antiques Emporium and cool cafes such as Beanzz Coffee & Kitchen.
My favourite haunt is Printers Playhouse, a quirky little live music and theatre venue on Grove Road.
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Naturally, there is no shortage of fine drinking establishments either. Behind its colourful facade, the Dew Drop Inn in the town centre is a fun place to meet the locals.
Always dog-friendly, it has a marvellous gin collection and knocks out top-notch burgers, including vegetarian and vegan options.
After lunch, head to Eastbourne’s pretty Old Town, where Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor at Pilgrims House, one of the oldest houses in England. He probably had a few bevvies in the Lamb Inn, which has been serving the folk of Eastbourne since the 12th century.
A little farther west between the town and Beachy Head is Meads village, “where the Downs meet the sea”.
It’s close to the start of the South Downs Way, a 100-mile walking route from Eastbourne to Winchester, which this year celebrated its 50th birthday as a national trail.
Walk along it to Beachy Head and down to East Dean for lunch at the 16th-century Tiger Inn. See the blue plaque dedicated to Sherlock Holmes, who retired to the village, according to crime-fiction fans.
Back in Eastbourne, film buffs will flock to the 2023 Crossing The Screen International Film Festival (March 3 to 5) at the Grove Theatre.
June is all about tennis, as the Devonshire Park club hosts the annual Rothesay International tournament (June 25 to July 1), a prestigious pre-Wimbledon event.
The Beach Life Music Festival (July 15 and 16) is a weekend of live music, street food and watersports, while Airbourne, Eastbourne’s famed airshow, below, takes wing from August 17 to 20.
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But the highlight of next year will be the Towner Art Gallery’s centenary, with Towner 100 a series of exhibitions throughout year culminating in the 2023 Turner Prize in September.
Forget God’s waiting room, Time Out is right — Eastbourne is the hottest spot in the South.
GETTING THERE: Open returns from London Victoria to Eastbourne are from £42. See thetrainline.com.
STAYING THERE: Double rooms at The Port Hotel are from £89 per night, room only. See porthotel.co.uk.
MORE INFO: See visiteastbourne.com.
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