Hattie Lloyd 14/07/23
So, yes, Hastings’ most famous visitor ended up with an arrow in the eye and a ruinous defeat that led to the entire English kingdom falling into French power.
But bear with us.
It’s a charming destination for a long weekend spent taking restorative dips in the sea, bracing walks along the front, and facing your own ruinous defeat at the hands of Goat Ledge’s booze-laced Turbo Hot Chocolates.
The neighbouring town of St Leonards is fast developing its own bohemian, artistic spirit, with independent galleries, shops and cinemas to dip into; top-tier seafood restaurants and cosy cafés to huddle up in. And being on a particularly picturesque stretch of the Sussex coastline, it also makes a good base for a day trip to Rye, too.
Here’s our guide to the best places to eat, drink, stay and amuse yourself on a trip to Hastings and St Leonards…
JUMP TO: WHERE TO STAY | WHERE TO EAT | WHERE TO GET COFFEE | WHERE TO DRINK | WHAT TO DO
Marina Beach House
We’ve put together a whole list of excellent places to stay in Hastings & St Leonards, but our top vote has to go to Marina Beach House. This entire two-bed apartment will be yours for the weekend (or week – it’s that inviting), and comes with everything you could need for a seaside getaway: a kitchen with all mod-cons, a luxurious tub to soak in, and, of course, amazing sea views through the floor-to-ceiling bay windows. It’s literally a 45 second walk to the beach – you couldn’t get any closer without getting your toes wet.
This once run-down 1860s pub is now under the steer of St. John and Moro alums James Hickson and Sam Coxhead – and it’s one of St Leonards’ crowning glories. Their idea of a modern gastropub involves dark mossy green walls, vintage aperitif posters, a blackboard announcing the week’s guest ales, and a menu of seasonally-led dishes with some of that quintessentially St John’s rough-and-ready British sensibility at its core. Braised lamb with spelt, turnip tops, wild garlic & mustard; coley with pink fir potatoes & samphire; ox-tongue with salmoriglio for the more adventurous – it’s all here, all delicious, and the Michelin Bib Gourmand attests to that.
Details: 1 St Johns Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, TN37 6HP | Book here
St Clements has kept St Leonards well-fed for over 15 years now, and feels like it could easily do twice again. Seafood fans can’t miss it while they’re in town; the menu entirely depends on what’s dredged from Neptune’s depths each day (Hastings apparently has the largest fleet of day fishing boats in the country). Feast on mussels steamed in local cider; grilled sardines with fried bread and toasted walnuts; and fat, pan-fried scallops served with sweet chilli sauce, before mopping up anything left on your plate with the complimentary basket of fresh soda bread. It’s warm, inviting, and thoroughly unpretentious – much like its sticky toffee pudding.
Details: 3 Mercatoria, St Leonards, TN38 0EB | Book here
Small plates and natural wines are becoming as classic a combo as fish & chips, but without the added jeopardy of a seagull threatening to snatch it away at any moment. So for your own safety, make for Farmyard: a gorgeously rustic spot with bare brick walls, candles stuffed into old bottles, and a library of organic & biodynamic wines designed to be savoured over a small banquet. The menu here is made with ingredients grown and reared nearby in Sussex and Kent, with sustainability at its heart. So you should almost certainly adopt a zero-waste mindset when tucking into plates like salt marsh lamb shoulder with anchovy crumb and feta; raclette on toast with french mustard; and salt-baked celeriac with Cashel Blue and hazelnuts.
Details: 52 Kings Road, St Leonards on Sea, TN37 6DY | Book here or just walk-in
…might seem like an incongruous fit for the restaurants section, but then this is an incongruous place. Set on the historic George Street in Hastings, Boulevard is a Thai restaurant hidden inside a second-hand bookshop. Tables are crammed into book-lined nooks and tucked under old wooden beams, where you can get stuck into stir-fried aubergine with Thai holy basil; kai kra paow (stir fried chicken) and spicy beef curry with Kaffir lime leaves. It’s BYOB, and a two-course menu won’t set you back much more than £20 – and if it all sounds too good to be true, then prepare to eat your words.
Details: 32 George Street, Hastings, TN34 3EA | Book via instagram
If anywhere has the power to pull you in just by looking through the window, it’s Galleria. This ambitious seafood spot opened in summer 2020, and, miraculously, survived the rollercoaster of lockdowns to become a fixture of the restaurant scene in St. Leonards. Chef and co-owner Gianluca Tozzi brings two things to the table; 1) an upbringing in Puglia, which informs much of the menu, and 2) close relationships with local fishers to put the best catch on your plate. As for the other things he brings to the table, well, they look a lot like creamy clam & fennel linguine; smoked mackerel pâté and mascarpone on sourdough; and panettone bread & butter pudding.
Details: 39 Norman Road, St Leonards on Sea, TN38 0EG | Book here
Three Faces of Del Parc
The menu at this intimate tapas restaurant is almost impossible to choose from – aubergine with chilli, mint & whipped feta; Ibérico jamon croquetas with aioli; goat’s cheese with orange blossom honey & pickled fig; and wine-soaked king prawns all feature. Thankfully, you won’t have to make any decisions here: all you have to do is tell them any dietary requirements and they’ll take care of the rest, bringing you a steady stream of delicious tapas until you’re full and finishing with a wafer thin mint. And if you’re wondering where the tasting menu format comes from, the owners’ stints at The Clove Club and Lyle’s might have had something to do with it…
Details: 1 Western Road, St Leonards, TN37 6DG | Book via [email protected]
Hoof it down to Goat Ledge for a bit of everything – ice cream, coffee, fish finger baps with pencil fries, you name it. It’s shacked up in a row of kaleidoscopic beach huts right on the seafront, with a little stretch of pier reaching almost down to the waves. Stop by in summer for outrageous sundaes and an ice-cold cider, or take a White Russian hot chocolate for a long walk along the beach in winter.
Details: Lower Promenade, Warrior Square, St Leonards TN37 6FA
This independent café will take you from breakfast, to lunch, to rum punch. It’s run by husband and wife team Lu Biggs and Ray Manning, who have managed to create a space that’s not only home to some slap-up grub (try their famous Yardie pasties), but a genuine community spirit, with spontaneous conversations, poetry readings and occasional dancing. Lu was an actual flavour scientist in her past life, pouring her expertise into the changing menu, while Ray takes care of the live music and vinyl selection.
Details: 235 London Rd, Saint Leonards, TN37 6LU
Starsky & Hatch
Carry on along the beach from Goat Ledge, heading towards Hastings, and duck into Bottle Alley, the faded concrete promenade hugging the beach. Just before hitting the pier, you’ll stumble across Starsky & Hatch, who are turning out some truly surprising things from their modest seaside hole-in-the-wall. They’re open from early in the morning for coffee, when you can watch the sunrise over the sea with a quality cinnamon bun, but on summery weekends they often have DJs and live bands taking over the festoon-lit terrace while they serve up Sri Lankan curries; avocado crumpets; smoked mackerel on sourdough and more.
Details: Bottle Alley, Eversfield Place, TN37 6FD
This is St Leonards’ Sleeper hit: a bagel factory that serves piping hot doughy rings fresh out of the oven each morning. At lunchtime they stuff them with classic fillings like lox and, er, crisps, but you’re going to want to get there in the morning for breakfast numbers like sausage with fried egg & crispy onions; marmalade & cornflake; and banana with nutella, cream cheese and Biscoff. And no, going at breakfast time shouldn’t preclude you from finishing with one of their custard soft serves topped with chocolate sauce and a cinnamon & sugar bagel crumb…
Details: 47 Kings Road, Saint Leonards, TN37 6DY | Open Wed-Sat, 8.30am-2.30pm
Hanushka Coffee House
Hastings has a thing, it would seem, for quaint dining establishments set in second-hand bookstores. At Hanushka Coffee House, you’ll be surprised to hear, the focus is not on Thai food but coffee, cakes, and pastries. It’s pretty spacious, too, with plenty of outdoor seating shaded by a cheery awning out front, and dozens of tables inside set with old-fashioned reading lamps – perfect for leafing through the paged with a slice of coffee & walnut cake.
Details: 28 George Street, Hastings, TN34 3EA
Fika @ 44
Fika: 1) a British word of exasperation when trying to put together an Ikea chest of drawers. 2) a Swedish word for a coffee & cake break, considered by many to be a vital part of the day. And after a visit to Fika in St Leonards – where you can devour espresso banana bread with mascarpone and blackberry compote; giant butterbeans on grilled cheese sourdough; and cinnamon buns bigger than your fist – you’ll probably agree.
Details: 44 Kings Rd, Saint Leonards-on-sea TN37 6DY
Bottle of Hastings
Almost winning a spot on this list for the name alone, this bottle shop comes to you from The Royal’s James Hickson and his partner, Gina Hewitt. Together they’ve sourced a fine collection of over 300 interesting wines, mostly hailing from Europe, which they all seem to know personally – and the tiny countertop looking out the window of the shop is the perfect spot for you to get to know some of them, too. They also host regular wine tasting nights, giving you a laid-back introduction to different grapes and styles.
Details: 91 Queens Road, Hastings TN34 1RL
The First In Last Out
The FILO is a proper, old-fashioned boozer. The kind with cosy booths, with sleepy dogs and board games, with smiling staff and a giant crackling fire roaring away like some sort of Viking beacon in the centre of the room. Except with home-brewed ales and CAMRA-approved suds instead of dodgy lagers; an Indian thali menu, roasts and daily filo pies (of course) instead of overpriced fish & chips; and a lively programme of live music and pub quizzes instead of fruit machines. Actually, it’s nothing like an old-fashioned boozer at all.
Details: 14-15 High Street, Old Town, Hastings, TN34 3EY
If you were concerned that St. Leonards didn’t have a vermouth bar in a corner of a market set in an old bank, then we’re pleased to put your mind at ease. Wermut (‘ver-moot’) specialises in bitters, aperitivi and vermouths, often sourced from small-batch and local producers. Here you’ll encounter all your classic pre-dinner concoctions like Aperol and Campari spritzes, but also their most dangerous invention yet: negroni slushies.
Details: Heist, 22-26 Norman Rd, Saint Leonards, TN37 6NH
Even if you’re not a tequila fan, this place is worth a shot. It’s an art deco styled cocktail den specialising in agave spirits, which get whisked into concoctions like mezcal negronis alongside the usual margaritas and palomas. Of course, if you’re a serious student you can also sip the stuff neat, with tequilas ranging from blanco to extra añejo; a brace of mezcals; and even a drop of raicilla, a once-banned kind of moonshine made in Jalisco that’s finally getting its time in the spotlight.
Details: 33 – 35 Western Road, Saint Leonards, TN37 6DJ
Craft beer, natural wine and local artwork exist in perfect harmony in this stylishly stripped-back bottle shop & bar. Founders Kate Vincent and Eliot Jones are true acolytes of the stuff, hand-selecting every can and bottle that goes on the shelves (and into the four wall taps that fill up take-away growlers perfect for a beach picnic). And the art exhibitions – ranging from floral installations to dramatic seascapes – are almost worth a visit in themselves.
Details: 6-8 London Road, Saint Leonards, TN37 6AE
Graze on Grand
As you’ll have guessed from the name, Graze on Grand is a great place to eat, with a European-leaning menu of dishes like Catalan cod with romesco sauce and salsa verde; burrata with muscat grapes; and chorizo & white bean stew. But as you’ll notice on walking in, the walls are also adorned with dozens of wine bottles (and local artwork) – both of which you can enjoy by candlelight as you watch the sun setting over the sea through the enormous front window.
Details: 16 Grand Parade, Saint Leonards, TN37 6DN | Book on 01424 439 736
St Leonards Beach
After an hour or two in St. Leonards, it’s unlikely that the giant blue wet thing stretching the length of the town has escaped your notice. The beach here is a mix of sand and shingle, while the clean blue waters are irresistible on a hot day. Spend some time on the shore with something delicious from Goat Ledge, then walk along the concrete promenade towards Hastings. The Stade right at the end is Europe’s oldest fishing beach, and has kiosks hawking fresh seafood alongside the fishermen’s old clapboard huts where they once dried their nets.
St Leonards Town
Just walking around St. Leonards makes for a nice change of scene. From the beach you can’t miss the Grade II listed Marine Court, an art deco seafront apartment block whose curving balconies were designed to mimic a cruise ship. For something more genteel, take in the town’s elegant Regency terraces (part of architects James and Decimus Burton’s mission to create ‘Bloomsbury-on-Sea’). Fresh off designing Regent’s Park, Decimus had a vision to bring green space down here too, and completed the picturesque St Leonards Gardens in 1828.
Kino Teatr has survived two world wars, a stint as a builders’ merchants, and a planning application to operate as a sex cinema. It’s now an independently run (and PG) picture house, owned by a couple of art dealers. That means the programme here goes way beyond just cinema – they also offer live flamenco performances; ‘jazz breakfasts’; spoken word nights, TED-style talks; theatre shows and more.
Details: 43-49 Norman Road, St. Leonards, TN38 0EG
Go On A Gallery Crawl
St Leonards is a town of artists. And if you put the place’s galleries together, they’d probably give the Tate Modern a run for its money. Big Yin is a Black-owned contemporary gallery that champions diversity in art; Lucy Bell exhibits (and sells) iconic photography prints by the likes of Terry O’Neill and Brian Aris; while Project 78 picks out exciting emerging artists with a sharp curatorial eye.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to owning a piece of art just yet, pick up a souvenir from one of the many independent shops in St Leonards instead. Vintage magpies should head to Kings Road in the town centre; here you’ll find restored furniture at Pass Muster; mid-century finds next door at Twisted King; and retro bits and bobs at Calneva, while dozens of stalls hawking hand-made ceramics, vintage treasures, plants and more pop up for the King’s Road Street Market on the first Saturday of every month. It’s also worth venturing over to Sunless on Norman Street for antique workwear, if that’s your thing, and Arthur Green’s, an antique shop crammed into a perfectly preserved Edwardian gentlemen’s outfitters. Also on Kings Road is Introduced, a pop-up shop with a rotating guest list of interesting new brands, and a fortnightly makers’ market at no. 48.
Hastings West Hill
If you only do one thing when you head along the beach to Hastings, make it a ramble up to West Hill… because it’s kind of a four-in-one. Up here you can look out to sea and over the rooftops alongside the ruinous old castle that’s been staring across the horizon for 1000 years. To get there, wend your way up through the ‘Twittens’ (winding back streets with stairs up the hill’s steep slopes), or ride the near-vertical West Hill Lift, a funicular railway that still uses the original wooden carriages from 1891.
Hastings Country Park
Starting over on East Hill, this enormous nature reserve stretches for three miles along the coast, with amazing views across the sea. Grab an ice cream from Di Pola’s to fuel your ascent, and venture across grassy clifftops; through sun-dappled woodland; and past fairytale waterfalls in Fairlight Glen. Walk the full length to reach the village of Fairlight, and hole up at The Cove, a newly revamped pub with an ex-St Clements chef.
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