A friendly bistro in a stripped-back former pub, keeping it local with a menu that features Dungeness crab and marsh lamb, plus a selection of 28-day aged steaks. Save room for the dark chocolate mousse or the blowtorched Burwash rose, one of Sussex’s most celebrated cheeses.
Arrive hungry at this street food inspired little joint with an industrial, bare-brick-and corrugated-metal interior. Build your dream dish from a menu that includes a fabulously dirty burger piled with smoky pulled pork, a local lamb gyros pitta and a scampi sub roll, plus sides that are far more than a mere afterthought, including BBQ beans, slaw and rosemary fries. There’s a vegan burger, too, plus a kids’ menu. Take out available.
Every town needs a no-nonsense, family-friendly Italian, and this is Rye’s, serving pizza and pasta galore, plus seasonal specials. It’s probably Rye’s most child-friendly restaurant – the colouring-in sheets and crayons are in place a millisecond after you’ve sat down, there’s a crowd-pleasing kids’ menu, and the staff take the time to check things like whether you’d like your children’s food to come out of the kitchen first.
All your drinking requirements are catered for in Rye. Ancient beamed bars and historic pubs (most of them freehouses) serve local beers, fine wines, and good food. We’ve drunk in all of them but these are the ones we go back to.
‘The Wipers’ has such a pretty run-up – through cobbly Church Square, past the 14th-century Ypres Tower, before descending down the ancient Gun Garden steps. By the time you set eyes on its white clapboard exterior, you’ll be thirsty for a pint. This is also the only pub in the citadel with a proper beer garden, which overlooks the river and Romney Marsh.
Craft beer lovers will enjoy the quickly changing roster of beers (some local, but many from London’s small breweries) plus there’s real cider and low-intervention wine. The snacks are ace and there’s a small but tasty menu to accompany the booze.
One of Rye’s most ancient drinking establishments (it dates to the early 15th century), this is a fashionably stripped-back pub, with a tiled floor, bare-wood window frames and scrubbed wooden tables, softened by distressed blue paintwork. Candles, an open fire and some wonkily beautiful beamwork add to the atmosphere; this is a place for loud, buzzy conversation, not hushed tones, just as a pub should be.
The bar serves beer from nearby breweries including Five Legs and Old Dairy, and the food includes local fish and seafood (the scallops with herb butter never leave the menu), Romney Marsh lamp rump and a pie of the day.
Originally built as Rye’s pump house, this charming little building has had several guises since, including as a soup kitchen in the early 20th century, public toilets, and most recently an antiques emporium. Its current use suits it very well, as a micropub serving only local ales and ciders, including Three Legs, New Romney and Hop Fuzz. This intimate and very friendly spot is a go-to for a quick drink before an evening meal, a pint outside in the sunshine watching the world go by, or a bit more of a session.
The antiques shop (sort of) lives on, in that many of the pieces of furniture and objects that adorn the interior are for sale.
This very pretty weatherboarded pub is more of an informal restaurant, with an emphasis on local food. The interior is partly inspired by the rustic shepherd’s huts that pepper Romney Marsh (hence the corrugated-steel walls) and partly by the area’s maritime history (lobster pots turned into pendant lights).
The atmosphere is warm and the menu is extensive, from local fish and meat to ‘bonfire’ pizzas and imaginative dishes for vegetarians. Drinks include wine and beer from nearby Chapel Down and Gusbourne. The attractive raised terrace at the side is a good spot for an outdoor drink in a town that’s a little starved of beer gardens.
An alehouse since medieval times, the Mermaid’s cellars date from the 12th century, although what you see now is a mere 700 years old or so, with thick beams, elegant panelling and crooked floors.
Now a popular hotel – famously reputed to be haunted by the smugglers that used to hang out here in the 18th century – it also has an extraordinary lounge bar, dominated by an enormous inglenook ‘giant’s fireplace’, so big that it even accommodates a priest’s hole in the chimney breast.
The uniformed bar staff serve local ale and cider and there’s a good wine list. It’s a particularly welcome spot on a cold night, or after a big walk.
Originally a 16th-century warehouse that stored the contraband seized from smugglers, The Ship is now a family friendly pub and dining room, owned by Kentish winery Hush Heath. Enjoy its own Balfour English wines alongside an all-day dining menu of gastropub crowd-pleasers.
Refresh and refuel with a stop-off at one of Rye’s cafes and tea shops.
An all-day dining spot in one of Rye’s loveliest buildings, a 16th-century house with a handsome Georgian frontage. As well as serving breakfast and lunch, it is also a base for The Lazy Baker, who sells the most delicious bread over the counter; the bread is also a significant feature of the menu, from eggs benedict on sourdough for breakfast to healthy and hearty sandwiches.
The two dining areas feature original fireplaces and Elizabethan panelling, contrasting with chic modern furniture and lighting.
Occupying a prime spot at the foot of pretty Mermaid Street, this cafe could be thoroughly mediocre and still turn a profit – but thankfully, it’s a little wonder, with jolly, slightly beachy decor that’s thoroughly welcoming.
The front counter groans with cakes, pastries and other treats; pop in for a takeaway coffee or ice-cream, or take a seat for a great breakfast (prepared by the hotel kitchen upstairs), a cream tea or a light lunch – the Scotch eggs are recommended.
You can get fish and chips in loads of places in Rye, but (after extensive research) we think this is the best. In addition to being a takeaway it has a licensed restaurant. If you’re taking away, jump the queue on a Friday night by ordering online and collecting.
Pop down to the harbour for a fry-up or lunch at this little cafe. It does the full English and various breakfast permutations, plus family-friendly food like burgers and paninis at lunch. You can burn it off afterwards with a walk round the Rye Habour nature reserve next door.
Set on a tiny cobbled side-street, this is the place to go for the traditional afternoon tea treatment. A good selection of loose-leaf teas are served, along with cakes, scones and light lunches such as toasties and jacket potatoes. There’s a little garden out the back to enjoy it all.
Immerse yourself in Rye’s centuries of history: climb a medieval church tower, visit Henry James’s home, or play on the penny arcades. Then head to the harbour for quiet beaches, wild walks and coastal birdlife.
A separate town to Rye itself, Rye Harbour is where the River Rother spills into the sea.
The nature reserve here, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, consists of more than a thousand acres of shingle, saltmarsh, salty lagoons and reedbeds. It’s best-known for its breeding birdlife, including roseate tern, ringed plover, lapwing and redshank, but the area is great for a walk at any time of year – in early summer, coastal plants such as sea pea bring lots of colour. A network of footpaths cross the reserve.
A new Discovery Centre, with shop, cafe, educational facilities and viewing area, is due to open in spring 2021.
An attraction of two halves, Rye Castle Museum encompasses the medieval Ypres Tower, built as part of the town’s defences; and an exhibition area a short walk away on East Street.
The East Street site’s eclectic mix of objects includes the town’s 18th-century fire-engine – its leather hoses still in tact – old toys and games, and ancient pottery.
The tower, used as a gaol for hundreds of years, is a more atmospheric affair with steep, uneven steps and the grisly little cells that were used to keep prisoners. The view from the top is rather good.