St Mary’s Church

The pyramid-shaped roof of St Mary’s church tower dominates the skyline for miles around. This is Rye’s oldest surviving building; begun in the 12th century, its size is a testament to how important the Norman town had become in the defence against the French.

The church is open every day. Its stained glass is a highlight (one of the windows was designed by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones), and the tower offers wonderful views over the rooftops and the marshes.

Running round the building’s perimeter is the picturesque Church Square, packed full of ancient timber-framed buildings.

Lamb House

Formerly the home of Henry James (and later EF Benson, author of the Mapp & Lucia books, set in a fictional version of Rye), this handsome early-18th-century house includes some of James’s possessions.

The large walled garden – unusual for Rye – offers a tranquil change of pace from the town’s narrow medieval streets. James used to write in the garden’s summerhouse, which was destroyed in the war.

Rye Heritage Centre

Strand Quay’s Heritage Centre is the gateway to finding out about Rye and its history.

There’s a town model, the focus of a 20-minute show with lighting and a commentary on Rye through the ages (hard to put into words… but it’s good), and a penny arcade where you can amuse yourself with novelties such as the famous Laughing Sailor.

This is also the place to hire an audio guide to take round the streets, or pick up a themed map (creative and literary; pubs and grub; saints and sinners; and ghosts and ghouls). The centre also runs winter ghost walks (dates are online) which includes a spell in the Ypres Tower in the dark, if you dare…


Rye has just a few chain shops and a lot of independents. Trawling its eclectic vintage/antique shops can take a day in itself, and many places present their wares beautifully, making the shopping experience itself a joy, regardless of whether you buy.

Strand antiques shops

Virtually every shop along this picturesque street leading down to the Quay sells second-hand goods (and, increasingly, faux second-hand goods); they’ve been lumped together here for reasons of space, but in reality they all have their individual charms. Some of our favourites include Halcyon Days for rustic furniture, upcycled using Annie Sloan’s fantastic chalk paints; quality vintage clothes at Tallulah & Rose; and the multi-tenanted rummage-fest that is The Quay Antiques.

Rye Pottery

Rye Pottery’s charming folk-infused ceramics are having a renaissance in a world newly appreciative of the decorative arts. It is best known for its hand-painted animals and figures, full of lively detail, and its mid-century tableware, including the classic Cottage Stripe design.

The fact that the pottery isn’t sold widely makes a visit to its shop-cum-studio even more of a must (head upstairs to see some of the making in action). As well as its own pieces it sells a small but well-curated selection of homewares and prints.

Rye Art Gallery

There’s nearly always something inspiring on at this highly regarded gallery, which combines a permanent collection of 19th- and 20th-century art, plus contemporary selling shows. The permanent collection includes works by John Piper, Paul Nash and Edward Burra (Burra and Nash were both Rye residents), while the pieces for sale crossover many media, from prints to jewellery to sculpture. It’s the perfect place to pick up a classy, memorable souvenir.

McCully & Crane

Gareth McCully and Marcus Crane’s interiors shop – and the interior design business that grew out of it – have a superbly eclectic aesthetic. Taxidermy, religious artefacts, industrial lighting and furniture, posters, signage and original artwork make up the mix in their small shop.

It packs a visual punch yet it’s perfectly balanced; nothing is too polished or precious, so there’s an informality to the overall look, even though it’s dramatically presented. A sister gallery right next door is dedicated to modern and contemporary art.

Merchant & Mills

“We love sewing and believe in it” say Carolyn Denham and Roderick Field, the duo behind this beautifully styled haberdashery shop. Even if you’ve never sat in front of a sewing machine, this place is still inspiring, with bolts of fabric (traditional wool, tweed, linen, muslin and denim) sitting next to perfectly packaged ‘sewing notions’ such as buttons, scissors and pins. A rack of clothes shows what you can do with Merchant & Mills’ own-brand patterns; the emphasis is on strong simple shapes and ease of making.

Grammar School Records

Tucked inside one the High Street’s most atmospheric red-brick buildings (as the name gives away, it used to be a school, built in the 17th century) is one of the UK’s best second-hand music shops. Chock full of vinyl (20,000 individual discs), CDs and DVDs, its massive selection is divided by genre to help give you a steer in the right direction, and the staff are nice and friendly. Take a punt on one of the £1 7-inch vinyl bundles, mysteriously wrapped in brown paper, then bring your lost treasures back to Bee Cottage to play on the record player!

The Queen’s Head Inn

A big, bustling freehouse with zero pretentions, the Queen’s Head is a lively locals’ pub, with pool table, piano and more than a few good pints. Stand at the bar, get comfy in a big squashy chairs around the stove or be seated for a meal.

The pub is becoming increasingly well known for its food, which is hearty and lovingly cooked from scratch on the premises.

There’s often live music on Saturdays.