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Galleries, gigs and cafes: why Eastbourne is the next hip coastal destination | The magic of train travel

Lothar Götz, Dance Diagonal, Brewers Towner Commission. Towner Eastbourne, 2019.

The Towner Gallery, home to exhibitions, film screenings and creative workshops.
Photograph: Eva Eastman

The south-east’s seaside hubs have been undergoing something of a renaissance of late, from trendy Margate with its creative ex-London crowd, to Hastings with its burgeoning art and dining scene. Hot on their heels is Eastbourne, which has been quietly reinventing itself over the past few years. A postcard-pretty town braced against the dramatic English coast, it’s home to arty cinemas and theatre spaces, cool bars and trendy shopping quarters, away from the bustle of neighbouring Brighton. Here’s why you should pay it a visit.

Towner Art Gallery
Gleaming like a pearl against Eastbourne’s Victorian seafront architecture, the modernist Towner Gallery – with its fantastical rainbow-painted façade – is one of the most interesting buildings in town. What’s happening inside is pretty captivating too, with a lineup of fascinating exhibitions, film screenings and creative workshops. Founded in 1923, the Towner has actually been collecting and exhibiting modern art for almost 100 years and houses pieces from agenda-setting artists including Grayson Perry, Wolfgang Tillmans and Eric Ravilious, whose unique, sweeping style captures the beauty of the surrounding South Downs.

Printers Playhouse
A pocket-sized art hub tucked between shops on lively Grove Road, the Printers Playhouse opened in 2015 as proof of Eastbourne’s growing alternative scene. The understated venue – with an acoustic stage downstairs and theatre space on the first floor – plays host to comedy nights, live music from local bands and some cutting-edge theatre (as well as lively open mic nights that draw in the locals). There’s also an in-house “Ukulele Army”, which meets for communal strumming every Tuesday night (novices welcome).

Eastbourne Pier as seen from the beach.

Eastbourne’s Victorian pier offers all the seaside classics, from an amusement arcade to fish and chips. Photograph: Simon Holdcroft/Alamy

Eastbourne Pier
There’s nothing quite like a bit of salty English tradition and Eastbourne’s pier offers old-school seaside glamour in spades (excuse the pun). Crunch your way across the pebbly beach, keeping your eyes peeled for the starlings that swoosh across the skies, and you’ll soon find yourself at the focal point: the Victorian-era pier, built between 1866 and 1872. As well as a retro amusement arcade, the pier is home to a smattering of eateries including the Victorian Tea Rooms for satisfying cream teas, and The Chippy for traditional vinegar-slathered fish and chips with mushy peas.

Sovereign Harbour Marina
If people-watching is your thing, take a stroll around the waterfront at Sovereign Harbour marina, northern Europe’s largest composite marina complex and a veritable hive of activity. Settle into one of its many cafes for glittering water views and an ice-cream sundae – the strawberry delight at Di Lieto’s coffee lounge is a hot weather winner – or take to the water for a 30-minute marina boat trip. You’ll also find an urban beach, a spring market and a petanque court for working off any competitive energy. Just make sure you have enough left in the tank for a turn around the harbour walking route – a meandering labyrinth of paths, lochs and bridges, perfect for a crisp spring day.

Striped deck-chairs in a semi circle around the bandstand on the promenade at Eastbourne in Sussex

Deckchairs around the bandstand. Photograph: Alamy

Eastbourne Bandstand
So much more than just a humble bandstand, this Eastbourne institution is known for hosting more live events than any other bandstand in the country. Combining old with new, its traditional blue-domed roof, swirling sea views and 1,400 seats, make it a striking backdrop against which raucous rock’n’roll gigs, haunting acoustic performances and soul-rousing choral evenings have taken place. The stand also has connections to the Titanic, as one of its past band members, John Wesley Woodward, who took his best cello on the ship’s maiden voyage, died alongside the other musicians on the ill-fated journey. You’ll find a plaque dedicated to him here.

Little Chelsea
A clutch of streets near the town’s railway station, Little Chelsea stokes the flames of Eastbourne’s already-roaring indie scene. The vibrant shopping quarter – located at Grove Road and South Street – is filled with craft shops, cafes and an antiques emporium, making it a must-visit for those in search of secondhand trinkets, vintage fashion and classic vinyl. Book lovers should head to locals’ favourite, Camilla’s, a literary wonderland bursting with piles of secondhand books stacked floor-to-ceiling, while those with a penchant for boutique shopping will adore the Enterprise Centre – a former Victorian railway building hosting more than 50 independent shops and restaurants.

Pevensey Castle ruins, East Sussex, England.

Pevensey’s Norman castle, built by William the Conquerer. Photograph: Krys Bailey/Alamy

Pevensey Court House Museum and Gaol
History lovers, assemble. If you venture just beyond Eastbourne, you’ll come across Pevensey, the landing place of William the Conquerer and home to a Norman castle built by the man himself on the site of a Roman fort. History courses through the streets here and the town is also home to a former court house, gaol and town hall, which dates back to Tudor times. The house is set up like a living museum and still looks exactly as it did in 1886, meaning you can visit the prison cells (where, during the second world war, a captured German airman was held), take a look at the stocks and stroll around the exercise yard below. You’ll find all sorts of fascinating artefacts here, including dinosaur footprints, Roman coins and an embroidered replica of the Bayeux Tapestry Pevensey scene.

How to get there
Get to Eastbourne in just over an hour-and-a-half from London Victoria with Southern Railway
. Book direct at southernrailway.com and avoid any booking fees. Look for Super Off Peak and Off Peak fares which offer great value for money when you travel outside of peak times.

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