Craving some fresh air? Whether you’re longing for a weekend away or simply a day out to reconnect with nature – the South Downs National Park has everything you need to truly immerse yourself in the countryside. With 3,300 kilometres of walking routes through some of the most stunning scenery in the south, prepare for an adventure which has something for families, groups and couples alike.
Although it’s England’s newest National Park, having been established in March 2010, the South Downs National Park is home to a number of globally important habitats - including Lowland Heath, where you can find an abundance of wildlife and shrubbery. So if you’re a nature lover, the South Downs National Park should be on the top of your bucket list to explore! Read on to find out more about the South Downs National Park, including how to get there and the different activities available.
The South Downs National Park covers 1,627 square kilometres in southern England, stretching from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east through the counties of Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex.
If you’re travelling from London to the South Downs, avoid the hassle of traffic and enjoy a comfortable journey on our SWR services. There is a regular service from London Waterloo and Clapham Junction which will get you from London to the South Downs National Park. Trains from London Waterloo to Winchester will take about an hour, and to get to the heart of the South Downs the train from London Waterloo to Liss takes about 90 minutes.
Things to do in the South Downs
There is an abundance of activities to keep you occupied and entertained in the South Downs, no matter if you’re in search of family activities or more romantic adventures. Whether you’d prefer to take your kids on a wholesome walk through the wildlife, or perhaps an amble through vineyards with your partner – there is truly something for everyone.
Come rain or shine, the South Downs is the ideal place for a spot of walking. The South Downs Way National Trial stretches for around 100 miles from the ancient cathedral city of Winchester through to the Seven Sisters and the Beach Head in Eastbourne. With every mile more breath-taking than the last, this trail is not to be missed.
If you’re in the mood for a shorter excursion, there are plenty of shorter walking trails which allow you to save some time without compromising on scenery. There are two circular walks starting from Cooksbridge or Lewes which may be better suited to little legs on family adventures, while the Heritage Coastal Walks through the Seven Sister Country Park are great for those after a longer journey.
Wildlife and landscape
The South Downs National Park is an ever-evolving landscape that is well-known for its diversity. You can find everything from chalk grassland, where wildlife species such as the Adonis blue thrive, to English heaths that are home to snakes and lizards of all varieties.
A wander through the habitats of the South Downs will be sure to blow you away! For an extra special treat, don’t forget to visit Woolmer Forest. As the only place in the country to house all 12 of the UK’s native amphibian and reptile species, it’s a must for any wildlife lovers.
There are so many ways to explore the National Park, and if you don’t feel like walking, why not explore on a bike or even on horseback? With 1,200 km of car-free bridleways across the National Park, you can safely explore miles of leafy country lanes and old railway trails whilst relishing the serenity of the landscape. You can hire your bikes from lots of cycle hire companies around the National Park, or if you have your own, then bring them along aboard our services.
If you feel like getting active, why not head to Cuckmere Haven or Lewes to try out some kayaking or paddle boarding with this beautiful landscape as a backdrop.
Stargazers will be interested to know that the South Downs National Park was granted International Dark Sky Reserve status, making it one of the best places in the country to view the night sky.
Whilst visitors can marvel at the stars all year round, there is also an annual Dark Skies Festival which promises two weeks of cosmic fun for all! From star parties and stargazing talks to photo opportunities and a range of family activities, it’s certainly a sight to behold.
With over 5,000 listed buildings and 166 Conservation Areas, the South Downs is a haven for history buffs. There are dozens of fascinating historical villages which lie at the foot of the chalk scarp, and the market towns of Lewes and Petworth are also worth a visit if you fancy brushing up on your facts.
Tips for enjoying the South Downs
- If possible, leave your car at home and immerse yourself in the wildlife experience without it. If you do choose to bring your car, park only in the designated carparks, and don’t stray from the road if you are driving through the National Park
- Don’t light any fires or barbeques in the park so you don’t risk damaging this beautiful reserve
- If you’re travelling with a dog, keep them on a lead around any livestock. If you feel your pup might become agitated around cattle, give them some extra breathing room for both to be on the safe side
- Stick to the trails and follow the designated walking paths to see the best views. This is also a good way to avoid ticks - but make sure you remain aware of them and check yourself regularly
- There are a number of designated campsites in the area, but try to stick to these areas as wild camping isn’t allowed in the park
Food and drinks
With dining options to suit even the pickiest of eater, you don’t have to compromise on delicious food during your visit to the South Downs. Whether you’re on the hunt for a bustling brewery or a delicious meal, all visitors will be spoilt for choice.
If you’re bringing your own food, then searching for a picturesque picnic spot has never been easier. Head up to St Catherine’s Hills for views over the city of Winchester, or find a perch on the Seven Sisters cliffs for a perfect lunchtime backdrop.
Those in the mood for a heartier meal after a day of exploring can make the most of one of the many restaurants located in and around the South Downs. Pizza lovers should head to Pi Pizza, while for some outstanding European cuisine, Annie Jones is what you’re after. For some classic pub grub, head to The Mucky Duck Winchester or The Bridge Inn and tuck in!
If you’re looking for a caffeine buzz before heading off on the trails, try Josie’s or Turtle Bean for the ultimate brew. After all the activity, take a tea break in Freida’s Tearoom or head to Hemmingway’s for a cake to give you a much-needed sugar boost.
Whether you fancy yourself a wine connoisseur or are partial to a pint, there are plenty of vineyards and breweries to choose from. Head to Rathfinney Estate or Ridgeview for a delightful wine-tasting experience, or choose between Langham Brewery and Long Man Brewery (or head to both!) for the ultimate brewery experience.
Places to stay in the South Downs
There are many accommodation options available in the South Downs, and no matter your group size or preference, there is something to suit everyone.
If you fancy trying your hand at camping, there are a number of designated campsites tucked into this beautiful landscape. Pitch a tent at South Downs Caravans and Campsite, or pull up at Morn Hill Caravan and Motorhome Club Campsite for all the facilities you need to ensure you enjoy your night.
For those who wish to live in luxury, book a room (or a suite!) at the Old Thorns Manor Hotel Golf & Course or rest your feet at The Winchester Royal Hotel. Not willing to break the bank? There are a number of comfortable stays at affordable prices in the Holiday Inn Winchester or in the Travelodge Portsmouth.
Nothing beats a good B&B, and the South Downs has a number of stays which are perfect for your weekend away. Get a room at the Old Drum, Harpers, or Perfect for Petersfield and rest up before you get your adventure underway.
South Downs National Park accessibility
The South Downs National Park has trails which are catered to everyone with their ‘Miles Without Stiles’ routes accessible to all. Whether you have a pushchair or a wheelchair, everyone can enjoy the beauty of the landscape on these trails.