From a thousand-year-old castle to the oldest brewery in Sussex, find out what to see and do in this pretty medieval town
While best known for its Bonfire Night festivities, there’s more to Lewes than flaming torches and burning barrels
Cradled in the heart of the South Downs National Park, this handsome town has a well-preserved historic centre and plenty of quirky independent shops, cafés and cosy pubs. At nearby Charleston you can even wander in the footsteps of the Bloomsbury bohemians. Use our guide to find out what to do with 48 hours in Lewes…
What to do
Start with a visit to the thousand-year-old castle, with panoramic views. Next, explore the town’s hilly High Street and steep, cobbled twittens (alleyways). Check out the Sussex Guild Shop & Gallery in the walled Grange Gardens at the bottom of vertiginous Keere Street (down which George IV is said to have driven a coach). And don’t miss the shop of venerable Harvey’s Brewery – the oldest in Sussex – where you can pick up Lewes pounds, the town’s own currency.
Where to eat
The original, ever-popular Bills was set up by local barrow boy Bill Collison in 2001. You’ll find varied and seasonal fare. Just along the road is Le Magasin bistro-café, with excellent Monmouth Coffee, sandwiches and fish specials.
Head to the newly opened Depot, a stylish independent cinema with attached café-restaurant, for a meal, including vegetarian options, and film, or eat in one of Lewes’s many excellent pubs: the cosy Pelham Arms on the High Street has its own smokehouse and microbrewery – share a platter with delicious home-cured meats.
Where to stay
£ The Corner House is a friendly B&B on a quiet Edwardian terrace, with two homely rooms. From £85.
££ Berkeley House occupies a Regency townhouse in the town centre and has three elegant rooms plus a small apartment. Rooms £95-£115, apartment £135.
Find out about Boundless cottages in the area and save 5% if you’re a member.
What to do
Head out of town to nearby Charleston, the uniquely decorated country home of the Bloomsbury Group, to learn about the lives and loves of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and their unconventional household. From Charleston you can strike off into the countryside: amble west to the pretty village of Firle, or east to Berwick church, decorated with murals by the artists. If it’s too wet for walking, drive to nearby Middle Farm to stock up on Sussex goodies at the farm shop.
Where to eat
Start your day at Flint Owl Café with a crumbly pastry or sourdough toast, freshly baked at their organic artisanal bakery just outside Lewes. Or tuck into eggs or pastries at Café Du Jardin with a large outdoor seating area for fine days.
The Ram at Firle is a brick-and-flint country pub, with toasty fires in winter and a walled garden for sunny days; game comes from the Firle Estate and bread from Flint Owl. In Berwick, warm up with pub grub and a pint at the Cricketers’ Arms.
Sussex is known for its sparkling wines – no surprise given its soil and geology are almost identical to France’s Champagne region. Stock up on the local fizz at the English Wine Centre at Berwick, or buy from the cellar door at the Ridgeview Estate near Ditchling or Rathfinny Estate at Alfriston. All are under 20 minutes’ drive of Lewes.