When my family traveled to France and England for a two week vacation, we were looking forward to all the famous sites. We knew Paris and London would be crowded and fast-paced, and we wanted to see more countries, too. To escape the hustle and bustle of London, my family hopped on the Southern Railway for a short three-day trip to the south coast of England. Once Eurostar arrives from Paris at St. Pancras in London, we hopped on the Tube to Victoria Station. We packed light so we only had hand luggage for our vacation, which makes train travel easy. We rode comfortably without worry and enjoyed three small English towns.
Day 1: Visit the castle and town square in Arundel
The Southern Railway took about 90 minutes to cross the countryside on its way to Arundel. This city of just over 3000 residents is quiet but interesting. The town square offers many restaurants, bars and shops. Red, white and blue flags straddle the street between Victorian and Georgian buildings with a very English feel. The town began as a Roman market town and became the seat of the Duke of Norfolk.
As we approached Arundel, we saw the castle looming over the city. William the Conqueror called Roger de Montgomery Earl of Arundel towards the end of the eleventh century. The Earl began building a castle and a moat at the highest point of the earth. The castle passed through a few families over the centuries and eventually became the home of the Dukes of Norfolk. Several owners have expanded and renovated the castle and grounds.
The 15th Duke established, in the late 19th century, the castle we mainly visited. In the oldest section, Keep, we climbed narrow spiral staircases and walked through dark corridors past the guardhouse and Empress Matilda’s room. From the top of the Keep, we gazed at the city and the lush English countryside.
We then explored the newer sections of the castle where the 18th Duke and Duchess are still hosting guests. Signs indicate that rooms can be closed at any time due to the Duke’s needs. The luxurious, spacious rooms feature massive stone fireplaces, luxurious canopy beds and ornate furnishings.
Down a grassy driveway, a typical English garden has fountains, manicured hedges, and hidden spaces. Above the multicolored flowers, Arundel Cathedral stood out against the blue sky.
The town square has plenty of places to eat. At Partner’s Café, we ordered the pocket fries, which are baked potatoes with your choice of toppings. I decided to have bacon, avocado, and cheese, while my daughter opted for beans and cheese. My husband’s sandwich came with french fries which reminded me of french fries my mom used to cook.
At Roly’s Fudge Pantry, we had a hard time limiting the fudge flavors we purchased. The sea salt was my favourite, but the chocolate chunks, strawberry and honeycomb flavor were almost as good.
After touring the castle we perused a few shops and then stopped at Norfolk Arms for a pint of stout for me and a root beer for my daughter. We settled on the sofa to watch an exciting game of Ticket to Ride, a board game we often play at home.
Arundel Park Hotel
When disembarking on arrival in Arundel, we walked a tenth of a mile to the Arundel Park Hotel. The hotel was only a half mile walk from the town square and the perfect location when taking the train from London. Our triple room was small but clean and comfortable. Before leaving for Brighton the next morning, we enjoyed an English breakfast of beans, fried eggs, french fries and tomatoes stewed in the sunroom. We chatted with a couple who were returning to England after 20 years of living in the United States.
Day 2: Enjoying the pier and trails in Brighton
We started early from the Southern Railway to Brighton. The flight took just over an hour and we had to move once. We were glad we bought first class tickets as the train car filled up quickly. We spent the day exploring Brighton, a fun seaside town that seemed to attract many summer visitors.
Royal Suite and Garden
As we walked through the Pavilion Gardens, we marveled at the minarets and domes of the Royal Pavilion. King George IV spent some time in Brighton when he was Prince of Wales to improve his health. Over the first decades of the 19th century, he turned a villa into a palatial mansion. Hire an interior designer, defying the traditional custom of an architect who designs all aspects of a building. Elaborate furnishings, lighting fixtures and wall coverings match his extravagant lifestyle.
Queen Victoria sold the estate to the city of Brighton in 1850 and removed all furnishings. During the First World War, the building was converted into a hospital and treated many soldiers from the Indian Army and British soldiers. Beginning in 1920, the city worked to restore the palace to its former glory and Queen Mary returned many of the items that remained in Buckingham Palace.
We began our visit in the long dining hall filled with dragon sculptures, ornate chandeliers, and colorful Chinese wallpaper. In the large kitchen, piles of artificial foods and dozens of utensils and serving dishes, showed an overabundance of events. Each bedroom features rich colors and expensive furniture. In my favorite room, the Music Room, dragons look at you from the ceiling, snakes curl around the pillars, and the elaborate vaulted ceiling holds elegant metal and glass chandeliers.
Brighton Palace Pier
Stretching more than 1,700 feet above the water, The Brighton Palace Pier offers games, rides, and candy for all ages. My daughter and I had the carousel and enjoyed a brownie rich in chocolate sauce. While walking along the coast we passed shops with art and souvenirs and many people enjoying a summer day at the beach.
Not far from the train station, a maze of narrow pedestrian streets forms The Lanes. Several clothing, jewelry, and gift stores line the paths. My daughter spent a lot of time exploring the Harry Potter store before deciding on the Hufflepuff Shirt. Then we joined my husband across the road at The Bath Arms as he was enjoying a pint. As we wandered, we also stopped at Urban Legend for a chocolate-filled donut and raspberry brownie donut.
Many restaurants offer outdoor seating to watch passersby. We tried to have lunch before heading to the Royal Suite, but most places haven’t started serving yet. When we stopped at The Dorset, the host was about to turn us away, but the chef agreed to open the kitchen early for us. The chicken Caesar salad has made me a good fit for the day. The burger and fries looked very tasty too.
Pro tip: Travel light and leave your bags in City Space. We booked into this little shop to store luggage for several hours. It is a short walk from the train station and allowed us to explore Brighton all day long.
Day 3: Explore the smugglers’ caves and fun shops in Hastings
After another hour or so of a train ride along the coast, we landed in Hastings. We wandered down the steep hill to the water’s edge to find our small hotel for the night. The tall windows of our room at the Astral Lodge overlooked the beach and the pier. The city offers a pedestrian-only strip of restaurants, shops, and a smaller version of beachside fun.
Probably everyone can tell the date 1066 when William the Conqueror landed in England and built a castle. Most tourists will climb to the top of the cliff overlooking the sea to visit the ruins. However, we headed toward a location my daughter was eager to try, Smugglers Adventure.
After climbing many, many stairs to the top of the cliff, we headed down another set to enter the caves. In the 17th and 18th centuries, pirates along the coast of Sussex used these caves and tunnels to hide their stolen goods. They spread ghost stories to keep the locals away. Videos of Hairy Jack, a notorious smuggler, led us through dark hallways as he recounted history, shown by dozens of life-size models. The interactive displays and lively stories kept us immersed as we learned about these interesting characters.
Pro tip: Dial a flashlight or use your phone light if you tend to get dazed in dimly lit areas.
In the sunlight and down on the beach, the Museum of Shipwrecks presented another aspect of life near the sea. Displays showed the cargo salvaged from many ships over the years, including wine bottles, plates, and precious metals. An exhibition told the story of one of the largest merchant ships of the eighteenth century, the Dutch East Indian, the Amsterdam, which ran ashore at Hastings.
Just a short walk from our hotel along the beachfront, we came across many good options for dining and shopping. At Monellis, the waiter pressed us to a table in the small dining room. We watched the owner and his assistant prepare and cook fermented pizza at the other end. Our Margherita Pizza Topped With Pesto Bits, Cherry Tomato Halves, And Fresh Parmesan Slices. The garlic bread was crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. We completed the night with fabulous cannolis topped with chocolate chips and pistachios, a café latte, and a limoncello.
At Hanushka Coffee House, we enjoyed a simple breakfast of pastries, fruit, eggs and cheese amid crowded bookshelves. My daughter enjoyed the facts she read from a book pulled off the shelf. They also provide some tables set while you walk.
Before returning to our hotel for late check out we had delicious fresh food at Ladle. My husband and daughter shared a cheese board with fruits and nuts. I ordered one of the specials, chicken sous vide salad. This included fresh mozzarella, diced tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds with a basil pesto sauce.
The Southern Railway provides an easy way to explore some of the small English towns and see the countryside. Prices are reasonable, even for first class. Usually there was no need to upgrade but it provided a sense of security that we would have seats. History and great food combined into a trip well worth leaving London.
For information on traveling to London, check out these articles: