The graceful old lady of seaside towns, Eastbourne is fast becoming a family-friendly alternative to Brighton. Words Lesley Gillilan
For an overview of Eastbourne, find a spot on the chalky cliffs of Beachy Head – the highest point on the south coast – and look down on the Sunshine Coast’s genteel Victorian resort. A model of town planning, which was dreamed up by the 7th Duke of Devonshire in the 1850s, Eastbourne’s seafront is a confection of Regency terraces, colourful flower beds set along promenades and the loveliest of piers. This is surely one of England’s prettiest seaside towns.
It also has a reputation as a retirement haven – populated, in the main, by affluent pensioners – but that image is changing. Increasingly, it’s seen as a more family-friendly alternative to nearby Brighton – with similarly handsome architecture and long sweeps of Sussex shingle, but smaller and more manageable with a slower pace of life.
Tea dances, deckchairs and coach parties are still very much part of everyday life in Eastbourne; as are the retro ice-cream parlours (head for Fusciardis), tea rooms (the Dickens Tea Cottage is a classic) and the seafront’s 1930s, blue-tiled bandstand. But the University of Brighton’s Eastbourne campus gives the town a youthful edge. There are lots of green spaces and things to do with children (Treasure Island Adventure Park, Fort Fun and Eastbourne miniature steam railway, among others), plus it’s said to be one of the sunniest places in Britain.
WHERE TO BUY
Explore the wide streets just off the Grand Parade (Burlington Place, Jevington Gardens or Silverdale Road are at the heart of the Duke of Devonshire’s Eastbourne). Otherwise, head west to the upmarket Meads area (for handsome Edwardian villas and lush gardens on leafy streets leading up to the green slopes of Beachy Head’s Downland Estate). Cheaper areas include Eastbourne’s ‘Seaside’ (standard Victorian terraces to the east of the pier) and there are some good streets around so-called Little Chelsea and the Old Town. To the east, Sovereign Harbour is an ongoing 1990s coastal redevelopment scheme with houses, shops and waterfront restaurants planned around four new marinas.
Pay up to and over £1m for a roomy detached in the Meads area or a marine townhouse at Sovereign Harbour. In the most sought-after areas, you can pay £350-£800,000 for an apartment (though it’s worth bearing in mind that these are often huge). Six or seven-bed Edwardian semis sell for around £660,000. In Seaside, Little Chelsea or around the Old Town, three or four-bedroom Victorian terraces go for around £350-£400,000; two-bedroom cottages for under £300,000. In general, Eastbourne prices are below the national average – and cheaper than Brighton.
With four miles of Pevensey Bay shingle on the doorstep and the chalk hills of the South Downs National Park close by, the location is hard to beat. Outdoor activities include walking in Friston Forest, running, jogging or cycling along the seafront. If you like tennis, you can play at the International Lawn Tennis Centre at Devonshire Park, which hosts international tennis stars every year for a tournament before Wimbledon. The town has five theatres as well as the award-winning Towner Gallery, which has recently had a colourful makeover, brightening up the town. Night life is improving too: try Eastbourne Cocktail Club (eastbournecocktailclub.co.uk
) and jazz and blues at The Dolphin (thedolphineastbourne.co.uk
). For independent shopping, antiques and cafés head for Little Chelsea (around Grove Road and South Street). Good summer dining options include seafront hangout, The Beach Deck (thebeachdeck.co.uk
London to Eastbourne takes around two hours by car, or 80 minutes by train from London Victoria or London Bridge. Brighton is a 30-minute drive. The closest airport is Gatwick (an hour’s drive, via the A27/A23). Ashford International (where you can pick up a Eurostar train to France via the Channel Tunnel), takes around 70 minutes.
Local co-ed secondaries, including Eastbourne Academy, Cavendish and Willingdon Community School, are all rated Good by Ofsted.
Eastbourne is just a little too far for a comfortable London commute and the local jobs market is limited (think tourism, the conference trade and the public sector). And it’s true, it is a town with an ageing population. The Office for National Statistics recently identified Eastbourne as having the oldest residents in England and Wales.
PAY A VISIT
Minutes from the seafront, this townhouse B&B, is designed with families in mind with six suites offering a fully equipped kitchen as well as cool spaces for up to five guests. Cots, baby kit and babysitting services are also on offer. With stylish interiors, king-size beds and sea views, the rooms work just as well for friends or couples. From around £98 per night (excluding breakfast).
This new arty addition to Eastbourne seafront certainly stands out next to its traditional neighbouring buildings. With a striking black front and blush pink interier, Port is a glamourous boutique hotel situated on Grand Parade. Doubles from £107 per night.
CAN YOU AFFORD IT?
Average house prices source: Rightmove [April 2022]