COVID-19 Update (July 7th 2020): Shops and hairdressers in St Leonards have now re-opened, with restaurants and cafes now starting to re-open too. Outdoor attractions in the area are also reopening, but often with online booking necessary. Many of the events listed here have been cancelled, but will be back next year. Hopefully some of them will still be happening later in the year.
St Leonards on Sea is part of the Borough of Hastings, in East Sussex, UK. It was built in the mid-nineteenth century as a ‘new town’, designed by Decimus Burton, who also designed buildings in and around Regent’s Park, as well as the Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Screen and the Palm and Temperate Houses at Kew. St Leonards on Sea was aimed at well-to-do visitors and residents, with large houses in a variety of styles, from mock Tudor to Flemish to Scottish Baronial. The houses around Central St Leonards (where Larkspur is) were part of an area known as Mercatoria, built for the workers and merchants who serviced the big houses in Burton’s St Leonards.
With the post-war decline in British seaside resorts in the mid-twentieth century, St Leonards became less attractive to the rich and fashionable. Many of the big houses were divided up into bedsits and small flats, and it gained a reputation as being a poor, deprived area, with high levels of unemployment and poverty. In recent years however, St Leonards has undergone significant regeneration. Many of the larger houses have been converted back into single dwellings, and the small ‘workers’ houses’ around the town centre have become very fashionable. The town centre itself reflects this, with an array of antique shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries, and specialist boutiques. The Marina beach at St Leonards has a 'Blue Flag' award for water quality and visitor facilities (shingle with sand at low tide).
Nevertheless, St Leonards on Sea could never be described as ‘twee’. It’s a working town, and some of the larger houses remain unimproved. But this adds to its character – it’s a town in transition, where new people are moving in, where multiculturalism is growing, and where new ideas are emerging all the time. It also has a growing arts and cultural movement, with many working artists and other cultural specialists.
It has its own railway station, which is five minutes’ walk from Larkspur, with regular trains to Brighton, Ashford, and London. It’s also a good centre from which to explore Hastings and its historic Old Town (two miles away – Hastings and St Leonards are part of the same borough) and of course, Hastings Pier, winner of the Sterling Prize for architecture for 2017, just a mile away.
Further afield, there are all the attractions of 1066 Country and the rest of Sussex, from the battleground at Battle Abbey, to the Bloomsbury Set at Charleston Farmhouse, and much more.
Some examples of what's on offer ...
Cafes in St Leonards:
Pubs and bars in St Leonards:
Shops and Galleries in St Leonards:
Xanadu, The Kula, Baker-Mamonova Gallery, Lucy Bell Gallery, Sideshow Interiors, Who’s Wearing What, St Leonards Modern Goods, Hastings Arts Forum, Dandelion Deli, Pearl & Queenie, Pelhams, Paisley & Friends, Made & Merchant, Amore Italiano Delicatessen & Off Licence, Shop@Norman Road, The Bookkeeper Bookshop, Wonderfill.
Hair and Beauty:
Restaurants in St Leonards:
Haatings Comedy Festival (June)
Parks, Gardens and Nature Reserves:
The Source, Blue Reef Aquarium, White Rock Theatre, St Mary in the Castle, Hastings Castle, Smugglers Caves, Hastings Contemporary, Hastings Old Town, The Shipwreck Museum, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, East Hill Cliff Railway, West Hill Clif Railway, The Fishermen’s Museum, Hastings Adventure Golf, True Crime Museum, The Stade and Hastings Fishery.
DeLaWarr Pavilion, Romney, Hythe, and Dymchurch Railway, Great Dixter, Scotney Castle, Camber Castle, Sissinghurst, Pevensey Castle, Rye, Camber Sands, Charleston Farmhouse, Kent & East Sussex Railway, Battle Abbey, Bodiam Castle.
There’s also a wide range of special events in Hastings, from fish fairs to arts festivals, throughout the year. They include:
For local events and attractions listings, see the Visit 1066 Country website.