Far from the London sprawl, West Sussex is on the south coast where the English Channel shoreline is lined with continuous towns and seaside resorts.
Many of these, like Chichester and Arundel are historic and have compelling Roman, Saxon and medieval monuments.
Others, like Worthing and Bognor Regis are holiday centres, harnessing the sunny climate and pebble beaches for carefree summer days.
Inland are the rounded chalk hills of the South Downs, a region of thatched cottages, flint walls and genteel market towns.
This is the place for bike rides and walks in the national park and visits to idyllic villages with country pubs.
Lets explore the best places to visit in West Sussex:
As the “ester” suffix in the name implies, Chichester has a Roman history.
But it could also be Britain’s earliest Roman history as Chichester may have been where Claudius’ army landed in AD 43. As you see it now, Chichester is a sophisticated Georgian city straight out of a Jane Austen novel.
In one of its many townhouses is the Pallant House Gallery, with a cache of 20th-century British art by Lucien Freud, David Bomberg, Peter Blake and many more.
Chichester Cathedral, from 1075, has the honour being the only English cathedral visible from the sea, and the walled Bishop’s Palace Gardens is a secret oasis of bright colour in spring and summer.
In the splendour of the South Downs, Arundel is an adorable town commanded by one of England’s most complete medieval castles.
Arundel was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086, and the castle had been founded in 1067 within months of the Norman Conquest of England.
It was damaged in the Civil War in the 1600s, but was restored in the 1700s and is now one of Sussex’s most-visited attractions, with an armoury, chapel, dry moat and vistas of the River Arun and countryside from its fairytale towers.
The cathedral in Arundel may look for all the world like it is medieval but actually dates to the 1800s, has a French Gothic style and was designed by Joseph Hansom famed for his Hansom horse-drawn cabs.
With a heady mix of art, charming old streets and history, Petworth is a wonderful town in the South Downs.
You have to start with Petworth House, whose 19th-century owner George Wyndham was a close friend of J.M.W. Turner, who came to paint the deer park in the 1820s.
The stately home, owned by the National Trust, has lots of Turner paintings, and scenes from the acclaimed film, Mr Turner were shot here.
The centre of Petworth is a pleasure, especially on Lombard Street, a narrow cobbled alley snaking up to the yard of St Mary’s Church.
Being a well-to-do little town there are lots of antiques shops, artisan boutiques and galleries to browse.
4. South Downs National Park
A broad band across the middle of the county became a National Park in 2011. A great deal of this landscape is grassy, rounded chalk downs that reach substantial heights but also make for easy-going walks for their smooth slopes.
Every few miles in any direction there will be a thatched village with a bed & breakfast and pub, and if you’re up for an adventure the South Downs Way is a 100-mile footpath from Hampshire to East Sussex.
In West Sussex there’s a lot to see in rural areas.
Just north of Worthing is Cissbury Ring, where Neolithic cultures mined for flint.
The tallest hill, Blackdown, peaks at 280 metres and is where the Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson retired in the late-19th century.
West Sussex’s largest town has had the sobriquet “Sunny Worthing ” since the 19th century when well-off Victorians started arriving for their holidays.
The golden age of the British seaside has long gone, but Worthing gives the sense of a working town in good condition, that can turn into a bucket and spade resort as soon as the sun comes out.
The pier dates to 1862 and is a listed building, with a newly refurbished tearoom.
Worthing has all the amenities of a city, but you’re right by the lower slopes of the South Downs too.
And in the Sompting area just west of Worthing there’s a St Mary’s Church, a very historic Anglo-Saxon building completed well before William the Conqueror arrived and in great condition for its age.
Most people know Shoreham for its airport, which is better than it sounds: There are no airline flights and the airport is mostly for public aerobatic demonstrations and private pilots.
There’s a visitor centre at the terminal, which is a stylish art deco building completed in 1936. The beach at Shoreham is on massive a sandbank, which has been developed into an upmarket residential neighbourhood.
The long shingle beach is lovely for walks at any time of year, and the seascape here was painted by John Constable in 1828. Shoreham Fort is a peculiar reminder of a forgotten episode in history.
It was built in the 1850s when there was real concern about a French invasion during the rule of Napoleon III. The ditches, cannon wall, gun platform and the caponiers have all been restored recently.
In the Weald, a hilly ridge that sweeps across the centre and north of the county, Horsham is a prosperous and smart market town embedded in beautiful countryside.
You hardly have to leave the town before you’re ambling in peaceful green spaces at the ecologically-diverse Warnham Local Nature Reserve or Sumners Ponds, 40 hectares of secluded lakes.
As one of the larger towns in the area, Horsham is a shopping destination and its centre is full of period charm, with elegant houses from the Victorian and Georgian times.
One Georgian resident was Percy Bysshe Shelley, the Romantic poet born here in 1792 and future husband of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
The Horsham Museum will tell you all about this connection and much more.
There’s unblemished nature on all sides of this gorgeous village in the South Downs National Park.
Amberley, on the east bank of the Arun, is noted for its thatched cottages, many with walls decorated with flint and flowery gardens out front.
There are tea rooms by the river and inns serving traditional pub food.
But if you’re in the mood for a lordly feast you could head for Amberley Castle, which is a fortified manor house from the 1300s and now a hotel and restaurant.
As for countryside, the Amberley Wild Brooks is on the Arun’s floodplain and sustains a variety of wildfowl in winter, while the Amberley Museum is dedicated to the old trades in the area like printing and pottery, and has a 1950s Fire Station and a working narrow gauge steam railway.
In the Sussex Weald, Midhurst is a country town that has some riveting stories to tell.
The town has plotted its own heritage trail taking you to a former Iron Age fort and pointing out the most significant medieval, Georgian and Victorian houses around the town.
There are more than 100 listed buildings in all, and none are as mysterious and impressive as Cowdray House.
This was one of England’s most prestigious Tudor Mansions: Henry VIII and Elizabeth I stayed here, and Guy Fawkes worked here in the late-1500s.
The house was destroyed by fire in 1793, but most of house’s towers and walls survive to create a spectral ruin.
At the mouth of the Arun, Littlehampton is a seaside town with more of an earthy feel to resorts like Worthing and Bognor.
The most traditional part is the historic harbour along the east bank of the river estuary, where old waterside houses for fishermen are now cafes and fish and chip shops.
There’s a new promenade by the water and you can walk all the way down to Harbour Park by the seafront, which buzzes with visitors on warmer days and has lots for kids to get up to.
You catch a ferry to the east bank of the Arun and look back at all the old waterside buildings, or stroll along the beach where there are time-honoured amusements like pitch & putt, crazy golf and a little railway.
Only one stop on the train west of Chichester, Fishbourne has a couple of big attractions to make the journey necessary.
The marquee attraction is the Fishbourne Roman Palace, which is an archaeological museum preserving the ground floor of a palace and supply fort established in AD 43, year one of the Roman invasion.
What’s intriguing is the way the palace was updated, with plain black and white mosaics overlaid in later years by glorious examples of craftsmanship like the perfectly preserved Cupid on a Dolphin Mosaic.
Fishbourne also borders the Chichester Harbour Area of Natural Beauty, one of England’s only undeveloped natural harbours: A paradise for boaters and a haven for coastal wildlife.
Moments from the Hampshire boundary, Bosham is an impossibly cute village nestling beside an inlet on Chichester Harbour.
In the middle ages this was one of the most prestigious towns in Sussex, and was even mentioned in the Bayeaux Tapestry.
King Canute had a palace here in the early-11th century, and his young daughter is buried at the Holy Trinity Church.
This exciting building has a mixture of Saxon and Norman architecture and is one of the essential sights in the village.
The waterfront and Bosham Quay are adorable with a rustic maritime feel and unbroken views out over Chichester Harbour.
13. Bognor Regis
The resort of Bognor Regis is synonymous with the British beach holiday, the kind that almost everybody in the country used to take until cheap flights abroad arrived in the 1970s.
One explanation for Bognor’s rapid rise was a quirk of the climate, as this location gets more hours of sunshine a year than anywhere else in the UK. And in July and August its charms are most obvious, when you can unfold a deck chair and sunbathe on the expansive pebble beaches, go for lunch at a seafront restaurant and amble around the town’s flower gardens at Hotham and Marine Park.
The pier is the venue for the International Birdman competition in early September, when human “birdmen” attempt to fly off the end of it.
You can guess how this pans out!
For an English village, Bramber is a very visitor-oriented place, with several restaurants along its picturesque main street “the St”. The setting is as charming as any in the South Downs, with flint walls and cottages clad with ivy and wisteria.
For sight-seeing you can work your way up to the ruins of Bramber Castle.
Like many English fortifications, this landmark took some punishment in the English Civil war, but sections of its walls are still here and you can make out the earthworks of the original Norman motte and bailey castle.
Best of all is St Mary’s House, also on the St.
Many call this Tudor wonder the best timber house in West Sussex, and the interior has painted panelled rooms in the Elizabethan trompe l’oeil style.
15. Haywards Heath
One of the largest towns in the county, Haywards Heath is a thriving and prosperous place, perfect for a meal or shopping trip.
But for tourists the best thing about it is the proximity to some of West Sussex’s most revered National Trust properties.
Nymans and Wakehurst Place are the showstoppers in the area.
The former is a divine English country garden in the Arts and Crafts style of the early-20th century around the ruins of a “Jacobethan” manor house that was gutted by fire in the 30s and now stands as a solemn ruin.
Wakehurst Place meanwhile is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, and has landscaped wetland, woodland, ponds and walled gardens across two square kilometres.