A seaside resort on the south coast, Worthing officially became a town at the turn of the 19th century after Princess Amelia, daughter of George III holidayed here.
Thanks to a lot of post-war construction, Worthing is now in the middle of a continuous band of seafront development, from Littlehampton in the west to Brighton in the east.
Awaiting you in Worthing are seafront gardens, Georgian townhouses and lots of monuments that hark back to the heyday of English seaside holidays, like a well-preserved pier and magnificent Edwardian cinema.
There’s also lots of Art Deco architecture, a vibrant arts community as well as epic scenery and prehistoric sites in the giant chalk hills of the South Downs.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Worthing:
1. Worthing Museum and Art Gallery
This excellent town museum is in an Edwardian hall from 1908, at what used to be Worthing’s library.
The museum’s acclaimed textile and costume collection is one of the largest in the UK, rich with pieces from the Regency and Victorian periods, but also chronicling the dramatic changes to women’s fashion in the 20th century.
There are engrossing displays of local archaeology, including axes from Neolithic flint mines in the downs, the Patching hoard of Roman gold coins and the remnants of an Anglo-Saxon longboat.
One enthralling exhibit is an Ancient Egyptian vase with a Greek inscription unearthed at an Anglo-Saxon cemetery.
The art gallery has painting by Ivon Hitchens, William Holman Hunt and Lucien Pissarro, and sculpture by the Estonian Modernist Dora Gordine.
2. Worthing Pier
Worthing’s fine Victorian pier is almost 300 metres long and dates to 1862. Like all English piers, this one has suffered calamities over the years like storm damage, but, unlike most, it has retained its historic pavilions.
The 650-seater Pavilion Theatre is Worthing’s main venue for musicals, plays, stand-up comedians and touring bands.
From there you can saunter along the pier, which has iron gaslights, painted railings and sweet stained glass panels for shelter from the wind.
In the middle is an amusement arcade from the 1930s, while at the far end is the Southern Pavilion, with a function hall and tearoom.
3. Highdown Gardens
The botanist and horticulturalist Sir Frederick Stern established this spellbinding garden at a former chalk quarry in 1909. Embedded in downland with vistas of the Channel, the quarry had almost no soil and unfavourable planting conditions.
But Steyn toiled for 50 years to show that plants could flourish on chalk.
The species he introduced to Highdown are now a National Plant Collection of unusual trees and plants.
The gardens are at their best in spring and summer when snowdrops, anemones, daffodils, crocuses and then peonies and bearded irises all take turns to bloom.
4. East Beach
Worthing has a long pebble beach on both sides of the pier, backed by a promenade with cosy copper-topped shelters.
Maybe the prettiest part is to the east of the pier, for its imposing Georgian and Victorian townhouses around Steyne Gardens and monuments like the Dome Cinema.
A bit further along are the East Beach studios, where pavilions on the promenade house studios for Worthing’s growing community of artists and crafts-people, making and selling paintings, sculpture, clothing, ceramics, carvings and jewellery.
For family fun there’s crazy golf, as well as an array of amusements at the Worthing Lido.
K66 board sports organises stand-up Paddleboarding lessons and trips, and provides all the equipment you’ll need.
5. South Downs
With a National Park in Worthing’s back garden you may be itching to get out into the countryside for walks and bike trips.
The South Downs are a range of rolling chalk hills across southern England from Hampshire to East Sussex.
In 2011 this became the newest National Park in the UK, conserving a 626 square-mile patch of quiet green countryside.
One long -distance walking trail that crosses the downs and passes close to Worthing is Monarch’s Way.
This route follows Charles II’s escape from England after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and concludes just east of Worthing in Shoreham where he set sail for France.
6. Cissbury Ring
One very rewarding excursion in to the South Downs is this Iron Age hill fort for only three miles from the centre of Worthing.
Formed sometime around 250 BC, Cissbury Ring is on an isolated hilltop at Worthing’s highest point, and has awesome views in all directions.
Up here you can make out Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower, Beachy Head near Eastbourne and the Isle of Wight.
The fort is the second largest in the UK, spreading over 60 hectares and encircled with ditches and banks where the fort’s colossal wall used to stand.
Human activity at Cissbury Ring goes back much further as a Neolithic flint mine burrows into the hill, with shafts up to 12 metres deep.
7. Tarring High Street
In the Worthing borough, Tarring is a suburb a mile or so west of the town centre, and much older than Worthing proper.
The church and Archbishop’s Palace here are from the 13th-century, and the houses along the meandering high street go back further than their Victorian and Georgian facades suggest.
The high street is now mostly residential, and at the older south end are some very pretty flint and cobble cottages, as well the Parsonage Bar and Restaurant in a fine 16th-century half-timbered building.
A couple of historic pubs here, the Vine and George and the Dragon are good for lunch or a pint.
8. St Andrew’s Church, West Tarring
Also worthwhile in Tarring is the Medieval parish church, with a spire that can be spotted a long way off.
St Andrew’s was founded in the 11th century, while most of its surviving stonework is Early English Gothic from the 13th century and its Perpendicular tower and chancel were reconstructed in the 15th century.
Worthing was rife with smuggling in the 18th and 19th century, and one resourceful scoundrel, William Cowerson used the church’s table tombs to stash alcohol and other contraband.
See the highly ornate Perpendicular east window in the chancel, and the tower’s beautiful west door with 15th-century hood mould.
The chancel screen also dates to this time, and has six misericords, two of which have carved heads.
9. Connaught Theatre
A dazzling 20th-century monument, the Connaught Theatre off Chapel Road has a curving facade in the Streamline Moderne style of the 1930s.
This Art Deco exterior encompasses what used to be two separate buildings constructed earlier in the 20th century, as a theatre and cinema.
As a repertory theatre the Connaught helped introduce some of the country’s most beloved actors, like Ian Holm, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Projection equipment was installed in the 80s, and the theatre is now mainly used as a cinema.
10. Dome Cinema
Dating to 1911, the Edwardian Dome Cinema is one of England’s oldest operating cinemas.
This neo-Baroque building on the beach was commissioned by the Swiss impresario Carl Adolf Seebad.
Then called the Kursaal, this was a multi-use amenity for health cures, exhibitions, concerts, roller-skating but also to see shows at the Electric Theatre, West Sussex’s first ever cinema.
The German name was dropped during the First World War and the Dome became a full-time cinema from 1918. The Dome’s future was in doubt following financial difficulties in the 80s and 90s, but a campaign led to a complete restoration, with glorious Art Nouveau details brought back to life in the foyer and halls.
There are now three digital screens showing the latest releases and also putting on parent & baby, disability and subtitles screenings.
11. High Salvington Windmill
A prominent landmark on the downs to the north of Worthing, the High Salvington Windmill dates to around 1750. The mill was built on an exposed patch of upland, catching the winds blowing off the sea at almost 100 metres.
Following intervention by the council, the mill is in full working order, and every other Sunday opens its doors so you can view the inner workings.
The mill ground flour for Worthing for almost 150 years before switching to animal feed in 1905 and then lying in a state of disrepair for most of the 20th century.
Conservation work continued through the 1980s and the mill started producing flour once more in 1991.
12. Park Crescent
Opulent developments like Park Crescent appeared at spa and seaside towns all over England in the Georgian period.
The elegant Park Crescent takes its cues from the Royal Crescent in Bath, with a serpentine arc of Neoclassical townhouses on a small ridge overlooking parkland.
This Grade II-listed ensemble has 14 houses, each three storeys tall, as well as two intentionally quaint cottages ornés that are now hotels.
You’ll enter Park Crescent via a triumphal arch with three portals, one for carriages flanked by two for pedestrians . Their arches are supported by caryatids, depicting Atlas in the central portal and maidens on the two outside.
13. Marine Gardens
A classic English seafront garden, this public park was laid out in 1930 and sits on Marine Parade a mile or so west of Worthing Pier.
This part of the seaside promenade is tracked by some sensational Art Deco villas and apartment blocks from the 30s.
Stop by at Marine Gardens in summer and you’re sure to see Worthing’s older residents playing bowls in front of the handsome pavilion.
The park also has a putting green, for some light family fun, as well as ornamental gardens around a pond on the west side and a restaurant for afternoon tea to the east.
14. English Martyrs Catholic Church
The exterior of this local church at Goring-by-Sea may look a little nondescript, but there’s something very special inside.
Look up and you’ll be wowed by the only reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling in the world.
The work is on a 2/3 scale, with colours matching the newly cleaned ceiling in Rome.
It was painted in 1987 by the parishioner Gary Bevans after a pilgrimage to Rome for the beatification of 85 English Catholic martyrs.
The incredible thing about this work is that Bevans had no formal training.
Worthing has a couple of golf clubs on the cusp of the South Downs National Park, both of which are well-reviewed.
Founded in 1905, Worthing Golf Club boasts two 18-hole courses in its undulating downland, as well as a seven-hole par 3 for your approach play and short game.
This is a private club, but members are welcome, and summer green fees are £55 for the championship Lower Course and £30 for the Upper Course on weekdays, and £65 and £40 on weekends.
Hill Barn Golf Club is also exceptional and has a course designed by Fred Hawtree, who laid out Royal Birkdale.
On the downs you’ll get invigorating views over Worthing and the Channel.
Green fees here are £28 on weekdays and £34 on weekends.
For a more relaxed round, the Brooklands Golf Centre, east along the waterfront, has a nine-hole par 3 and a putting green.