A weekend break to Hastings with kids

Bookended by towering cliffs, Hastings in Sussex is a heady mix of historic streets and lively seaside attractions. Look past the seafront crazy golf and casinos and you’ll find a fisherman’s quarter still hard at work, an old town crisscrossed with winding twittern lanes, and a thriving artistic community. Hastings is also a great base to see more of 1066 Country, from the historic site of the Battle of Hastings, to the dazzling art-deco De La Warr Pavilion.

In this post I’ll share our two night, two day Hastings and beyond itinerary which is perfect for families.

Step inside a Hall fit for a maharajah, marvel at a modernist masterpiece, take a sculpture trail through historic battlefields, see contemporary art with sea views, and let the kids run riot at a friendly adventure park. Eat fish landed at the beach below, and play board games in a welcoming historic inn.

Note: this post was published during the third English lockdown when we are required to Stay At Home. I hope it helps you discover somewhere new to visit, ready for when it’s safe to travel again.



We fitted all this into our weekend. If you have more time, you could easily give the best part of a day to Knockhatch Adventure Park. And at the end of this post I’ll suggest more places to take the kids in Hastings.

This is our second press trip to 1066 Country. You can read about our first visit, to historic Rye, by clicking here.

 

Table of Contents

 

DAY 1

What an unexpected start! At the heart of Hastings Museum and Art Gallery lies the magnificent Durbar Hall. The two-storey Indian palace was made by master craftsman from the Punjab for the 1886 Indian and Colonial exhibition in South Kensington. It showcased a dazzling display of Indian art wares to over 5.5 million visitors. Afterwards, the wealthy Brassey family from Hastings had it as a home extension, then donated it to the museum to house their world art collection. It’s a breathtaking space, with intricate teak and dedoar cedar carvings, its highly polished wood floor reflecting the soft colours from the stained glass windows.

 

Even if Victorian Indian palaces aren’t your bag, this small museum is well worth an hour of your time. Its eclectic mix of galleries have something for everyone. There’s art, nature and history from around the world – all with a Hastings connection. Sometimes local museums tell too generic a story, or are so localised they don’t resonate with tourists. I’m impressed that Hastings Museum and Art Gallery strikes a fine balance between big stories and local connections.

 

‘Before Hastings’ looks at the area from prehistory to the Saxons, whilst the ‘Story of Hastings in 66 Objects’ tells the social history of Hastings from 1066 to today. The natural history galleries were Museum Boy’s favourites. There’s monotone dioramas of local wildlife and some clever push button interactives which reveal creatures in the dinosaurs and fossils gallery. There’s also a section dedicated to Grey Owl, the Hastings-born conservationist who adopted the culture of Native North Americans.

 

Art lovers will be interested in their temporary exhibitions. Museum Dad was taken with prints in the Hastings Open Call show. The forthcoming Ingenious Contraptions exhibition of automata is now in our diary (29 May – 29 August 2021).

 

Hastings Museum and Art Gallery is great for families, with hands-on exhibits and special events most holidays. We tried the Wally Spooky Museum Search, in conjunction with Kids in Museum. The free themed trail had them searching high and low for hidden letters. Both kids were thrilled with their free bookmark and sticker. Keep an eye on the museum’s website for more family events.

It felt very safe with limited numbers, pre-booking, one way system, hand sanitizer throughout, disinfected clipboards and pencils, staff wearing visors, a hygiene screen in the shop and visible extra gallery cleaning throughout our visit. As with all the museums we visited, adult visitors are required to wear masks, unless they are exempt.

Best of all, the museum is free. Pre-booking is currently required due to you-know-what. For more information about Hastings Museum and Art Gallery visit their website.

 

11.30 Hastings Contemporary

Glistening amongst the towering tarred boards of the fishermen’s net huts lies the black-tiled Hastings Contemporary. Inside this independent art gallery you’ll find light-filled exhibition spaces with windows onto the town, a shop packed with local craft, and a cafe with stunning sea views. The compact galleries offer a great way to get a child-sized dose of culture into a day at the seaside, just a stone’s throw from the beach.

 

Hastings Contemporary hosts temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary artists, so keep an eye on their programme to see what’s on. We caught ‘We Live in Worrying Times’, a show of new work by the renowned artist and illustrator Quentin Blake. I have a huge affection for Blake, forever associating him with the Roald Dahl books of my youth. Here Blake’s signature style conveys his concern for the state of the world.

 

Most memorable is ‘Taxi Driver’, the vast 30 foot work created in this space, for these walls. Blake was inspired by a conversation with a taxi driver to create this barren landscape with strong overtures of Picasso’s Guernica. Filled only with haunted figures fleeing drones and planes overhead, it lies somewhere between dream and reportage, a waking nightmare. The sparseness of the ink sketches on white paper, and the slightly grotesque almost caricature portraits, add to the sinister feel. You can view the work online now, or by robot tour, as well as in person when the gallery reopens after lockdown.

 

There isn’t a family trail, but children are free to enter, and the art grabbed Museum Boy’s attention. He animatedly talked about how Victor Pasmore’s abstract canvases play with three dimensions. I think I have a mini-art critic in the making! Meanwhile Museum Girl soaked in the views over Hastings and the Stade.

In 2021, Hastings Contemporary takes part in England’s Creative Coast, a festival of contemporary art spanning 1400km of coastline from Essex to West Sussex. I can’t wait to see what Athens artist Andreas Angelidakis creates with the gallery.

Tickets to Hastings Contemporary cost £9 adults, FREE under 16s, half price Art Fund members. For more information visit https://www.hastingscontemporary.org/

 

12:00 The Stade

When in Hastings, a visit to its hard-working fishing beach The Stade is a must. There’s no deep harbour so instead boats are launched and hauled in from the sea shore. With its colourful fishing boats, towers of crab cages, and winching equipment, it’s a fascinating beach for children to explore. The Museum Kids jumped waves, skimmed stones and searched for discarded crab claws. You can read more about its history in this post.

 

12:15 Maggie’s Fish and Chips

For lunch, we headed inside one of the old fishermen’s net drying huts for the best fish and chips in town. Maggie’s Fish and Chips is right on the Stade, overlooking the fishing fleet who bring in their specials every day.

 

And what a catch! Maggie’s has the most interesting daily specials menu I’ve seen in a fish and chip shop. We opted for two specials we’d never had before, dab and monkfish tails. Both came cooked to perfection in a light, crisp batter and a simple lemon wedge and parsley garnish. We recommend the dabs, if they’re on the menu. There’s also the usual cod, haddock, scampi and fishcakes, if that’s what you fancy. The chips are just right, neither too crispy nor too greasy, and come in a decent, rather than overwhelming, portion.

 

The jovial staff and traditional, cozy interior make families feel very welcome. Colouring-in with a single-use pack of crayons is a thoughtful touch. Under 12s can order from the children’s menu. As well as cod, sausage, scampi and fishcake, there’s halloumi and even dabs, when available.

There’s only a handful of tables at the minute because of social distancing, so book ahead. Ask for a table at the window or on their balcony for fantastic Stade views. Windows are opened to let in that fresh sea air, temperatures are checked before sitting, and you’re asked to wear a mask to move around the space.

If you’re looking for fish and chips in Hastings, head for Maggie’s.

For more information, visit their website at https://maggiesfishandchips.co.uk/

 

14:00 Knockhatch Adventure Park

Those brave enough to step inside Dragon Castle at Knockhatch Adventure Park, will be met with quite a surprise – a roaring, moving, life-sized dragon! This vast castle-themed playground is just one part of Knockhatch, a small and friendly adventure park. There’s rides, animals and indoor play, as well as mini-golf and a rowing lake – almost all of which are included in your ticket price.

 

Ride highlights include the Wave Runner Water Slide. This dizzying 32 foot slide over water proved outside my comfort zone, but the kids couldn’t get enough of it. Waterproof trousers guarantee a dry child afterwards. Bring spare socks for the giant jumping pillows – Museum Boy had to borrow mine after getting his pair wet at the Stade.

 

I was much happier joining in with crazy golf and rowing. Many places we visit have an extra charge for these activities, so it’s refreshing that they’re included with entrance at Knockhatch. The Enchanted Forest Crazy Golf took us under the trees, through the hobbit house and past the wooden sculptures. It’s a small course but long enough when you’re with kids who are a few hundred over par.

 

Fortunately for us, and my camera, the rowing lake has untippable boats. The Museum Kids each had their own boat to captain, avoiding the argument over who gets to hold the oars which nearly capsized our last family boat trip. Unfortunately Museum Boy has inherited my rowing inabilities, and we needed help getting back. Never have I been rescued from a rowing lake with such enthusiasm, an example of the how genuinely friendly the staff were during our visit.

A small handful of activities cost a little extra. The Go Karts cost £4.95 per kart. We gave them a skip as Museum Boy isn’t yet tall enough to drive one himself, and I’m a menace behind a wheel.

 

Knockhatch has a bird sanctury, looking after abandoned pets. Months later, the kids are STILL talking about Barney, the Moluccan Cockatoo. I mean, he did shout ‘HELLO BARNEY’ at us, impersonate a seagull and mimic the sort of telephone that rang in my childhood hallway.

Make sure you catch one of their owl shows. During the twenty minute show you’ll learn about different types of the birds from knowledgable handlers. Our show was so intimate, it didn’t require any voice amplification. The pride and care taken with the birds was apparent. We learnt more about each owl’s individual character too, watching them swoop overhead, or in one case, hop lazily from post to post.

 

Check which attractions are open before booking. Green days are cheaper, although our three favourite attractions (the Dragon Castle, rowing boats and Wave Water rides) are closed then. We visited on an orange day – usually weekends and peak times, almost all the attractions are open then.

 

Visit on a dry day as the best attractions are outdoors. There are places to escape the rain, although you might wait to get in. Thanks to Covid restrictions, Froggies Soft Play Centre and The Lost World Play Barn have limited numbers, with fixed time slots. Check with staff at entrances when they will release the next time slot tokens. Inside the Lost World Play Barns there’s huge moving dinosaur models and giant slides, in a rather raucous Jurassic-themed play area.

There’s so much at Knockhatch you might want more time. Our three hours wasn’t enough to try the indoor play areas or look around the animal farm. There weren’t any queues, although the forecast rain might have kept people away. It is one of the most relaxed family attractions of this type we’ve been to. Knockhatch Adventure Park is well worth the half hour or so drive from Hastings.

For more information about Knockhatch, and to book tickets, visit https://knockhatch.com/. Tickets start at £9.99 each for a green day, and £14.99 for an orange day, with a 20% discount online.

 

19:00 Dinner at The Stag Inn

The Stag Inn is the local pub we all dream of. It’s not just family-friendly – it’s friendly-friendly, full stop. Face coverings can’t mask their smiles. You’re guaranteed a genuine welcome.

 

Found along the quaint All Saints Street in Hastings Old Town, the Stag Inn’s 18th century exterior hides an even older interior. Original timber beams, low ceilings and log fires create a cozy charm. Local folklore abounds, with tall tales of smugglers, ghosts and witchcraft. Look out for the mummified cats, on display in the front bar. Found in a chimney, it’s thought these were placed there to protect the pub from evil spirits – perhaps even the plague. Maybe it’s time to put them back.

 

The Stag Inn is a fun place to while away the evening. We borrowed from their excellent board game selection and played Carcassone and, without irony, Pandemic. Game-loving Museum Boy was in heaven.

 

The seasonal food menu is special without being pretentious, using mostly local suppliers. The confit pork belly is excellent, its melt-in-the-mouth meat crowned with crispy crackling, and served with a bonbon, braised hispi cabbage, hazelnut and heritage carrots. The glazed lemon tart with milk sorbet is fresh and zingy. There isn’t a children’s menu as such – instead they will make half portions of any dish. Museum Girl’s cheeseburger with smoked applewood, homemade brioche and chips was a hit. Forget pub grub – this is restaurant quality food, but in a much more relaxed environment for families.

 

Their extensive gin selection is matched with an encyclopedic knowledge of best tonic and garnish pairings. I discovered a Hastings gin distillery thanks to one of their recommendations, and Museum Dad was impressed with their selection of local, premium beers.

In normal times, The Stag Inn regularly hosts live music and quiz nights. We saw numerous enhanced hygiene measures and social distancing measures. Customers are welcomed at the door with hand sanitiser. Tables are spaced out and screens used as an additional precaution. It’s table service only, and staff wear face coverings. Games are quarantined after use. It was our first pub visit since before All This, and we left confident every measure had been taken to keep our family safe, as well as happy. We would come back to Hastings just to have another night at the Stag.

To find out more about the Stag Inn, and how to book, visit their website at https://www.staghastings.co.uk/

 

DAY 2

10:00 Battle Abbey and Battlefields

If you know one date in English history, it’s probably 1066 – the Battle of Hastings. William, Duke of Normandy, claimed that he, not the Saxon King Harold had been promised the throne. So on October 14 the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons fought a fierce, bloody battle. You can visit the English Heritage site where English history changed forever.

Here I discovered everything I know about this battle is wrong. First fact: the face-off didn’t take place in Hastings, but at a hilltop 8 miles away. It later became known as Battle, although Battle of Battle has less of a ring to it.

 

The sculpture trail depicting soldiers around the battlefield is an engaging way to discover more about the battle and the people involved in it. It works best with the two sided ‘Know your Normans/Anglo Saxons’ map. Museum Boy loved looking for each sculpture and matching them to the character in the trail map. We learnt more about the role of each soldier, from the English housecarls with their fearsome battleaxes to the Norman cavalry men on horseback. You can also download a QR code battlefield audio trail onto your smart phone, including one for families.

 

Keep an eye out for stray arrows in the tree tops, as well as the oversized arrow in the field. The Norman archers has powerful crossbows, causing much damage to the enemy side from afar. However it’s thought the Norman’s use of cavalry men on horseback was the real deciding factor.

There’s fun prompts on the trail map, like ‘make a battlefield cry’. Are you going to shout “Oot, oot, oot’ like an Anglo-Saxon, or roar ‘Normandie!’? It’s hard to imagine this peaceful hillside as a theatre of war, but noisy children certainly help.

 

Finish the trail by standing where Harold died, at the top of Senlac Hill. Don’t believe the stray arrow in the eye nonsense – he is more likely to have been brutally murdered by axe.

Four years after the battle, Pope Alexander II ordered William the Conquerer to make penance for the invasion. William commissioned an Abbey to be built, with the high altar of its church to be placed on the exact spot where Harold died.

Whilst the high altar no longer stands, the place is marked with the commemorative Harold Stone. You can step inside the later, 13th century ruins of the abbey. This remarkable 13th century rib-vaulted space was probably a monks common room.

Allow around an hour to tour the battlefield and to monastic ruins. Be prepared for the elements – it is a field, after all. Some parts of the trail are wooded, but most are exposed. Sometimes the site is closed due to ground conditions. There is a viewing platform behind the Abbey overlooking the battlefield but finding the sculptures was the most successful part of our visit. After our wet walk, we warmed up with hot chocolates in the Battle Abbey Cafe.

 

Younger children will enjoy the playground themed on Norman jobs, like this ox and cart slide or the human treadwheel (think giant wooden hamster wheel). The visitor centre with introductory film and interactive displays about the battle was closed. Head to the abbey gatehouse for stunning panoramic views across 1066 country, and more about the history of the abbey.

If you can, time your visit with the weekend nearest 14 October. Each year the site re-enacts the bloody battle with thousands of actors, alongside archery, combat and falconry displays.

For more information about Battle Abbey and Battlefields, and to book tickets, visit https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/1066-battle-of-hastings-abbey-and-battlefield/

 

13:00 Bexhill Museum

Just 15 minutes drive from Hastings lies the seaside town of Bexhill. It has a gem of a local museum, packed to the rafters with everything from dinosaur fossils to local history, Egyptian shabtis to Queen Victoria’s mourning gown.

And their enthusiastic volunteers are bursting to share it with younger generations. Our guide was fantastic with the children. She instinctively knew whether they were interested in something, or ready to move on. They liked her so much, they ditched us and directed all questions her way. It’s the warmest, most personal welcome we’ve had in a museum for years.

 

In their first gallery, a simple object trail had the kids hunting high and low. There’s a LOT to look at, so the trail helped avoid overload. There’s trails for their other galleries too.

 

Bexhill is the birthplace of British motor racing, as the nation’s first two automobile races took place here in 1902. In the museum’s motor gallery Museum Boy spent ages with the guide studying the design features that make cars go faster. Look out for the replica ‘Easter Egg’ car, originally raced in 1902.

 

Meanwhile Museum Girl found a very emotive object – comedian Eddie Izzard’s intricate childhood train set. His father spent hours building it with Eddie and his brother to distract them from his mother’s terminal illness. Now fully restored, kids can press a button to see it run. If you look very closely you might even spot a mini-Izzard running a marathon.

 

But wait – there’s more trains! The Bexhill at War gallery ingeniously tells the story of the Second World War through an impressively large model railway. Whilst the kids are busy gawping at the snowy scene, adults can take in the history presentation by one of the volunteer guides.

Bexhill Museum was so enjoyable, it immediately shot into Museum Boy’s top five museums ever. High praise indeed. And with so much to take in, I need to return – I missed their Lowry painting for one thing!

Tickets cost £3 adults, £1.50 children, FREE under 5s. For more information on Bexhill Museum, visit their website at https://www.bexhillmuseum.org.uk/

 

14:30 De La Warr Pavilion

On to Bexhill’s most striking building – art-deco masterpiece the De La Warr Pavilion. Designed by architects Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff and built in 1935, the DLWP was Britain’s first public building built in the Modernist style. Overlooking the seafront, it’s a centre for contemporary arts, events and exhibitions which holds onto its radical origins. The building is a work of art in its own right. My favourite part is its elegant circular staircase which spirals around a sleek chandelier of chrome and neon which stretches the full height of the building.

 

We saw two art exhibitions during our visit: Zadie Xa’s ‘Child of Magohalmi and the Echoes of Creation’, and Marc Bauer’s ‘Mal Etre/Performance’.

With dolphins emerging from the gallery floor, and a giant soft whale to cuddle (pre-Covid), Xa creates a sub-aquatic space to showcase her large scale video projections, quilts and costumes. Her work invents an origin story, exploring the watery and feminine origins of Korean folklore.

 

Bauer’s skill with a pencil and graphite is simply astonishing. His work explores the art historical canon of people on boats, from ancient Greece to contemporary imagery of rescued migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. He invites the viewer to reflect on their responses to people moving across the waves, past and present. Whilst each work on paper is exquisitely executed, his labour is laid bare in the dirty smudges which surround them. This is Bauer’s first solo exhibition in a UK public gallery; it’s refreshing to see work by artists I am completely unfamiliar with.

 

You’re never far from a stunning sea view at the De La Warr, least of all in the cafe bar. With its floor to ceiling windows it would be an incredible place to capture a sunset. We were a little early for that, so instead enjoyed an afternoon treat of hot drinks and carrot cakes. All orders are taken at your table by staff wearing face coverings, and the spacious cafe has plenty of distance between tables.

 

Amazing architecture, challenging contemporary art, and a good cafe – and all with FREE entry. Plus the De La Warr Pavilion is also participating in England’s Creative Coast in 2021.

For more information on the De La Warr Pavilion, visit their website at https://www.dlwp.com/

 

 

 

15:45 Bexhill Colonnade

Before you leave, take a moment to say goodbye to the sea from Bexhill Colonnade, just behind the De La Warr Pavilion. Built in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of George VI, it predates the Pavilion by a good twenty years. But its sweeping balustrades and curvy copollas go well with the art deco curves of its younger neighbour. In finer weather I’m sure we would follow its steps to the shore. This time we witnessed wind whipping the shoreline with giant waves, a dramatic end to a fantastic weekend.

 

What else is there to do in Hastings with kids?

Smugglers Adventure

 

Cliff Railways

 

Blue Reef Hastings

 

Rustico Hastings

 

Read more about what there is to do in Hastings and 1066 Country with kids in my other blog post: 

 

Where to stay in Hastings with kids

We spent two nights in a family room at The White Rock Hotel, just opposite the pier on the Hastings sea front. The two bedroomed suite meant we could all have a little more space, whilst still being in easy reach. Thanks to their own television, they stayed in bed longer each morning. I really appreciated those extra minutes in bed.

 

The rooms are clean, and calm with neutral decor and giant cupboards to hold all. the. stuff. The shower room was recently renovated by the looks of things. Our bedroom had sea views over Hastings Pier, and it’s a short walk to Hastings centre. It proved a great base to drive to other parts of the region, and has free parking for guests at the back of the building.

 

Residents get 20% off breakfast, which are freshly cooked to order. The cooked breakfasts use local meats, and the giant fruit platters proved popular with the kids.

 

I hope you’re enjoyed our weekend in Hastings with kids itinerary. Do let me know if you visit any of these places, or have any other local recommendations. Comment below, or come find me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. I love hearing how you get on.

 

Disclosure: We visited 1066 Country in October 2020. In our group was myself, Museum Dad, Museum Boy (8) and Museum Girl (6). We were guests of Visit 1066 Country and received free accommodation and entrance to attractions as well as most food in return for an honest review. Additional photographs of Hastings come from our press trip in July 2020. 

 

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7 Comments

  1. January 25, 2021 / 4:36 pm

    Who knew there was so much to discover in Hastings! I’d love to explore such an historically important place. And that adventure park looks incredible. Just need lockdown to end and I’m there! #CulturedKids

    • museummum
      Author
      January 26, 2021 / 5:42 pm

      There’s so much in Hastings – we need another trip to do the Castle ruins, fishermen’s museum and wander the twitterns. Hope we can all travel again soon!

  2. Shelley Whittaker
    January 27, 2021 / 1:18 pm

    Fabulous photographs! It looks like you had a wonderful family weekend getaway #CulturedKids

  3. January 27, 2021 / 7:13 pm

    Such a lovely area for a weekend away and so many things to do. We missed Knockhatch – think the kids would love those slides! #CulturedKids

  4. January 28, 2021 / 12:30 pm

    that adventure park looks great for kids! we have Pandemic game at home, we often play board games, my husband can’t wait for the kids to be older so we can play with them. #culturedkids

  5. January 31, 2021 / 9:42 am

    Looks a like you had a great time before the Third Lockdown. I would love to see the Quentin Blake s exhibition, may be someday. I have not been to Hastings, you have certainly inspired me . I need to check out the game Pandemic.#culturekids

  6. January 31, 2021 / 9:50 am

    Looks like you had a wonderful time before the third lockdown. Glad you had this outing. I would love to check out Quentin Blake s exhibition., some day perhaps. I am curious about board game Pandemic, will check it out. #culturedkids

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