South Downs National Park

Chilcomb Village, South Downs National Park, Hampshire, England
Chilcomb Village, South Downs National Park, Hampshire – © by Peter Facey via Wikipedia commons

The South Downs National Park is located in the counties of Hampshire, East Sussex and West Sussex in southern England. Designated a national park in 2010, the South Downs is one of the newest national parks in the UK. The national park incorporated both the former East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Sussex Downs AONB, to form the national park and is known for its varied landscapes, stunning views, variety of wildlife and habitats and a number of charming market towns.

The national park is managed by the South Downs National Park Authority and the towns of Lewes, Midhurst and Petersfield are the largest market towns located inside any UK national park. The area provides an area of peace, tranquillity and natural beauty in the south of England. The park is located approx 33% within Hampshire, 50% within West Sussex and 17% within East Sussex.

The area has a rich history and culture and includes nearly 750 scheduled ancient monuments, 165 conservation areas and includes Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) noted for their biological and geological importance and National Nature Reserves in areas that include Beacon Hill, Kingley Vale and Lullington Heath.

The area is popular for day trippers, horse riding, hang gliding, paragliding, ballooning, walking and cycling with a number of routes to explore. Visitors can enjoy the scenic coastline, varied wildlife and inspiring views and take part in a range of activities whilst enjoying the tranquil, unspoilt areas offering the opportunity to get away from it all.

Quick Facts

South Downs National Park:

Year of Designation: 2010

Population: 120,000

Scheduled Ancient Monuments: 741

Conservation Areas: 165

Size in square kilometres: 1,624

Main Settlements: Arundel, Lewes, Midhurst, Petersfield and Steyning.
Located in: Hampshire, East Sussex and West Sussex.
Highest Point: Blackdown at 280 metres.


South Downs National Park is located in the south of England; the national park provides a place where visitors can enjoy the peace and tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of the large towns and cities located in the built up south region. The park is an ideal place to relax, unwind and get closer to nature. Historically the South Downs have been inhabited for many centuries, with evidence from some of the earliest settlements in Britain, there are a number of archaeological sites including the Iron Age hill fort sites of Cissbury Ring and Old Winchester Hill. Currently the economy is based on agriculture, food and drink, mineral resources and tourism. The park has three main market towns; Lewes, Midhurst and Petersfield providing the bulk of employment and services in the area.

The location in the south of England spread across the counties of Hampshire, East Sussex and West Sussex means visitors to the South Downs increase in the summer months with many visitors and holiday makers from the UK and beyond visiting the region on holiday and short breaks. The South Downs are located within 90 minutes hours drive from London and 2 to 4 hours drive from many areas in the south west of England, East of England and the Midlands. From London and the south east and south west regions, transport links means visitors can enjoy a weekend or short break at the national park.

The area is famous for its scenic areas of chalk hills including the well known Beachy Head and Seven Sisters in Eastbourne, river valleys, ancient woodland, heathland and an impressive coastline. The area boasts a range of wildlife and habitats and includes the entire route of the South Downs Way National Trail stretching across the length of the park. The South Downs does not include any major cities or towns within its borders, in common with other national parks in the UK, however the park does include the market towns of Lewes, Midhurst and Petersfield that are the largest of market towns located in UK national parks along with a number of smaller villages and hamlets.

The Special qualities relating to the areas landscape, environment, history, wildlife, natural beauty, geology, archaeology including Iron Age hillforts, Norman churches and landmarks from two world wars ensure South Downs is a special place. The qualities include its areas of chalk downland that the area is best known for, river valleys, coastal cliffs, woodland, greensands providing a diverse and inspirational landscape. The rich history, way of life, traditions and strong local communities in the local towns, villages and hamlets mark the area out as special. The archaeology, geology, historical cultural heritage, nature conservation, diverse wildlife and habitats help to make the South Downs a special place.

Local accommodation includes a choice of hotels including budget options and luxurious hotels, B & B’s, Guest Houses, Self Catering houses, cottages, camping facilities and pub stays; there is accommodation available in the market towns of Lewes, Midhurst and Petersfield all conveniently located within the park boundary. Just outside the boundary is Winchester, Chichester, Worthing, Brighton, Portsmouth and Southampton all of which are located within a few miles of various areas of the national park and offer a choice of accommodation, facilities, amenities and transport links providing another option for visitors when exploring South Downs and the surrounding local area.

Visitor Centres are located at various locations in the South Downs. Visitor centres are located at Beachy Head close to Eastbourne in the east of the park, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, 4 miles from Petersfield and Seven Sisters Country Park a few miles from Seaford, each centre has knowledgeable staff with local knowledge on local attractions, things to see and do, local tips and advice. The centres include books, maps, gifts, stationary and more. A visit to the visitor centres main centres provide a good first port of call for visitors and can help to better plan, organise and enjoy your trip.

South Downs Towns include Lewes located under 20 miles north west of Eastbourne in East Sussex. The scenic market town is the county town of East Sussex, the town has plenty of charm and character. There are a choice of independent shops, antique shops and a number of art galleries in the town along with local amenities and services making the town popular with visitors to the area.

Local attractions include historic Lewes Castle, dating back to the 11th century, the castle stands on the highest point in Lewes, the remain of Lewes Priory, an important historical site of medieval England and the 15th century Anne of Cleves House that includes interesting collections of furniture and artefacts relating to Sussex. History has been reserved in the town with cobbled streets evident at Keere Street that includes a number of historical buildings, the town is known for its fine architecture and attracts many visitors benefiting from its geographical location and historic attractions.

Midhurst is a market town located 12 miles north of Chichester in West Sussex. The scenic town is located on the River Rother, the town dates back to medieval times and today visitors can see a number of historic buildings and architecture dating back across the centuries. Local attractions include the ruins of Cowdray House, a historic Tudor Manor dating back to the 13th century that was destroyed at the end of the 18th century. The Cowdray Estate hosts a number of English pursuits including golf, clay pigeon shooting and fishing. The town is the home of English polo, hosting several matches from April to September culminating in the Veuve Cliquot Gold Cup that attracts international polo players. Other attractions include Midhurst Museum, showcasing the history of the town, with a number of monthly changing exhibitions.

Woolbeding Gardens are administered by the National Trust, located in Midhurst, the gardens are scenic 20th century gardens that include a landscaped garden and the garden rooms that includes the fountain garden, herb garden, vegetable garden, well garden and orangery. The Tulip Folly provides visitors with some splendid views and a place where families can enjoy a picnic in the open space. Visitors can take a gentle stroll in scenic surroundings and enjoy the tranquil environment and views of the River Rother. The town of Midhurst offers a choice of shops, restaurants and amenities and a convenient location within the national park making it a popular place for visitors to base themselves when visiting the South Downs and the surrounding areas.

Petersfield is a market town located 20 miles east of Winchester in Hampshire. Petersfield was built as a new Norman town back in the 11th century; it is now a local hub for commerce, shopping, accommodation and eating out. Petersfield Square hosts weekly markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays in addition there are farmers markets on the first Sunday of each month. Local attractions include the Church of St Peter, a Norman church that dates back to the 12th century and includes a number of period features. Petersfield Museum showcases the social history of the town with a number of collections and exhibitions for visitors to explore with a range of photos, achieves, maps and artefacts.

The Flora Twort Gallery is an art gallery dedicated to the work of English painter Flora Twort, the collection includes the historic costume collection and other pieces by the artist, there is a temporary exhibition space that displays works by other artists too. The town includes a number of shops, amenities, pubs and restaurants making it a convenient place for visitors to base themselves from when exploring the South Downs.

South Downs Way National Trail, is a 100 mile long national trail that stretches all the way along the national park from Winchester the ancient Saxon capital of Wessex to the scenic Victorian seaside town of Eastbourne. It is currently the only national trail located wholly within a national park, the 100 mile trail would take approx 8 to 9 days to walk and 2 to 4 days cycling. The trail can be used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders who can see a range of beautiful landscapes along the route with great views across the English Channel and the Isle of Wight, ancient woodland, chalk grasslands, a range of wildlife, historic attractions scenic villages and a choice of traditional pubs where visitors can enjoy a choice of foods and drinks. Each year there is the annual walk, a 9 day organised walk that goes across the full length of the trail, established for over 30 years, it attracts walkers from around the world.

Walks & Activities are available in the South Downs, with 3,000 kilometres of rights of way, the area is a walkers paradise. The South Downs Way National Trail is located along the entire length of the park along with a choice of woodlands, countryside walks and country parks there are a choice of walks visitors can enjoy and see the best in the scenic beauty of the park and see the wildlife up close. There are a range of walks available including those with an interest in history, the countryside, the coastline, family walks, nature walks, riverside walks and more. There are a number of Bus Walks available; walks go across the downs across bridleways and footpaths across areas from Beachy Head to Worthing. Cycling is a popular activity in the park with country roads, forest tracks, bridleways and a number of forest and cross country cycle trails. Electric Bikes can be hired making exploring the hills much easier.

Other activities in the park include paragliding, hang-gliding, zorbing, mountain-boarding, golf and a range of water sports including sailing, wind surfing, jet skiing, kayaking and canoeing; offering visitors with a great way to further explore the national park and see the best in the scenic landscape and environment of the park. The activities and walks cater for people of all abilities, with a range of things to see, do and experience, there is something for a variety of tastes and interests.

For visitors, the South Downs has plenty to offer, it is a popular destination for day trippers, weekend and short breaks and longer breaks enjoying good road and public transport links, making it assessable from a number of regions. The range of landscapes including a scenic coastline, landscapes including the famous chalk hills and historic towns, villages and hamlets makes the South Downs a great place to relax, enjoy the great outdoors away from the bustle and bustle of the towns and cities.

How to Get There

The South Downs is accessible by both car and public transport.

By Car:

The northern borders of the South Downs are located approx 45 miles from central London, the market town of Midhurst is located 55 miles from London. From London, take the A3036, then the A214 and then the A3. At the junction with the A283 exit toward Milford/Petworth, continue along the A283/Cheery Tree Road on to the A286 Haslemere Road continue along the A286 that leads to Midhurst. The approx journey time is 1 hour 25 minutes to 2 hours depending on traffic and time of day.

By Train:

The train station at Petersfield has regular services from London Waterloo station the journey time is approx 1 hour 30 minutes, depending on service and time of day. There are services from London Victoria station to Arundel, the approx journey time is 1 hours 30 minutes depending on service, time of day and connections. From London Bridge station there are services to Lewes station, the journey time is approx 1 hour 10 minutes.

By Bus/Coach:

There are regular coaches available from London Victoria coach station to Petersfield, the approx journey time is 2 hours to 2 hours 40 minutes depending on service, traffic and time of day. From Brighton, there are coach services available to Arundel, the journey time is approx 1 hour. Coach services are provided by National Express

There are a number of bus services operating in and around the national park. The bus service route 1 operates from Worthing to Midhurst in the national park. From Brighton the bus routes 28/29 and 29B go to Lewes in the national park. For more information on the various bus services available please see: South Downs Transport.

Contact Details

South Downs Park Authority
Hatton House
Bepton Road
West Sussex
GU29 9LU

Telephone: +44 (0)300 303 1053

Website: South Downs National Park Authority


View Larger Map

For Local Search and Directions see: South Downs National Park Map

Tips & Other Considerations

The weather and climate can be unpredictable, there can be elements of all four seasons in one day. Ensure you check the weather forecast before you travel and have the correct clothing and footwear including comfortable walking shoes, fleece, raincoat and umbrella.

Follow travel advice and remain alert, vigilant and aware of your belongings at all times especially your wallet/purse and valuables and ensure they are hidden away from public view. If you have a bag try to use a shoulder bag with a good quality, strong strap, that is put across your shoulder not on your shoulder making it more difficult for anyone to take your bag.

If you are travelling by car to the South Downs ensure you are well prepared with maps and Sat Nav to aid your journey, particularly if you are not familiar with the local area and roads. Use the journey planner for door to door directions. Check traffic updates before you travel.

If you are looking for car parking in and around the national park, ensure you fully understand the rules, regulations & charges for car parks and street parking. The rules & regulations can be complex & confusing if you are unclear, it is wise not to park there.

If you are travelling by public transport, check for service updates prior to beginning your journey for any delays, disruption or cancellations to services that may impact on your journey. Ensure you have the service timetables for the trains, trams, buses and coaches. Remember when the last services are and ensure you make it to the train/bus/coach stops well in time to avoid missing the service.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Disclaimer: The information given in on this website is given in good faith and to the best of our knowledge. If there are any discrepancies in no way do we intend to mislead. Important travel details and arrangements should be confirmed and verified with the relevant authorities.
Copyright © 2024 Essential Travel Guide Ltd. All Rights Reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced in any form or by any means without our written permission.