If you were to imagine a quintessential English town this would be it.
Rye is in East Sussex, a county in the southeast of England, and about two hours by car from London’s Heathrow airport. The county is equally charming, thanks to countless other towns and villages that seem straight out of a coffee table book.
This is small-town England, given its population of 4,773. However, it punches well above its weight, especially at the weekend when many Londoners come for a getaway or stay in their second home.
The ancient town of Rye, as it has been dubbed since at least the mid-19th century, was encompassed by walls during King Edward III’s reign in the 14th century, when the Cinque Ports confederation — you could call it a kind of English equivalent of the Hanseatic League — was at its peak. Today, only one of the four original medieval gates remain.
Even older fortifications can be found at Ypres Tower, which was built to repel marauding French from just across the English Channel. Today, it houses a museum full of local history.
The picture-perfect cityscape with its mix of cobblestone streets, medieval timber or half-timber facades and Georgian-era homes was seemingly made for the Instagram hashtag set. The best view comes from atop the crenellated bell tower of St. Mary’s, the mid-12th century parish church. Visiting hours are daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with hours extended to 6 p.m. during the summer.
Make the Mermaid Inn your home away from home. First established in the 13th century, the present building on the aptly named Mermaid Street dates to 1420. It is one of those old-school — or rather, olde English — inns. Alternatively, consider the Standard Inn.
Within driving distance is the purported battlefield where the Anglo-Saxons under King Harold were conquered by William, duke of Normandy in 1066. Also nearby are the spectacular churches of the Romney Marsh in the neighboring county of Kent, which were the featured in this column’s debut over two years ago.
If you go
Airfares to London, both with the legacy airlines and low-cost carriers, are seemingly as low as ever. It isn’t unusual to find round-trip airfare for under $500, which means jet-setting to Rye for a three-day weekend affordable and easy.