The best things to do this summer in West Sussex are surprisingly varied for a county dominated by a massive national park. While this part of England's south coast is certainly beautiful and famous for its natural beauty, there's more to it than rolling green hills and verdant valleys.

    Our selection of ways to make the most of your summer in West Sussex include opportunities to step back into the past through both manmade and natural attractions. This part of the English coastline has plenty of human history on show, taking you as far back as Neolithic times. However, the grander examples that give you a more dramatic visit date from only a few hundred years ago.

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    West Wittering Beach

    One of the best beaches in West Sussex

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    West Wittering Beach is one of the very few sandy shorelines in West Sussex, with most of the others being shingle and pebbles. However, there's more to West Wittering than just sand. It’s also a great spot for water sports, including surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. There are lifeguards on duty in the summer as well as deck chairs, colourful beach huts and surfing instructors available for hire.

    West Wittering Beach is found at the mouth of Chichester Harbour. Keep walking east along the shore, past the beachfront cafe and car park, and you’ll reach East Head, which is a National Trust-protected Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to a variety of wading birds and wildfowl. Walk west and you’ll reach the pebbly East Wittering Beach.

    Location: Pound Rd, West Wittering, Chichester PO20 8AJ, UK

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 8.30 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1243 514143

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    2

    Bognor Regis

    Beach, Butlin’s and birdmen

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    Bognor Regis is one of the most famous seaside resorts on England’s south coast. Just 55.5 miles south-west of London, it’s a popular escape from the big city, with its popularity exploding in the 1960s when the Butlin’s holiday camp opened. As you might expect, the town now has a wide range of things to see and do, including riding the Hotham Park Miniature Railway and eating at the dozens of fish and chip shops.

    Perhaps one of the most bizarre things to do in summer in West Sussex can be found in Bognor Regus. Every year since 1978, people have thrown themselves off the town’s pier attached to elaborate unpowered flying machines, hoping to fly further into the English Channel than any other and be named the International Bognor Birdman. You’ve got to see it to believe it!

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    3

    Country estates

    Check out the homes and gardens of the gentry

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    The rolling green hills of West Sussex have drawn an extraordinary number of aristocrats over the centuries, leading to the county containing dozens of country houses and estates. It certainly doesn’t have the greatest number of houses, but those it has are in impressively good condition and are well worth visiting.

    One of the top country estates in West Sussex is the Grade I-listed Goodwood House, which was built around 1600 on grounds covering over 12,000 acres. Wakehurst is about the same age and, while the house is much smaller, the 490-acre gardens are more impressive, being managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Arguably the most impressive and most popular pick is Arundel Castle, which belongs to the Duke of Norfolk.

    photo by Silly Little Man (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

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    South Downs National Park

    Walk in the footsteps of Neolithic people

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    The South Downs National Park consists of 627 square miles of rolling green hills, ancient woodlands, Iron Age hillforts, Roman ruins, and quaint modern villages. The largest part of the national park is in West Sussex – 312 square miles of the total amount. Across the whole park, you’ll find over 5,000 listed buildings and 166 Conservation Areas. There are also several dark sky sites, where you can see more stars and planets in the night sky than you normally would.

    One of the main highlights of the South Downs National Park is the South Downs Way – one of the oldest trails in the country, which has been in use for about 8,000 years. The 100-mile path is great for walking and cycling and passes many beautiful sights.

    Location: North St, Midhurst GU29 9DH, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1730 814810

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    5

    Worthing

    Enjoy a Purple-Flagged night on the town

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    Worthing is a large seaside town about 10 miles west of Brighton. The towns are actually connected, making one long conurbation right along England’s south coast. The Worthing part of that area features the Art Deco Connaught Theatre, the 300-year-old Midsummer Tree, a fantastic pier, and the impressive costume collection of Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.

    Being a seaside town, Worthing naturally has a beach, though it’s very pebbly. It’s also got a pretty good nightlife scene, which has been awarded Purple Flag status as an indication of how safe and vibrant it is.

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    6

    Chichester

    Take a step into ancient history

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    Chichester is an ancient and beautiful cathedral city, with Anglo-Saxon and Roman structures still around to be seen. It’s not hard to see why this place would have been an important centre thousands of years ago, being at the head of a natural harbour on England’s south coast. Even today, the city has several marinas, though they are mostly filled with pleasure craft and not fishing boats or galleys these days.

    The highlight of Chichester is undoubtedly its 12th-century cathedral. It's at the heart of what is a surprisingly small city centre, ringed by cobbled streets, museums, monuments, and pleasant parks. It's not the most lively and exciting place, but it's a good destination for a slow-paced step into the past.

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    7

    Weald & Downland Living Museum

    Get a taste of the past in this living museum

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    The Weald & Downland Living Museum spans an impressive 40 acres of the South Downs National Park, recreating West Sussex villages from different periods of history. It features original houses and workshops from as far back as the 14th century, as well as a watermill from the 17th century and farm buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, among plenty of others.

    It is a living museum, of course, which means that it’s not just a collection of dusty old buildings. You can visit the Tudor kitchen to try 16th-century dishes like beef and prune stew or check out the saddleback pigs and the cute Southdown sheep in their pens. You can even see medieval farming practises in action in the nearby fields.

    Location: Town Ln, Chichester PO18 0EU, UK

    Open: Daily from 10.30 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1243 811363

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    8

    Devil’s Dyke

    A lovely valley with an unusual tale to tell

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    The Devil’s Dyke is the rather dramatic name for a 300-ft-deep V-shaped valley along the South Downs Way – the deepest and longest dry valley in the UK. The story goes that the Devil attempted to flood Sussex and drown its inhabitants rather than allow them to become the last of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to convert to Christianity, but some clever trickery resulted in him leaving his work half-finished.

    The scenery in and around the Devil’s Dyke is beautiful, and the ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort add to its appeal. It’s a great place for hiking, cycling and even paragliding. The site became especially popular during the Victorian era, being transformed into a giant fairground, though only a few traces of the attraction still remain.

    Location: Devil's Dyke Rd, Brighton BN1 8YJ, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)344 800 1895

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    9

    The Long Bench

    Take a record-breaking seat

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    The Long Bench is a fun little attraction right by Littlehampton Beach, which is exactly what it sounds like – a very long place to sit. It’s worth mentioning that not all of the bench is especially practical for sitting on. The installation was designed to resemble a piece of washed up driftwood, meaning that it tangles and loops around on itself. However, it can still seat about 300 people in total along its 1,000-ft length.

    The bench opened in July 2010 but is constantly evolving in a rather novel way. You can buy a hardwood slat for a 5-year period and get it engraved with a special message. Many have been used to commemorate weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and more. Head to the project’s website to order your slat in advance and surprise your loved one.

    Location: East Beach, Beach Cres, Littlehampton BN17 5NT, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1903 737500

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    10

    Goodwood Festival of Speed

    Get up-close with classic sports cars

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    The Goodwood Festival of Speed sees the hills and valleys of West Sussex reverberate with the roar of classic car engines. The annual hill climb race runs along a 1.16-mile route on the grounds of Goodwood House. Being a hill climb rather than a regular motor race, spectators can get unusually close to the track and get a close-up view of classic sports cars.

    Generally held across 4 days towards the end of June or in early July, the Goodwood Festival of Speed is easily one of the best things to do in summer in West Sussex. The event has a fun and lively atmosphere and attracts up to 150,000 people. While the hill climb is the main event and the one the festival was founded around, other events have been added, including a downhill competition for gravity-powered cars.

    Location: Goodwood Motor Circuit, Chichester PO18 0PH, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1243 755055

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    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

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