Rye has a long and rich history, dating back to the 11th century. The town was founded by William the Conqueror after the Norman conquest of England and reclaimed from the Abbey of Fecamp in Normandy, by Henry III in 1247, when a castle was built to defend the town. Granted its first charter by King Edward I in 1252, Rye was a significant port in the Middle Ages. It became a member of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports in 1336, becoming one of the two ‘antient’ towns of the Cinque Ports.

As a centre of the fishing industry, Rye was known for its herring trade until it began to decline in importance as a port in the 16th century. The town’s harbour silted up, and was no longer able to accommodate large ships. Remaining a popular market town, Rye became a centre of the smuggling trade, with the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers meeting regularly in the Mermaid Inn.

By the 19th century, Rye was a busy market town and seaside resort, attracting many visitors. Rye became home to a number of notable artists and writers, including Henry James and E.F. Benson, providing inspiration for many. E.F Benson’s fictional town of ‘Tilling’, made famous by his ‘Mapp and Lucia’ books, was based upon Rye.

Today, Rye is a thriving town with a population of just under 5,000 people. A popular tourist destination, it is famous for its well-preserved medieval centre and picturesque Mermaid Street, beautiful coastline and vibrant arts and culture scene.


Fine views of the town and Romney Marsh may be had from the tower of St Mary’s Church. The Rye Heritage Centre contains the Rye Town Model Sound and Light Show and old pier amusement machines.

The Ypres Tower is a 14th century tower built to defend the town from attack, and offers stunning views of the town and the coastline. It is home to the Rye Castle Museum telling the story of Rye’s history.

St Mary's Church Credit: St Mary’s Church Archives
Rye Town Model, located at the Rye Heritage Centre. Credit: Rye Heritage Centre

Mermaid Street is a charming cobbled street that is lined with historic buildings, including the Mermaid Inn, said to be one of the oldest inns in England.

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is a beautiful wetland area by the coast, outside the town and home to the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre. The Reserve is home to a variety of birds and wildlife and is a popular spot for birdwatching, walking and cycling.

Lamb House is a Georgian house that was once the home of the American author Henry James and is now a museum that tells the story of James’s life and work, and Rye’s literary history.

In addition to these attractions, Rye has a number of other historic buildings, pubs and restaurants. The town is also home to a number of events and festivals throughout the year, including the Rye Scallop Festival, Rye Arts Festival and the Rye International Jazz Festival.

Lamb House, Rye. Credit: National Trust Images, Andrew Butler.
Mermaid Street: courtesy of The Mermaid Inn
Rye aerial view: Credit Sam Moore, Visual Air


Visit Rye:


01797 223902