Rye is a small town and civil parish in the Rother district, in East Sussex, England, two miles from the sea at the confluence of three rivers: the Rother, the Tillingham and the Brede. In medieval times, as an important member of the Cinque Ports confederation, it was at the head of an embayment of the English Channel, and almost entirely surrounded by the sea. Its historical association with the sea has included providing ships for the service of the Crown in time of war, and being involved in smuggling. The notorious Hawkhurst Gang used its ancient inns The Mermaid Inn and The Olde Bell Inn, which are said to be connected to each other by a secret passageway.
Those historic roots and its charm make it a tourist destination, with hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, tea rooms, and restaurants. One such hotspot is Mermaid Street, which was named one of the most instagrammed streets in the UK. Rye also has a small fishing fleet, and Rye Harbour has facilities for yachts and other vessels.
Rye, over the centuries, has successively been an entrepôt port, a naval base, a fishing port, an agricultural centre, and a market town. Rye now depends on its tourist appeal, attracting visitors from all over the world. The old part of the town within the former town walls has shops, art galleries and restaurants. Additionally, Rye is known for its oast houses. Many have been converted into private residences, however a few, like the Playden Oasts Inn, remain open to the public.
The great attractiveness of the town has kept it on the tourist trail, especially its "perfect cobbled lanes, like Mermaid Street, which must be one of Britain's most photographed". A 2020 report praised the medieval streets "often wonky houses and it is easy to get lost in the town's history". Camber Sands beach, "with its moody sand dunes and long sandy beach", is nearby. The town and its surrounding areas were branded "1066 country" because of the historic aspects. Few statistics are published for Rye as a town, but an estimated one million visits were made in 2016.
Since the Second World War, the town has become a centre for ceramics. Apart from its tourist base, Rye continues to operate as a port. At Rye Harbour, the Rastrums Wharf has the capacity to take large ships up to 80 metres (260 ft) on a high tide.
Considerable investment has been made in facilities for both the fishing fleet berthed at Rye and the commercial wharves at Rye Harbour. Rye and Hastings fishing boats are code-lettered RX and land fish daily. Some of the catch is sold at the quayside, though most is sold through the great regional market in Boulogne.
Rye also is an important yachting base, offering the only safe haven for many miles in either direction along this section of Channel coast. Yachts may currently moor either at Rye Harbour or at the Strand Quay at the edge of the town. Numerous plans have been proposed for a modern yacht marina to be built at Rye, but each has foundered on economic or planning grounds.
Rye railway station is on the Marshlink line between Hastings and Ashford. This now provides an hourly service from Eastbourne to Ashford International connecting with Eurostar services to Paris Gare du Nord and the high-speed Class 395 service to London St Pancras. Gatwick Airport may be reached by rail via Eastbourne or Lewes.
Rye has a population of over 4,773 people.