The ultimate guide to visiting Brighton

Jun 7, 2020

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Given Brighton’s close proximity to London and being only a 40-minute train ride from Gatwick Airport, it’s the perfect spot for a day trip, a long weekend or a last-minute getaway.

With long-haul travel being paused at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic, this seaside Sussex resort is a terrific alternative. And of course, you’ll be supporting local businesses.

Brighton has a thriving arts scene, fabulous food, a huge LGBTQ community (one of the largest in the U.K.), tons of quirky shops and, of course, a beach — so there’s something for everyone.

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(Photo by coldsnowstorm/Getty Images)
(Photo by coldsnowstorm/Getty Images)

King George IV spent a lot of time in Brighton, building the iconic Royal Pavilion in the 1820s. Brighton continued to grow in popularity after the construction of the railways in 1841 — and it’s never looked back. It’s been described as the “happiest place to live in the U.K.” and about 11 million people visit every year.

So while far-flung destinations aren’t really an option at the moment, here’s all you need to know for when Brighton is next on your staycation list.

We recommend getting the train to Brighton rather than driving, as parking is both sparse and expensive. Most attractions are within walking distance of one another, and you’ll get to know this brilliant town so much better on foot.

Things to do

The beach

Brighton has a pebbled beach, so there’s no pesky sand to deal with. However, it’s not to everyone’s taste, so definitely bring some footwear suitable for the sea if you want to go swimming. The beach is nearly nine kilometres long and hundreds of brightly coloured beach huts overlook it. Access is, of course, free, but you will need to pay to use the typically British stripey deck chairs.

Read more: The ultimate guide to UK pet-friendly holidays

(Photo by BarbAnna/Getty Images)
(Photo by BarbAnna/Getty Images)

Brighton Palace Pier

Opened in 1899, the pier is one of the U.K.’s stalwart attractions. Despite the town being hip and quite edgy, the pier has kept its traditional “bucket and spade” Victorian charm. There’s an amusement park at the end with some hair-raising rides including the Mouse Trap and Helter Skelter, an arcade, loads of places to eat and the obligatory “face-in-hole” photo stands.

The Royal Pavilion

This exotic-looking building, inspired by Indian architecture, was originally built as a seaside retreat for King George VI. Starting as a lodging house, the famous architect John Nash was hired in 1815 to create the landmark that we see today. Nash also designed Buckingham Palace. During World War I, it was converted into a military hospital for soldiers from the Indian Army.

(Photo by thyme/Getty Images)
(Photo by thyme/Getty Images)

More than 2,300 soldiers from the Indian army were treated at the Royal Pavilion from 1914 to 1916, and it later became a rehab centre for men who had lost limbs during combat.

The former palace was converted into a state-of-the-art medical facility in less than two weeks. New plumbing and toilet facilities were established, and 600 beds were set up in new wards.

(Photo courtesy of the Royal Pavilion)

Now, highlights include the Banqueting Hall, where the king would have put on magnificent feasts, royal bedrooms and the saloon — pictures do not do its splendour justice. After taking in the Pavilion, don’t forget to have a stroll through the lovely gardens, too. Admission is £15 for adults and £9 for children.

The British Airways i360 viewing platform

For AvGeeks, you can get an aviation hit of sorts by gliding up into the Brighton sky on BA‘s 450-foot futuristic viewing pod, the i360. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Isle of Wight, 49 miles away. The pod can fit up to 175 people and there’s a Sky Bar, too. If you want to try something a bit different, there’s sky yoga or sky dining — both of which you need to book.

Read more: 8 of the best hotels in the Lake District

England, East Sussex, Brighton, British Airways i360 Tower (Photo by: Prisma by Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
(Photo by Prisma by Dukas/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Pod flights depart every 30 minutes with rides lasting approximately 25 minutes. If you’re feeling particularly flush, you can hire out the whole pod for a wedding, birthday party or even a proposal. Tickets cost £14.95 for adults aged 25 and over, £10 for under 25s and £7.40 for children aged 4 to 15.

The Lanes / North Laine

This area is a shopper’s paradise. The Lanes can be found in the town’s historic district, in what used to be the heart of the fishing village of Brighthelmstone. It’s a glorious maze of twisty alleyways and hidden corners — definitely do not visit in a rush. If you like aimlessly wandering around independent boutiques and jewellery shops without a plan and enjoy a curiosity shop, then the Lanes is for you. It’s also full of lovely little tea houses, pubs serving real ale and lots of vintage clothes shops. The Lanes are about a 15-minute walk from Brighton Station, right near the Royal Pavilion.

Meanwhile, North Laine, about a 10-minute walk from The Lanes, is another rather bohemian shopping area where you can search for “kitsch yet funky” fashion — including vegetarian shoes. North Laine is also home to stylish studios selling locally made jewellery, sculpture, ceramics, glass, metalwork and paintings.

Places to stay

There are roughly 160 hotels in Brighton, ranging from hostels to historic establishments. Here are are a few of our favourites.

The Grand Brighton

This 201-room beachfront spot has been described as the “grand dame” of Brighton hotels and is ideally located within about a 10-minute walk to all major attractions — as well as having uninterrupted views of the sea. The rooms are Art Deco-inspired over seven floors and it’s said the 1864-built hotel is a “palace by the sea with a thousand tales”.

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The Grand Hotel at Brighton
(Photo by paul mansfield photography/Getty Images)

It evokes nostalgic charm and the views are amazing. The Grand offers award-winning afternoon tea on the Victoria Terrace and there’s an onsite thermal spa, too. It’s a great stay for families and rooms start at about £100 a night for a standard double.

Hotel Pelirocco

This is arguably England’s most rock ‘n’ roll hotel. It has 19 brilliantly themed rooms and is located on Regency Square, minutes from the seafront. From David Bowie to Dolly Parton, each room is completely unique and has loads of characterful touches like light sabres, clothes for dressing up (stetson and holster anyone?) and lots of pop art.

Pelirocco opened in 2000 and is certainly the “enfant terrible” of the Brighton hotel scene. Probably not one for families, some of the decor is rather… saucy. But, it’s affordable and would make a fabulous venue for a hen or stag weekend or for couples looking for something with a bit of edge. Pelirocco is also Instagram heaven. Rooms start at about £99 per night for a double.

The Oriental

The Oriental is an arty boutique hotel found on Oriental Place, a minute’s walk to the sea and towards the Hove side of town. It has nine super stylish rooms, ranging from a cosy single to a luxurious velvet boudoir with a balcony. Despite what you’re paying, the service for all guests is five stars, including a full English breakfast. The Oriental has created a funky, art-filled reception/restaurant and bar area where you can enjoy a cocktail and complimentary cake while admiring the work of myriad local artists and jewellery makers.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0514.JPG
(Photo courtesy of The Oriental)

The rooms all come with L’Occitane toiletries and a basket of retro sweets (Space Invaders, Refreshers — proper school-packed lunch fare). The building is a grade-II listed townhouse and was once the notorious Brighton Belle nightclub where the likes of Fatboy Slim and Boy George honed their craft. Rooms start about £70 per night for a double.

Food and drink

There are hundreds of places to eat and drink in Brighton, so it would be a long read indeed to list them all here. We’ve picked a few tried and tested, some spots we want to try and, of course, the best place — in our opinion — for fish and chips.

Baqueano

This is the only Argentinian steak house in Brighton and it serves grass-fed, 45-day wet-aged premium Angus beef. The menu is simple and authentic and based on the four Argentine culinary principles: meat, dulce de leche, yerba mate and Malbec wine. Baqueano is owned and run by Argentinian couple Adriana and Jorge who are truly passionate about their project, and you can really tell. Make sure to book in advance, and prices are considered mid-range.

Billie’s Cafe

This is a real hidden gem brunch spot famous for its enormous hashes. At weekends, expect to queue, as you can’t book and it’s pretty small — but well worth it. It’s tucked away on a corner up a hill not far from the bustle of bar/club hotspot Preston Street.

We recommend trying the Welsh rarebit — two slices of wholemeal toast topped with grilled cheddar cheese, eggs and mustard. It will set you up for the day. Expect to pay less than £10 for most dishes.

Bar Valentino

This spot has been recommended by TPG’s Emily McNutt who says it’s a “great little place with great views over the Royal Pavilion”. It’s located in the heart of Brighton’s cultural centre, above a Spanish tapas restaurant and is the place to go for a pre-dinner imbibe or before you head to the theatre. The bar overlooks New Road where you can sip your drink while watching the town’s somewhat eccentric locals, performers and buskers. We recommend the Perfect Landing — a mix of aviation gin, Lacuesta Rojo and creme de violette — the “love child of aviation and the Matinez”.

The Gingerman

Part of the famous Ginger brand (the Ginger Pig is in nearby Hove and the Ginger Dog is in Kemptown), The Gingerman is the flagship restaurant and has been voted one of the best in Brighton. The menu is for serious foodies and has a definite French slant.

Expect choices such as smoked eel and bacon chowder and south coast pollock with cauliflower, hazelnut, monks beard and mushroom dashi. It’s a great place for couples or those dining in small groups as the space, located in Norfolk Square, is quite small and always a good sign — it’s very popular with locals. Booking is recommended. Prices are towards the higher end.

The Regency — for fish and chips

No trip to the seaside is complete without a delicious bag of fish and chips dripping with salt and vinegar. Brighton locals get asked all the time where their favourite is, and time and time again, The Regency crops up. The building used to be the palatial seafront home of Harriet Mellon, once the richest woman in Europe, who used to enjoy eating king prawns there while gazing out to sea. It was converted into a restaurant in the 1930s, so it’s one of Brighton’s oldest eateries. So not only can you get your fish and chips to take away, but there’s a nice dine-in option, too. And unlike a typical chippy, there’s also shellfish like lobster and scallops on the menu.

A few extras…

Brighton Pride

As Brighton is said to be the “gay capital of the U.K.”, each year the town hosts a huge Pride festival in the first week of August. (This year has been postponed). The festival consists of a parade through the city centre, a festival event in Preston Park and the Gay Village Party in Kemptown — as well as a Pride Dog Show. Hotels and B&Bs fill up quickly, so make sure to book far enough in advance.

The annual Brighton Pride parade on the 3rd August 2019 in Brighton in the United Kingdom. (photo by Sam Mellish / In Pictures via Getty Images)
The annual Brighton Pride parade in August 2019. (Photo by Sam Mellish/In Pictures/Getty Images)

The main stage has drawn some big names in the past such as Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, Human League and the Petshop Boys to name but a few. Over the past six years, Brighton Pride has raised more than £700,000 for the LGBTQ community.

“Pride takes over the city in a way that it can’t in London”, TPG U.K. reader Graham says. “If it’s a hot summer day then the atmosphere in the park is amazing — lots of things to do and different music and dance tents to keep losing and finding your friends again.

“Don’t forget the street party, which is more chilled but still packed on the Sunday. I would definitely recommend staying the night if you can (although good luck finding somewhere affordable)”.

Hove

Hove is Brighton’s neighbouring town and is about a 40-minute walk along the seafront. It’s quieter than Brighton and has Hove Lawns, a huge green space perfect for families and with bowling greens and tennis courts. You can walk to Hove village itself from the sea, taking in the wide tree-lined streets full of sprawling, beautiful villas. It has its own wonderful culinary scene and loads of cool shops and is a great place to go if Brighton gets too crowded.

(Photo by Laurence Cartwright Photography/Getty Images)
(Photo by
Laurence Cartwright Photography/Getty Images)

Our pick of eateries and cafes include Planet India Hove, The Little Fish Market, Rootcandi (vegan tapas) and Market Restaurant Bar. For trinket or art shopping, head to Jule’s Emporium, Three Angels, Grange Museum and Art Gallery and Cameron Contemporary Art.

How to get there

From London, you can get a direct train from London Bridge, Blackfriars or Victoria station. It takes about an hour and ticket prices range from about £35 on the day return to about £12 return if booked in advance. National Express and Megabus coach companies also go to Brighton, departing from Victoria Coach Station. Journey times are about three hours.

Bottom line

From exceptional food and braving the chilly British sea to a big night out on the seafront, Brighton is a destination for every taste. It’s very easy to get to, accessible once you’re there and is also chock full of history. Our tips and recommendations mean you won’t be overwhelmed if it’s your first visit — then you can create your own guide.

Featured photo by Laurie Noble/Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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