Vibrant, quirky and cool, Brighton is one of Britain’s most popular seaside destinations. The essence of the city’s appeal is its faintly bohemian vitality, a buzz that comes from a mix of holiday-makers, foreign-language students, a thriving gay community (often dubbed the English LGBT capital), and an energetic local student population from the art college and two universities.
Any trip to Brighton inevitably begins with a visit to to its two most famous landmarks – the exuberant Royal Pavilion and the wonderfully tacky Brighton Pier – followed by a stroll along the seafront promenade or the pebbly beach. Just as interesting, though, is an exploration of Brighton’s car free Lanes – the maze of narrow alleys marking the old town – or meander through the more bohemian streets of North Laine.
For Londoner’s Brighton is a short one hour train ride away, a perfect weekend getaway where partying and pleasure offer a perfect punch to the ultimate English vacation. Here are my Top 10 Must See’s and Do’s in Brighton:
1) Artist Residence
Artist Residence is a 23 bedroom art and design focussed boutique hotel, cocktail bar and restaurant centrally located in Brighton’s historic Regency Square, offering sea views over the iconic West Pier. The hotel has been open for seven years after its owner Justin took time out of university to take over the hotel from his mother in 2008. Each of the boutique hotels rooms are designed and painted by a different local artist. The result is a collection of unique, artsy yet luxurious spaces. Some featuring bold murals, others with a quieter aesthetic.
Upon arrival I rolled my suitcase into a wee elevator and shot up to the top floor where I found an absolutely charming space. A vintage radio was playing old school French jazz, bathroom was bright and outfitted with a lovely rain shower while a small desk featured complimentary tea and chocolate covered caramel wafers. One quickly feels right at home here.
2) Brighton Pier and Beachfront
To soak up the tackier side of Brighton, head down to the seafront and take a stroll along Brighton Pier, completed in 1899, its every inch devoted to cacophonous fun and money-making. The busiest section of the seafront lies between Brighton Pier and the derelict West Pier, half a mile west along the seafront; here, down at beach level underneath the old fishermen’s arches, the Lower Esplanade is lined with cafes, giftshops, galleries, bars and clubs. East of Brighton Pier, the 165ft Brighton Wheel offers panoramic views of the city.
3) The Royal Pavilion
In any survey to find England’s most loved building, there’s always a bucketful of votes for Brighton’s exotic extravaganza, the Royal Pavilion. The building was the south-coast pied-a-terre of the fun-loving Prince Regent (the future George IV), who first visited the seaside resort in 1783 and spent much of the next forty years partying, gambling and frolicking with his mistress here. The building you see today is the work of John Nash, architect of London’s Regent Street, who in 1815 redesigned the Prince’s original modest dwelling into an extraordinary confection of slender minarets, twirling domes, pagodas, balconies and miscellaneous motifs imported from India and China. The result defined a genre of its own – Oriental Gothic.
4) Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
Across the gardens from the Pavilion stands the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery – once part of the royal stable block – which houses a wonderful and eclectic mix of modern fashion and design, archeology, painting and local history. Among the highlights are Dali’s famous sofa based on Mae West’s lips and 13,000-object ethnographic collection.
5) The Lanes and North Laine
Tucked between the Pavilion and the seafront is a warren of narrow, pedestrianized alleyways known as The Lanes – the core of the old fishing village from which Brighton evolved. Long established antique shops and jewellers’, designer outlets and several cafes, pubs and restaurants make this a great place to wander.
Vibrant, buzzy North Laine, which spreads north of North Street along Kensington Gardens and Sydney, Gardner and Bond streets, is more offbeat than the Lanes. Here the eclectic shops, selling secondhand records, vintage gear, homeware, upmarket fashion and New Age objects, mingle with cool coffee shops and bars.
Be sure to check out the famous replica of Banksy’s ‘Kissing Policemen’ which can be found framed on the back exterior wall of the Prince Albert Pub on Trafalgar Street. Two of my favourite finds that you just can’t miss include Vine Street Vintage (a fabulous antique shop and cafe) and Beyond Retro (a massive vintage clothing warehouse).
6) Afternoon Tea at Metrodeco
The place to come for afternoon tea, this Parisian-style tea salon in Kemp Town serves over twenty bespoke blends of tea, dainty sandwiches, scones and fancies, all presented on vintage crockery. Splash out on a “tea cocktail” for the full Metrodeco experience.
I ordered a hot pot of the Masala Chai Express and the thirst quenching Shady Lady Tea Cocktail (featuring gin infused Shades of Grey tea, pomegranate rose cordial, lychee liqueur, tonic). My double decker plates were adorned with a selection of sandwiches (brie and onion marmalade, ham and chutney, salmon cream cheese cucumber, pesto avocado tomato), sweets (lavender ginger marshmallow, raspberry macaron, pear and dark chocolate tart) and classic scones slathered in strawberry jam and clotted cream.
7) Brighton Gin Tasting at Urchin Pub in Hove
I headed over to neighbouring Hove for a delightful seafood lunch at Urchin Pub with the two bubbly founders of Brighton Gin. Kathy Caton (a former restauranteur) and Helen Chesshire (spirits specialist and beverage PR pro) have created a very special craft gin which is currently available in over 90 bars and restaurants throughout the city. Before we sat down to a titanic feast featuring scallops, prawns and mussels they gave me a tour of their wee operation located in the pub’s basement. We then sipped ourselves silly on four gin spiked cocktails: clasic gin & tonic, gin martini with a twist, Pimm’s no 1 and Negroni.
8) North Laine Brewery
The North Laine Brewery is a stylish and welcoming public house on a big scale: offering traditional food with a modern slant, an onsite brewery and dining room filled with huge feasting tables that help make it the social hub of this part of town. As a temple to the worship of cask ale and continuing a brewing heritage that once saw ten sizeable breweries operating in Brighton, the pub contains a state-of-the-art microbrewery which produces a variety of cask ales. To date they have produced 12 beers, of which the most popular are the IPA, ESB and Porter. Tours of the brewery are offered Monday to Thursday, although if your lips are parched any afternoon or evening on the weekend its a great spot to familiarize yourself with a few new brews.
9) Court Garden Winery
If you’re keen to head out of town and enjoy a rural romp of the surrounding countryside be sure to enjoy the quick 20 minute drive to the award winning Court Garden Winery. It’s a family-run affair (prior to the recession the family predominantly focussed on sheep farming), single-estate vineyard and winery in East Sussex, set on a beautiful south-facing slope with the South Downs as a backdrop. Call in advance to organize a tour and you’ll be greeted with traditional British hospitality (hot pot of tea and sweet cakes) before marching out amongst the vines for a hilarious and informative one hour tour. On the way back from the vineyard the group is educated on the rudiments of sparkling wine production and introduced to the process and equipment used to make this celebrated bubbly. Back in the tasting room enjoy a comparative tasting with two of the winery’s English sparkling wines to suss out your favourite.
10) Gay Bar Hopping
No trip to Brighton is complete without a late night gay bar-hopping bacchanal. For many visitors the main draw of a weekend away in Brighton is a rainbow splashed party as the city is often dubbed England’s gay capital. I was most impressed to see that the majority of gay bars here offer stunning views of the pier and seafront (talk about real estate perfection)! Start your night off on the patio at Legends, the city’s gay watering hole is the perfect spot to stare out at the pier and watch the sunset across the beach. Head over to Bulldog’s second floor for a hilarious drag show and sip a few pints on the main floor to appreciate the city’s oldest and iconic gay bar. If you’re looking for a proper dance-tastic night out head to Revenge for disco ball revelry.
My visit to Brighton was a press trip coordinated by Visit Britain. Flights, accommodation, restaurant visits and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.