On the South coast of the ancient county of Sussex, between the rolling green hills of the South Downs and the rough, vast, open sea of the English Channel, lies a city called Brighton. You may have heard of it, or you may have not – either way, I think it’s worth going to if you are visiting the UK. Let me explain why.
Brighton is a thriving, youth-filled, and famously non-conformist seaside city only a 50-minute train journey from central London. With a population of 300,000, the city most certainly punches above its weight, having crafted a fiercely independent identity.
The city had humble beginnings in the middle ages, yet began to boom in the Victorian era, after a direct railway connection to London was opened in 1841. As London grew to the world’s largest city, Brighton served as its seaside resort – complete with beaches, two piers, a seafront pleasure-railway and a drastic promenade lined with prestigious hotels.
Nowadays the trend continues – though today’s visitors marvel in the splendour of Brighton’s culture equally if not more so than its picturesque seaside setting. Outside of London, Brighton has the largest and strongest “alternative” scene in the whole of the UK, and it really shows. Anybody can comprehensively experience Brighton in the best part of one weekend. This will offer a brief guide on what makes the city tick – and what you might want to see and do on a day here.
Brighton’s most iconic sight is, of course, its beachfront. Grand Victorian hotels line the seafront, separated from the rough sea by a vast beach. A walk along Brighton beach is a visit to Brighton made. Brighton beach is – unfortunately for some – a pebble beach, so you won’t find any sandcastles or get sand in your shoes. But you will nonetheless find hundreds of people strolling, hanging out, and dipping their feet in the (cold) water. Being at the South end of the country, Brighton is blessed with (relatively) warm weather – hence if visiting in the summer, you’ll witness these social activities continuing long into the night after the sun has set.
You’ll also find a massive pole sticking out of the horizon to the West of the city. This is the newly built Observation Tower – branded the I360 – rising 160 metres above the rooftops of the city. Although not an essential activity, tower tickets raise funds to restore Brighton’s long abandoned West pier – the haunting husk of which is clearly visible rising from the water adjacent to the tower.
Tickets for the I360 are £16 for timed entry (senior/child/student/resident discounts available), or flexi-tickets for an extra 50p – Click here for more info or to book ahead.
The Palace Pier
The Palace Pier, the only pier left standing in Brighton, certainly makes no effort to conceal itself. You’ll be hard-pressed to miss the brightly-lit pier bisecting the beach, jutting out from the centre of the city 500 metres out into the English Channel.
The pier fully embraces classic fairground entertainment, from 1930s coin-fed slot machines to 1980s arcade games. There is even a relatively large amusement park, with roller coasters and water rides, at the far end of the pier.
Because of its classic entertainment, the pier feels a little bit like a step back in time: from its creaky, wooden decking to its bright multicoloured billboards advertising Helter Skelters and ghost trains. Oh, and you’ll also find fantastically greasy fried fish takeaway served all day.
Brighton’s history and setting may be a major draw, but of equal standing is Brighton’s vibrant indie shopping scene. Brighton’s Lanes, a compact city-centre area of winding narrow streets, conceal hundreds of independent shops. Jewellers, chocolatiers, crafters, tailors, music shops, and artisanal restaurants populate the Lanes, and draw international crowds seeking the highest quality fabrics and foods.
Brighton’s shopping offer has long since outgrown the space offered in the Lanes themselves – the whole area around Bond Street and North Road is now littered with intriguing shops which can be easily missed. In this area, be prepared for a full alt-culture injection – ‘hipster’ beards, dyed hair, piercings, murals, and rainbow-colour flags.
Adjacent to this area, you will find perhaps Brighton’s most grandiose offering – the Royal Pavilion.
This giant palace, constructed in the early 1800s for a young King George IV as a seaside home, is a stunning architectural anomaly that looks more at home in India than in a seaside resort. The Pavilion is hard to miss given its size and outlandish appearance. The inside of the building is equally splendid, still decorated as an extravagant stately home, attracting over 400 million visitors per year through its gates.
Finally, Brighton’s biggest attraction for many young people is its scene. The city’s nightlife is bustling – numerous nightclubs alongside dozens of cocktail bars, taverns, and pubs open their doors to vast crowds of stag parties, students, and locals every weekend.
Being a hotbed of alternative culture, Brighton offers LGBTQ, rock, folk, drum&bass, and other themed club nights on a regular basis, drawing a huge amount of revellers and musicians to the city.
The live music scene is also among the healthiest in the country, and the well-developed public transport system will allow you to get home safely afterwards.
Brighton is also home to several theatres and indie cinemas, including the Duke of York’s Picturehouse, which screens classic films, foreign pictures, and some of the latest blockbuster hits.
Brighton also has a thriving and innovative food scene, as one would expect for such a free-thinking place. You’ll find plenty of foodie trends, classic eateries, and vegetarian options here. Tuck into some hearty plant-based dishes at Iydea, then pop up the block to The Office, a pub with a Thai menu that specializes in gin cocktails.
Have you visited Brighton? What did you like most?