We’re not pretending the concept of a weekend in Brighton is anything new — Londoners have been day tripping here since the railway arrived in the 19th century, and we've already told you about some of the more unusual things to do in this East Sussex seaside resort. It's one of the easiest city breaks from London and has the full package — beaches, cosmopolitan city centre and lively nightlife, all within an hour or so of the capital, earning it the nickname 'London-on-Sea'.
Getting to and around Brighton
Direct trains run from both London Bridge and London Victoria stations to Brighton — you’re looking at a journey time of around an hour. The train whizzes you to the centre of the city, around a 15-minute walk from the seafront. If you're planning to head a bit further out of the city centre, there are many buses — head for Western Road at the top end of Churchill Square Shopping Centre, as most routes pass through here.
Alternatively, take to two wheels. BTN BikeShare is the city's official cycle hire scheme, with hubs all over the city, and a live map telling you how many bikes are currently available at each location. (By the way, do keep an eye out for bikes and bike tracks as you walk around, particularly along the seafront.)
One more method of transport worth a mention is the Volk's Electric Railway, which runs along the seafront. It claims to be the world's oldest electric railway and operates in the summer months, from Brighton Palace Pier out to Black Rock, close to the Marina, a ride of just over a mile. Word of warning: if you're planning a beach day — the pebble beach at the Black Rock end is a nudist one.
Brighton need to know
- Accommodation: Kings Road on the seafront isn't short of hotels, but The Grand Brighton is the jewel in its crown — and it's not as spendy as you might think. For something more budget-friendly, Artist Residence is located in a Regency townhouse two minutes' walk from the seafront, with light and airy rooms individually designed by artists. If it's a real Brighton-bohemian twist you're after, Cappadocia Guest House is a Turkish-themed B&B located further back from the seafront but in the heart of the action around The Lanes — just look for the hot air balloon mural and lantern-laden windows.
- LGBTQ+ friendly: Brighton is often seen as the LGBTQ+ capital of Britain, thanks to its abundance of LGBTQ+ bars, a huge Pride festival, gay saunas, and claims to having the country's highest proportion of same-sex households.
- Green credentials: At time of writing, Brighton has the UK's only Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, for Brighton Pavilion. The city is regularly-recognised as one of the most eco-friendly places in the country, thanks to its love for cycling, recycling, and vegan and vegetarian restaurants
Getting your bearings in Brighton
First things first, you'll be wanting to get your bearings — and where better than from 138 metres above street level? The i360 is, basically, a doughnut on a kebab skewer, and was designed by the same team as the London Eye. But the glass doughnut doubles up as a viewing platform which takes off from street level and rises up 138 metres, giving 360 degree views, before returning you to the ground in a 25-minute 'flight'.
Not got a head for heights? Go out rather than up, with a wander on Brighton Palace Pier, which juts half a kilometre out into the sea. The usual seaside paraphernalia — rides, food stalls, a restaurant — can be found on the wooden boards, but it's also worth heading out to the end, to gaze back at the Brighton skyline. This wasn't Brighton's original pier — the skeletal remains of that can be seen out in the sea further west, casting an atmospheric silhouette at sunset.
One final way to see the city — ideal if you're missing London already — is the Brighton Regency Routemaster bus, which offers tours around the city while you tuck into afternoon tea. The route passes landmarks including Brighton Pavilion, Saltdean Lido and Brighton Marina.
Lunch spots in Brighton
We love London's many and varied restaurants, honest we do. But in a gun-to-our-heads, eat-in-one-place-for-the-rest-of-your-life situation, JB's Diner, might have the edge. On the flip side, it would be a short life, curtailed by the clogging of our arteries. Our standard order? Lucky Charms milkshake, Lynchburg burger and cheesy fries, enjoyed while taking in the outrageously All-American surroundings. The place is an absolute mecca to Americana — from chequerboard floors and neon ad signs to a life-size fibreglass Elvis, and Tom and Jerry on constant loop on the TV.
If you're more of a seaside traditionalist, you're probably after fish and chips for your lunch, and you can barely take two steps on the seafront without getting the vinegar-laced whiff of a chippy. For a proper, sit down lunch it's worth walking the few minutes away from the centre to Bankers on Western Road (though takeaway is also available). If it's more of a takeaway and eat on the beach situation, Little Jack Fullers comes highly recommended, with an impressive plant-based selection available too.
Shopping in Brighton
Shopping centre Churchill Square has your usual chain shops — but you didn't leave London to browse the same old stores, did you? For unique souvenirs, North Laine and the warren of narrow streets and passages know as The Lanes is replete with independent shops and boutiques, from aged antique stores to modern gift shops. New for 2022 is The Green Duck Emporium, a vintage-style homeware store that originated in Tunbridge Wells. It might be an exaggeration to say you can get everything in The Lanes, but it has an armoury, so...
Further north, Sydney Street is a favourite of ours, with large scale murals on the front of the buildings to rival those of Camden Market. Book lovers should swing by Afrori Books, a literary haven of works by Black authors in every genre you can think of. Indy fashion retailer Sugarhill Brighton has a store on this street too, and Zoingimage is ideal for gifts with an arty twist.
Stuck for a souvenir gift for that person who has everything? Swing by The Duck House. It's a shop specialising in — and selling nothing but — rubber ducks, decorated to depict all manner of characters, famous people, and professions. It might be niche, but somehow this place stays afloat.
Where to go for dinner in Brighton
Shelter Hall is a seafront food market, bringing seven kitchens and two bars together under one roof (and on an outdoor terrace), with sea views to boot. Use it as somewhere to line your stomach before heading on for a bigger night out, or spend the whole evening here — there's live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
For a fancy dinner, try The Ivy in the Lanes, a south coast outpost of The Ivy, dripping in art deco detail and serving a seasonally-changing menu, plus plenty of cocktails. The Set is another one for special occasions — sample your way through a tasting menu of 14-16 courses, with a maximum of 18 guests served per night. If you've still got seafood on your mind, The Little Fish Market is a Michelin recommended venue serving a taster menu for fish fans.
La Choza is a small, friendly (and incredibly vibrant) Mexican street food restaurant — it sticks to the staples, but does them well. Alas, no bookings are taken for smaller groups so you might have to wait for a table at busy times, but it's worth it.
Of a similar vibe is Curry Leaf Cafe, known for its craft beer range as much as its South Indian food. Its multiple awards mean it's no secret, but with home cooked food and kids eating for a fiver, it's a far cry from the city's chain restaurants.
Veggies and vegans are well catered for across Brighton, but Food For Friends is a perennial favourite, with three decades of experience, a focus on seasonal and local ingredient, and a light and airy dining room thanks to its corner location.
Nightlife in Brighton: pubs, bars and live music
Brighton's a chilled out place by day, but it takes its nightlife seriously, whether you're after a couple of drinks, or looking to party into the wee small hours.
Brighton's burgeoning brewery scene features the likes of Brighton Bier Taproom (which focuses on pales and IPAs); Loud Shirt Brewing (pedalling beers with psychedelic labels, named things like 'Hazed & Confused') and The Urchin in Hove, which serves up its Larrikin beer (brewed downstairs in the cellar) with fresh seafood.
While you're in Hove, call in for a pint at The Watchmaker's Arms, a superb little micropub pouring all sorts of cask and keg goodies. The atmosphere's as friendly as any local. (If you can't be bothered to walk back to Brighton, the pub's right outside Hove train station.)
Not a brewery in its own right, but an exceptional bottle shop/taproom nonetheless, is Bison Beer (there's also one of these in Hove).
For classy cocktails, we're huge fans of The Plotting Parlour, an intimate and atmospheric bar manned by staff who really know their stuff and are constantly tweaking the menu. It's handily located a short stagger from Patterns, a bar-club venue across multiple floors with live music, DJs and club nights, depending which day you go.
If it's something a bit different you're after, The World's End is a sizeable pub with a Scalektrix-style raceway and arcade, offering table-top races, and games where you sit in (static) driving seats to take on your friends.
Live music fans are absolutely spoilt in Brighton, with multiple gigs going on around the city every night of the week. Check out what's on at The Mesmerist (downstairs cocktail bar The Flipside is worth visiting too), seafront venue Chalk, or Casablanca Jazz Club — or just keep your eyes peeled for chalkboards outside pubs advertising that week's offerings.
For some seriously impressive live performances, Proud Cabaret (sister to the London venue) is located inside a domed former ballroom with an ever-rotating line-up of cabaret and burlesque shows and celebrity performers. It's in the Kemptown area, which is where much of Brighton's LGBTQ+ nightlife happens — The Queen's Arms is an outrageously camp cabaret bar, and Club Revenge has hosted stars of Ru Paul's Drag Race in the past.
Brunch in Brighton
Power yourself up for your second day in Brighton with a stomach-lining breakfast or brunch. The latter is the speciality at Lost in the Lanes (currently closed for refurb, worth waiting for). Starfish and Coffee is a little walk from the city centre, but keep yourself going with the thought of its buttermilk pancakes or eggs dishes. Alternatively, make a booking for Sugardough — sounds like a doughnut shop, but knows its way around a full English or bacon butty, as well as doing cakes and pastries.
Museums and galleries in Brighton
Raring to squeeze in some culture? Brighton's not short of museums and cultural venues, and the one most likely to make you go 'what IS that?' is Brighton Pavilion. Technically a royal palace, the elegant building is more reminiscent of the Taj Mahal than anything in this country, built as something of a pleasure palace for King George IV. The interior is pure, jaw-dropping opulence. In winter, an atmospheric ice rink pitches up in front of the Pavilion.
For jaw-dropping displays of a different kind, Paradox Place is a house of illusions spread across four floors, including mind-bending photo opportunities. It's great for families, and if you've got kids in tow, you'd do well to wow them with a trip to the 'wizard's attic', an interactive toy gallery within Hove Museum. Speaking of toys, nostalgia is served up in huge dollops at the Brighton Toy & Model Museum, which can't fail to delight with its model railways, and 'end-of-the-pier' slot machines, still in working order.
Room for a little more geekery? The Booth Museum of Natural History is home to over half a million specimens, including a Victorian taxidermy collection and some dinosaur bones — and entry is free.
If your budget's a bit tight or you're keen to keep moving, just wandering Brighton's streets can offer up a wealth of visual treats, particularly if you get a kick out of grand architecture. Regency Square and Brunswick Square are the places to head to live out your Bridgerton dreams. There's a Regency Town House open to the public at the latter, though technically we're straying into Hove at this point.
From here, if you've time, wander 10 minutes west along Kingsway to Hove Lawns, and head for the wide pedestrian promenade to ogle the colourful Hove beach huts. Though not as numerous as, say, Walton on the Naze, they offer an ideal backdrop for some seaside snaps before you continue back east along the promenade to the Victorian bandstand, and then a landmark that's been here for considerably less time; the Upside Down House, a trippy experience that you can go inside for a few quid.
From here, the ruins of the West Pier are right in front of you too.
For serious architecture buffs, it's worth heading almost at mile in land to St Peter's Church, a grand edifice known as the 'cathedral of Brighton', and worth a look, not least because it was designed by Palace of Westminster architect Sir Charles Barry.
Brighton's also an excellent city for street art — it was the location of Banksy's (now-removed) Kissing Coppers, and it's not uncommon to see entire buildings slathered in large-scale murals. The Prince Albert pub, which Banksy used as a canvas, is now the location of a huge musical tribute mural by artist Req, along with a replica of the Banksy. As is the nature of street art, works come up and go very quickly, but Trafalgar Lane near the station is always worth a look. For more colour, wander over to Blaker Street or Albion Hill, both of which are home to some colourful houses.
Brighton cafes and coffee shops
In need of a caffeine or sugar kick before you catch the train home? You can't visit the seaside without sampling an ice cream, but if a '99 on the pier just won't cut it, hit up Boho Gelato, which has two shops in Brighton, and make the ice cream daily in its own kitchen, using local ingredients where possible. A couple of times a year, Boho teams up with other local food businesses, resulting in some really unique flavours. Vegan scoops available too.
The Flour Pot Bakery has multiple locations in the area, as well as supplying other cafes with its pastries. Countertops groan under the weight of fresh, flakey croissants, though your best bet is to visit on a Friday, the only day when certain donuts are available (hello, salted caramel and honeycomb).
Brighton has three branches of Pelicano Coffee, industrial-chic venues where they take the dark stuff seriously, hand roasting the beans for a fresh coffee kick — drink in or take away.
On the list for next time...
Brighton's only an hour from London, so if you’re anything like us, you’re probably already planning a return trip. Here's the best of the rest that you missed this time round:
- Brighton Marina is practically a whole separate town, with enough restaurants and entertainment venues (bowling, cinema, casino...) that you could probably spend a whole weekend here. It's not got the quirks that Brighton centre has, being predominantly chain restaurants and facilities, but there's some good boat-ogling to be done out on the jetty.
- If you're planning a return visit after Spring 2023, Sea Lanes should be open. The heated 50m outdoor pool right on the seafront will be open to both casual and competitive swimmers. In the meantime, the stunning art deco Saltdean Lido can be found about four miles east of Brighton centre, with regular bus services between the two.
- Edinburgh Fringe too far away (and spendy)? Brighton puts on a fantastic fringe early each summer (2022 runs from 6 May-5 June). The city's theatre's, pubs and cafes throng with comedy, drama and dance, while the central hub is The Warren, where many of the bigger shows are staged in various tents.
- The historic town of Lewes is about 20 minutes by train or 50 minutes by bus inland from Brighton and is home to an impressive castle, a brewery, a popular outdoor pool, and a handful of charming independent shops and cafes, with a focus on antiques.