A "city by the sea," Brighton & Hove is less than an hour by train from London Victoria, making it the perfect short trip for visitors to the capital. The train journey sweeps through the Sussex countryside, cutting through the South Downs hills before reaching Brighton Station to be greeted by the sounds of seagulls.
Originally a small fishing village, the area grew in prominence during the 1770s when it became fashionable to enjoy the bracing sea air. The Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and George IV) often visited the town to bathe in its rejuvenating waters. During this period, many Regency houses were built and the Prince of Wales oversaw the creation of his own palace by the sea, the Royal Pavilion.
After the construction of the railway in 1840, thousands of day trippers headed to Brighton. Today it remains one of the South Coast’s busiest destinations, famous for its culture, shopping, nightlife and, of course, the pebble beaches.
As well as shopping areas on Western Road, Churchill Square and Brighton Marina with their array of high-street brands, Brighton is famed for its quirky independent stores. Wander around the jewelry shops in The Lanes or mooch around the unusual and unique shops in the North Laine area of the city. Check out the innovative contemporary designer-tailor Gresham Blake or pick out a stylish gift at Present in the Laine. Mods and rockers would famously visit Brighton on May Day in the 1960s, and the city has been a magnet for youth culture ever since, from teddy boys to punks. The Lanes are not to be missed, with its wonderful shops and the street entertainers, plus bars, restaurants and cafés.
Palace and Pier
Synonymous with the city, Brighton Pier is best known for its penny arcades, dolphin racing, karaoke and doughnuts, plus thrilling rides including the helter skelter, carousel and dodgems.
The forthcoming Brighton i360 tower (opening in 2016) will add another standout attraction to the skyline. At 162 metres high, and with an observation pod rising to 138 metres, the i360 located at the site of the old entrance to the West Pier will be Britain’s highest observation tower outside London—even taller than the London Eye.
Another of the city’s architectural icons is the Royal Pavilion, an exotic-looking palace just a couple of minutes from the beach. It was built for George IV by architect John Nash, a heady mixture of Regency grandeur influenced by India and China. The Royal Pavilion is instantly recognisable by its large dome and minarets. In recent years, it has been largely restored and visitors can now enjoy the banqueting room, with its impressive chandelier, plus the opulent music room.
Beach and Marina
For all its many attractions, Brighton’s beach remains a huge draw. Those famous pebbles—there are an estimated 614,600,000 of them—are the lifeblood of the city. The area between the two piers has restaurants, bars and amusements aplenty. For the best views, take to the skies on the imposing Brighton Wheel.
There are some excellent galleries and art in the Artists’ Quarter on the lower promenade near the Pier. After dark, the seafront clubs and bars underneath the Victorian arches host lively club nights. For something a little less frenetic, visit Brighton & Hove’s historic seafront bandstand, which has now been restored to its Victorian glory. The deck of the bandstand is regularly used for concerts.
For a change of scene, jump aboard the Volk’s Railway, Britain’s oldest electric railway. Built in 1883, it runs for a mile or so along the top of the beach from near Brighton Pier to Brighton Marina.
Brighton Marina is a major development to the east of the city, comprising a marina and luxury housing along with shops, bars and restaurants. If you fancy a calmer atmosphere, the Marina offers a change of pace from the busy centre.
Food and Drink
Brighton is all about café culture, so sit back with a coffee and do some people-watching al fresco. Tea shops are in vogue, too; Metrodeco in Kemptown is a wonderful 1930s Parisian-style tea shop with the most delicious cakes imaginable.
Vegetarians and vegans are particularly well catered for; try Terre à Terre, which has been described by renowned food critic AA Gill as ‘singular and eccentrically marvellous’. The city centre has restaurants of all cuisines. There are numerous places selling fish and chips on the seafront, but we recommend Jack and Linda Mills Traditional Fish Smokers. Located on the seafront in King’s Road Arches, the restaurant is famous for its smoked mackerel. Another institution is the Grand Brighton Hotel, on the seafront, which offers a decadent afternoon tea.
Brighton is also a great place for pubs, from traditional real ale pubs to sophisticated cocktail bars. Try The Cricketers in The Lanes, which was immortalised by Graham Greene in his classic novel Brighton Rock.
Arts and Entertainment
Brighton is blessed with a wealth of arts and cultural venues, reflecting the city’s many creative residents. The Brighton Dome is a 1,700-seater venue hosting opera, ballet and comedy shows as well as rock and pop concerts.
The Theatre Royal Brighton is a historic Grade II-listed building and hosts musicals, plays, opera and ballet. Upcoming shows include a revival of the modern comedy classic East Is East (from 11 Jun), about a family’s cultural and domestic tensions during the 1970s.
Located in the Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery has a diverse range of permanent and temporary exhibitions, from Ancient Egypt to Victorian Brighton.
Brighton Sea Life Centre is another attraction near the pier, a great family favourite which lets visitors get up close to the creatures of the deep, including loggerhead turtles and zebra sharks.