The word ‘England’, for most people I know back home in the US, brings to mind all things considered ‘proper’: accents, tea and scones and One Direction.
And from a broader perspective, it’s the city of London that always seems to feature most prominently, and for good reason. But after having spent a considerable amount of time in the capital, I started to itch for something a bit different.
A quick web search revealed to me that Brighton, a seaside town steeped in history, was only about an hour away from the city by train. (And, as I also found out, it pays to book ahead as it’s much cheaper if you can travel off-peak.)
However and whenever you choose to arrive, here are my top picks for visiting what is often called 'London-by-the-sea', rain or shine.
1. The Pier
Perhaps the most iconic of the city’s landmarks, Brighton Pier, built from 1891, cost a staggering £27,000 to construct at the time (I can only imagine what that is in today’s money – far less than a painted chalet cost today). Happily it's admission free, but you’ll want to bring cash for the rides and games, perfect for families, and perhaps the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten. It’s a bold claim I know, but maybe it has something to do with being surrounded by briny sea air while you enjoy your seafood treats. The Palm Court Restaurant is the place to go, and you can even get it to takeaway; perfect for strolling on the pier at your leisure.
2. Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
I’m enamoured by the fact that most of London’s greatest museums and galleries are free. Brighton’s Museum and Art Gallery, located opposite the Royal Pavilion, is no exception. Filled with an eclectic mix of historical artefacts from Brighton’s past and present it also has an impressive collection of some 2,000 paintings. Don’t miss the popular Fashion gallery.
3. The Royal Pavilion
Once a royal residence for Prince Regent (George IV) and later redesigned by architect John Nash between 1815 and 1822, it’s easy to spot the Pavilion, adorned with stunning pearly-white spires like something you’d see in Islamic architecture. It’s now been converted to a museum, left in all its neo-classic glory, where visitors can view furniture and works of art including original pieces lent by HM The Queen, in addition to a display of Regency silver-gilt. The Banqueting Room was my favourite part of the tour, with vaulted and gilded ceilings and an ornate dragon chandelier in the center. It’s not free to explore to the Pavilion (an adult ticket will set you back about £12) but it’s highly worth it.
4. The Lanes
I didn’t plan to do much shopping before visiting Brighton; in fact I kind of stumbled upon this assortment of quirky independent shops, nestled in a winding maze of alleyways and corridors. Browse fashion for both men and women, antiques, jewellery and more, or take a break and enjoy a cuppa at one of the (literally) hole-in-the-wall cafes. Try not to get too lost!
5. Walking the Beach
Brighton’s big draw, as it has been since the 1700s, is the beach. Before arriving I was expecting smooth, pale golden sand and indigo-coloured water like we have at home. But then, of course, it’s not even the same sea. In contrast, Brighton’s beach is known for being pebbly – apparently there are around 614,600,000 of them. It’s not the most comfortable place to perch for extended amounts of time, but you can hire a striped deck chair or just take a stroll. Starting from the Pier, you’ll spot the Brighton Wheel (the rotating observation wheel), and the iconic rows of colourful wooden chalets. If you prefer, play a game of beach volleyball or even rent a kayak. But whatever you decide to do, bring rain gear just in case. This is England after all.