A small fishing fleet operating out of the modern Brighton Marina is all that remains of what was once the mainstay of Britain’s now busiest and most popular seaside resort. The transformation of Brighton started in the 18th century as a health “spa”, but a combination of endorsement by the Prince Regent (later George IV) in the 1790s and the coming of the railways in the 1840s were the true triggers for the resort we see today.
Around an hour from London, modern Brighton and Hove is a vibrant and busy year-round seaside escape, boasting a mix of Georgian and contemporary architecture, great food, buzzing nightlife, good shopping and interesting things to see and do. Brighton is also acknowledged as the unofficial gay capital of the UK and home to its biggest Pride festival.
Two architectural landmarks take centre stage: the extraordinary Royal Pavilion and the Brighton Pier. Commissioned by the eccentric George IV, architect John Nash transformed what had started life as a royal seaside lodge into the exotic and ornate Indian-style Royal Pavilion. The palace is open to visitors (times vary).
Brighton Pier was one of the finer examples of piers built during the English seaside resort boom of the Victorian era. Today it boasts all the fun of the fair with rides and amusements as well as restaurants and bars.
Apart from the seafront itself, other must-see attractions include the Sea Life Centre aquarium, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, and the Lanes district with its quirky shops.
Eat and Drink
Traditional shellfish stalls have been a feature of English seaside resorts for longer than anyone can remember and Brighton has its share along with outlets selling that other English staple, fish and chips.
Otherwise you can eat your way around the world in a city acknowledged for its eclectic dining at reasonable prices, including some of the best vegetarian food.
At the other end of the scale, Brighton has a sophisticated dining and bar scene with upmarket spots such as English’s seafood restaurant and oyster bar (East Street) and Havana (Duke Street). Finally, don’t forget the pubs. There are dozens to try.
Where to Stay
Brighton plays host to hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, not only weekenders from London but from around Britain and further afield. It is recognised as the most popular seaside destination in the UK for overseas tourists. That means lots of different styles of accommodation catering to all budgets.
You will find luxury, Regency-style seafront and more modern boutique hotels, as well as family-run Georgian city houses and other guesthouses offering B&B. There is plenty on offer, too, for those who prefer to self-cater, with waterfront studios, Regency-style seafront apartments, houses and flats.
It is busiest at weekends and during key events such as the Brighton Festival, so it pays to plan ahead.
If retail therapy is your thing, you will be well catered for in Brighton. Yes, there are many of the usual high street brands in the Churchill Square shopping complex off West Street (H&M, Debenhams, for example), and equally modern retail at Brighton Marina, but the best, independent, more quirky shopping is in the Lanes precinct.
Once the heart of Brighton’s forerunner, the village of Brighthelmstone, it is a maze of laneways lined with shops offering fashion, jewellery, antiques and more alongside cafes and restaurants. North Laine is packed with more than 300 shops and has a particularly bohemian atmosphere.
Brighton Like a Local
Historic Brighton, contemporary Brighton, seafront Brighton, shopping Brighton, hidden Brighton … What better way to find out about the real city than with the guidance of a local expert? The Brighton Greeters scheme puts visitors in touch with local resident volunteers who are passionate about their city. It is a great way for tourists to explore Brighton and Hove and to discover what makes the city so special – and it’s free.