Fashionable ever since the Prince Regent decided to spend his leisure time here in the late 1700s, Brighton remains the most stylish seaside resort in the country. Famed for its alternative spirit, its rainbow-hued cultural scene and its long beaches, the city they call “London-on-Sea” makes a hugely rewarding choice for a coastal getaway. It’s lined with grand, broad-shouldered architecture, but retains a goodtime, up-all-night personality. Brighton is kooky, arty, entertaining… and affordable, too.
The main attractions
Let’s start with the most attention-grabbing elements. The 162-metre-tall British Airways i360 has towered above Brighton since mid-2016, granting deep views across the city, the sea and the hills of the surrounding South Downs. A “flight” takes around 25 minutes. It’s a short walk away from two other Brighton icons: the free-to-enter Brighton Palace Pier, with its amusement arcades and fairground rides (buy ride wristbands online to save 25%) and the show-stealing Royal Pavilion.
The pavilion, which resembles nothing less than an Indian palace uprooted to England’s south coast, was built as a gilded pleasure retreat for the Prince Regent, and remains an absorbing place to visit – the rooms still burst with exotic glitz. If you’re keen to incorporate the pavilion, the British Airways i360 and nearby Sea Life Brighton – the world’s oldest operating aquarium, no less – make sure you invest in a Brighton Attractions Combi Saver Ticket, which will save you 30% overall.
It costs precisely nothing to wander the seafront, meanwhile, and the city’s promenade stretches for miles. It’s a great way to get a sense for the city’s different faces, from the stately facades of Hove (the city is officially known as Brighton & Hove) to the neon glam of the Palace Pier area. And those photogenic wooden remains you can see rising above the water? They’re all that’s left of West Pier, following fires in 2003.
Much of Brighton’s appeal lies in wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere. Two central areas in particular are primed for this. The Lanes is the historic core of the city, a labyrinth of twisting alleyways lined with old pubs and independent shops, while the similarly named but more alternative North Laine is a grid of quirky cafes, vintage stores, tattoo parlours and more. Don’t miss North Laine’s Snooper’s Paradise, one of the UK’s best second-hand shops, with two floors of antique bric-a-brac and retro fashion bargains.
If fashion’s your thing, head back to the pavilion gardens to find the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery – it costs just a few pounds to enter (or nothing, if you’re a city resident) and houses a brilliant collection of style, design, fine art and interactive displays.
Getting there and around
The nearest major airport is London Gatwick, which has extensive global connections and sits less than half an hour away by train. If you’re coming from London itself, train is again the quickest and easiest way of making the journey – travel time from London Victoria station is just over an hour. Buy your tickets as far in advance as possible to save money (booking usually opens 12 weeks before time). Much of the city centre is walkable, but there’s a well-priced BTN bike share scheme and a good bus network (download the M-Tickets app, which will save money on your journeys when compared to paying cash).
Where to stay
Brighton is a big weekend destination, meaning you’re likely to find cheaper hotel rates if you visit during the week. Be aware too that most people want to stay on or around the seafront, so if you look elsewhere in town you may well find a bargain. That said, there are some affordable hotels in plum locations, including Mercure Brighton Seafront Hotel, Travelodge Brighton Seafront and YHA Brighton, which has a number of private rooms. There are also several centrally situated Airbnb short-term rental options. Lastly, check the Visit Brighton website, which has some good accommodation offers.
Where to eat
As with many British cities, you’ll find some great deals if you dine early. And make no mistake – Brighton has some excellent restaurants. Fine dining spots like The Salt Room, The Restaurant At Drakes and Ginger Man all have good-value lunch or pre-theatre menus. Elsewhere, check out the restaurant offers on the Visit Brighton website, as well as Taste Card and Groupon. And no visit to the city would be complete without fish and chips on the beach – traditional, affordable and mighty tasty. Pick them up from Bankers or, away from the seafront, Bardsley’s.
For more information on Brighton and the rest of Britain, head to VisitBritain.com
To purchase attraction tickets, tour passes and more, head to VisitBritainshop.com
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Titanic Belfast © titanicbelfast
National Sea Life Centre, Birmingham © sealifebirmingham