Brighton is unashamedly British, but it’s not your average British seaside town. Whether it’s in the sound of the sea lapping at the pebbled shore, the taste of fresh seafood under the promenade or the sight of the dressed up crowds of the Pride parade, there’s a ton of reasons to fall in love with Brighton. When I last visited I stumbled across the town’s annual naked bike ride. I smiled to myself, “only in Brighton”, I thought, and that is why so many people adore this quirky, all-embracing community. That’s also why you should come and visit (although you don’t have to come during the naked bike ride).
City break in Brighton | an elegant but eccentric one of a kind
SEE | from the shore to the sky
Cultural neighbourhoods and a grand old palace make for interesting days in Brighton.
It looks like one glorious cross between Moscow’s Red Square cathedral and the Taj Mahal, but Brighton’s Royal Pavilion is a seaside pleasure palace that was built for Brit royalty. Inside is kind of bonkers but in a very fancy neoclassical way. There’s lots of sumptuous interiors, gold and jewel tones, extravagant wallpapers, patterned carpets and chandelier lighting. My favourite room is the pink-walled Long Gallery, which has Chinese Chinoiserie painted wallpaper. There’s also a great Stephen Jones hat exhibition here until June.
Just a short walk from the Pavilion, you’ll find the North Laine area, Brighton’s bohemian heart. This district is filled with interesting emporiums, from Jump the Gun with its 60s mod gems, to Snooper’s Paradise with over 90 stalls offering everything from vintage postcards to mid-century glassware. Dowse is a must-visit for beautiful artsy pieces like ceramics and jewellery, but if you’re more of a designer fashion fiend, Tribeca is your mecca. Failing that, if like me, you’re channelling some classic obsessive plant lady vibes, wander down to Spiderplant, where you’ll want to take everything home.
North Laine isn’t to be confused with The Lanes, which is another eclectic pocket of Brighton, where narrow alleys are filled with jewellery shops. It’s also worth seeking out – I cruised many windows lusting after antique jewellery I could not afford, but consoled myself with a few beautiful Scandi style interior pieces from nearby Workshop.
Sky deck views
The best view of Brighton comes courtesy of the British Airways i360, a sky deck that will take you 450ft above the shore. On a clear day you can see for miles – as we rose to the top we could even spot France. You can enjoy a glass of English sparkling wine while you’re up here, or if you’re more of a fitness buff, you can book yourself in for a yoga class, it’s a little unbalancing at times, but well worth the experience.
Artsy types need to check out Fabrica to see what’s on when you’re in town. It’s a contemporary art centre that has seen exhibitions from the likes of Anish Kapoor. It’s in an old church and there’s always something interesting to see.
Take a wander out to Kemp Town if you want an alternative, hipster kind of vibe. Stately Regency squares and seaside houses give this area an interesting backdrop, with lots of chic indie boutiques to browse and artisan eateries to try. Red Roaster is my favourite place to stop for a coffee here, you can’t help but fall in love with its marble bar, white tiles and endless plantlife.
STAY | a bohemian boutique and a classic icon
Head to Brighton’s classic seaside residence or follow in the footsteps of Kylie Minogue.
Classic | Brighton's old grand
The Grand is one of those regal seafront buildings that you can imagine the old aristocrats flocking to when they wanted a jaunt to the seaside. It’s a Brighton icon, open since the 1800s and staying true to its Italianate Victorian glory with ornate ceilings, sweeping staircases and art deco style interiors. Rooms stay classic but with a modern finish, the colours are calming, the furnishings softly chic and there are touches of Brighton here and there, whether it’s in a nautical lamp or some local photography. Grab a sea view room if you can, the views from here are glorious, and upgraded rooms come with a balcony.
Classic | follow the stars
If it’s good enough for Cate Blanchett and Kylie Minogue, it’s good enough for me, and Drake’s hotel is a favourite with the jet set when they come to Brighton. Set across two old Georgian townhouses, it’s packed with art deco details. The best rooms boast bright views of the seaside through floor to ceiling windows, with freestanding baths facing the view so you can take it all in while laid in a hot tub of bubbles. Inland rooms are quiet and cosy, with views across the toppling townhouses of Kemptown, and every room is filled with sumptuous soft furnishings to make you feel at home. You can request added extras like the Love Hamper or champagne and flowers to make your stay extra special. Downstairs hides one of Brighton’s best restaurants, with a bottomless Prosecco lunch… I don’t mind if I do…
Contemporary | the artsy stay
I always get excited when I see an Artist Residence hotel in a city I’m visiting. It’s one of my favourite places to stay, and the original lives here in Brighton. It’s as chic as you’d expect, sitting in a townhouse on Regency Square with views out to the sea. Rooms are individually decorated by local artists, with the signature Artist Residence eclectic look. They’re all packed with local art, repurposed furniture, and endless items that I want to buy for my own home – I’ve definitely seen their contemporary four poster bed cropping up in a few influencer’s bedrooms after they’ve stayed here.
Contemporary | Brighton’s first boutique
One of Brighton’s first boutique hotels, Blanch House sits in a pretty Georgian townhouse, with lots of luxurious touches inside. There’s a classy champagne bar, high ceilings and splashes of velvet and gold, all set against a chic neutral colour palette of greys and creams. There are just 12 rooms, each is decorated individually, with themes ranging from Moroccan to Alice in Wonderland. Pick a room at the front for sea views, it’s very peaceful here, so you should only have to worry about the sound of the sea and the odd seagull.
EAT | the dining scene is always exciting in Brighton
Brighton is packed with innovative dining spots. It’s a town of pioneers, with everything from the first zero-waste restaurant to the first plant-based pizzeria.
Polpo is a London favourite that made a name for itself with its rustic Venetian cuisine. A couple of years ago it set up shop in Brighton and became an instant hit. The Brighton branch stays true to its Italian heart, with simple food where the ingredients are queen and our tastebuds are all the better for it. It’s all about sharing plates here, so order lots of little bits and enjoy them like the Italians: with plenty of conversation and Aperol.
Bringing a little old school glamour to the beachside, Riddle & Finns is a must-see when in Brighton (especially if you like oysters). Set under the archways of the main promenade – where everyone flocks in the summer to drink beside the sea – it’s a classy champagne and oyster bar. As soon as we sat down we were gorging on fresh bread with garlicky mayo, which gives you plenty of time to pick from the glorious menu. Plates of pearly oysters come with a great choice of toppings including a hot champagne sauce, or you can have them as naked as the sea intended if you’re an oyster purist. You’d be mad not to try the oysters, but there are tons of other tempting dishes, such as razor clams in white wine, sautéed squid in chilli and chorizo, and a hearty signature fish pie.
Seafood lovers rejoice, you’ll be in your element in The Salt Room. Looking out over the iconic West Pier ruin, this place is the king of all things fishy, whether it’s a posh version of fish and chips or a huge sharing plate filled with shellfish. Their signature cooking method is done over coals, so expect big, smoky flavours from this seaside great.
Zero waste restaurants are taking off across the country, but Silo was one of the trailblazers, starting the zero waste movement with a trendy restaurant just off the North Laine. Inside this old warehouse is an industrial style space made of chipboard, white brick walls and steel. The menu is simple and ever-changing (try the fried artichokes on local Sussex cheese if it’s available) and everything is done with the environment in mind, from mushroom cultivating to churning their own butter to refusing to print receipts (they’ll email it to you instead).
Vegan food is everywhere in Brighton, with at least 30 places to eat vegan and counting. Try Purezza for plant-based pizza and Happy Maki for colourful vegan sushi burritos that you can take away to the beach.
DRINK | from jazz tones to personalised cocktails
From old drinking dens to dapper wine bars, Brighton serves a great night out.
All I had to hear was ‘Sunday jazz’ and I was on my way to the Hand in Hand pub in Kemp Town, a quirky old school boozer with late night jazz every Sunday. They serve lots of craft ales, including local bottles such as Brighton Bier, great hand made pies by Al the Pie Man and you can wander down the alley (Marine Gardens) from here to the seaside.
Prohibition bars seem to be something of a must for cities these days, and Brighton’s can be found in L’Atelier du Vin – one of my favourite of all the secret speakeasy style bars I’ve been in. With a nod to its name (it means artist’s wine studio) it serves a multitude of wine, from rare vintages to new labels, but they also make great classic cocktails and they have some really interesting rare spirits (there was a bottle of 1950’s Gordon’s gin when I last visited). Staff dress in braces and ties, mellow jazz plays in the background and there’s a cosy armchair or two just calling out your name…
Brighton's smallest pub
Escape as Sir Laurence Olivier once did in Brighton’s smallest pub, The Queensberry Arms. It’s a lovely, cosy spot to stop in for a pint after a wander along the front.
I always find some new fangled bar concept in Brighton and my latest discovery is BYOC Brighton. Hidden away in the South Lanes, if you didn’t know it was here, you’d probably never stumble upon it, which makes it all the more special. The idea takes the ‘bring your own’ concept to the extreme, asking you to bring a bottle of spirit, then giving you your own mixologist to consult with you and turn your bottle into something fabulous. It’s all feels very clandestine in here, with three floors of prohibition bar style furnishings, and lots of cosy nooks to sip on your creation. We took a bottle of vodka, and got yellow pepper martinis in return.
The Fix bar in the Artist Residence hotel is all sorts of Brighton with its unique minimal waste cocktail menu. It takes ingredients from adjoining restaurant, The Set, so you can expect seasonal modern cocktails, like the tequila fashioned, with celery, blood orange and black salt, and the root gin fizz, with root veg, egg whites and citrus. There are views from here out to the sea, it’s cosy and cool and you’ll want to stay for several drinks.
For something a little classy, head to Hove's Church Road, it is filled with gin bars and wine bars such as Gin Tub and Fourth & Church.
DO | from swimming to singing
Sunshine or rain, Brighton will always entertain you.
For all its innovative openings and unique must-sees, one of the greatest things about Brighton is its seafront. Stroll along it at dusk, walk past the pockets of guitar playing students, make sure you see the eerie skeletal West Pier and head for the carousel on the Palace Pier.
Britain's oldest cinema
Just like the Royal Pavilion, many of Brighton’s classic buildings are somewhat eccentric. The Duke of York’s Picture House has a pair of stripy stocking-ed legs pointing out of it. It’s also Britain’s oldest cinema, and worth visiting for a flick if you’re stuck on a rainy day or just want a couple of hours to rest your legs and stuff yourself silly with popcorn. St Bartholomew’s church is another unique sight, apparently it was built to the dimensions of Noah’s Ark, I’m told that’s a local myth, but it does look like it could be true…
I went to heaven in a Hockney painting when I came across the Saltdean Lido. It’s a gorgeous modernist lido that is being lovingly restored by locals who rescued it from being turned into flats. It opens in the summer and for a Christmas Day swim, it’s continually being improved and you’ll often find pop up food stands here. If the sun is shining and you’re lazed on the lawn looking up at the main building, you could almost mistake it for 70s Miami.
Most of the musos I knew at school ended up in Brighton at some point. Because this town is a music mecca, gigs are played across the city, with many up and coming bands playing here before they hit the big time. Green Door Store hides behind – you guessed it – a green door, and hosts a bunch of bands and club nights in its eclectic, warehouse space. Look out for the mounted deer head and a huge neon McDonalds M. Also try Concorde 2 for famous music names, and Casablanca for their soul sessions.
Brighton is also known for its comedy shows, there are always comedy greats playing at the Dome, from classic comedians like Eddie Izzard to newer stars like James Acaster. Head to Krater Comedy Club to discover some up and coming talent (Sundays are more chilled than the busy Friday and Saturday nights).
Creative culture is always on the calendar in Brighton. Come here in May and you’ll be treated to a riot of arts, from experimental theatre to street performances, as part of the Brighton Festival. April and September are for the foodies, who can sink their teeth into the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival, while the Artist Open Houses festival opens up some of those fancy and interesting houses and studios so you can discover lots of lovely local art.
With all the generosity that is Brighton, the Brighton Greeters offer a free city walking tour tailored to your requirements, there's no better way to explore than with locals who are really passionate about where they live.
Artsy and independent, elegant but eccentric, Brighton's character oozes from every corner of this town. Whether you want to shop, sightsee, sunbathe, feast on the latest dining trend or even hunt for antiques, you can always be yourself here, and that's why I'll come back to visit again and again.