Routine is what kills you. Tube-work-sleep. On Mondays, the countdown starts again, 5-4-3-2-1, weekend! No wonder we need a dose of escapism… Let’s jump on a train. Let’s go to Brighton and forget it all: it’s only an hour away from London. Let me tell you about the must-see-places and share my favourite cafés and shops with you. Even better: everything is within walking distance there.
The Brighton Dome
Prince Regent, later King George IV, fell in love with Brighton and settled down in this area, a few minutes’ walk from the seaside. Coming down the station, you will notice these fun little cupolas. This is the Brighton Dome, built in 1803 to host the royal stables and riding school… The Brighton Dome now host the cultural headquarters of the city: Concert Hall, the Studio Theatre, art venue altogether. Nearby also is the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery covering the XXth century art and design, fashion and style and of course the history of the city.
The Royal Pavilion
Now wander in the nearby gardens, part of the Royal Pavilion estate. This mini Taj Mahal was, as you can guess, George IV palace in Brighton. Domes, minarets – it’s definitely exotic, and referred to as Anglo-Indian or even gothic Indian architecture. And inside? Opulent furniture, ceilings, wall paintings blending neo-classic, Moghul and Chinese influences.
The Royal Pavilion | 4/5 Pavilion Buildings, Brighton BN1 1EE
The Brighton Palace Pier
George IV brought money – and its court – to Brighton. Yet, the city mainly soared in Victorian time, when the railway finally linked it to the capital. From 1841, Londoners could come down to the seaside for the day. They loved it. To entertain them was built the Brighton Palace Pier, 500 metres long. It was, for the time, quite impressive, with its theatre, reading lounges and concert hall. It still has this nostalgic charm of a past era, mixed with a funfair feel. There are arcade games, a roller coaster, a carrousel, bumper cars, a haunted house to be enjoyed, as well as ice-cream, candyfloss, Brighton Rocks. It’s cheerfully noisy with music from the rides and laughs and definitely a place to make memories. It’s even better at night when the whole pier lights up – can you believe it has no less than 60,000 bulbs?
The Brighton Palace Pier | Madeira Dr, Brighton BN2 1TW
On each side of the Brighton Palace Pier, an infinity of pebbles. Around 614,600,000 says the Tourist Office… The waves cover them in formidable froth, make the roll, play with them as if they were music notes. In the summer, the beach is rather crowded. Everyone wants to laze in the sun, have a picnic, or maybe a BBQ in the evening (yes, you can!). On the side, under the arches, you will find little art galeries, cafés, little shops (do have a look at Castor + Polux‘s naive but so very sweet illustrations of the city). There also are places to play beach volley, petanque, a huge playground, sculptures… And if you’re feeling adventurous you can also rent a kayak or a paddle board.
The West Pier
Brighton has had, in total, 3 piers. The very first was built in 1823. There was no railway then, people travelled by horse, carriage or boat. It turned out the quickest way to go from France to England was taking a ferry between Dieppe and Brighton. Passengers would have arrived at the Chain Pier, which decided to add a few attractions, even adding a camera obscura. In 1841, the train slowly killed the boat business, and the pier started to fall apart. By the end of the century, it had disappeared.
By now, though, the idea of a pleasure pier was trendy. It didn’t have to be practical: its only mission was to entertain. In 1866, the West Pier opens: 340 metres long, 2 ornamental pavilion, a bandstand, a concert hall, it’s quite a hit! The Brighton Palace Pier, built in 1899, brings serious competition, catching the day-trippers’ attention. Add to this 2 world wars, a new craze for holidays in Spain… It closes in 1975, gets damaged by storms and finally burns down in 2003. Only remains its metallic skeleton, with its haunted feel and its starlings swarms dancing around it. Best at sunset.
The West Pier | Right in front of the BA i360
The British Airways i360
Quite a contrast in style! Along the oh-so-long-and-stunning Brighton beach, you will notice a 160 m high pylon, along which glides a UFO like capsule. Recognise the style? Same architects as the London Eye. Isn’t it too futuristic for the landscape? Isn’t the ticket price rather high (£15/adult)? Opinion is divided on the subject. Yet, the view from up there. Wow. Unbeatable.
British Airways i360 | Lower Kings Road, Brighton BN1 2LN
If you fancy getting away from the touristy crowd? Walk up towards Hove – its neat little rows of Regent or Georgian houses, its quiet little courtyards, its squares and balconies, views on the see make it irresistible. Have a look at the Western Pavilion on Western Terrace, built by John Nash who also built the Royal Pavilion – you should recognise the style!
There are lots of rather cool restaurants, pubs and bars around and I am not talking about big chains you can find all around the country. Start by the smoothies at Six, by the super healthy brand 42: turmeric, kale, beetroot, coconut, almond milk, dates… The colour palette is amazing, going from blue (spirulina) to bright orange, fuschia, jade green. Hungry? Bankers does the best fish’n’chips in town, while Market serves a fusion of English and Spanish dishes (and the grilled fish stuffed with walnuts and pomegranate is to die for). Something sweet? Don’t miss I Gigi: a superb deco boutique on the ground floor (I bought quite a collection of wooden spoons there) with a café on the first floor and oh, the cakes (banana bread, pistachio-raspberry, meringues…)! For a drink? Try The Paris House for its pub/bistrot vibe, The Temple Bar for its selection of craft beers or The Gin Tub for the perfect G&T (more than 60 on the shelves, including a Brighton one. You place your order by calling the bar from the vintage phone on your table).
You will find a Google Map at the end of the post to make your life easier.
The North Laines
Brighton’s more bohemian neighbourhood. A fabulous maze of vibrant little streets with a myriad of independent cafés and shops. Design, vintage, fashion, vinyls, deco, you name it, it’s there. Shopping may not have been on your agenda so far but you probably will need an extra bag for the gems you will find here. Here are a few of my favourite addresses in the area.
On Gardner Street : Love photobooths? Photomatic has 2, as well as lots of accessories should you want cool pics with friends. Make sure you stop at The Bluebird Tea Co. They have the funkiest tea blends you can imagine: matcha-turmeric, birthday cake, jelly/ice cream, pancake/bacon/maple syrup!
On Kensington Garden : difficult not to stop every two steps… Pussy Home for the Moomin merchandising, Appendage for design deco accessories, the Vintage Magazine Shop for its funny Brighton mugs, Snoopers Paradise for its incredible two floors piled up with antiques and second hand stuff, Jolliffes or Little Bird for decadent cakes.
On Sydney Street : Zoingimage for its cute postcards, Flock for its vintage refined fashion (embroideries, lace…) and its conservatory filled with plants at the back of the shop, Cyberdog if you’re a Camden fan, sweet bites and flat whites at The Flour Pot or at Pelicano (their chocolate-Guinness and apricot Victoria sponge are scrumptious).
On Trafalgar Street : Magazine Brighton if you love independent mags, Flax Emporium for its funky fashion style, Trafalgar Wines for its really good selection of craft beer (even if it doesn’t look like much from the outside), Mad Hatters for the hats of course, Coffeetzar and Bread & Milk if you need a coffee+cake break.
There are more still on the Google Map at the end of the post. It would take too long to tell you everything!
In the North Laines, mostly – it’s the creative quarters after all! Think spray cans, narrow lanes but also building high murals with pieces by Anon, Aroe, Fatheat, Minty, Jessica Sharville… and even a Banksy, a minute away from the station.
Where to stay?
At a Boutique B&B – I loved One Broad Street! It’s modern, white with a few splashes of colours and super friendly. Let alone you are a 2 minutes’ walk from the pier. Do talk to Richard (a chef by trade, his English Breakfast is so, so tasty) and Lorraine to know everything about Brighton.
One Broad Street Boutique B&B | 1 Broad St, Brighton BN2 1TJ
Yes, you get it: 2 days is not nearly enough to fully enjoy Brighton. The city hosts quite a few festivals through the year, more excuses to come back!
How to get there? From Victoria station in London, it only takes an hour if you jump on an express train. Oh, and your train tickets gives you access to the 2 for 1 entry at the Royal Pavilion.
Good news: you can now book your flights, hotels and train tickets via Expedia.co.uk. To celebrate this new option, Visit Britain and Expedia have come up with a calendar of inspiring events all around the country. Check it out!