An inimitable blend of cool and kitsch, Brighton is one of the UK's most quirky, vibrant and welcoming cities.

The perfect combination of lively urban life and laid-back beach vibes, Brighton has a thriving LGBTQIA+ scene, scores of independent stores and coffee shops, and a beloved seafront that draws beachgoers from across the southeast of England and beyond. 

Here are just some of the top things to do in this hedonistic seaside city.

1. Hit the beach

No trip to Brighton would be complete without spending some time on its famous pebbly beach. Have a go at water sports including stand-up paddleboarding and windsurfing, or simply relax in the sunshine. On warm weekends and holidays, Brighton beach attracts sizable crowds from London and other inland locations, so if you'd rather avoid the masses, visit on a weekday or head further along the coast to find a quieter spot. Winter is a lovely time to stroll along the seafront – the beach is virtually empty, and the sunset colors add plenty of atmosphere.

Read more: The top 10 beaches in England

A large group of people in colorful outfits dance in the street outside the Royal Pavilion as part of Brighton's Pride parade
The annual Brighton Pride parade passes the extravagant Royal Pavilion in Brighton © Getty Images

2. Marvel at the splendor of the Royal Pavilion

Brighton's most iconic landmark is the extravagant Royal Pavilion, which was once the seaside palace of King George IV. It's an opulent mix of Indian architecture and Regency grandeur, with ornate roof domes and towering spires that dominate the landscape. Meanwhile, the interior is a jaw-dropping display of chinoiserie style, with resplendent bedrooms, gilded banquet halls and a dragon-adorned music room. The pavilion is well worth a visit for a peek into Brighton's decadent past – if you want to find out more about the city's history and culture, combine it with a trip to the adjoining Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

3. Feel the nostalgia at Brighton Pier

One of the bigger attractions on the seafront is Brighton Palace Pier, commonly known as Brighton Pier, a city landmark that dates back to the Victorian era. The 525m-long (1722ft) structure is packed with classic fairground rides, including a gaudy carousel, spooky haunted house, dodgems and a helter-skelter. Inside, you can immerse yourself in the non-stop noise and flashing lights of the games arcade, with everything from old-school 2p pusher machines to modern VR simulators. If your stomach can take it after a ride on a rollercoaster, nibble on a crunchy stick of Brighton Rock for a traditional sugary treat.

4. Start your day with locally roasted coffee

Brighton is one of the UK's most coffee-obsessed cities, and there is a wealth of independent coffee shops where you can get your caffeine fix crafted from locally roasted beans. Stoney Point has long been a favorite with locals, and Wolfox now has several stylish yet homely branches in the city – don't miss the deliciously fluffy "Mr Fox" pancakes. Alternatively, you can people-watch at Pelicano or escape the tourist crowds at Tilt in the north of the city.

Shoppers walk past the many colorful stores lining a narrow street in the Lanes, a shopping area popular with tourists in Brighton
Get lost among the many creative and independent stores in The Lanes © iStock Editorial / Getty Images

5. Get lost in The Lanes

Brighton's legendary Lanes are laden with character, and you can easily while away an afternoon exploring these twisting alleyways and narrow streets. You'll find all sorts of artistic independent shops, galleries and cafes in the historic buildings here. From antiques and jewelry to books and vinyl records, these colorful stores have something for everyone. The area gets busy, so avoid visiting on the weekend if you want some breathing room.

6. Shop at boutique stores in North Laine

A short walk north from The Lanes lies, predictably, North Laine. Less than half a square mile in size, it's home to the largest collection of independent retailers on the UK's south coast. You'll find an eclectic mix of vintage fashion boutiques, bakeries, jewelry stores and gift shops to explore. Stop by Dave's Comics to browse graphic novels and games, or the renowned Snoopers Paradise flea market to rummage through everything from homeware to books and antiques.

7. Try local craft beer

Brighton's bar scene is second to none, with more pubs than you could possibly hope to visit in one trip. From the rooftop garden of The Mesmerist to the cave-like interior of the beachside Tempest Inn, there's a unique drinking establishment to suit everyone. The city also boasts some of the best LGBTQIA+ bars in the country, mostly located around St James' St in the Kemptown area – don't miss the "Piers & Queers" walking tour if you want to find out more about Brighton's history from an LGBTQIA+ perspective. Whichever pubs you choose to frequent, be sure to sample some locally brewed craft beer from breweries such as Brighton Bier while you're here.

Couple enjoying fish and chips in Brighton by neon sign
You can't visit the British seaside and not indulge in fish and chips, and now there are vegan options  © Roo Lewis / Getty Images

8. Tuck into fish and chips 

Indulging in a box of fish and chips is a quintessential part of the British seaside experience, and there's no shortage of restaurants and chippies in Brighton where you can get your fill. Award-winning Bardsley's is one of the best, while The Regency has gorgeous sea views as you eat. If the weather's good, get yours to take away and enjoy eating on the beach the traditional way – but watch out for hungry seagulls! Don't eat fish? All-vegan No Catch has got you covered. Try their signature "tofish" and tempura "prawns." 

9. Change your perception of vegan food

Vegan fish and chips is far from the only option on the menu for plant-based visitors to Brighton. In fact, the city is one of the most veggie-friendly in the country, so you'll be spoiled for choice. Head to Food for Friends for an innovative seasonal menu, Terre à Terre to indulge in a vegan version of a traditional English afternoon tea, or The Roundhill for an epic plant-based Sunday roast that was voted the best in Brighton – beating its many meaty rivals. For dessert, drop by Boho Gelato for creamy vegan ice cream to enjoy on the seafront.

10. Catch a live show

Brighton is packed with venues for live music, comedy and theater. The Brighton Centre hosts some of the biggest names, but countless pubs – including the Hope & Ruin and The Brunswick – put on live shows multiple nights a week. If classical music is more your scene, check out the listings for the Brighton Dome, which sees the likes of the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra grace the stage.

A circular glass observation pod is ascending up a high tower on a beach promenade
At 137m (450ft) high, the British Airways i360 tower offers incredible views over the city and surrounding countryside © Ray Orton / Getty Images

11. Admire the view from the i360

It might not be the most visually appealing attraction in Brighton, but the British Airways i360 tower does offer stunning views of the city and surrounding countryside. The glass-walled pod rises 137m (450ft) into the air, from where you can gaze out over the South Downs and, on clear days, even see all the way across the sea to the Isle of Wight. Admire the sights with a glass in hand from the Sky Bar, or get your adrenaline pumping by signing up for the Tower Top Climb.

12. Spend an afternoon at Brighton Marina

To the east of the city lies the quayside Brighton Marina, a hub of shops and entertainment. If you don't fancy the walk, you can reach it in the summer via the historic Volks Electric Railway, which dates back to 1883 and is the oldest electric railway in Britain. In addition to brand-name shops, a cinema and a bowling alley, it houses the trippy UV-crazy golf facility Globalls, which is perfect for a rainy day. Another hot spot for shopping in Brighton is the Churchill Square shopping center, with around 80 high street stores.

13. Challenge yourself at an escape room

Brighton is a city that doesn't take itself too seriously, so it's a great place to indulge your playful side. Pier Pressure has a series of fun-filled escape rooms with storylines based around local landmarks like the Royal Pavilion and The Lanes, while Bewilderbox's two sci-fi-esque rooms have guest voice appearances, including Norman Lovett, who played Holly in the cult UK TV show Red Dwarf. For a more traditional gaming experience, check out beachside video and board game bar Loading or arcade pub The World's End.

A murmuration (collective fluid movement of a flock of starlings) over the ruins of Brighton and Hove's West Pier during sunset.
If you're lucky, you might catch a murmuration of starlings over the ruins of Brighton's West Pier © Philip Reeve / Shutterstock

14. Gaze out at West Pier

When wandering along the seafront, you can't help but notice Brighton's other pier stranded out at sea. West Pier is now just a shadowy skeleton of its former self, having been ravaged by both storms and fires over the years. It might not sound like much of an attraction, yet it's a hauntingly beautiful sight and makes for a great atmospheric photograph – especially during the winter months, when thousands of starlings swirl and dance in the skies above it.

Read more: Seaside snaps: how to take brilliant beach photographs

15. Go for a hike

Thanks to its location next to the South Downs National Park, Brighton has plenty of epic hiking routes within easy reach. So pack a picnic and head out to the dry valley of Devil's Dyke, grassy slopes of Ditchling Beacon, or pretty woodland of Stanmer Park. There are paths suitable for all fitness levels, with fresh air and picturesque views of the English countryside just a short hop from the city.

Keep planning your trip:

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This article was first published Mar 27, 2022 and updated Apr 5, 2024.

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