An inimitable blend of cool and kitsch, Brighton is one of the UK’s most quirky, vibrant and welcoming cities. It offers the perfect combination of lively urban life and laid-back beach vibes, not to mention a thriving LGBTQIA+ scene and more independent stores and coffee shops than you can shake a stick at. 

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

Hit the beach

A trip to Brighton wouldn’t be complete without spending time on its famous beach. Pebbly rather than sandy, you can have a go at watersports such as stand-up paddleboarding and windsurfing or simply relax in the glorious sunshine. It’s worth noting that on warm weekends and holidays Brighton beach attracts sizable crowds from London and other inland locations, so head further along the coast to find a quieter spot, or visit on a weekday. The winter is a lovely time to stroll along the seafront, because the beach is virtually empty and the sunset colors add plenty of atmosphere.

Feel the nostalgia at Brighton Pier

One of the bigger attractions on the seafront is Brighton Pier, a city landmark that dates back to the Victorian era. At 1,722 feet long, it’s 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 the rollercoasters, nibble on a crunchy stick of Brighton Rock for some traditional sugary sustenance.

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People having fun at Brighton Gay Pride Parade, England. The annual Pride Community Parade is the biggest celebration of the LGBT community at  Brighton, UK. Getty Images
Dancers at the annual Brighton Pride parade passing the Royal Pavilion in the centre of Brighton © Getty Images

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.

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 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 vegan Biscoff donuts! Alternatively, you can people-watch at Pelicano or escape the tourist crowds at Tilt in the north of the city.

Sip on 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’ Street 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!

This is the Lanes, a shopping street popular with tourists on July 24, 2019 in Brighton
Get lost shopping among the many creative and independent stores in The Lanes © iStock Editorial / Getty Images

Get lost in The Lanes

Brighton’s legendary Lanes ooze with character, and you can easily while away an afternoon exploring them. These twisting alleyways and narrow streets are crammed with historic buildings that house all sorts of artistic independent shops, galleries and cafes. 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.

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.

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 beach.

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 with vegan options  © Roo Lewis/Getty Images

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 offers 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 (watch out for hungry seagulls!). Don’t eat fish? All-vegan No Catch has got you covered with everything from its signature “tofish” to tempura “prawns”. 

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, in the summer you can reach it 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 bowling alley, it houses the trippy UV crazy golf facility Globalls, which is perfect for a rainy day. Another hotspot for shopping in Brighton is the Churchill Square shopping center, with over 80 high street chains.

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 offers 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 boast guest voice appearances from Knightmare host Hugo Myatt and Norman Lovett from Red Dwarf. For a more traditional gaming experience, check out beachside video and board game bar Loading or arcade pub The World’s End.

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 450 feet 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.

Murmuration (collective fluid movement of a flock of starlings) over the ruins of Brighton and Hove's West Pier during sunset.
Get lucky and catch a starling murmuration over the ruins of Brighton's West Pier © Philip Reeve / Shutterstock

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.

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.

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, offering fresh air and picturesque views of the English countryside.

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