Brighton & Hove
Raves on the beach, Graham Greene novels, mods and rockers in bank-holiday fisticuffs, naughty weekends for Mr and Mrs Smith, the UK’s biggest gay scene and the Channel’s best clubbing – this coastal city evokes many images for the British. But one thing is certain: with its bohemian, hedonistic vibe, Brighton is where England’s seaside experience goes from cold to cool.
Brighton is without doubt Britain’s most colourful and outrageous city. Here burlesque meets contemporary design; grotty hostels share thin walls with kinky boutique hotels; microbrewed ales share bar space with ‘sex on the beach’; and stags watch drag. The city returned the UK’s first Green Party MP, Valentine’s Day is celebrated with unusual gusto, and according to the 2001 census, it has the UK’s highest Jedi population.
The highlight for the sightseeing visitor is the Royal Pavilion, a 19th-century party palace built by the Prince Regent, who kicked off Brighton’s love of the outlandish.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Brighton & Hove.
The Royal Pavilion is the city’s must-see attraction. The glittering party pad and palace of Prince George, later Prince Regent and then King George IV, it’s one of the most opulent buildings in England, and certainly the finest example of early 19th-century chinoiserie anywhere in Europe. It’s an apt symbol of Brighton’s reputation for decadence. An unimpressed Queen Victoria called the Royal Pavilion ‘a strange, odd Chinese place’, but for visitors to Brighton it’s an unmissable chunk of Sussex history.
Brighton’s newest attraction opened in 2016, at the point the now defunct West Pier used to make landfall. The world’s most slender tower is a brutal, 162m-tall column of reinforced steel and concrete rising like a space-age phallus (this is Brighton after all) from the seafront, with a huge, impaled, glass doughnut taking ‘passengers’ 138m above the city for some gob-smacking vistas of the Sussex coast.
This grand old Edwardian pier is the place to experience Brighton’s tackier side. There are plenty of stomach-churning fairground rides and noisy amusement arcades to keep you entertained, and candy floss and Brighton rock to chomp on while you’re doing so. Just west are the sad remains of the West Pier, a skeletal iron hulk that attracts flocks of starlings at sunset.
AquariumSEA LIFE Brighton
Not just for children, this aquarium is an underground exhibition of nature's fascinating water creatures. Walking around the church-like interior, visitors can get up close to eels, tropical fish and other sealife. For those who are keen, there are opportunities to feed the animals, touch starfish and ride a glass-bottomed boat over a pool of sharks, rays and turtles.
MuseumHove Museum & Art Gallery
Hove can justifiably claim to be the birthplace of British cinema, with the first short film shot here in 1898. You can see it alongside other fascinating films at this attractive Victorian villa. Another highlight is the kids’ room, which is full of fairy lights and reverberates to the snores of a wizard and the whir of an underfloor train. It’s 2 miles from Churchill Sq; take bus 1, 1A, 6 or 49 from there.
MuseumBrighton Museum & Art Gallery
Set in the Royal Pavilion’s renovated stable block, this museum and art gallery has a glittering collection of 20th-century art and design, including a crimson Salvador Dalí sofa modelled on Mae West’s lips. There’s also an enthralling gallery of world art, an impressive collection of Egyptian artefacts, and an ‘Images of Brighton’ multimedia exhibit containing a series of oral histories and a model of the defunct West Pier.
Europe' biggest, Brighton’s wave-shaped marina washes ashore 1.5 miles east of the pier. In addition to brand-name shopping, numerous chain eateries and entertainment options, you’ll also find Brighton’s Hollywood-style Walk of Fame, which dedicates a pavement-embedded plaque to anyone rich, famous and with a link to the city, though some associations are tenuous. Big-hitting names honoured include Graham Greene, Winston Churchill and Lewis Carroll.
The historic West Pier, which closed in 1975, began to collapse into the sea in December 2002 and, having since caught fire twice, is just a dark shadow on the water. It’s a sad end for this Victorian marvel, where the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel once performed. Nevertheless it’s still quite an arresting, beautiful sight though the only flocks of visitors now are the thousands of starlings who swoop around it in winter.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Brighton & Hove.