Once a port town and health resort, now a lively and eclectic city, Brighton has long provided excitement and merriment for day-trippers from London. The city’s iconic pier inspires happy memories of sunny days out for many and still draws in visitors despite its old age – almost 120 years to be exact. Though Brighton is very much still a day-trip destination, its vibrant and liberal population has morphed the city into a rainbow-hued, edgy locale with much more to offer than just a chilly sea and seagull-populated pier.
Where to eat
Brighton has an unbelievable amount to offer on the gastronomic front, regardless of whether you’re looking for classic seaside fare or vegan, gluten-free cuisine.
Best for seafood – ask chefs or foodies where you can find the best seafood in Brighton, and you’ll probably get one of two answers. Champagne and oyster bar Riddle & Finns sits pretty in The Lanes (with another location on the seafront) and serves up unfussy shucked oysters, fish dishes and much more in its restaurant and outdoor bar, which overlooks the bustling kitchen. On the other hand, you have English’s, Brighton’s oldest seafood restaurant and a veritable institution. Since 1945 this enchanting spot has been serving up the very best in moules marinières, caviar, and whole Dover soles to its customers, which have included Charlie Chaplin and Judy Dench, to name just a couple. If you’re looking for something a bit more low-key, don’t miss out on fish and chips from Regency Restaurant, wooden fork and all.
Best for vegan and vegetarian food – veggies and vegans will be pleased to know that any food they could dream of can be found sans-meat in Brighton, from Sunday roasts to pizza. Food for Friends is probably the city’s most famous vegetarian restaurant and has been serving up fresh, homemade meat-free goodies since 1981, while Purezza became the UK’s first vegan pizzeria in 2014. A sure-fire highlight will be Prince George, a seriously brave pub that only serves vegan and veggie dishes, including Mexican street food and delicious Sunday roasts, and 100% vegan doner kebabs can be gobbled down at Beelzebab.
Best of the rest – the list of good eats in Brighton is almost endless, but here are a couple more highlights: The Lion and Lobster is one of Brighton’s oldest pubs and roast dinners here come piled with pork belly or beef topside with gigantic, melt in the mouth Yorkshire puddings. For a mid-shopping pick me up, stop by Cloud Nine Bakery for unbelievably moist cupcakes ranging from peanut caramel to chocolate orange, and slabs of brownie cheesecake that are the most worth-it sugar overload . The final Brighton institution and absolute must-try is Grubbs Burgers – and be sure not to judge this book by its cover. Though this might look like a run of the mill, dirty burger chain, these luscious buns are quite the post-night-out treat (or any time of the day treat, really).
Where to drink
The Mesmerist – One of the many bars in Brighton’s loveable Lanes, The Mesmerist’s expert bartenders create sumptuous cocktails in a creatively-decorated yet comfortable environment – think sink-into sofas alongside decorative full suits of armour.
Hobgoblin – If your travel motto is to live like a local, then look no further than the Hobgoblin. Painted in bubbles and sitting on the southern end of London Road, Hobgoblin is a local hangout with a chilled garden, a great selection of beers and even an escape room upstairs to keep you on your toes.
Caroline of Brunswick – Alongside being a great pub, this alt/punk spot comes complete with a three-headed Cerberus above the bar and is one of the city’s most formidable LGBTQ+ venues. On any given evening you’ll find an array of rainbow-hued events from comedy to cabaret and drag quizzes to open mic nights.
L’Atelier du Vin at the North Laines – 21st-century speakeasies don’t come much better than this prohibition-inspired bar, where cocktails are served up in classic style, from the glassware to the prohibition strength (try the Tuxedo, which combines gin, dry Vermouth, Absinthe and Maraschino for a deadly combo), and bartenders shake their cocktails to the soundtrack of old-school Jazz.
Brighton’s Lanes are famous at least country-wide, but it is little known that the Lanes and the North Laine are two distinct shopping areas, with entirely different atmospheres. In the Lanes proper, chic boutiques rub shoulders with swanky restaurants and you’ll find a plethora of little jewellery shops, featuring a range of styles from classic antiques and vintage gems to handmade, bespoke pieces. In another artisan vein, hand-crafted macarons tempt in all their pastel glory at Julien Plumart and the most impressively sculpted chocolate creations you will likely ever see are on show at TV-famous Choccywoccydoodah. To ensure you leave feeling rightly regal, stop into Pecksniffs to create your very own signature fragrance.
The North Laine is the beating heart of all things bohemian, hip and socially-conscious in Brighton – think vegetarian shoe shops, graphic novel stores and everything in between. One of the highlights here is undoubtedly the veritable labyrinth that is Snoopers Paradise, which literally overflows with vintage treasures, from black and white photos to 70s lamps and ancient cameras to collectables. Among the myriad other shops, Bert’s Homestore’s kitschy kitchen-ware is quite tempting for homemakers, Two Feathers sells exquisite Native American Jewellery, the Spice Shop stocks every form of chilli under the sun and Peacheyboo holds artistically-designed, unisex children’s wear – we told you there was a bit of everything!
Sights to see
A day in Brighton would undoubtedly be incomplete without a trip to the historic pier and breezy pebbled beach. Rickety planks and marginally unkempt appearance aside, the pier’s charm permeates and brings visitors back to a simpler time. Try your luck on the claw machine or bash your pals about on the bumper cars, before taking a walk along the beach to admire the eerie collapsed West Pier with an ice cream in hand (keep your eye out for sneaky seagulls!).
The Royal Pavilion creates another iconic shape on Brighton’s skyline and has verdant gardens rife for wandering if you’re hunting for ways to pass the time. An impressive Grade I-listed royal residence whose construction began in 1787 in the Mughal-Gothic style of Indian palaces, this impressive creation is often humorously referred to as the Taj Mahal by locals.
If you have a few days and feel the need to escape from the bustle of Brighton, why not don your hiking boots and set off for a bracing walk in the South Downs, right on the city’s doorstep. The chalk cliffs of Eastbourne’s Beachy Head make for a wonderful walk, with views over the Channel and up the stripy cylinder of Beachy Head Lighthouse. On the western side of the city, Devil’s Dyke valley offers trails for all hikers and spanning vistas all the way out to sea.