If you’re looking to escape from London for a weekend of fresh sea air, great food, culture and boutique shopping, look no further than the seaside city of Brighton. I spent most of my teenage years exploring everything Brighton has to offer and once I made the move to London, you’d find me regularly escaping to my old haunt, albeit to drink decent cocktails in bars rather than WKD on the beach!
With frequent trains out of London Victoria or Blackfriars, you can be ambling down the hill to the iconic Brighton Pier in less than an hour. Check out Trainline and look for off peak ticket where one way can be as little as £13 from London. Alternatively, if you want to rent a car for more flexibility, it’ll take you roughly an hour and a half. If you do choose to drive however, be aware that parking can be a nightmare, especially on weekends. For convenience (cost and busyness aside) I’d recommend Churchill Square or the Train Station Car Park.
Where to stay in Brighton
There are plenty of accommodation options to suit all budgets. My personal favourite is the boutique Brighton Harbour Hotel and Spa; the rooms are well appointed and affordable, and the underground spa is cosy and creative. The spa and gym complex is built within old historical smugglers’ tunnels and includes 6 treatment rooms using ESPA products, heated indoor pool, sauna, steam room, scandi-style hot tubs, hydrotherapy pool and gym. If you’re on a romantic weekend, book the ‘Private Grotto’, an intimate space designed for two with your own private hot tub, day bed and room service. The hotel offers spa breaks for one or two nights, perfect for a weekend visit.
Alternatively, if you want something fancier, you can stay at the luxury historic Grand Hotel Brighton, which was established in 1869 and has recently had a new refurbishment and is in a great central location for exploring. The hotel has a 2AA rosette rated restaurant GB1 and offers a creative twist on the classic afternoon tea with a savoury seafood afternoon tea including smoked salmon sandwiches and fresh oysters. It’s ideal for an afternoon by the seaside.
For those travelling solo, or on a tighter budget, check out Brighton YHA. Clean and comfortable, with friendly staff, this hostel is a stone’s throwaway from the pier and beach front. The hostel itself is in a pretty old building, and has wifi and an on site cafe and bar. Prices start around £18 for a dorm bed, with female only dorms available. They also do pleasant private rooms from around £50.
Things to do in Brighton
There are so many things to keep you busy in Brighton, aside from lounging in a spa or stuffing your face with afternoon tea. One of the most well-known attractions is the Brighton Palace Pier, with old fashioned cotton-candy, fairground rides, hot salty chips in cones, and plenty of slot machines to lose money on. It’s a great place to take a stroll and enjoy views of the famous seafront, with the hauntingly beautiful charred West Pier in the background. The seafront itself has two levels worth exploring; there’s the top level (same level as the Palace Pier) – a classic promenade with views over the beach. If you head down one of the staircases to the beach itself and the arches, you’ll be able to explore fantastic galleries, independent shops, bars and restaurants.
Away from Brighton seafront, I love to visit the Royal Pavilion, a summer seaside pleasure palace built by King George IV which is now a museum. The architecture and interior design is quirky and decadent, and well worth a wonder to admire this regency era historical building with Indian and Chinese influences. The grounds are a great place to grab an ice cream, people watch and maybe hear some live music from a busker or two in summer. In winter there’s also an ice rink here with a restaurant serving mulled wine with views of the rink.
The Royal Pavilion is also located on the edge of the famous ‘Brighton Lanes.’ These historic alleyways are full of unique shops, independent restaurants and cafés, another must-explore area of Brighton. You have to stop off at the crazy and creative Choccywoccydoodah chocolate shop and admire the giant cakes which are genuinely impressive works of art.
The North Laine was once a slum area, but now is full of more independent cafes, pubs, shops, theatres and museums with a bohemian hipster vibe. I see it as a more hipster, alternative extension of the Lanes. You’ll find excellent vegan and veggie options, an abundance of tattoo and piercing parlours, rambling antique shops and old book stores where you could easily while away an entire afternoon. I love Brighton Books, which features on this list of best independent bookshops.
Where to eat in Brighton
When it comes to lunch or dinner then you absolutely have to visit Ristorante Donatello. I have been visiting this Italian restaurant with my parents for 27 years and here you will find a list of my Napoletano friend Anthony’s best Italian restaurants in Sydney, I miss Donatello’s constantly. Visiting from London you’ll be amazed by the price of the set menu; a choice of starter and any pizza or pasta from the extensive menu for the bargain of £10.75, with gargantuan portions. Get the lasagne, trust me you’ll thank me. One of the walls is covered with photographs of previous famous visitors, including Tony Blair and Katie Price. Donatello’s also has a sister restaurant called Pinocchio at the start of North Laine serving the exact same menu.
If you don’t fancy Italian, I would recommend any of the following
- Food for Friends – a swish veggie and vegan hangout, Food for Friends is Brighton’s original restaurant catering to vegetarians and vegans since 1981. Brighton has lots of vegan options to suit all budgets aside from this slightly fancier option.
- The Breakfast Club -the first location of the Breakfast Club group outside of London, brightly coloured and fun
- Casa don Carlos – a tiny hole in the wall tapas restaurant serving classic Spanish dishes – book in advance!
- Moshimo – ‘Brighton’s best-loved Japanese’ – delicious sushi and bento served in a modern setting.
Nightlife in Brighton
Brighton is renowed for its nightlife and indeed you’ll see groups of hens and stags on West Street, likely frequenting the Wetherspoons before heading down to the multi-floored nightclub PRYZM. This can make for a good night out if that’s your preference and indeed I spent a lot of my time at PRYZM back when it was Oceania, but I now I prefer to head back to the lanes to either the Font for a chilled pub vibe or Twisted Lemon for well-crafted cocktails. Brighton is also proudly LBGTQ-friendly, with lots of establishments flying the rainbow flag.
Most of Brighton’s gay bars and pubs are mainly located in the ‘Gay Quarter’ known as Kemptown (the other side of the pier to the Lanes). Brighton has numerous live music venues with up and coming bands (the Kooks are originally from Brighton) including Komedia in North Laines, which has regular live music, stand-up comedy and spoken word performers. Alternatively, if you’re more into jazz, soul or funk, then head to the excellent late-night jazz bar Casablancas.
You’ll be spoilt for choice on how to spend your weekend in Brighton but I’m confident these tips will help you fall in love with my favourite British city.
About the Author
Jessica is an ex-pat freelance travel writer and blogger based in Sydney, formally of Brixton, London. Jessica has a passion for unique, purposeful travel, good food and a good book. She loves to combine all three whenever she gets the chance. Check out her adventures in her newly adopted home of Australia at www.jessicapascoe.com