BRIGHTON has been a prime target for day-tripping Londoners since the Prince Regent (the future George IV) started holidaying here in the 1770s with his mistress, launching a trend for the "dirty weekend". One of England's most entertaining seaside resorts, the city has emerged from seediness to embrace a new, fashionable hedonism, in the process becoming one of the country's premier gay centres. This factor, along with a large student presence, has endowed Brighton with a distinctly bohemian vibe, fuelled by a buzzing nightlife scene and a lively annual arts and music festival held over three weeks in May.
A visit to Brighton inevitably begins with a visit to its two most famous landmarks – the exuberant Royal Pavilion and the wonderfully tacky Brighton Pier, a few minutes away – followed by a stroll along the seafront promenade or the pebbly beach. Just as interesting, though, is an exploration of Brighton's car-free Lanes – the maze of narrow alleys marking the old town – where some of the town's diverse restaurants, bars and tiny bric-a-brac, jewellery and antique shops can be found, North Laine is more bohemian than the Lanes. Along and around its hub, pedestrianized Kensington Gardens, eclectic shops selling secondhand records, clothes, bric-a-brac and New Age objects mingle with earthy coffee shops and funky cafés.
Brighton rises from the glittering seafront to the protective South Downs , with Beachy Head to the east and Worthing Point to the west, basking in one of the sunniest climates in the country. Brighton is often described as "London-by-the Sea," but this moniker does not do it justice. Brighton is about freedom. There is the obvious freedom provided by the wealth of leisure and entertainment facilities - the interweaving streets are lined with original and atmospheric bars, clubs and restaurants, and during the summer the beach front attains a festival - like ambiance on a daily basis.
However, if you take a closer look beyond the hedonistic pleasures that Brighton has to offer, an astonishing diversity, warmth and sense of community shines through. There is real freedom here through expression of individuality, tolerance of different ways of life, and an invigorating entrepreneurial spirit. Whatever your interest, be it sport, theater, eating out, clubbing or just strolling down the promenade taking it all in, Brighton will not let you go away disappointed.
Hitting the Beach
Start at Brighton Station once you have stepped off the train. Head straight out of the station and down the hill. This is Queens Road, and its best attraction is The Tamarind Tree , a terrific Caribbean restaurant. Veering off the road east will take you into the heart of the North Laine and on toward Kemp Town ; west to the residential areas of Seven Dials, Montpelier and eventually Hove , but there's plenty of time for all that. You will soon arrive at a crossroads, centered around Brighton Clock Tower .
Shopaholics will spy Churchill Square shopping center to their right, but the sea is now clearly visible straight on, so keep going. Once past the Clock Tower the road becomes West Street. Lovers of shamelessly commercial dance music take note of the the Event II on the right. Also on the right is the multi-screen Odeon Cinema . But now the sea is at your fingertips, so cross the road and take in the view.
To the east lies Brighton Pier, all flashing lights, funfair rides, cotton candy and cheeky good times. Just behind Brighton Pier look out for the acclaimed Sealife Centre . To the west the battered yet beautiful West Pier represents the elegance, decadence and rich cultural diversity of this seaside town. Drop down onto the seafront between the piers and explore. If the sun is out it should be pretty lively. There are volleyball and basketball courts, a paddling pool and play area for those looking for activity. There may even be a band playing al fresco at The Ellipse .
For a drink try The Beach , Gemini Beach Bar or the Fortune of War . Hungry? Try Alfresco , The Honeyclub or The Boardwalk . For cultural points of interest, visit the Fishing Museum , the seafront Artists' Quarter with its open galleries and shops, and the marvelous Museum of Penny Slot Machines under Brighton Pier. Above all, walk, relax and take it all in.
You can walk west along the promenade all the way to Hove Lagoon and beyond. Walking to the east takes in the varied delights of the electric powered Volks Railway and the Concorde 2 venue. Keep going and you will get to Brighton Marina and you can continue on an under cliff walk along the beach all the way to Saltdean.
If this all sounds too energetic, then why not head for the shops, swiftly followed by the bars. City Center
Brighton is the one of the best places to shop, eat and drink in Great Britain. Start back at the Clock Tower . Directly west is Western Road, which is home to most of the major chains: Marks and Spencer , Gap, and Oddbins to name a few. It also contains Churchill Square , a superior shopping centre whose highlights include Border's Books and Music , zavvi and Habitat.
Adjacent to Churchill Square is the Western Front , a landmark in Brighton bar culture. On the way down Western Road check out the Pull and Pump pub, sample fine French cuisine at La Fourchette or wander down Preston Street for a tex-mex feast at Dig In the Ribs .
From the Clock Tower turn east down North Street. A short way down is Ship Street on the right. This is a good place to enter The Lanes area. Packed with bars, restaurants and shops, there is too much good stuff to mention. Don't miss the Cricketers pub, Food for Friends and Terre a Terre veggie restaurants and Casablanca nightclub.
Back on to North Street, continue down the hill and turn left at Bond Street. This brings you into the North Laine area. This is Brighton's "alternative" area and is even more chock-a-block with goodies. Komedia Arts Centre has loads of great attractions and the Mash Tun is an essential Brighton bar.
Returning once again to North Street, head down to its foot and to your left you will find the stunning Royal Pavilion . Walk through the grounds and see what's on at the Brighton Dome , and out the other side to Brighton Museum and Art Gallery on Church Street.
Hove, Kemp Town & North Brighton
There is so much to do in the central area of Brighton that many do not venture further afield, but they are missing a lot. Hove boasts some of the area's most magnificent architecture. Be sure to visit Brunswick and Palmeira Squares. It is also home to Sussex County Cricket ground and some great restaurants like Aumthong Thai .
In north Brighton, you should try and squeeze in a visit to the Duke of York's Picture House , stroll through Preston Park and take either Dyke Road or Ditchling Road up to the top of the South Downs . Also try and explore Kemp Town . There is great Regency-era architecture and a community spirit that epitomizes Brighton life alongside a few more bars, restaurants and shops.
Grab a map of the area (free ones are available from Brighton Tourist Information Centre in Bartholomew Square) and have the time of your life!
Brighton could be described as England's answer to Miami Beach. A hangout for the young and funky, this seaside city provides an equally welcoming environment for families and pensioners.
Not long ago, Brighton was written off as a seedy seaside resort. Not so today. It has an excellent and broad range of restaurants, bars and, for those who still have some energy left, nightclubs.
Every palate is catered for in Brighton, with the added bonus that everything is within easy reach. The main eating and drinking areas are mainly located in The Lanes, right at the heart of old Brighton. The Lanes are predominantly pedestrian, with a few intersecting roads, and they are a good choice for both daytime shopping as well as evening outings.
The choice of dining ranges from Mexican to Lebanese and everywhere in between, but has a surprising number of delicious vegetarian restaurants. Terre à Terre has a nationwide reputation as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the UK. It is fully equipped with all the Conranesque trimmings, but suitably candlelit for a more intimate occasion. Just make sure you book well in advance. This is one of Brighton's most popular restaurants. Equally divine, but infinitely cheaper is the excellent Food For Friends . It is also located in The Lanes, but is more of an informal venue for a night out with your friends - thus the name, presumably.
But vegetarians aside, omnivores are also amply catered for in Brighton. Most of the chain restaurants, found in London and nationwide, are all there: Pizza Express (the American Hot can surely not be beaten), Browns and more are all represented.
If what you're looking for are more individual restaurants, you will not be disappointed. Brighton has an interesting selection of both cosy and elegant dining spots. With the increasing popularity of the town and the just-over 40 minute commute from London, new restaurants are springing up all the time. But some of the best choices are well-established and have delighted Brightonians for many years like English's . It feels like a throw-back to a turn-of-the-century Parisian dining room, and it serves superb fish and seafood. Definitely a must for fish lovers looking for a classy dining experience.
If gourmet dining is not within your budget or taste, why not enjoy some candy floss, fresh donuts and ice cream all available in large quantities on the city's trademark Brighton Pier. You don't even have to be under 20 to enjoy it. It is definitely not a venue for gourmets, but fish and chips, beer and meat pies are plentiful.
Waterside dining is more elegant at the nearby Brighton Marina , which has a number of small and cozy Italian eateries.
Other forms of entertainment to keep you at the Marina include ten-pin bowling at Bowlplex and a vast UGC Cinema duplex. And if it all becomes too much, the summer season sees the Volks Railway drive along a tiny track back to central Brighton.
The choice of nightlife in Brighton is wide and varied. On any night of the week there will be a club featuring music like reggae, 70s and 80s, jazz, dance, indie and soul amongst other genres. Most pre-club drinking happens along the seafront on Kings Road or in the Kings Road Arches right by the beach. Sumo , just off Kings Road, includes a trendy basement bar, which stays open well after the normal pub closing times. It's one of the chicer bars in Brighton.
There are several clubs along West Street, but the real buzz happens at the Kings Road Arches, just across the road and down the stairs onto the beach. It is hugely popular during the day for light snacks accompanied by a pint or two, and also in the evening when this area really comes to life. The Gemini Beach Bar , amongst others, attracts a lively and quite bohemian crowd.
Photo by: JP Oakar
TOUR 1: Seafront Stroll
This walk will take you along the seafront from Brighton Pier to the King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove . The distance is about two miles and will take about half an hour. The terrain is totally flat and suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. There are plenty of places to stop for refreshments along the way.
Starting at Brighton Pier, make your way along the seafront to the west. Down below, you will see The Boardwalk , a restaurant/bar situated right on the beach. There can never be too many al fresco establishments in Brighton, whose residents have completely embraced European cafe culture. Over to your right is Pool Valley Coach Station and access into The Lanes where you can hunt for gifts and souvenirs. Don't get lost in there, it's like a labyrinth of tiny passageways and streets. It can get very crowded in the summer so try to come early in the day or midweek. There are some fine restaurants such as < Havana and Terre a Terre and exclusive shops like Jeremy Hoye Jewellery .
Moving along the seafront you will pass the Brighton Thistle Hotel on your right, a popular choice for business people attending conferences in the Brighton Centre which is just along from it. The Grand and the Hilton Metropole also occupy commanding positions a litle further along this seafront stretch as do the cheaper options of the Palace Hotel and Kings Hotel . Also on your right you will pass the Odeon cinema on the corner of the junction with West Street. This takes you past several clubs including Event II on your way into the center of town.
On the sea side of the road, which is far more interesting, you can see the Artists' Quarter; a row of tiny arches under the promenade from which local artists and craftspeople sell their wares. Various sculptural pieces have been commissioned to line this part of the seafront. See if you can spot which one is known locally as The Doughnut . There are a string of clubs and bars on the beach: Gemini Beach Bar , The Beach , and The Zap , to name a few. It can get very lively on a Saturday night - you have been warned.
Further on you pass a volleyball court, The Ellipse - an area where live bands perform and other events take place - and on to the West Pier . Next to the pier in the summer is a small market with stalls selling ethnic clothes and jewellery, second hand books and art. There is also the restaurant with the finest view in Brighton - Alfresco . It looks like an ocean liner and has panoramic views out to sea. The children's pool and play area comes next. Keep on going and you come to another local institution, The Meeting Place , an outdoor cafe which is open all year round, rain or shine.
Here you also begin to see the beach huts outside. Once past the Peace Statue , you will be in Hove ; a much more genteel and conservative place than Brighton. On the right, pass two impressive squares: Brunswick and Palmeira, with their stunning architecture and central gardens. Leaving the seafront to venture inland will take you into the shopping area of Hove and its many more cafes and restaurants.
Past the beach huts and Hove Lawns you will come to the King Alfred Leisure Centre . You can either turn around and go back or carry on to Hove Lagoon with its windsurfing school and paddling pool. This is another 20 minutes or so, past tennis courts, bowling greens, a putting green and a couple more cafes.
Brighton seafront is such a lovely place for a stroll; on a pleasant evening the promenade is full of rollerbladers, kids on bikes and people on their way to dinner or just walking the dog. It feels as though the whole town is out making the most of where they live.
Photo by: JP Oakar