With quirky boutiques, palatial aspirations and an expanding foodie scene, Brighton is a vibrant seaside city armed with an appetite for all things arty
Brighton rocks. It’s got British coastal cool by the bucket-load. From its quintessentially English looks to its anything-goes attitude, thriving art scene, markets and shops, it’s full of character. Discover the quirky gay quarter of Kemp Town, the bohemian tangle of the Lanes, elegant Brunswick, buzzy Hanover and a glorious coastline that stretches for miles. And things are on the up, with new bars and boutique hotels popping up all the time.
What to do
Tumble down the cobbled streets from the train station until you pitch up on the pebbly beach. A blast of salty sea air and a stroll along the seafront promenade is a great way to start your day. Pass the bright lights of the Palace Pier and wander under the arches below; great for a spot of people-watching, it’s where the local artists show off their talents. Keep going all the way along to the eerie skeletal remains of the West Pier, which burned down in 2003. Cross the seafront and swing back to enter the historic Lanes that were once the heart of the old fishing town of Brighthelmstone. Navigate the maze of twisting streets and pop into the art, antique and jewellery shops.
Then head to the Royal Pavilion (www.royalpavilion.org.uk). An interior designer’s fantasy, it is architect John Nash’s take on an Indian palace, designed for the Prince Regent. Visit the domed banqueting room and gawp at the decadent chandelier of bronze dragons and glass globes before wandering through the flower-filled Pavilion Gardens, stopping for tea and cake at the café (www.paviliongardenscafe.co.uk).
Nearby, the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery (www.brighton.virtualmuseum.info) is home to a 20th-century art and design room containing, among other treasures, Salvador Dalí’s sofa inspired by Mae West’s lips. It also houses a display on Brighton’s history – covering the mods and rockers of the 1960s and the emergence of the city’s thriving gay and lesbian community. Before you run out of time, admire the Regency architecture in Brunswick.
Where to stay
A hop, skip and a jump away from the beach is Hotel Una; owned by a Bosnian architect and a Serbian interior designer it is full of hidden quirks. No two rooms are the same; each has its own custom-made furniture, beautiful textiles and art. Tucked away from the main drag in the hip Kemp Town is the Square Hotel. Its rooms are shiny chic with modern art, faux fur throws and roll-top baths perfectly positioned for a sea view. Avalon Hotel is a home-from-home run by two locals with a handful of lovely rooms. A traditional British pub with 11 luxury rooms, Pub du Vin, on Ship Street, serves delicious home-style cooking in its welcoming bistro, alongside an excellent selection of wines.
Where to eat and drink
Follow your nose all the way to North Road and Bill’s fresh produce store and café (www.billsproducestore.co.uk) – it’s packed to the rafters with the local farmers’ finest and other well-sourced goodies. Breakfast on their scrumptious buttermilk pancakes. A few doors down you’ll find the equally tasty The Real Eating Company (www.real-eating.co.uk). This food emporium houses a deli, bakery, food store, wine shop and restaurant with Darren Velvick (ex-head chef of Pétrus) at the helm – expect a modern British slant on seasonal favourites.
For fresh seafood visit Café Paradiso on The Strand, situated next to the very waters where the fish you will be feasting on were caught. Alternatively, try Terre à Terre (01273 729051; www.terreaterre.co.uk) on East Street, a deliciously daring vegetarian restaurant – the menu takes inspiration from across the globe and will turn even the most ardent carnivore’s head.
Simple, well-sourced ingredients are put to excellent work at Due South (01273 821218; www.duesouth.co.uk). Expect anything from braised pig’s cheeks to rock oysters and seared scallops. Its excellent reputation is well deserved. After hours, slink down to The Hanbury Club (www.thehanburyclub.com; 83 St George’s Road) for cocktails and live entertainment.
Time running out?
Hunt for bargains at Brighton’s Sunday Market, held just behind the main train station. Stalls are heaped with antiques, one-off pieces and kitsch furniture.
Brighton & Hove Food Festival takes place every September. Over 50 restaurants participate and local producers and farmers sell their products at a huge market (www.brightonfoodfestival.co.uk).
Brighton is a one-hour 10-minute train journey, or a two-hour 20-minute drive, from London.
Southwest Trains (0845 6000 650; www.southwesttrains.co.uk) and First Capital Connect (0845 026 4700; www.firstcapitalconnect.co.uk) have regular departures from London Bridge and Victoria. National Express (08717 818181; www.nationalexpress.com) operates services to Brighton from across the UK, including Victoria.
Visit Brighton: 0906 711 2255; www.visitbrighton.co.uk.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.