Nightlife in Brighton: stage, street and screen culture

by BrightonExpert

Brighton's cultural calendar features world-class comedy, music, theatre and dance. Oh yes – and the biggest annual arts festival in England. Edinburgh, eat your heart out.

With London practically on the doorstep, it’s hardly surprising that Brighton sometimes struggles to be culturally self-sufficient. There are only three major arts venues in the city centre: Brighton Dome, a grand performance complex in the grounds of the Royal Pavilion, hosting classical, world music and dance events; the Theatre Royal, a lovely 19th-century theatre presenting mainstream plays and musicals; and Komedia, the city’s best fringe theatre, music and comedy venue. For contact details, see below.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always plenty going on at these and at the city’s lesser venues. But arts-loving locals looking for true depth, breadth and variety tend to divide their time between their home patch and the capital.

Every May, that changes. For three-and-a-bit weeks, the celebrated Brighton Festival (www.brightonfestival.org) of theatre, music, dance and visual arts and its counterpart the Brighton Festival Fringe (www.brightonfestivalfringe.org.uk) transform the city. With conventional stages somewhat scarce, performances pop up in all manner of spaces, from parks, doorways and seafront flats to the opulent music room of the Royal Pavilion.

The summer brings scores of one-off events. This is a particularly good time to be an opera fan in Brighton, as the Glyndebourne Festival (near Lewes BN8 5UU; +44 1273 813813; www.glyndebourne.com) is within easy reach, with performances running from late May to the end of August.

When autumn swings around, so does the Brighton Comedy Festival (October; www.brightoncomedyfestival.com), a two-week barrel of laughs. Other annual events that are well worth catching include the World Sacred Music Festival (Oct; www.worldsacredmusic.org) and the Brighton Early Music Festival (Oct-Nov; www.bremf.org.uk). In 2010, Brighton marked the end of British Summer Time in late October with a revamped edition of White Night (www.whitenightnuitblanche.com/brighton), a fabulous all-night festival of music, live art and installations that took place at sites scattered all over the city centre. Let’s hope it returns in 2011.

Lastly, cinema. Sadly, this is not Brighton’s strong point. Both of the city’s mainstream cinema complexes are saddled with mediocre screens and lamentable sound systems. But there’s one consolation: Brighton’s art-house cinema, the century-old Duke of York’s Picturehouse, is rather good. You can’t miss it – it’s right opposite the fire station and it has a sculpture of a giant pair of legs on the roof, doing the can can.

Brighton’s leading cultural venues

  • Brighton Dome - Church Street, Brighton BN1 1EE; +44 1273 709709; www.brightondome.org
  • Duke of York’s Picturehouse - Preston Circus, Brighton BN1 4NA; +44 8719 025728; www.picturehouses.co.uk
  • Komedia - 44-47 Gardner Street, Brighton BN1 1UN; +44 845 293 8480; www.komedia.co.uk/brighton
  • Theatre Royal - New Road, Brighton BN1 1SD; +44 8448 717650; www.ambassadortickets.com/Theatre-Royal-Brighton

More nightlife

Visit my overview on Brighton nightlife or read my other guides: Nightlife in Brighton: the best clubs and gigs and Nightlife in Brighton: perfect pints and creative cocktails.

Where to stay

For a full list of my recommendations on where to stay in Brighton, see Brighton Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Brighton.

BrightonExpert

My career as a travel writer for national newspapers, magazines and big-name guidebook companies takes me all over the world – trekking in the Congo Basin one month, café-hopping in Sydney the next – but there’s something about Brighton that keeps pulling me home. It’s now been my base for over ten years.

There's more about me on my website: www.emmagregg.com

My Brighton

The things I like best about Brighton – apart from its fantastic location, of course – are its quirkiness and its sense of fun. It’s easily the UK’s most colourful coastal city.

Where I always grab a coffee: My favourite rainy-day café is Redroaster on St James Street in Kemptown – the owners are fanatical about quality coffee, and it shows. When the sun’s out, you can’t beat The Meeting Place in Hove, a down-to-earth spot right next to the sparkling sea.

My favourite stroll: I adore Brighton’s open spaces and big skies. Best of all are the seafront promenade – glorious at any time of year – and the gigantic pebble beach.

Shopaholics beware: There’s always something new in the North Laine, the grid of streets southeast of the station. With rows of one-of-a-kind boutiques, vintage stores, gift shops and organic food suppliers, it’s the heart of bohemian Brighton, and thoroughly addictive.

The perfect pint: In a city that’s positively stuffed with good pubs, The Basketmakers Arms on Gloucester Road is one of the best – cosy, characterful and central, with great beer on tap.

The place to be seen: The Brighton Ballroom (formerly The Hanbury) on St George’s Road in Kemptown has reinvented itself as a wonderfully eccentric little music, cabaret and dance venue. It hosts everything from indie bands to 1930s-style jazz nights and saucy burlesque parties.

The most breathtaking view: On the sunniest, calmest days of summer, it’s great to head down to the beach for a swim. Strike out, turn around, and you see the Regency seafront stretched out like a ribbon. It has to be one of the most beautiful views in Britain.

Don’t leave without… treating yourself to a pile of luscious fish and chips on Brighton Pier.