Things to do in Brighton

According to a recent poll, Brighton is the happiest city in the UK.

It is certainly not a place to take itself too seriously.

Alternative, cool, quirky and sitting snugly between the rolling hills of the Sussex Downs, Brighton is a one-hour journey by train from London.

The city receives a constant flow of day trippers from the capital at any time of the year, but especially during the summer months.

Despite its reputation as a happening party town, Brighton retains a traditional seaside ambience. Many come for the simple pleasures of a stroll on the pier or fish and chips on the beach.

In contrast to the onslaught of globalisation evident elsewhere, Brighton boasts a plethora of tempting independent shops. Restaurants, cafes and pubs are numerous and diverse. If time allows, Brighton deserves more than just a day trip.

1. The Royal Pavilion

The richly decorated Banqueting Room at the Royal Pavilion, from John Nash's Views of the Royal Pavilion (1826)
The Royal Pavilion at dusk
The Royal Pavillion in Brighton (© Qmin, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Prince Regent’s party pad is Brighton’s most iconic building and its Chinese inspired interior is as spectacular as its flamboyant Indian exterior.

The Royal Pavilion would look more at home in Rajasthan than an English seaside city. Yet, somehow the palace doesn’t appear as incongruous as it should in bohemian Brighton. Having fallen in love with Brighton, Prince Regent who later became King George IV, commissioned the palace to be built and work started in 1787.

During the First World War, the pavilion was used as a military hospital and the interior has since been refurbished to reflect how it would have looked in the prince’s era. A feast for the eyes, the Royal Pavilion is ostentatious and a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the playboy prince.

Where? 4/5 Pavilion Buildings, Brighton, BN1 1EE

When? October – March 10.00 am – 5.15 pm (last tickets at 4.30 pm April – September 9.30 am – 5.45 pm (last tickets at 5.00 pm) Closed 24th December (from 2.30 pm), 25th and 26th December

£$€¥ Adult £15.00 Child (5-18) £10.00

2. The Palace Pier

The Brighton pier on a weekend
The Brighton pier during sunrise

For traditional seaside fun, you can’t beat the pier with its amusements, fun fair rides and food stalls. There are great views of Brighton’s coastline too.

The Victorian pier provides fun for all the family and is one of Brighton’s most popular attractions. The funfair situated at the end of the pier has a variety of rides including the Horror Hotel, Wild River and Galaxia. A wristband buys unlimited rides. The amusement arcade features games galore from classic push-a-long two pence machines to state-of-the-art video games.

There are plenty of options for food and drinks. As expected, there are stalls selling such seaside treats as hotdogs, donuts and candyfloss. Alternatively, Palm Court Restaurant serves fish and chips and Horatio’s Bar offers alcoholic beverages and karaoke.

Where? 15-16 Madeira Drive, Brighton, BN2 1TW

When? Open every day except Christmas Day. 1st April – 31st October 10.00 am – 10.00 pm daily, 1st November – 31st March 11.00 am – 5.00 pm (subject to change and weather conditions)

£$€¥ Free

3. The North Laine

Kensington Gardens, in the North Laine district of Brighton, East Sussex (© Antiquary, CC BY 4.0)
The Saturday market on Upper Gardner Street

Brighton’s alternative area is brimming with funky cafes, independent shops and colourful street art hidden in the nooks and crannies off the main drag.

This area is the spiritual heart of Brighton and is a great place to browse in the specialist shops or sit outside one of the many cafes and soak up the unique North Laine vibe.

Snooper’s Paradise is a treasure trove of bric-a-brac and a Brighton institution. On Saturdays a market is held in Upper Market Street where you can buy everything from retro clothing to tasty homemade macarons.

Buskers pull in the crowds and in the backstreets and alleyways, hidden street art waits to be discovered. North Laine is a refreshing antidote to the chain stores that line every high street in the UK.

It’s a fascinating area to explore and there’s not a McDonalds in sight.

4. Food and Drink

People having coffee in Brighton
Fastfood in Brighton

Eating out is a popular pastime in Brighton and the city is home to more restaurants per head than in any other city in the country outside London.

From cool indie cafes to innovative fine dining and world cuisine to satisfy every taste bud, Brighton has an abundance of eateries.

The city is leading the charge in vegetarian/vegan eateries and non-carnivores may never want to leave the city once they have arrived.

Terre a Terre is at the head of the pack, a renowned vegetarian restaurant serving cuisine delicious enough to win over the staunchest of meat-eaters. Other recommended veggie restaurants include Food for Friends, Purezza and Iydea.

Sea-food lovers will appreciate the fresh dishes served at the contemporary Salt Room situated on the seafront and the more traditional English’s in The Lanes. The Chilli Pickle and Indian Summer are two of the best restaurants offering cuisine from the sub-continent.

The Ginger Man Group which includes the Ginger Fox, Ginger Pig, Ginger Dog and Ginger Man restaurants have an excellent reputation and specialise in posh pub grub. They can be found in various locations throughout the city.

5. The Lanes

Brighton Lanes are full of amazing brick-work
Brighton Lanes on a weekend

The location of the fishing village of Brighthelmstone, the city’s original settlement, The Lanes are now a bustling area of restaurants, pubs and shops.

Not to be confused with North Laine, this area is closer to the seafront and is located to the west of the palace pier. This is Brighton’s oldest district and many of the buildings were fishermen’s houses.

It is still possible to spot original features on the historical houses if you look hard enough. The Lanes are made up of a labyrinth of alleyways and passages and it’s easy to get lost among the narrow streets and squares.

Two of the city’s oldest pubs, The Cricketers and The Druid’s Head are situated in The Lanes, both of them very atmospheric and reputed to be haunted. Some of the best restaurants in town can be found in the area and there are lots of unusual shops to peruse.

6. Brighton Museum

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Church Street, Brighton, City of Brighton and Hove, England. Built in 1804 as part of the Royal Pavilion estate and extended and altered subsequently
Brighton Museum & Entrance Gate of the Royal Pavilion (© Txllxt TxllxT, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Visitors can learn about the history and art of Brighton and the world beyond at this museum which is situated in the heart of the city’s cultural quarter.

The museum which is located in the Royal Pavilion Gardens has several sections and includes galleries dedicated to Archaeology, 20th Century Art and Design, Fine Art and Ancient Egypt. As well as permanent exhibitions, it plays host to numerous temporary shows.

Many of the artefacts displayed at the Egyptian gallery were discovered by Brighton-born Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith and the collection includes tools, jewellery, sandals and animal mummies. A number of interactive exhibits bring ancient Egypt to life, entertaining and educating both children and adults.

The Archaeology Gallery looks at seven people who were buried locally, and visitors can discover how modern technology can teach us how they lived and died. The Willet Gallery has a fine selection of pottery provided by Henry Willet, the founding father of the museum.

Where? Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton, BN1 1EE

When? Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 am – 5.00 pm (Closed Mondays)

£$€¥ Adult £6.00 Child (5-18) £3.50 Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 am – 5.00 pm (Closed Mondays)

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7. The Seafront

A photochrom of Brighton aquarium, 1890–1900
Brighton, The Front and the Chain Pier Seen in the Distance, Frederick William Woledge, 1840
The seafront of Brighton nowadays

Brighton’s famous pebble beach is the main attraction, but there are plenty of other diversions to enjoy along the six-mile long promenade.

The seafront has something for everyone. In the summer months it’s crammed with tourists having a beer at a beachside bar or taking a dip in the chilly English Channel.

The busiest spot is between the Palace Pier and the derelict West Pier, where there are shops, bars and restaurants galore and the i360 Tower dominates.

Beyond the West Pier is the wide promenade of Hove, backed by colourful beach huts. More chilled than buzzing Brighton, it’s a perfect spot for a stroll. The sprawling Hove Lawns are used by dog-walkers, fitness enthusiasts and picnickers.

Kids will enjoy taking a ride on the Volks Railway, the oldest electric railway in the world, which runs eastwards between the Palace Pier and Brighton Marina.

The Sea Life Centre, adjacent to the pier, is situated in an underground Victorian building and offers the opportunity to see rays, sharks and turtles at close quarters.

8. British Airways i360

The British Airways Tower in Brighton
An British Airways Airplane

Brighton’s newest attraction is the British Airways i360 tower which is located on the seafront and can be seen at vantage points all over the city.

The world’s tallest moving observation tower, the i360 is Brighton’s newest attraction and opened in 2016. The tower has won a long list of archtitectual awards and was designed by the architects who was responsible for the London Eye.

Visitors can take a ride in a fully enclosed futuristic-looking viewing pod that glides 450 ft into the sky. On a clear day there are 360-degree views of the city, coastline and South Downs.

Sunset is the best time to take a flight, especially when accompanied by a glass of local sparkling wine available from the Sky Bar onboard.

Where? Lower King’s Road, Brighton, BN1 2LN

When? Opening hours vary.

£$€¥ Adults £16.50 Student (with ID) £13.05 Children (4-15) £8.25 (Prices are a little cheaper if you book online)

9. Nightlife

Club in Brighton at night
A sunrise at Brighton's beaches
Two men having a beer in Brighton

Brighton is known for its nightlife and visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to the city’s range of bars, pubs, clubs and entertainment venues.

You don’t have to walk far to find somewhere to quench your thirst – there is a pub on practically every corner from traditional boozers to sophisticated cocktail bars.

Brighton has a thriving music scene, whether it’s a major international rock band playing the Brighton Centre or an up and coming indie singer performing in the basement of a dingy drinking den.

Where? Western Road, which leads from the city centre to the seafront, has a particularly high density of clubs and bars. Kemp Town, the area to the east of the Palace Pier, is home to Brighton’s lively LGBTQ scene. Apart from these districts, nightlife is spread out throughout the city.

When? Every night of the week, although weekends are always buzzing.

10. The South Downs National Park

The forests of South Downs National Park
Autumn in South Downs National Park
Hiking trails in South Downs National Park

Brighton is surrounded by the rolling hills of the South Downs and as well as plenty of beautiful views, there are a wealth of hiking trails to explore.

The South Downs, which surrounds the city of Brighton, is England’s newest national park, having been awarded its status in 2011. It consists of 628 square miles of woodland and rolling hills and some of the most beautiful spots in the south-east.

There are an abundance of walking trails to explore, from short walks to multi-day hikes and plenty of traditional country pubs to provide sustenance en route.

The clearly marked Southdown Way, which stretches one hundred miles from Eastbourne to Winchester takes in such beauty spots as Beachy Head, Ditching Beacon and Devil’s Dyke. Many of the routes are accessible to mountain bikes. The national park encompasses market towns, pretty villages and quintessentially English countryside.