Kooky, colorful and oh-so cosmopolitan, Brighton has seaside charm running through it like a stick of peppermint rock. The former playground of King George IV, who built his onion-domed palace on the Old Steine, it’s been a popular pleasure resort since the 18th century. Brighton established itself as a gay-friendly town in the 1920s and still boasts a vibrant LGBTQ+ scene and is just as welcoming to everyone from the bohemian vegans to digital nomads who flock here in their droves.
Sheltered by the undulating hills of the South Downs National Park, Brighton is an eminently walkable city with the beach, pier and pavilion all within easy reach. Buffered from the English Channel by a long pebbly beach and Regency promenade, daytrippers, holidaymakers and locals alike enjoy all its gaudy delights from the dodgems on the Palace Pier to a futuristic flight on the British Airways i360, a 162-metre observation tower with a floating glass pod. It’s the perfect place for a city break.
Brighton’s dining scene has stepped up a gear over the past decade. A champion for locally grown food, it has a wealth of independent cafes and restaurants. For breakfast, try the Egg & Spoon, a bright, breezy cafe in Kemptown which serves cracking brunch dishes like buttermilk waffles with smoky bacon and maple syrup, colorful vegan Buddha bowls to their signature breakfast bap, The Scot, stuffed with black pudding, crispy bacon and creamy egg mayo.Brighton’s original vegetarian restaurant, Food for Friends in the Lanes, has been sating local herbivores with its heavenly crispy tofu, bao buns and rainbow-hued sharing plates for nigh on 40 years. While special occasions call for a table at Isaac At in the North Laine, where a modern tasting menu sources everything from the gin to the gurnard in Sussex.
After a big Brighton night, there’s only one place to recover: Lucky Beach, an all-day diner tucked under the arches which serves unbeatable burgers (award-winning and organic) from its beachfront terrace. But when only hot, salty, vinegar-soaked fish and chips eaten out of paper will do, grab a takeaway from The Regency, Brighton’s oldest seafood restaurant overlooking the West Pier.
There are plenty of things to see in Brighton, not least the Royal Pavilion, an ornate Indo-Sarenic palace. Built as a seaside pleasuredome for George IV in the eighteenth century, it’s where he hosted his legendary bacchanalian banquets (and thus Brighton’s reputation for fun begins).
But it’s far from being a fusty old museum. An audio tour guides visitors around the opulent Indo-Chinoise interior from the gilded dragon-draped chandeliers in the dining room to the glorious gilt-and-rouged Music Room. In the summer, visitors can book an extra tour of the servants’ quarters, basement and subterranean tunnel. Built in 1821, the King used the secret passageway underneath the Royal Pavilion Gardens when his popularity was waning and he felt unsafe to be seen in public. Rumor has it he used it to visit his mistress, Ms. Fitzherbert, but in fact it was so he could see his beloved horses in the royal stables at the Dome.
There are many things to do in Brighton, not least go shopping. North Laine is a buzzy, bohemian enclave famed for its street art and crammed with niche shops, pavement bars and vegan cafes. While The Lanes, a labyrinth of Victorian cobbled twittens, hides vintage bazaars, antique jewelry stores and art galleries. Wander east of the pier to Kemptown, which has a villagey vibe with chichi antique shops, and a cavernous flea market flogging weird and wonderful seaside memorabilia.
Brighton’s reputation as a party city means there’s no shortage of great boozy establishments. In recent years, it’s built a solid crew of seaside brewers, winemakers and distillers, most of which can be sampled at Bison Beach Bar at Sea Lanes, an alfresco bar on the beach with a Bali-esque vibe, or the plushly decorated Seven Stars pub on Ship Street.
Rockwater in Hove is another popular beachfront hangout with a cocktail bar/restaurant, pastel-hued beach shacks, and live music from the sun deck which rolls out onto the beach. At the eastern end of the prom is Patterns, another terrace bar ideal for a sundowner, while inside has a Bauhaus theme with bare brick walls and vintage convex mirrors, and attracts an Ibiza-worthy line-up of DJs. However, you just can’t beat locals’ favorite the Fortune of War, a 19th-century pub under the Kings Road Arches which is decked out like a battle-worn galleon.
In the 1920s, Brighton had a rather insalubrious reputation as a dirty weekend resort. A century later after an influx of chichi boutique hotels and upmarket B&Bs, and it’s become one of Britain’s top weekend destinations. Perched opposite the skeletal remains of the West Pier, Selina, a hip, surf-style hotel from the Latin American lifestyle brand, has rooms for every budget. Designed by Tola Ojuolape, the 31 rooms (with 19 to come) have a breezy seaside appeal, while the colorful lobby, bar and Old Pier restaurant channels Brighton’s booming creative scene. Paddleboarding lessons and yoga classes are on offer each day, while community-minded guests can join the Sunday morning beach clean.
For something a little more romantic book into the Artist Residence on Regency Square. Inspired by Brighton’s eclectic art scene, the owner put an ad in the local paper looking for artists to decorate each of the 24 rooms in exchange for free bed and board. It resulted in each room having its own unique style with exposed brick, battered wood and vintage pieces, alongside some fine local art, floor-to-ceiling windows and grand sea views. Downstairs, the vibey Clubhouse serves breakfast, brunch and cocktails really sets it apart from its more corporate competitors.