Brighton is one of those places that everyone knows. While it was always a place I recognized or said I wanted to visit, I never made much of an effort to get there. I finally did and the place blew me away- even in the crappiest of weather! This is a guide of things to do in Brighton.
If you have any suggestions of what to do in Brighton, please leave them in the comments!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
20 things to do in Brighton, England
The British seaside has had its heyday, as sad as it is to say. The allure of heading to the beaches of Southern Europe and beyond is too great and since the places have warmer weather and large all-inclusive resorts, the British seaside often finds it impossible to compete with it.
That being said, I fully believe a trip to the British isles would not be complete without a trip to the seaside. On my latest trip to England, I took the opportunity to take a day trip to the seaside city of Brighton.
Brighton is located on the south coast of England and is only a short train ride from central London. The seaside city is still a very popular place to visit, charming people with its rustic vibe and cute little lanes that maze through the city center. The city is also the LGBTQ+ capital of the UK and Brighton sends a strong message of togetherness and community to the other parts of England.
Settlements in the area date back to the Bronze Age but the first records of any town in the area come from the 1068 doomsday books recording. Brighton itself has had a rather up and down history, suffering from being ravaged by storms to foreign invaders.
However, with the development of more modern infrastructure and sailing routes to France, Brighton began to have a resurgence in popularity. The waters were believed to have healing properties and the town became a spa town where people would flock to its waters to harness their supposed healing powers.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the town’s popularity grew rapidly as a seaside resort, with George the IV building the spectacular Royal Pavilion during that era. As the UK entered the industrial revolution and the train was invented, the town thrived with tourism and Brighton was invested in heavily with beautiful hotels being built and several pleasure piers being constructed to entertain the masses.
Brighton continued being a popular destination for British holidaymakers in the years after World War 2, however, as people started to become wealthier and air travel cheapened, the town couldn’t compete with the more glamorous beaches of France and Southern Europe and Brighton and other British seaside communities entered a period of decline.
Modern-day Brighton has seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to its cool vibe and inclusive approach. Its proximity to London also helps. Brighton is the most popular seaside town for foreign visitors, as they are greeted by an awesome mixture of the old British seaside experience and the newer, more modern Britain and the incredible diversity it holds.
This guide will take you through 20 of the best things to do in Brighton and a quick blurb about how to get to Brighton from London.
Getting to Brighton from London
Brighton is easy to reach from London with several train links connecting central London with Brighton. An off-peak (travel after 9.30am) day return ticket costs as little as £18.70, with the journey time a little over an hour. With the cheaper option, there are certain restrictions to which trains you can take and you need to make sure you pay attention to this or you can incur a fine for taking the incorrect train.
It is also possible to take National Express buses between London and Brighton, with tickets costing around £10. If you book in advance, these can be a lot cheaper and the journey takes just over two hours. So, for a day trip, the train is a far better option and works out a little cheaper and way quicker.
Brighton is only 53 miles south from Central London and the M23 motorway connects the two, with an average drive time of two hours.
What to do in Brighton
Take a Stroll on Brighton Palace Pier
Brighton’s Palace Pier is an awesome throwback to the golden age of Victorian pleasure piers. Completed in 1899, the pier was the third one to be built in Brighton with the intent to replace the chain suspension pier. However, while the Palace Pier was being built, a storm destroyed the old pier which, in turn, nearly destroyed the Palace Pier before it had been finished.
Stretching 512 meters into the sea, the pier has been home to various activities from theatres and arcades to a large amusement park. During the mid 20th century, the pier fell on hard times and part of it was destroyed in an accident. However, the pier has made a comeback and is one of the top tourist attractions in Brighton.
As you walk along the pier, you will find plenty of little food shops selling traditional treats and goods, as well as arcade buildings and an amusement park. Despite its tacky and outdated feel, the pier is an amazingly fun way to spend an afternoon where you can really feel the nostalgia of Britain’s beachside resorts.
Ride Something at the Amusement Park on Brighton Pier
At the very end of Palace Pier, you will find a small amusement park consisting of a few little roller coasters, bumper cars, nauseating spinning rides, and a haunted house ride. The area of the pier is free to enter and looks like it would be a riot on a sunny day.
Sadly, I went when the weather was terrible and the rain and wind had been lashing the pier all day and some of the rides had been closed for safety reasons. You need to purchase tickets for rides in advance by topping up a card with the amount of money for the rides you want to go on. The rides are all priced differently, but there is a list at the two ticket offices (one located close to the front of the amusement park area and the other behind the bumper cars).
Alternatively, you can purchase a wrist band which gives you unlimited access to all the rides. I purchased the wristband that cost £10 although I don’t know if this was the price because some of the rides were closed or the standard cost. I hastily went to the haunted house as it was close by and looked like it could be fun.
The ride itself was probably the least terrifying thing in the world, although its advanced age did give the feeling that you might end up stuck on it. That was as scary as it got. In retrospect, the ride was so bad that it was brilliant.
The bad weather had kept people away from the pier and the rollercoasters had a minimum number of people required to operate making me realize that there was little chance of gathering that number of people, I left the pier. That haunted house ride ended up being £10 because of my wristband but was really only a £4.50 ride.
I would definitely head to the amusement park again but next time I would be more careful about checking that all rides are actually running before I purchase an unlimited pass or top up the card too much.
Play Amusement Arcades
Amusement arcades and the British seaside go hand in hand, kind of like British summer and rain (sorry… it’s true). These large halls of loud noise and bright flashing lights have been a staple in seaside resorts around the country since the mid 19th century.
Today’s arcade halls are filled with much more sophisticated and modern games than those seen in the early days of arcades. There is a large range of games to play- from the more modern video games and VR experiences to traditional penny drops and claw machines, each costing no more than a couple of pounds at most to play.
Dotted along the seafront and on the pier, they make the perfect escape from the poor weather that may decide to try and ruin your trip. I, personally, checked out the second arcade hall on the pier which is slightly smaller than the first but just as fun.
I was lucky enough to come away with the softest toy dog in the world which I am sure will be stolen by my dog for his basket of friends that he doesn’t really like or play with.
Eat Brighton Rock
Another classic of the British seaside is a hard, sugary treat called ‘rock’, generally coming in a bright array of colors and in stick form. Rock was invented in the northern England town of Blackpool but had gained popularity in Brighton as well.
The main flavor available is mint and I find this the best flavor. Rock is available in pretty much every souvenir shop as well as specialist shops that sell a vast range in all shapes and sizes. It’s important to note that it doesn’t come shaped like a rock (I know you were wondering) but in a long cylinder, with writing that runs down the inner section, so as you eat it you can continuously see the message.
Price-wise, it’s fairly cheap to buy making it a great little gift to take back as a present.
Hang Around the Beach
One of the biggest draws to Brighton is its long beach that stretches along the coast beyond the city boundaries. Sitting on the English Channel, the beach is made from a mixture of shingle and sand, although the sand can only be found in the lower parts by the sea.
Swimming in the sea is possible, however, it is important to remember this is the English Channel and the water can be super cold and if the weather is poor, the water can be very rough and dangerous. It was pretty much like this when I was there.
To keep swimmers and those taking part in recreational sports safe, there are plenty of trained lifeguards along the beach as well as in the sea. Along the beachfront, you will find many little bars and places to get food to enjoy in the sunshine if it makes an appearance. During the summer heatwaves, you will find that the beach gets very busy and people take day trips from London and the surrounding areas to bask in the uncommon sun.
One thing I loved about Brighton’s beach as that the color of the water was unexpectedly green. It reminded me of water at the beaches in the south of Europe. I quickly realized that it was the grey skies giving it this hue but I found the water to be absolutely stunning and I couldn’t stop taking photos.
Indulge in Fish and Chips
Fish and chips are one of the most famous dishes in Britain. Consisting of battered fish, normally cod or haddock, and a portion of chips (french fries), you will find fish and chip shops all along the beach promenade. Personally, I order a piece of fish and a portion of chips which are generously doused in salt and malt vinegar.
A common addition to the meal is mushy peas, which are green peas mashed up and served in a little tub alongside your meal. If fish isn’t your thing, try a battered sausage as a nice alternative. Eating your meal is possibly the biggest challenge, however, as seagulls in the area are ballsy and will swoop down and steal your food.
If there is an option to eat inside or under an umbrella, I would take it, otherwise, you will need to find a place away from the birds to try and eat in peace… until the little monsters catch a scent of your delicious meal. Nevertheless, eating fish and chips is one of the essential things to do in Brighton when you’re there.
Go up the British Airways i360
The latest attraction on the Brighton seafront is the British Airways i360 viewing platform. Rising 137 meters into the air, the fully enclosed viewing platform provides 360-degree views of Brighton and the surrounding areas. You will enter the viewing platform at the ground level where the glass pod will then rise up into the air, providing incredible views that only get better as you travel towards the heavens.
From the highest point of the journey, there is the possibility to see as far as the Isle of Wight, though this will depend on the weather being very clear and sunny. The journey itself lasts around 25 minutes. However, you will need to be there 20 minutes before your scheduled trip in order to pass through all the relevant security checks. The i360 also hosts various events such as sky yoga and silent discos in the air.
There are various packages available for the journey, from standard packages to those including champagne or a meal in their beachside restaurant. These packages can be bought directly at the attraction itself, or if you book online it is slightly cheaper.
Peruse Brighton’s Famous Lanes
Towards the coast in the more historical part of Brighton are the lanes, a collection of narrow winding streets and passages. These small little streets are famous for their boutiques and small locally-owned businesses, selling a range of goods from high-end fashion to amazing little treats.
The lanes provide a great place to simply lose yourself as you walk around the twisting streets, often resulting in you walking in circles (okay, or maybe that’s just me). If the weather is not behaving, you can escape into the little shops and peruse the goods on sales or dive into one of the many quaint little coffee shops that saturate the area.
There are also plenty of delicious restaurants in the lanes where you can eat the tastiest fresh fish or indulge in incredible Indian food, along with many other options.
Visit the Royal Pavilion
The Royal Pavilion is a spectacular building in the center of the city. It was built by George the 4th over a 30 year period to act as a royal residence in the city.
Brighton, at the time, was a sleepy town that provided a great escape from the constraints of royal life in London and where the young royals could live out a fast-paced, hedonistic life. Brighton’s popularity amongst the royals helped catapult the city into the public eye and it quickly grew into one of the most popular seaside resorts.
The Pavilion was built in several stages with it slowly being enlarged to accommodate the needs of George the 4th and his secret lover, Maria Fitzherbert. During the reign of Queen Victoria, Brighton fell out of favor amongst the royal and the Pavilion was no longer used and was taken over by the city of Brighton. Today, you can visit the impressive, domed building and explore its gardens and interior.
The lovely gardens are free to visit and you can spend time enjoying the greenery and relatively quiet area compared to the bustle of the city just outside of the walls. The stunning interior has grand paintings and royal furnishings and can be explored for a small fee. Once inside, you can also enjoy the English classic of afternoon tea from the tea rooms that overlook the gardens.
Have a Vegan Thali at Indian Summer
British food has a terrible reputation of being bland and unhealthy, although this is true, the average Brit actually prefers something a little more flavorful. That being said, Indian food in Britain is pretty tasty and can be found almost anywhere with Brighton being no exception.
I had heard there was pretty decent Indian food in the city and wanting to escape the cold and wet, I headed into the restaurant Indian Summer for a tasty meal and was not disappointed. Taking a more modern approach, the restaurant looks to highlight regional dishes from India in an elevated, yet homely way.
I opted for the vegan lunch thali and was served a range of dishes which were each delicious and well-spiced. Indian Summer can be found at 70 East Street in Brighton.
Explore the Brighton Coffee Scene
Brighton is home to plenty of fantastic little coffee shops, ranging from cute little cafes selling fresh baked goods to places specializing in third-wave coffee with some brilliant single-origin beans. The first thing I did in Brighton, after buying an umbrella, involved hopping into the first coffee shop I found.
Landing in Pelicano Coffee Roasters, I enjoyed a perfectly brewed piccolo, while escaping a torrential downpour. The cafe also had an array of cakes for sale, but I had just eaten a candy bar and was not feeling another sweet treat. As you explore the city, you will find plenty of more great places to enjoy a great Brighton coffee and relax.
You can find the Pelicano Coffee Roasters that I went to at 28 Queens Road in Brighton.
Over the years, Brighton’s inclusive and welcoming attitude has led to it growing a large LGBTQ+ scene and becoming known as the unofficial ‘gay capital’ of the UK. As you walk throughout the city, you will see plenty of rainbow flags hanging in shop windows and from the facade of buildings.
These shops and bars and clubs are mostly concentrated around Kemptown and St James Street and places are very explicit about being LGBTQ+ friendly. Each year, Brighton hosts a huge Pride march and it is known as being one of the best in the country with many business and locals getting involved.
If you are looking to stay in the heart of the scene, check out the hotel ‘Legends’ which comes complete with its own LGBTQ+ club in the basement.
Visit the Brighton Center
I love brutalist architecture and there is no shortage of stunning examples of it on this blog. The Brighton Center is one of the best examples of brutalism in the UK. Built in 1977, it was designed to be used as a conference center and music venue.
Still in use today, it often hosts many political party conferences as well as some of the country’s biggest music acts. The beautiful structure consists of a range of textured concretes and really stands out from the more ornate, regal buildings that make up Brighton’s seafront. If you’re into architecture, checking the Brighton Center our is one of the best things to do in Brighton.
Head to Cult Hero Record Shop
Cult Hero Record Shop is a great example of Brighton’s independent shop scene. Selling a wide range of records from a magnitude of genres, you can easily spend hours flipping through the records. Along with a great record collection, there is also artsy prints you can buy of various pop culture icons from music to film.
The aesthetic of the shop is hip and cool with plenty of exposed wood, providing a nice, soft, and warm feeling. The outside of the shop is painted by a local artist and adds to the coolness of this little shop. You can find it at 16 Brighton Place in Brighton.
Enjoy Craft Beer at Bison Brewery
Bison Brewery is one of Brighton’s best craft beer joints, with several locations throughout the city. At each of the shops and bars, you can find a great array of their own beers which are mainly an incredible range of IPAs and pale ales, although they do branch out into some other styles such as milk stouts.
My personal favorite beer of theirs was the Cosmic Bone Juice, a juicy pale ale that comes in at 4%. The best thing about this beer was the fact that Lionel Richie features on the can. Along with their core range of beers, they look to promote craft beer from the rest of the world and highlight the amazing local scene available in Sussex.
In addition to looking to support the craft beer scene in Brighton, their taprooms also look to promote talented local chefs and they often partner up with the newcomers on the food scene. During the warmer summer months, you can find a location along the seafront selling great beers along with fantastic street food. And naturally, beware of the seagulls.
There are plenty of Bison locations in Brighton and Hove. Their bottleshop and bar are located at 103 North Road in Brighton.
Take a Trip to Eastbourne
If you are staying in Brighton for a long time and want to check out a new area, I highly recommend taking a day trip to Eastbourne. Located 19 miles to the east of Brighton, this small seaside town was an immensely popular resort during the Victorian-era.
The promenade is full of Victorian-style grand hotels which provide an opulent aesthetic to the beachfront. The beach itself is largely shingle based and there is also a pleasure pier that stretches out into the sea with notable buildings on top of it.
To the west of Eastbourne is Beachy Head, home to the largest chalk cliff in England. This also makes up part of the South Downs National Park, one of the South Coast’s most beautiful spots.
To reach Eastbourne, you can take a direct train from Brighton Station to Eastbourne. The journey itself takes around 30 minutes and costs £11.50 return. Alternatively, if you are just interested in exploring the South Downs, you can book a day tour from Brighton to see the fantastic nature and natural beauty of the area.
Gaze over at West Pier
The West Pier burnt down in the early 2000s after several suspected arson attacks despite the pier having been derelict since the 1970s as it was unable to compete with the larger palace pier. All that remains of the pier today is the burnt-out shell of the theatre that once stood on the end of the pier.
This rusting framework makes for a cool photo and a memory of this once popular destination. There are plenty of places where you can get interesting perspectives of the former pier, such as from the Palace Pier looking inland or from above via the i360.
During the sunset hours, the remains provide an amazing contrast to the fiery skies.
Go to the Toy Museum
Brighton’s Toy Museum is one of the most extensive collections of toys in the world. Spread over 4000 square feet in an old Victorian basement, the museum has a collection of over 10,000 toys made in the UK and Europe up until around the mid 20th century.
It is a fantastic place to take a few hours wandering around looking at toys from an era before iPads and electronic devices; a time when the imagination was at the forefront of playing. There are two large model railways with old trains that, still to this day, run along the tracks (on certain days).
Due to the vast number of items in the museum, it can be a little overwhelming if you are trying to see it all in a rush, so I advise taking your time there or visiting on a rainy day to escape the weather. The museum is located at 52-55 Trafalgar Street in Brighton.
Marvel at the Hove Beach Huts
To the west of central Brighton, you will find Hove, formerly a separate town that was eventually engulfed by Brighton as it sprawled out. Hove is home to awesome, colorful beach huts that sit along its seafront brightly popping out compared to the other structures along the shore.
Made entirely out of wood, the picturesque painted huts are a staple of the British seafront and have been for centuries. The huts are still in use and very popular today and during the summer months as you will see the owners enjoying them or renting them out. The huts also make for a great photo opportunity and there will be no shortage of people taking their latest Instagram photo outside of them.
See Grand Hotel Brighton
As Brighton’s popularity exploded during the Victorian era, plenty of grand and luxurious hotels were built along the lengthy seafront. One of the most popular was the Grand Hotel Brighton, a gigantic hotel directly in the center of the promenade with fantastic sea views.
The hotel has remained popular with tourists ever since it was completed in 1864, hosting tourists and celebrities alike. The outside of the building is ornate and awe-inspiring, fitting in with the luxury image of Brighton in the 19th Century. However, during the 1980s, the hotel experienced a dark period when the IRA bombed the hotel in an attempt to kill then Prime Minister Margret Thatcher.
There are 201 rooms in the Grand Hotel Brighton, with plenty of other functional rooms that can be rented out for conferences or weddings. The hotel also owns a 43ft yacht that can be rented out for special occasions. If you are looking to experience some luxury and a feel for Brighton’s heyday, I recommend spending the night here.
There are so many reasons to visit this part of England… from the many things to do in Brighton to the British seaside nostalgia and more. I highly recommend taking a day trip to Brighton from London like I did or going there for a long weekend and enjoying the city. It has so much to offer.
Have you been to Brighton? If you have visited and have any suggestions of what to do in Brighton, please drop them in the comments.