It’s small enough to walk across with a backpack, in your most constrictive party gear, or with a family in tow. Yet you’ll find more things to do in Brighton and Hove than will ever fit on the back of a novelty postcard (some of which, given its reputation for inventing the dirty weekend, you may want to keep to yourself).
The sea exerts a magnetic pull on day-trippers, who stream from the station straight down the hill to the beach. Here the gaudy, candy floss-scented Brighton Pier and starling-haunted skeleton of the West Pier (which was destroyed by successive collapses and fires between 2002 and 2004) crouch on the city’s shoulders fighting over its soul. In 2016, the controversial i360 tower will join them.
For shopping, take a left out of the station instead, into the warren of independent restaurants, second-hand record and vintage clothes shops collectively known as North Laine. These lead lazily to the sudden regency splendour of the Royal Pavilion and neighbouring Brighton Dome arts complex, home of the Brighton Festival.
To the east, Kemp Town, affectionately dubbed Camp Town, offers Brighton’s best gay clubs and boutique hotels. A few years ago, the city’s reputation for alternative culture had become as faded as a third-hand pair of tie-dye trousers. The recent London Road and Circus Street area redevelopments are refreshing it in new and unexpected ways.
Sights and attractions in Brighton
You’ll often find Brighton in festival gear, and we’re not just talking about the crusties.
Brighton Festival and Brighton Fringe are the UK’s biggest arts festivals outside of Edinburgh, The Great Escape is Europe’s leading new music showcase, and twice a year Artists Open Houses sees local artists throw 200 of their homes and studios open to snoopers.
Turning every day of the year, Brighton Wheel is the city’s attempt to ‘do a London Eye’ (but with a rather incongruous commentary by Alan Partridge creator and Brighton resident Steve Coogan). 2016 will bring another divisive addition to the skyline in the form of the 162m-high, £46.2-million i360 observation tower – designed by the husband-and-wife team behind the real London Eye and promising 360-degree views of the East Sussex coastline from ‘the world’s first vertical cable-car’.
For a more retro seafront experience, visit the Mechanical Memories Museum’s penny arcade, then take the Volks (the world’s oldest operating electric railway) out to Brighton Marina. This stretch of promenade, Madeira Drive, also throbs with vintage engines during the famous Brighton Speed Trials and Mods & Rockers-themed Brighton Burn-Up – visit www.brightonrun.co.uk for a calendar of all the races, serious and silly, that draw tourists to Madeira Drive.
Photo ops don’t come more essential than King George IV’s pleasure palace the Royal Pavilion. A sort of pocket Taj Mahal built for orgies rather than love, it’s the wonderfully preposterous glacé cherry on Brighton’s architectural cake. The looping gardens offer a rest-point for shoppers emerging between two confusingly named mazes of independent shops – the North Laine and more upmarket The Lanes, where you’ll also find the unique church-turned-art installation gallery Fabrica.
One more ‘oldest’ superlative: arthouse haven Duke of York’s Picturehouse is the UK’s longest-running cinema. It also provides the best visual emblem for Brighton’s slight fantasy feel: out of its roof protrudes a 20-foot pair of can-can dancer’s legs.
Sights and attractions details
Brighton Wheel Daltons Bastion, Madeira Drive, Brighton, BN2 1TB. 01273 722822.
Mechanical Memories Museum 250C Kings Road Arches, BN1 1NB. No phone.
Volks Railway 285 Madeira Drive, Brighton, BN2 1EN. 01273 292718.
Royal Pavilion 4/5 Pavilion Buildings, Brighton, BN1 1EE. 03000 290900.
Fabrica Duke Street, Brighton, BN1 1AG. 01273 778646.
Duke Of York’s Picturehouse Preston Road, Brighton, BN1 4NA. 0871 902 5728.