With its bracing sea air and whiff of scandal, Brighton has a charm all of its own. It may have started life as a humble fishing village, but when the Prince Regent came here for his first ‘season’ in 1783, its status as a fashionable seaside resort was sealed.
1. Visit the ultimate Brighton experience
Brash, brassy Brighton Pier (Grand Junction, 01273 609361, www.brightonpier.co.uk) is brilliant fun: let any notions of good taste and decorum go, and surrender to its flashing fairground rides and amusements, candyfloss kiosks and hook-a-duck booths. At dusk, linger at the seafront to watch flocks of starlings swarm around the pier.
2. Be independent on North Laine
Head left out of the station, down Trafalgar Street, and you’re plunged straight into North Laine’s narrow streets – populated with a highly browsable array of independent stores. Three main shopping drags thread through its heart – Sydney Street, Kensington Gardens and Gardner Street – although forays into the terrace-lined backstreets can also reap rich rewards. Locals love a bric-a-brac fix, and tat and treasures abound in the famous Snooper’s Paradise (7-8 Kensington Gardens, 01273 602558). Squeeze through the turnstile to browse its myriad stalls, crammed with everything from bags of buttons and Bakelite telephones to stylish 1960s lamps.
For vintage clothes, head for To Be Worn Again (12 Kensington Gardens, 01273 687811) or the super-stylish Hope & Harlequin (31 Sydney Street, 01273 675222, www.hopeandharlequin.com), whose swing coats and lace ’50s frocks ooze old-school glamour.
If you're more of a thoroughly modern Millie, Tribeca (21 Bond Street, 01273 673755) has a beautifully edited selection of womenswear labels, with an understated, grown-up feel: Isabel Marant is a favourite here, along with the likes of Vanessa Bruno, American Retro and Paige jeans.
Slip into Brighton’s mod vibe at men’s clothes shop Jump the Gun (36 Gardner Street, 01273 626333, www.jumpthegun.co.uk), the place for Fred Perry wearers and Lambretta lovers – there’s always one parked outside. Complete the look with a pork pie hat from Mad Hatters (89 Trafalgar Street, 01273 688488, www.madhattersandfriends.co.uk), which stocks all manner of hand-made headgear.
And finally, in a city long associated with dirty weekends, it seems only right to drop by sex toy boutique Lust (43 Gardner Street, 01273 699344, www.lust.co.uk).
3. Discover dead things in glass cases
The wonderfully old-school Booth Museum Of Natural History (194 Dyke Road, BN1 5AA, 03000 290900, www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk), was built to house the collection of Victorian ornithologist (and gun enthusiast) Edward Booth. Behind the small red doors you’ll find over half a million insects, animal skeletons, and stuffed birds, posed – rather ghoulishly to modern eyes – in re-creations of their natural habitats. A favourite with children, artists and ironists, its most popular exhibits include the ‘mer-man’ (a Victorian fake, cobbled together from a fish and a monkey) and the 140-million-year-old bones of a Sussex dinosaur.
4. Feed your music addiction
Music fans, and vinyl junkies in particular, should consider making a special trip to Brighton, where at a number of places the LP is king.
Rounder’s (19 Brighton Square, BN1 1HD, 01273 325440, www.rounderbrighton.co.uk) USP is its huge selection of vinyl, plus in-store turntables – much as you’d expect from one of Brighton’s oldest record stores. It still holds its own with a great selection of old and new records, and staff know their stuff.
There may not be enough vinyl for music geeks liking at nearby Resident (28 Kensington Gardens, 01273 606312, www.resident-music.com) but clued-up staff offer recommendations on releases old and new, and this is the place to get gig tickets in Brighton.
Head to Trafalgar Street's Wax Factor (01273 673744, www.thewaxfactor.com) for second-hand vinyl and books, with a rock ’n’ roll café attached. Across the Tracks (01273 677906, www.acrossthetracksrecords.com) on Gloucester Road is also a good source of second-hand gems.
The Record Album (Terminus Road, 01273 323853, www.therecordalbum.com), the grandaddy of record stores in Brighton, is a leading supplier of film soundtracks as well as second-hand records, while Borderline (01273 818611) on Gardner Street has a selection of more unusual CDs and new vinyl. Over on Baker Street, near London Road, Monkey Music Emporium (07814 955217) sells vintage hi-fi as well as vinyl.
5. Do something shellfish
The hub of Brighton’s fishing quarter, down in King’s Road Arches, the volunteer-run Brighton Fishing Museum (201 King’s Road Arches, BN1 1NB, 01273 723064, www.brightonfishingmuseum.org.uk) documents the city’s maritime history with photographs, film clips and memorabilia. Once you’re done, take a stroll along the promenade, or pop into the Brighton Shellfish and Oyster Bar (www.brightonshellfish.co.uk) at no.199 for a sea-themed snack.
6. Put some dates in the diary
Brightonians love culture and they love a good party too. Put them both together and you've got a diary full of don't-miss events throughout the year. Three of the best are Brighton Fringe (www.brightonfestivalfringe.org.uk, early-late May), the third largest Fringe Festival in the world, which offers cabaret, comedy, classical concerts, club night, theatre, exhibitions and street performances; Pride in Brighton & Hove (www.brightonpride.org, first Saturday of August), the biggest gay and lesbian parade in the UK, with a different theme every year. Preston Park, the parade's endpoint, undergoes a transformation into a free-entry festival, with fairground rides, market stalls, food vendors, bars and entertainment tents offering DJs, cabaret and more; and finally the Brighton Festival (www.brightonfestival.org, throughout May). Founded in 1966, it is the biggest multi-artform festival in England, attracting more than 500,000 people to 200-plus events. Expect to see theatre ranging from Shakespeare to cuttiing-edge, classical and other concerts, modern dance and readings be leading authors and thinkers.
7. Get to the heart of the art
Located in the Royal Pavilion gardens, the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery (Royal Pavilion, 4-5 Pavilion Buildings, BN1 1EE, 03000 290900, www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk) houses a variety of galleries and exhibitions. There’s pottery, fine art, and contemporary paintings, as well as galleries dedicated to performance art and fashion. The shop sells an interesting mix of souvenirs and gifts, and there’s a café too.
Manwhile, Upper North Street and adjoining Montpelier Place are slowly developing into a little artists’ quarter. The modest row of shopfronts now accommodates various studio-boutiques, including rug- and bag-makers Steve & Alistair (47 Upper North Street, 01273 777523), where Alistair McCready sits making shoulder bags at his sewing machine, among piles of rugs sourced from Iran and Afghanistan. On Montpelier Place, Lmnop (no.17, 01273 911288, www.lmnopshop.com) showcases self-published and handmade work by some of the city’s illustrators, typographers, print-makers and comic-book writers.
8. Languish in a royal love nest
Brighton Royal Pavilion (03000 290900, www.royalpavilion.org.uk), the Prince Regent’s outlandish country farmhouse-turned-mock-Mughal palace, was designed by John ‘Marble Arch’ Nash between 1815 and 1822. The assemblage of minarets, balconies and domes freely mixes Indian, Chinese and Gothic notes in the pursuit of ornate excess, and the Prince’s illicit love nest never ceases to amuse and amaze. The interiors are equally intriguing, and even more lavish, with magnificent chinoiserie, columns topped with palm fronds, writhing gilded dragons and an imitation bamboo staircase.
9. Be a big kid
Under the arches of Brighton Station, the modest Brighton Toy Museum (52-55 Trafalgar Street, BN1 4EB, 01273 749494, www.brightontoymuseum.co.uk) is a nostalgia-inducing experience for grown-ups, with its slightly spooky wooden puppets, brightly painted Tri-ang cars, gleaming train sets and doll’s house furniture. There are some lovely vintage toys for sale in the shop, along with new toys and books.
10. Rock 'n' roll yourself to sleep
Describing itself as ‘England’s most rock ’n’ roll hotel’, the Pelirocco pays tribute to Brighton’s long association with illicit weekends: one of the rooms has a mirror on the ceiling and a pole dancing area, while Betty’s Boudoir is dedicated to 1950s pin-up Betty Page, with a leopard-print chaise-longue on which to recline. There’s a PlayStation 2 in each room to help recovery from a night in the bar sipping cocktails with Brighton music types.
East of the Old Steine, Kemp Town is home to an enticing jumble of grand Regency crescents, bric-a-brac shops, enticing delis, cosy cafés and pubs; it’s also Brighton’s gay quarter. There’s a naturist beach, discreetly shielded by the shingle, and a lively nightlife scene, with the larger gay clubs and bars set along the seafront strip. Otherwise, the action centres on the long and colourful St James’s Street, which leads to the quieter, calmer Kemp Town village.
12. Work the theatre scene
Quirky Komedia (44-47 Gardner Street, BN1 1UN, 0845 293 8480, www.komedia.co.uk) provides a platform for a wealth of quality fringe and alternative acts. Gigs, cabaret, children’s theatre and stand-up comics keep things enjoyably varied, while the Krater Comedy Club is a regular fixture.
The New Venture Theatre (Bedford Place, BN1 2PT, 01273 808353, 01273 746118 box office, www.newventure.org.uk) has been putting on amateur productions of popular plays since 1956, and has recently taken to programming more experimental work in the smaller, downstairs studio space (the gorgeous 100-seat proscenium theatre upstairs is currently closed awaiting funding). Quality is varied, but it’s fun to listen in on the luvvies in the bohemian saloon bar, which sometimes hosts cabaret performances.
A fantastic pub-theatre, the Nightingale (above Grand Central pub, 29-30 Surrey Street, BN1 3PA, 01273 702563, www.nightingaletheatre.co.uk) has Steven Berkoff as its patron and Steven Brett (formerly of Ballet Rambert and London’s experimental Spill Festival) as its new artistic director. Here, you can catch some of the best local and international fringe theatre (as well as comedy, dance, poetry and work in development) in a wonderfully intimate setting.
13. Sample a classic Brighton boozer
The Basketmakers Arms (12 Gloucester Road, BN1 4AB, 01273 689006, www.thebasketmakersarms.co.uk) is everything a traditional boozer should be. Cask ales from Fuller’s, carefully chosen guest ales and a 100-strong selection of whiskies.
At the 200-year-old Bedford Tavern (30 Western Street, BN1 2PG, 01273 739495) you'll find plenty of original features, including exposed beams and an open fire.
The historic Cricketers (15 Black Lion Street, BN1 1ND, 01273 329472, www.goldenliongroup.co.uk) invariably accommodates gaggles of blokes and locals on their lunch breaks – as well as the odd solitary literary soul, attracted by mention of the place in Brighton Rock by former regular Graham Greene.
The tiny, traditional Kemp Town boozer, Hand in Hand (33 Upper St James’s Street, BN2 1JN, 01273 699595), attracts a more mature, discerning clientele, thanks to an outstanding range of ales. Order a pint of Kemp Town ale, brewed on the premises in the microbrewery (Brighton’s oldest), and squeeze in alongside the regulars (it really is small).
For a refreshing, well-kept pint in a charming pub, a stone’s throw from the seafront, you can’t go far wrong with the Hop Poles (13 Middle Street, BN1 1AL, 01273 710444). Consistently excellent food is its main selling point.
Set near the station, Evening Star (55-56 Surrey Street, BN1 3PB, 01273 328931, www.eveningstarbrighton.co.uk) is a haven for real ale types, with Hobbit-friendly ceilings and occasional live music. The owners run a microbrewery of the same name, so there’s a rotating selection of fine house brews and seasonal ales. A host of Flemish tipples by the bottle will also delight aficionados.
A little local on Southover Street, Greys (105 Southover Street, Hanover, BN2 9UA, 01273 680734, www.greyspub.com) is known for its exceptional music programme; you’ll need to buy a ticket. Acoustic and folk musicians from as far afield as Nashville, Memphis and Vancouver have performed here. Monday is gig night.
14. Get the cogs turning
A working museum, Mechanical Memories (250C King’s Road Arches, BN1 1NB, no phone, www.mechanicalmemoriesmuseum.co.uk) offers a charming diversion from the mass of seafront tack in the vicinity, paying homage to the automated entertainments of yester-year. The vintage slot machines date from the early 1900s until around 1960; buy old-fashioned pennies to play on the likes of fortune-tellers, horse racing games and One-Armed Bandits. Kids can stamp their name on to aluminium strips (like dog tags), and giggle at the saucy What the Butler Saw machines.
15. Don't get locked up
Underneath the Town Hall, the Old Police Cells Museum (Town Hall, Bartholomew Square, BN1 1JA, 01273 291052, www.oldpolicecellsmuseum.org.uk) charts the history of policing in Brighton. You can peek into the bleak cells, see the room in which the Chief Constable was murdered in 1844 (a suspect he was questioning seized a poker from the fireside and bludgeoned him to death), and learn about some of the mods and rockers who were briefly incarcerated here after violence on the beaches.
16. Become a ghost buster
Preston Manor ( Preston Drove, BN1 6SD, 3000 290900, www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk) is an evocative re-creation of Edwardian life, with and Upstairs, Downstairs mix of elegant reception rooms and bedrooms and more humble kitchens, sculleries and servants' quarters. It is allegedly also on of Britain's most haunted houses, with a long history of supernatural experiences; book a place on one of the overnight ghost tours if you want to see for yourself.
17. Get active in Preston Park
Formally opened in 1884, the expansive green spaces of Preston Park (Preston Road, BN1 6HL, www.brighton-hove.gov.uk) provide some much needed-peace amid the bustle of Brighton. There’s a charming rose garden by the 1920s Rotunda tea pavilion, and a romantic walled garden; the winding Rookery Rockery, meanwhile, is the largest municipal rock garden in the country. There’s plenty for more active types too: eight tennis courts, four football pitches, three bowling greens, two cricket pitches, a softball pitch and a 500m velodrome.
18. See under the sea
Just by Brighton Pier, the Sea Life Centre (Marine Parade, BN2 1TB, 01273 604234, www.sealifeeurope.com) is the world’s oldest operating aquarium. There’s a rock pool where you can touch the resident crabs and starfish, an underwater tunnel with sharks cruising by, and displays of seahorses, piranhas and translucent moon jellyfish. Taking star billing among the sea creatures, though, is Lulu the giant sea turtle.
19. Pop open a bottle
You’re in safe hands at Ten Green Bottles (9 Jubilee Street, BN1 1GE, 01273 567176, www.tengreenbottles.com): the team specialise in European wines from small producers, and supply heavyweights of the London restaurant scene (J Sheekey, Locanda Locatelli and the River Café, just for starters). Pop in to pick up a bottle, or, for a flat £5 drink-in charge, quaff it at the bar. Charcuterie, cheese and crostini are available, and the menu is set to expand to larger plates.
The Brighton Shortlist selects the very best of Brighton's sightseeing, restaurant, shopping, nightlife and entertainment, with Time Out's trademark expertise. It also takes you straight to the latest venues, tips you off to the news and fashions and gives you the dates that matter. This is the complete reference for anyone visiting the city, in a handy size and easy-to-use format.