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The 25 best things to do in Brighton right now

Want to know what’s what in the UK's hippest beachside city? Here’s our ultimate guide to the best things to do in Brighton

Written by
Paula Akpan
,
Beth Doherty
&
Joe Minihane
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Lockdown is easing and the coastal city of Brighton is opening up once more. Whether you love rummaging for cool vintage clothes, sipping on single-origin coffee or heading to the seaside for a family adventure, this seaside spot is the place to be.

Sometimes known as London by the sea, it’s just an hour by train from the capital, but has a vibe all of its own, from the kitsch, old-school cafés and shops found between its two piers to its globally renowned LGBTQ+ scene. Want to marvel at glorious Regency architecture? Explore some excellent museums? Eat at some fantastic restaurants? Our pick of the best things to do in Brighton has got you covered.

Best things to do in Brighton

What is it? Brighton’s Grade-II listed pleasure pier with fairground rides, bars and restaurants stretching out into the sea. 

Why go? Brighton Palace Pier is a tough old bird. Having stood for well over a century now, this Grade II-listed pier has survived two world wars, constant battering by storms (one of which almost destroyed it before it opened in 1899) and millions of visitors every year. Join the masses in a pilgrimage to the arcade games, fairground rides and chippy vans.

What is it? Brighton’s coffee scene is arguably the best in the UK.

Why go? Brightonians spend more on coffee per head than any other city in the UK. With owners who spend time researching and tasting the best beans, you won’t struggle to find a caffeine fix here.

Don’t miss: Local chains Small Batch and Wolfox can be found throughout the city, but for the best coffee head to Stoney Point.

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What is it? A path that follows the shoreline from Brighton Marina to the village of Saltdean.

Why go? Found just beyond Brighton Marina, this path sits beneath the chalk cliffs which line the coast east of the city towards Eastbourne. It takes around half an hour to cycle from the Palace Pier to Saltdean. Brighton’s city-wide BTN BikeShare scheme means it’s easy and cheap to get out here on two wheels.

 

What is it? Brighton’s artiest district, which is packed with independent shops, restaurants and traditional pubs. 

Why go? Much of Brighton oozes character and cool, but The Lanes are definitely leading the charge. These narrow streets brim with brilliant independent cafés, record stores, vintage emporiums, bookshops and art spaces – all housed in pretty sixteenth-century buildings. Wandering this maze of passageways is an excellent way to spend an afternoon.

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What is it? Check out the coolest new bands at one of the city’s ace independent venues.

Why go? Brighton is known for giving new artists a leg-up thanks to its numerous small venues. Whether you want to see unsigned bands take to the stage at The Hope and Ruin or Green Door Store, or take in a show from hotly tipped acts at Chalk or Concorde 2, you won’t be disappointed if new music is your thing.

What is it? A huge, eclectic flea market in Kensington Gardens. 

Why go? If you’re after some antique knick-knacks to decorate your room, look no further. Enter through the old-school turnstile of this gigantic emporium and you’ll find two floors positively overflowing with vintage treasure. Each stall inside Snoopers Paradise is independently owned. And good thing – more diversity the better.

Don’t miss: After you’ve bought a quirky hat, jump in the black-and-white photo booth to snap a keepsake.

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7. Go on a record shopping spree

What is it? A string of amazing record stores selling the best in new music and classic LPs.

Why go? Brighton has been at the forefront of the recent vinyl renaissance thanks to its brilliant record shops. Whether you want cheap second-hand treasures or the latest heavyweight releases, you’ll have no trouble finding what you’re after.

Don’t miss Resident is Brighton’s best record shop, and has friendly, knowledgeable staff to boot.

8. Explore Castle Hill and the lost village of Balsdean

What is it? A protected nature reserve and abandoned village deep in the South Downs.

Why go? A short bus ride away, Castle Hill is home to a number of rare butterfly species. Criss-crossed by paths, it’s easy to take a circular route around this hidden part of the South Downs. At the bottom of this deep valley sits Balsdean, a hamlet that was appropriated by the Ministry of Defence for firing practice during the Second World War.

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What is it? An upcycled furniture shop specialising in mid-century pieces

Why go? Brighton has plenty of excellent second-hand furniture shops. But the guys at Era have an eye for the best and coolest pieces, from mid-century sideboards to stylish armchairs. Their shop on Trafalgar Street is heaven for interiors fanatics and they can arrange to deliver across the UK.

What is it? Brighton and Hove’s newest beach bar.

Why go? Found halfway along Hove beach, Rockwater is the latest addition to the city’s seafront. A coworking space by day, as well as a restaurant and café, the roof terrace here is ideal for sipping on a freshly made cocktail as the sun sets on a hot summer’s day.

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What is it? The Sea Life centre in Brighton is in the world’s oldest operating aquarium.

Why go? It’s hard not to be taken aback by the striking original Gothic arches as you enter this building, which dates back to 1872. We particularly like the Lagoon, populated with beautiful stingrays, and the interactive rock pool where you can touch a starfish or sea anemone. 

Don’t miss: The aquarium’s latest attraction, ‘Day and Night’, lets visitors experience a coral reef as it moves through the day into night, thanks to £2.7 million refurbishment. 

What is it? Discover queer landmarks and history in what’s arguably the UK’s LGBTQ+ capital. 

Why go? Rainbow flags fly proudly in Brighton, which many consider the UK’s LGBTQ+ capital. If you’ve ever wondered how Brighton became the town it is today, a walking tour from a local expert is a pretty good place to start. Walks take you through 200 years of history to chart the progress from bravery and achievement, in very different times to the more progressive attitudes of today. Plus, you’ll get to see some of Brighton’s best sights, from the grandeur of the seafront through The Lanes to the ‘gay village’ of Kemptown.

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What is it? A rather fantastical-looking palace in the middle of town. 

Why go? While you could imagine this infrastructure perched on the banks of the Yamuna in India, the Royal Pavillion is a Brighton gem. This ornate, Grade I-listed structure was designed by John Nash in the early nineteenth century – in the Indo-Saracenic Revival style, fyi – and was once a holiday home for George, Prince of Wales (later George IV). Today it’s frequented by visitors after a glimpse inside its quaint replica rooms, art galleries and very impressive grounds.

Don’t miss: A secret tunnel in the building links the Pavilion to Brighton Dome (once George’s riding stable). While you can’t see it on the standard tour, special tours of the tunnel and basement run on selected dates. 

What is it? The oldest operational electric railway in the world

Why go? Running from the Palace Pier to Black Rock, the Volks Electric Railway is a narrow gauge service that delights tourists and young families alike. Opened by Magnus Volk in 1883, its small carriages run along the coast with views out to sea, passing through banks of wildflowers that are often covered with butterflies in summer.

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What is it? A timeless beauty spot on the sprawling South Downs.

Why go? Just a few miles out of town, the largest ’dry valley’ in the UK makes the perfect location for a dog walk or simply an aimless ramble as the sun sets. The Dyke has been a major tourist draw since the nineteenth century, and it’s very easy to see why.

Don’t miss: Saddlescombe Farm, just a short hike away, is National Trust-managed farm hamlet with historic exhibits and a charming alfresco tearoom. 

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What is it? A vibrant covered market filled with independent shops, street food and artists’ studios. 

Why go? Soggy out? Here’s where to head when it’s sheeting it down. This undercover market packs independent boutiques, artists’ studios and traditional market stalls all under one roof. Shop local and pick up some fresh nosh or grab a book from the dinky bookshop.

Don’t miss: Once your bags are bursting, snuggle up with a coffee from the Flying Saucer Café.

What is it? An excellent museum and gallery in the city’s cultural quarter.

Why go? Part of the Royal Pavilion, this city-centre museum and gallery is free for locals, while visitors are charged just £5.20. And that’s good value, given the treasures on show – from fine art and ancient Egyptian treasure to twentieth-century fashion to exhibitions from contemporary artists.

Don’t miss: If insects are your thing, make a beeline for the Natural Sciences collection, where you can meet half a million of the little critters.

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What is it? A nightly natural wonder that takes place on the seafront throughout winter.

Why go? From late October until March thousands of starlings gather each night just before sunset to swoop and swirl in a magical dance before settling into their roosts beneath the burnt-out West Pier and the iconic Palace Pier. The spectacle makes for incredible viewing.

Don’t miss Head to the Palace Pier for close-up views of the birds in action.

What is it? A wonderfully kitsch homage to the last 100 years of toys and models. 

Why go? Because who doesn’t enjoy a hit of childhood nostalgia? There are more than 10,000 items on display here – everything from Dinky cars and Meccano kits to vintage penny arcade games, puppet theatres and one of the country’s biggest collections of model railways, including a 1930s three-rail O-gauge layout (which is apparently pretty rare).

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Catch a big-name gig at Brighton Centre

What is it? A seafront exhibition centre and performance venue that’s the place to go in Brighton for big-name comedy, music and theatre.

Why go? Many of the UK’s highest-profile tours head here, presumably undeterred by the venue’s history of hosting final gigs – both Bing Crosby and The Jam performed their last concerts here.

Fill up on burgers at Grubbs
Photograph: Flickr / grassrootsgroundswell

22. Fill up on burgers at Grubbs

What is it? A beloved burger chain. 

Why go? Every self-respecting Brightonian considers themselves a Grubbs aficionado. This Sussex burger chain has no website or Facebook page – but bloody hell, their menu’s good. Get down to Lewes Road, St. James’s Street, York Place or Western Road to sample some of the tastiest patties in town.

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What is it? A pub filled with arcade games and even its own escape room. 

Why go? What’s better than arcade games? Drinking while you play them! With its own escape room, a remote-control racetrack and a whole lot of VR booths where you can kill some aliens (or play one of several other games), this pub really is the epitome of a good time. Did we mention you can play Pac-Man here, too? Hell yeah.

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