Mixing rakish seaside charm with elegant Georgian architecture, Brighton is one of the stars of England’s south coast. Big-ticket attractions like the extravagant Royal Pavilion and towering i360 Tower are part of the appeal, while the city’s nightlife bustles with energy, and its festivals are among Britain’s best.
The pavilion and i360, as well as the popular Sea Life Brighton (the world’s oldest aquarium) aren’t cheap. But there’s plenty of fun to be had on a budget, whether you fancy visiting historic gardens, taking a dip in the sea, exploring eccentric shopping streets or basking in the bright lights of the famous pier.
Brighton Palace Pier
A taste of old-fashioned seaside fun, with fairground rides, arcades, chip vans, deckchairs and bracing breezes. It’s been jutting into the English Channel since its construction in 1899 – there’s nothing left of the older West Pier, 1km up the coast, bar fire-damaged fragments. The sunsets can be stunning here.
The Royal Pavilions Garden
The Royal Pavilion is a gobsmackingly over-the-top pleasure palace built by the future King George IV around 1800. You’ll have to pay £13 to admire the oriental flourishes of its interior, but the gardens are free to all, offering a lovely spot to admire the pavilion’s domes and minarets while relaxing among flowers and trees.
The atmospheric, 16th-century streets of the Lanes hum with locals and tourists at the weekend. It’s dominated by independent shops, with everything from shoes and art to jewellery and antiques on offer. There’s some great food and coffee if you need a pit stop, but most of the fun comes from following your nose – you never know what you’ll stumble upon.
Between North St and Ship St
Pebbles and shingle roll down from the edge of town to the sea, attracting sunbathers in summer and outdoor types year round. There’s not much sand, except at low tide and in a giant ‘sandbox’ for kids, but it’s a lovely place for a dip when the weather’s right, and you can warm up in the cafes and pubs afterwards.
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
Locals get in free, while visitors pay only £6, to see a mix of modern art, textiles, toys, Old Masters, Egyptian artifacts and natural history. Highlights include a Salvador Dalí sofa modeled on Mae West’s lips and multimedia displays exploring Brighton’s history.
Royal Pavilions Garden
Brighton is a city of celebrations, home to the UK’s biggest Pride celebrations (in early August) and the Brighton Festival and Fringe (in May), Britain’s second-biggest arts festival. Some festival shows are excellent value, especially if you book in advance, and the often wild Pride Parade is free.
The Open Market
With around 50 shops, plus stalls and artists’ studios, this historic London Road market is a good place to stock up on organic chocolates, sourdough, vintage clothes, fresh groceries, local honey and well-priced street food. There’s even a specialist egg shop. It’s a few minutes’ walk north from Brighton Station.
A short hop from Hove (or a 20-minute trip on the 77 Breeze bus from central Brighton) you’ll find this rather lovely dry valley. Legend has it that the devil dug the dyke to try to flood Sussex, but was disturbed by an old woman and never finished the job. Visitors can explore the valley on a series of trails (keep an eye out for paragliders descending the thermals) and wander the remains of an Iron Age fort.
Devil’s Dyke Rd
Hove Museum & Art Gallery
Crafts, painting, printmaking and local history are all on display here, and there’s great entertainment for kids, who can listen to a wizard snoring and feel the shakes of an underfloor train. Entry (free) is via the ornate 1886 Jaipur Gate, while the film gallery explores both the history of cinema and the museum’s unique role in it – Britain’s first short film was shot here in 1898.
19 New Church Rd, Hove
With a cliff wall on one side and the sea on the other, this enjoyable route reaches from Brighton Marina to Saltdean, on the edge of the city. Several cafes en route mean you can fill your belly with cake as well as your lungs with sea air. It’s popular with walkers and cyclists.
By James Smart