With its fiercely independent spirit, buzzing foodie scene and an old-time English seaside charm, it’s easy to see why Brighton is one of the most popular day trips from London.
As a kid I always looked forward to visiting Brighton. We’d gorge on fish and chips followed by ice cream, trying desperately to dodge the enormous swooping seagulls. We’d ride dodgems on the pier after using up all of our 2ps on the slot machines.
At age nine (and much to my mum’s horror) I returned home dragging a stuffed panda that was as big, if not bigger than me, in one hand, and a rock from the beach the size of my face in the other. “Look how sparkly this one is,” I said picking up a handful of pebbles on Brighton Beach. “I want to take it home.”
So, when the time came to plan my four Visit England ambassador trips, Brighton was my first choice. I’ve been back several times as an adult, enjoying the food scene more and more, exploring the cool boutiques in The Lanes and seeing the city in a different light. Yet, I’d never written about it. With 24 hours in the city, I wanted to get to know it more intimately than ever, seeking out its quirks and charm while learning what draws the tourists, plus the secret spots only the locals know.
If you’re visiting for a day trip, check out the video first then scroll down to find out all about my top things to do in Brighton!
Last time I visited Brighton, this gigantic tower did not exist. Designed by the same architects behind the London Eye, the British Airways i360 is an exciting new addition to the seafront, and while the views from the top are impressive, the architecture of the structure itself is equally as photo worthy. Holding up to 200 people at a time (there were only around 50 when I visited) you enter the capsule at the bottom and then ascend to a height of 138 metres. The capsule remains at the top for a while before descending again. There’s a bar in the middle serving cocktails, champagne and soft drinks. Sipping bubbly from our big bubble in the sky was a lovely experience. From the top we spotted a few unique details – I’d never realised that along with street art on the walls around Brighton, there was also some hiding on the rooftops!
I visited the Bluebird Tea Company as part of my food tour of Brighton. It’s a Willy Wonka style store for tea lovers! Using their tea mixology skills they’ve created everything from peppermint crème and salted caramel flavour, to ginger beer, mojitea (geddit?!) and chilli kale! It’s definitely worth a visit, whether you’re on the food tour or not.
Many who see pictures of Brighton Pavilion won’t believe it’s in England. Looking more like a relative of the Taj Mahal, the impressive building was adapted from an old farmhouse and used by George, Prince of Wales (who became Prince Regent) as one of his entertaining venues. I’ve passed it on trips before, but never ventured inside until now. The rooms are stunning, with Chinoise details, colourful décor and immense grandeur. You’ll feel like you’ve walked into a Hollywood movie! The Pavilion also hosts exhibitions, and right now (to tie in with the 200th anniversary of her death) you can find out more about Jane Austen’s relationship with the sea, and specifically Brighton.
Not so long ago, Brighton was virtually free of big brands and high street chains. While that’s not the case these days, with all the standard high street stores and restaurants you’d find in any other city (hello H&M, Topshop, Wahaca, Zizzi etc) there’s still a huge passion for local, independent businesses. The Lanes and North Laine are the places to visit for cute boutiques, vintage stores, hipster cafes, vegetarian paradise (I’m not just talking vege food, you can buy vege shoes too!) plus gift shops and unique ‘Brighton’ haunts.
There’s the vintage-store-come-plant-shop. There’s a quirky store with the name This Is Not A Butchers. And staying with Brighton’s passion for all things vegan, there’s Eden – the vegan perfumerie that promises to match your favourite big name fragrance to one of their vegan alternatives.
Brighton is known for its plethora of organic foodie stores, vege cafes, delis, coffee shops, restaurants and more, but if you’re only there for a day, it might be hard to know where to start! Angela from Brighton Food Tours showed us some amazing places that I never would have found on my own. From fun flavours of tea at Bluebird Tea Company and delicious crisp Belgian fries at BeFries, to 100% organic chocolate at Rainbow Organic Chocolates and fresh oysters at English’s, it was a great way to get to grips with the city’s eclectic food scene.
Beyond the neon glow of the pier and Brighton’s sprawling city, it was nice to venture towards the South Downs for a totally different experience. The Albourne Estate is relatively new, just approaching its fifth harvest, and is one of many vineyards located in the south of England. They produce four white wines and a sparkling blanc de blancs and host tours and tastings by appointment.
It was interesting learning about their techniques, visiting the production room, and of course, tasting too! While I’ve visited vineyards in some pretty beautiful destinations around the world including Mendoza in Argentina and Ronda in Spain, Albourne’s location overlooking the South Downs is up there with the best of them.
Brighton’s vegetarian scene is top notch, and you’ll be hard pushed to find somewhere without vegetarian and vegan offerings on the menu. With my passion for food, I was keen to try one of the top restaurants in town. I’d dined at Terre A Terre several times before, and had vegetarian food so flavoursome that I didn’t miss meat one bit.
This time I wanted to try the other top vege joint, Food For Friends. I started with oyster mushroom ‘scallops’ on pea puree and couldn’t believe how close they were in texture to the real thing. I also tried the tofu pockets with pickled ginger and rice, which were packed full of tasty Asian flavours with a spicy kick. For mains we enjoyed the battered halloumi and chips (a fun spin on fish and chips) and the sweet potato and oyster mushroom katsu curry with coconut rice. Both dishes were incredibly generous, full of flavour, and sure enough, we didn’t miss meat one bit.
Brighton’s spirit is colourful, but so are its walls! Street art and impressive murals cover parts of the city. Some are artfully crafted on key walls, particularly around The Lanes, while to see others you’ll need to venture down side streets and back alleys. There’s even Banksy’s famous ‘Kissing Policemen’. As mentioned, some you can’t even see from the ground, you’ll need to hop on the i360 and view from above!
Get under the skin of Brighton with a trip to its museum. You can find out all about the history of Brighton, plus check out all sorts of exhibitions. During my visit, the Constable and Brighton exhibition was on, showing the artist’s relationship with the city.
I can’t write about Brighton without mentioning the Pier. The historic Palace Pier. As I wondered over the wooden floorboards, with a rather ferocious sea lapping below, I was transported back to my visits as a kid. I used to peer through the gaps and dare my sisters to step on the wobbly floorboards. I’d race to the end of the pier to the helter skelter and the dodgems. Then on the walk back I’d beg my dad to buy me a stick of sweet, peppermint rock.
I can report – nothing has changed! The helter skelter is still there. The sickly, fried scent of donut batter still wafts down the pier. The tarot reader wagon still sits on one side … and damn those 2p machines are just as inviting as they ever were. It’s one of those places you can’t miss, whether it’s out of nostalgia, or because you REALLY want to win a gigantic dolphin to take home!
Brighton and Hove Beach Huts
Classic English holiday scene alert! These adorable colourful beach huts run along the seafront from Brighton to Hove. While I didn’t have time to cover Hove on this trip, I’ve been before and it’s a lovely town, much quieter and calmer than Brighton, but with plenty of charm too. Be sure to fit in this walk to see the beach huts, and you can always stop for a coffee or an ice cream at the café along the route.
Where To Stay In Brighton
I stayed at Hotel Una, a gorgeous boutique hotel in Regency Square. We stayed in the Danube Suite – a huge room with regency windows overlooking the square. There was beautiful polished wood throughout with a large coffee table and bedframe. I also loved the in-room bath, toiletries by The White Company and designer details (funky lighting and smart bedding). With super friendly service and one of the best hotel breakfasts I’d had in a long time, it’s somewhere I’ll be recommending to all my friends!
While my trip to Brighton was a little bit of a trip down memory lane, it was also amazing to discover new places, and even venture just outside to the Albourne Estate for a totally contrasting experience.
If you’ve not visited recently, or are planning your first trip, hopefully you’ll be able to squeeze in a few of my top tips!
I visited Brighton as part of my year as a Visit England ambassador, showing you some of the amazing things to do without jetting off to far off destinations. A big thanks to Visit England and Visit Brighton for organising my trip! Find out more about the Join The World campaign here. As always, all opinions are my own.
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