Less than an hour from London, Brighton bucks the trend set by most other English beach resorts and it is a surprisingly lively and cosmopolitan city.
The area has been settled since the Bronze Age and it developed as an important fishing town in medieval times.
It was the Georgian era that saw Brighton develop into a fashionable seaside resort and the Prince Regent, who later became King George IV, spent a lot of time here and the Royal Pavilion and a major stable complex, that was later developed to become the Brighton Dome, are a legacy of this period.
Although Queen Victoria was not as fond of Brighton as George IV, the town’s popularity continued to grow during the Victorian era and many of Brighton’s most notable buildings, including Brighton Palace Pier, the Grand Hotel and the Metropole Hotel (now part of the Hilton chain) date from this era.
As a general rule, England is not noted for tasteful seaside resorts and many English seaside towns are downright depressing and tacky; however, Brighton is somewhat of an exception here and it has much more to offer than the typical English seaside town.
While its seaside attractions do appeal to the lower end of the market in the same manner as places like Blackpool or Margate with a pleasure pier, the obligatory aquarium and a smattering of places selling ice cream and fish and chips it also has other attractions that make Brighton a much more interesting and pleasant place to visit.
The legacy of Brighton’s royal connections, particularly during the Regency era, have left the city well endowed with impressive buildings such as the Brighton Dome and especially the Royal Pavilion.
Brighton is also much larger than most other English seaside resorts. The population of the city is around 290,000 and there are almost half a million people living in the built-up area, which also includes Lewes, Littlehampton and Worthing. With a larger population, Brighton simply has more to offer than other seaside resorts.
It doesn’t just rely on the legacy of the Georgian and Victorian eras either and it has a lively and quirky cultural scene that is undeniably hip. It was a hotspot for the Mod and Rocker subcultures in the 1960s and 1970s and it has a vibrant arts scene and one of the largest and most prominent gay communities in the United Kingdom.
Two neighbourhoods that are worth a visit are The Lanes and North Laine. The Lanes is closest to the city centre and North Laine is immediately north leading up towards the railway station. While both neighbourhoods have fairly narrow streets, those in The Lanes are characterised by narrower alleyways that largely follow the labyrinthine street layout from when Brighton was a fishing village while streets in North Laine follow a more conventional grid layout.
The Lanes is the historic part of the city centre that is close to the seafront. It consists mostly of small independent businesses including traditional pubs, tea rooms and antique shops. Shops worth a visit include Choccywoccydoodah, Brighton’s best-known chocolate and cake shop that has been featured in a television series of the same name. The Lanes is popular with tourists and well worth a visit. It is fairly upmarket when compared to the more grungy and alternative North Laine neighbourhood, southeast of the railway station.
Once a slum, North Laine is a considerably more edgy neighbourhood with an alternative air. This bohemian cultural quarter is noted for small independent businesses and it has a similar vibe to parts of Camden Town in London. Typical shops in North Laine include art, second-hand bookstores, comic book shops, retro-style clothing shops and shops selling crystals and other ‘new age’ paraphernalia. The main shopping streets in North Laine include Sydney Street, Kensington Gardens and Gardner Street. Every Saturday, Upper Gardner Street is closed to traffic for a street market.
Held each May, the annual Brighton Festival and Brighton Fringe comprise the largest arts festival in England and, after Edinburgh, the second-largest in the United Kingdom. Other festivals include The Great Escape (three nights of live music), Soundwaves Festival (classical music), Brighton Live (a week of free live gigs by local bands every September) and Brighton Pride (a gay pride event that attracts 450,000 people every year).
The city has been featured in many popular films including Brighton Rock (1947 plus the 2010 remake), Quadrophenia (1979), Wimbledon (2004), MirrorMask (2005), Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008), The Young Victoria (2009) and The Boat That Rocked (2009).
It is the most popular seaside destination in the United Kingdom for overseas tourists although its close proximity to London means that many people only visit as a day trip.
Brighton has excellent transport connections to with seven trains per hour to London with London trains going to London Bridge, St Pancras and Victoria stations. The fastest trains to London will get you to the capital in just 51 minutes.
The coastal railway lines (the East Coastway Line and the West Coastway Line) have trains to Eastbourne, Hastings, Lewes, Portsmouth and Southampton. These lines also provide local services to suburban areas and nearby towns with six trains per hour to Hove and Lewes.
Brighton railway station is located around a 10-minute walk north of the city centre.
There are also excellent bus and coach connections with National Express, which arrive at and depart from Pool Valley Coach Station. Although the coach trip to London is slower than the train, the coach station is more centrally located. It is the cheapest way to travel between Brighton and London, particularly if you book your tickets in advance.
National Express run coaches to London every 1–2 hours and advance purchase fares start at £5, which is less than half the price of an advance purchase train fare. The fastest route is under two hours, which is an hour longer than taking the train, and the journey can take even longer if you’re travelling in peak hour traffic.
There are also several local bus routes that go well beyond Brighton and this can be a good value way to visit other towns and cities on the south coast. Local buses from Brighton include the Coaster bus to Eastbourne, the Coastliner bus to Portsmouth and the Regency route to Royal Tunbridge Wells. Most local buses stop on Old Steine, North Street and Churchill Square in Brighton city centre.
The Coastliner bus (route 700) runs between Brighton and Portsmouth stopping en route in Worthing, Littlehampton, Bognor Regis and Chichester. These buses are operated by Stagecoach with buses running every 10 minutes along the busiest stretch (Brighton–Littlehampton) and every 20 minutes along Chichester–Portsmouth leg. It is the cheapest way to travel this route (particularly if you haven’t booked a ticket in advance) but it is a long 4½ hour ride (around three hours longer than taking the train) and you usually have to change buses twice.
Coaster bus routes (routes 12, 12A, 12X and 13X) run between Brighton and Eastbourne. The 12X is a faster version of this route and the 13X (which runs daily Apr–Oct and on weekends Nov–Mar) is a more scenic version of the route. All Coaster buses stop at the Seven Sisters Visitors’ Centre (when it is open) but only route 13X goes via Beachy Head. These buses are operated by Brighton & Hove Buses and run every 10–20 minutes.
The Regency bus routes (routes 28, 29 and 29X) run between Brighton and Royal Tunbridge Wells stopping en route in Lewes and Uckfield. Buses running all the way to Royal Tunbridge Wells run every half hour or so, but buses going only as far as Uckfield or Crowborough run more frequently. A lot of people take these bus routes only as far as Lewes with buses running every 15 minutes. The Regency bus routes are operated by Brighton & Hove Buses.
London Gatwick Airport is the closest major airport to Brighton and it is easily accessible by train. All London-bound trains stop at Gatwick Airport, which is around half an hour away.