The best things to do in Brighton

Brighton Pavilion. Credit: graham jepson / Alamy

Once the seaside retreat of London’s high society, this colourful, artistic and eccentric city is a jewel on Britain’s south coast. Here’s our guide to the best things to do in Brighton…

Words by Henrietta Easton

Brighton seafront
An ice cream van on Brighton’s seafront.

Day 1

Take the sea air

A relaxing promenade along the iconic Victorian seafront is an essential part of any list of the best things to do in Brighton. Though it was once a small Saxon fishing village, in the 18th century Dr Richard Russell, a physician and author of a treatise on the health benefits of sea bathing, relocated his practice to Brighton’s seafront, marking the beginning of the transformation of the town into a fashionable seaside resort.

Brighton regency architecture
Brighton’s Regency architecture. Credit: Visit Brighton

In 1738, the future King George IV made the first of many visits, cementing the town’s popularity amongst London’s high society. It is his powerful patronage you can still see in Brighton’s Regency-style squares and terraces today. Admire this elegant architecture as you walk along the seafront promenade, whilst soaking up the hustle and bustle of Brighton beach life. 

Here for the pier
Brighton Pier
Brighton Pier. Credit: Visit Brighton
An unmissable sight along Brighton’s seafront, Brighton Palace Pier is a must for any visit to Brighton. While its predecessor sits in atmospheric ruin a little way along the shore, the iconic Palace Pier, which dates back to 1899, is an ode to the Victorian seaside, with all the 21st-century pleasures you could ask for. The 537m-long pleasure ground is packed with food stalls selling seaside treats like candyfloss and fish and chips, and you can amuse yourself for hours at the arcade games and funfair, with classic rides from spinning teacups to a haunted house. 
Under the sea
best things to do in Brighton
Brighton aquarium. Credit: David Carbo/Shutterstock

Located just a few metres from the pier, Brighton’s SEA LIFE is the oldest operating aquarium in the world, having first opened its doors to curious Victorian visitors in 1872. It is certainly one of the most fun things to do in Brighton with children (of any age!). Stroll through the aquarium’s beautifully restored Victorian arcade and admire over 5,000 different species of sea creature, from sharks and turtles to octopus and starfish. All the aquarium’s seawater tanks are fed from one large tank under the building which, in turn, is filled up by the sea itself as the tide flows in and out twice a day.

Day 2

Love the Lanes
Brighton lanes
Brighton Lanes. Credit: stockinasia

Start your second day exploring Brighton’s intriguing hodgepodge of cobbled lanes and higgledy-piggledy backstreets. The Lanes and North Laine area are packed with independent shops, art galleries, cafés and many of the city’s best restaurants. Reflecting the city’s colourful personality, North Laine is closed to traffic at the weekends when it becomes the social hub of the city, with tables and chairs filling up the pavements and shop owners bringing their stock out into the street to sell their wares. Spend a morning hunting for vintage treasures, picking up quirky gifts or shopping for chic homeware, and soak up the atmosphere with some alfresco refreshments. 

Fit for a king
The Royal Pavilion. Credit: Simon Dack

The Royal Pavilion was built as a pleasure palace for the extravagant Prince Regent, the future King George IV. In 1815 the prince hired architect John Nash to design this magnificent, Indian Mogul-style palace, with Indian- and Chinese-style interiors. Highlights include the theatrical domed Banqueting Room and the most important collection of Regency gilt silverware anywhere on public view. 

Nostalgia at the museum

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery in the Royal Gardens houses a fantastic collection of galleries displaying 20th-century art and design, fine art and exhibitions exploring Brighton’s history of fashion and style. This summer, the museum is hosting a special exhibition celebrating ABBA’s visit to Brighton 50 years ago, when they won the Eurovision Song Contest with their hit song Waterloo (until 4 August).

Top Brighton attractions

Brighton i360.
Brighton i360

Enjoy unmatched panoramic views of Brighton’s skyline, and out to the South Downs, at the Brighton i360 moving observation tower on the seafront.

Devil’s Dyke

Just five miles from the city centre, the Devil’s Dyke valley is a legendary beauty
spot in the South Downs, offering panoramic views out to the city and the sea, and a suitably curious history too.

Sea Lanes

Opened in 2023, Sea Lanes, a heated 50-metre outdoor swimming pool, offers stunning views of the historic seafront and Brighton’s iconic beach as you swim.

Undercliff Walk

The 5km-long Undercliff Walk is an uninterrupted path between Brighton and Saltdean underneath the chalky cliffs, and is a lovely way to enjoy Brighton’s pretty stretch  of seaside.

Ridgeview Wine Estate

Sussex is home to some of the country’s best wine-producing vineyards. Stop in for a vineyard tour and a wine tasting at Ridgeview Wine Estate, just a few miles outside of the city.

Day trips from Brighton

The Seven Sisters of Sussex. Credit: John Gilham

In terms of easy day trips from Brighton, the chalky cliffs known as the Seven Sisters, one of Englands most spectacular sights, lie just a few miles east of Brighton. Theres a 13km stretch of coastal path to enjoy with a lovely selection of cafés and pubs along the way.

The historic towns of Lewes and Arundel are also within easy reach.

Places to stay in Brighton

places to stay in Brighton
The Grand, Brighton

First opening in 1864, The Grand is an iconic five-star hotel on the seafront that harks back to the city’s Victorian seaside resort heyday, and is also where ABBA spent the night celebrating after their Eurovision win in 1974. It is top of our list of places to stay in Brighton. The hotel still has many of its Victorian features, including the original sweeping staircase and the emerald marble pillars in the lobby, but the bedrooms are contemporary, fresh and luxurious.

The 20-bedroom boutique Drakes Hotel is set in a pair of Regency townhouses looking straight onto the pier. It boasts beautiful bedrooms, Art Deco styling and roll-top baths, and the floor-to-ceiling windows are the perfect way to watch Brighton’s fabulous sunsets, perhaps whilst enjoying a cocktail or two.

places to stay in Brighton
Drake’s Hotel

Places to eat in Brighton

This eco-conscious city has more than its fair share of excellent vegan and vegetarian restaurants, including Terre à Terre in The Lanes, which serves award-winning cuisine in a relaxed, chic space. The menu is so exciting and creative that even die-hard meat lovers will leave happy. Terre à Terre has also recently been voted one of the best restaurants in the world for Vegans by the Financial Times, so it is deserving of its places amongst our top places to eat in Brighton.

The Little Fish Market is a tiny restaurant on a Brighton backstreet, serving up some of the city’s best seafood fine dining in an unpretentious setting. With local artworks on the walls, they offer a seasonal set lunch menu and a tasting dinner menu.

places to eat in brighton
The Little Fish Market

You can’t come to the seaside without sampling some fish and chips, and Bardsley’s of Baker Street is a Brighton institution for this seaside supper. The family-run, tile-fronted restaurant was established in 1926 and serves up the classic dish in a friendly environment.

With a seafront terrace and amazing views, The Tempest Inn on the beach is the perfect spot to enjoy a refreshing tipple after a long day exploring. There’s live music in the evenings too, as well as a delicious menu of fresh seafood.

How to get to Brighton

Trains run regularly from London Victoria, Blackfriars and London Bridge stations to Brighton. They take around 1 hour 20 minutes. Trains also run from Gatwick Airport to Brighton in around 30 minutes.

Brighton festivals and events

May’s Brighton Festival is one of the biggest and boldest in the UK and hosts events from opera and theatre to dance and classical music performances.

This is an extract, read the full feature on Brighton in the May/June 2024 issue of BRITAIN, available to buy here from Friday 5 April. 

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