BRIGHTON FOR BEGINNERS: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW FOR YOUR FIRST VACATION

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It’s been voted as the Happiest City in the UK, and is known as London-by-the-Sea for its cosmopolitan yet coastal vibe. Yet for first time visitors to Brighton, it can be all too easy to remain within the narrow confines of the Lanes and Pier, rarely venturing further east into quirky Kemptown or west to explore hip and happening Hove.

We’re exploring Brighton as comprehensively as these pages can handle today, helping your first trip to this fantastic city be as colourful and endlessly curious as the place itself. Here’s everything beginners need to know for their first Brighton vacation.

HOW TO GET TO BRIGHTON 

The closest airport to Brighton is Gatwick Airport (LGW), the UK’s second largest and one which welcomes arrivals from all over the world. The airport has its own railway station, with regular trains to Brighton Station taking just half an hour. Talk about convenience!

With Brighton just under 50 miles from London, if you’re not flying into Gatwick you’ll likely pass through the capital on your way to its sibling by the sea. Once you’re in London, you can get to Brighton via one of the following ways: 

  • Catch the Gatwick express from London Victoria to Brighton. You can also catch the ThamesLink from Kings Cross and London Bridge. The journey shouldn’t take you more than an hour. A standard single journey will set you back around £20.
  • The National Express operates a route between London Victoria Coach Station and Brighton Coach Station. Be warned, this will take significantly longer than trains, with the travel time being just under three hours. That said, the cost of a ticket is cheaper, too; expect to pay £10 or so.
  • If you have your own car or can rent one, you can drive to Brighton in around two hours from Central London. However, be aware that if you do choose to drive, parking in the city is notoriously difficult and prohibitively expensive; the city has an environmentally conscious soul, so public transport is highly encouraged.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO TO BRIGHTON? 

Brighton comes alive in the sunnier summer months with sunseekers and day trippers converging on the pebbles, bars, beachside eateries and renowned gig venues. 

From October to March, the city becomes noticeably quieter. During this time, many of the seafront bars shut up shop, and during the winter, it can get pretty biting and windy close to the shore. That said, if you prefer to avoid the crowds and you find something strangely stirring about the British coast during the colder months, then the off season could be for you.

One of the busiest but arguably the best times to visit is during Brighton Pride. Brighton is often declared to be the world’s LGBTQ+ capital, and this is partly due to the huge, 160’000 strong Pride festival (over half the city’s entire population) which happens each year in August, bringing 2% of Brighton’s annual visitors in a single day. We should note that for the previous two years, the official event has been cancelled due to COVID-19 related safety concerns, though smaller, informal celebrations did still occur.

Indeed, it’s a city that prides itself on openness and acceptance all year round, and has the highest percentage of same-sex households in the country, as well as a hip and happening collection of gay bars and clubs centred around St. James’ Street in Kemptown and on towards the beach. 

If you can’t wait until the summer to visit this lovely place, then consider a trip down in February, when the month is dedicated to LGBTQ+ with art, film showings, discussions and tours centering around influential figures in the LGBTQ+ community.

WHERE TO STAY IN BRIGHTON

Brighton is blessed with a wide variety of choice in terms of accommodation, but it’s wise to approach that level of choice with caution; some of the ‘budget’ hotels do tend to be a bit rough around the edges. 

Depending on how much spending money you have at your disposal, The Grand Brighton is arguably the city’s most iconic hotel, and is set right on the seafront. If you choose to stay here, make sure you take The Grand’s ‘Afternoon Tea by The Sea’, which has been voted by the public as Brighton’s Best Afternoon Tea in the Brighton Restaurant Awards 2020 and is served in the hotel’s Victoria Terrace.  

Alternatively, we’re big fans of the Selina Hotel Brighton, located on King’s Road (at the foot of Preston Street). Housed in a trendy green building opposite the i360 viewing tower, you can’t miss the hotel as it stands out from all the rows of regency cream buildings along the seafront.  

Selina is part of the Selina Group and is billed as “a unique traveler’s hub, bringing together creative locals, digital nomads, and explorers from all over the world’’. The majority of the hotel group’s outposts are found in the USA and Latin America, and incidentally, on the first floor of the hotel you’ll find Tlaloc, one of the best Mexican restaurants in Brighton.  Starting in the city as a pop-up before taking residency in the hotel, the restaurant offers modern Mexican food using locally sourced ingredients. The hotel also has a co-working space with daily hot desk prices starting from £9.

Close by is Artist Residence, one of a group of chain hotels that have now spread across the UK but which began life in Brighton. The hotel is inspired by Brighton’s thriving art scene and each of the rooms is a blend of original artist murals. Opt for a seaview room with a balcony for maximum luxury! 

Other hotels worth checking out include Drakes in Kemptown, Sea Spray, Pelirocco, The Square Hotel, Nineteen and Hotel Una. The city is also home to two Travelodge, one just a pebble’s throw away from the seafront and another just behind the main train station. 

THINGS TO DO IN BRIGHTON 

If you ask us, a stroll along Brighton seafront, skimming pebbles with a tub of pickled cockles in one hand and a plastic pint of flat lager in the other, is perhaps the quintessential Brighton experience. However, this wouldn’t stand up as a travel guide if that was all we suggested. 

From wandering around Brighton’s famous Lanes to visiting the Royal Pavilion, let us direct you to our article on 7 of the best things to do in Brighton

ALTERNATIVE THINGS TO DO IN BRIGHTON 

If you, too, are already conversant in the standard Brighton day trip, and the itinerary above feels all too familiar, then fear not; Brighton and Hove still has so much to offer beyond the stereotypical day out at the seaside.

Perhaps our favourite thing to do in the summer is to rent a paddleboard or kayak and survey the city from the vantage point of the open seas (an incredibly popular pastime with local residents here). Every morning and evening, when the sea sits at its stillest, you’ll see people gliding through the water as it gently laps the pebble beach, and it’s a magical sight. The best times to paddleboard are at sunrise at sunset, with the sky and seascape at these times something else; serene, iridescently beautiful and perfect for a picture. 

But that’s not all; from watersports on Hove Lagoon to fishing at Brighton Marina, all the way to taking a boat to see the city’s offshore wind farm, check out our article on 6 alternative things to do in Brighton and Hove.

WHERE TO EAT

The city has a diverse restaurant scene that feels like it’s getting better and better with each passing year. 

Since you’re at the coast, it’s fish you should be eating. Some of the best seafood restaurants in Brighton include Riddle and Finns, the Urchin and the Salt Room. For something in the fine dining bracket, it has to be the Little Fish Market (booking well in advance is recommended), whilst for something truly humble, we just love the Brighton Smokehouse, which does the finest smoked mackerel sandwich on the planet.

Check out our guides to a whole host of other Brighton and Hove restaurants below: 

WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM

This is a seaside city, after all, and it would be rude not to have an ice cream or two while you’re here. For those with a particularly discerning taste in the good stuff, Brighton is home to more than just your average Mr Whippy and has some of the best ice cream parlours and gelato shops in the UK.  

So, which are the best? Well, Brass Monkey, tucked away in Brighton’s iconic North Laine Bazaar and with a second outpost in Hanningtons Lane, is up there – we would travel just the length of the country for their signature cardamom ice cream. 

Or, Gelato Gusto’s original on Gardner Street, in the North Laines, has a reliably gorgeous artisan ice cream that comes in a huge variety of flavours. The shop uses local Sussex milk and cream, with recipes coming from the owner’s training in Bologna. Also worth mentioning is Boho Gelato, who offer the finest selection of vegan ice cream options in the city.

All that said, our favourite place is unquestionably Marrocco’s, which you’ll find just beyond Hove Lawns and right on the oceanfront, along the gorgeous Kingsway promenade. If any of their salted caramel, blueberry and ricotta, or cherry and almond ice creams are being served – order them. Trust us. 

And with that, we’re off to indulge in a scoop. Shall we see you there?

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