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The British resort town of Brighton is an intriguing city by the sea that’s often described as being a destination with real personality. I’d heard various conflicting opinions about the area so was eager to see for myself whether this town is as gritty as they say, or if it was more cultured, a mix of both or something entirely different.
I also wanted to visit the nearby city of Hove and find out why it’s usually lumped in with Brighton. The reason is simple: the two are basically twin cities, differentiated mainly by disjointed street grids that share a border. To the west, Hove is laid out in orderly blocks, while to the east, Brighton features more narrow, winding roads. Since 1997, the two have officially been called the Borough of Brighton and Hove and function as one conjoined city, which most people just refer to as Brighton. Here’s why you should check out this vibrant, friendly and historic part of England.
1. There’s Waterfront Fun Year-Round
The Brighton Pier is among the city’s top landmarks, and still an active attraction for all ages. It’s a slice of old-world England from circa 1899, and while it’s gone through plenty of ups and downs, these days the Pier serves as a terrific example of vintage seaside architecture. Stroll the long pier, stop for games or rides — for a real treat, try the gloriously colorful carousel — grab a drink or snack at the Victorian beer hall, or just pause along the waterfront and catch the sunset.
Elsewhere along the waterfront, take in the views from the great big Brighton Wheel (pictured at the top of this post), or take a ride on Volk’s Electric Railway, which opened in 1883 and still runs today along a portion of the seafront. Wander westward down the pebbled shore toward Hove’s colorful beach-storage huts, which are rented out by locals, and pause for fish and chips or ice cream at one of the little cafés along the way. Few experiences feel more authentically British. For great views of the whole area, take a ride on the British Airways i360, the world’s tallest moving observation tower, which just opened in Brighton this summer.
2. You’ll Eat Well Here
Alas, it’s not just fish and chips here. In fact, Brighton sports a truly impressive dining scene and with prices that stray far from London’s pricey menus. Remember to pay for your meals with a credit card that’ll earn you rewards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which gives you 2x points on travel and dining worldwide, or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which gives you 3x points on the same types of purchases.
During my last trip to the UK, I was on a mission to discover as much delicious Indian food as I could. Luckily, I ended up finding some of the best I’ve ever eaten at Azaro on Hove’s Church Street. The family-run lunch and dinner spot always gets rave reviews for its “healthful” (i.e. not super-heavy) Indian dishes, each one fresh and packing plenty of flavor.
The compact 64 Degrees restaurant, located in the Lanes District of Brighton, also blew me away for its inventive, ever-changing menu and fancy-friendly ambience. Sitting at the bar here means facing the kitchen, where you can watch the chefs work their magic and understand why this hotspot has made it onto many “best of” dining lists since it opened in 2013. Make sure to reserve seats well in advance as space tends to fill up quickly.
For a great Sunday roast and other pub fare, head to Hove’s nouveau-style pub, The Better Half, a local favorite that’s located about half a block from the beach. Brighton is a haven for top-notch vegetarian cuisine. I’d heard great things about Terre à Terre and am happy to report that the rumors were true; the food here was phenomenal and featured rare ingredients, unique preparations of said ingredients, as well as innovative sauces and garnishes. Another plus: downright charming servers.
3. The History of This Place is Fascinating
While Brits are familiar with Brighton’s quirky reputation, international travelers get to discover it all on their own. And it begins with the Royal Pavilion, the iconic former vacation palace of the Prince Regent who was eventually crowned King George IV in 1820. When Brighton served as his royal retreat, he had this awe-striking, Oriental-styled pleasure home erected as a lavish hideaway to impress visiting dignitaries. The exterior’s onion-like domes and minarets match its incredibly ornate interiors.
Across the park from the Royal Pavilion, check out the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, where you can view varied collections of everything from fine art and toys to textiles, furniture and archaeological discoveries. Attached to the museum, but in its own distinct space, you’ll find the Brighton Dome, a grand music hall that’s been rocked by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and ABBA, which made its global debut here in 1974. Which leads us to the next reason…
4. There’s Usually a Show or Festival Going On
The Brighton Dome has long been a cultural anchor for what’s long been a thriving stage scene. Events like the Brighton Fringe Festival and Pink Fringe have spring runs, but ensure diverse productions all through the year at various venues around town. On the smaller, more experimental side, head to the Marlborough Pub and Theatre, or for larger, more mainstream productions, check out the Theatre Royal, Brighton. In the mood for something completely different? Catch a live comedy show at Komedia for a hilarious night out on the town.
5. All the Opportunities for Great Shopping — and People-Watching
One of the things I liked most about Brighton was its size. The city is big enough to allow for a huge amount of activities and diversity, yet small enough to walk almost everywhere. The Lanes District is great for roaming around or even getting a little lost — there are so many cute shops along its curvy alleys and walkways, many of them with antique stores packed with one-of-a-kind souvenirs. There’s also the North Laine neighborhood, a spacious shopping and residential district closer to the railway terminal where you’ll find a Saturday market, pubs and cafés with sidewalk seating perfect for people-watching, and, for thrift shop lovers, a bevy of superb secondhand stores like Snoopers Paradise on Kensington Gardens or Beyond Retro on Sydney Street.
Have you ever been to Brighton? Tell us about your experience, below.
Featured image and all other photos courtesy of the author.
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