Having visited Brighton only once before – and that was years ago – I enjoyed arriving with my family free of any preconceived views and opinions on what to expect or what we could achieve during our short break.
Our excursion to this Sussex resort, granted city status by the Queen in 2000, was a delight and we’ll definitely be back for more. One of Brighton’s many plus points is that, unlike other coastal towns and cities, it’s been able to blend new and old yet retain a true sense of identity.
I’m an advocate of respecting tradition in terms of seaside resorts, so still enjoy such things as candy floss, arcades, being blown along the promenade and strolling along piers. Brighton’s sea front has undergone an upgrade in recent years, which was much-needed in some parts. Tired areas have been rejuvenated and are now thriving again. Thankfully, though, ties with its past haven’t been discarded. The good old Brighton Pier, for example, has stood the passage of time and remains a symbol of the city’s seaside heritage. My family’s love of piers meant we wandered along its length more than once. Now a Grade 2 listed building, it attracts over 3 million visitors each year and there is no entrance fee.
But I’d recommend kicking off your visit by jumping aboard the Brighton Wheel. Situated next to the entrance of Brighton Pier, the 50-metre high wheel is the ideal way to admire the city, the surrounding area and the Sussex coastline stretching far into the distance either side of you. The informative commentary inside your air-conditioned capsule is provided by comedian Steve Coogan and gives a comprehensive overview of interesting historical facts and trivia.
Brighton’s compactness is a major plus, too, because it means that you can easily explore on foot. We stayed at the contemporary Hotel Seattle, which is a 25-minute walk along the sea front from the city centre. It’s a splendid hotel which exudes calmness and boasts an enviable location: overlooking Brighton Marina, which accommodates more than 1,500 boats and has become, apparently, Europe’s largest.
Of course, Brighton has ample supply of decent hotels; however, if you have your heart set on the Hotel Seattle – after all, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more helpful staff – but are put off by the distance from the city centre, don’t fret because there is a regular and very reliable bus service which stops outside the Seattle (we paid £10 for a family day ticket which afforded us transport on any route within Brighton and Hove). Alternatively, between April and September you can hop on the Volks Railway, a narrow-gauge line dating back to 1883, which runs from the west side of the Marina along the sea front; the journey takes ten minutes.
Brighton has plenty to interest adults and children alike. Among the attractions is Sea Life, just across from Brighton Pier, which boasts over 1,500 sea creatures. It captivates its visitors by taking them on a journey from the water’s edge to the ocean’s depths.
Another must is the Royal Pavilion, especially if you can avoid the busy times. It’s long been part of the city’s fabric and tourists from around the world, school parties and thousands of coach-trippers flock here. Classed as a “pleasure palace”, it was built for King George IV and possesses an exotic oriental style, inside and out. This stunning building, which took 35 years to make, is among Brighton’s premier tourist attractions – and it’s easy to see why.
Make sure you find time for the Brighton Toy and Model Museum, too. Hidden underneath the forecourt of Brighton’s railway station, it’s a gem of a museum and will bring memories flooding back for adults with its numerous displays of models and toys from a bygone age.
Oh, and another museum worth visiting is Hove Museum and Art Gallery, which also has a café if feeling peckish. Admission is free and everyone, young and old, will enjoy the toy collection, learning about Hove’s pioneering film makers from the 1890s and 1900s, the local history and much more.
Looking around the shops isn’t normally high on my agenda – or my children’s for that matter – but, surprisingly, I enjoyed strolling around the main shopping areas, known as The Lanes and North Laine. From designer boutiques to bohemian quirkiness, variety is the spice of life when it comes to Brighton’s retail therapy; the same applies to its restaurants, where just about every taste is seemingly catered for. Make sure you leave time to soak up the buzz; spend a hour just relaxing outside one of the many coffee shops, watching the world go by, or if – like us – you had kids to entertain, promise to take them to Brighton’s famous pebble beach after you’ve finished your coffee.
A whopping eight million tourists visit Brighton every year and I bet very few of them go home disappointed.
t: 01273 290337
Brighton BN2 1TB
t: 01273 722 822
Marine Parade, Brighton BN2 1TB
t: 0871 423 2110
The Royal Pavilion
4/5 Pavilion Buildings
Brighton BN1 1EE
t: 03000 290900
Brighton Toy and Model Museum
52-55 Trafalgar Street, Brighton BN1 4EB
t: 01273 749494
Brighton BN2 5WA
t: 01273 679799
Hove Museum and Art Gallery
19 New Church Road
Hove BN3 4AB
t: 03000 290900