Brighton is a truly unique city on the south coast of England. It’s got a beach, but no sand. It’s a city but it has no cathedral (the queen gave it official city status a few years ago). It’s a riot of seaside color where every cafe serves tempting vegan options, the nightlife is eclectic and all that British stiff-upper-lip vibe stuff sort of falls by the wayside. So now you know that a day trip to Brighton is a must for anyone visiting England.
Planning your Brighton day trip easily as the city is just an hour from London by train and it’s the perfect place if you need a break from the capital. In fact, the day trip to Brighton is so popular it has a nickname locally – they’re called DFLs or ‘Down from London’ visitors. And by the way, just like Ankh-Morpork, this is a twin city made up of both Brighton and Hove. Hove is the chic end with boutique eateries, Brighton is the shabbier, but arguably more character-filled cousin.
Brighton is an environmentally friendly city with restricted parking. By far the best option is to take the train, there are local stations in every area of the city or you can drive and use the Park & Ride. So now I’ve sold you on the place, let’s talk about the top things to do in Brighton!
The best things to do in Brighton in one day
As soon as you arrive, walk towards the seafront and you’ll find a network of intricate shopping streets known as The Lanes. These are legendary for their vintage, quirky and beautiful independent shops and bazaars. There’s nothing here that you’d find on the high street, and it’s totally fine to haggle. Here’s a few you won’t want to miss: Snoopers’ Paradise Ltd in the North Laine (7/8 Kensington Gardens) takes you through a turnstile entrance into a kind of Narnia where you can find absolutely anything old, kitsch and awe-inspiring.
Beyond Retro (42 Vine St), also in the Lanes, specializes in all things 70s and 80s, which are all original and lovingly cared for. Pick up a satchel, fringed jacket or tapestry covered bag to rock. And if you have a secret hankering for the smell and feel of paper, forget the Kindle and lose yourself in Magazine Brighton (23 Trafalgar St) which stocks a kaleidoscope of unusual magazines to suit every taste and oozes a love for print. It’s a bit hipster, but you’ll fall in love with it.
Anywhere you go in the Lanes, keep your eyes peeled for graffiti because art pieces are everywhere from bins to gutters. Look out for local artist Minty, who could one day be as famous as Banksy.
When it comes to museums, there are some interesting things to do Brighton. See the way that old bobbies (policeman) used to handle prisoners at the Old Police Cells Museum in the town hall. Entrance is free, but do pre-book. The Toy and Model Museum is in an underground street, right by the station. It’s bound to dazzle you and isn’t just for children although it’s one of the great things to do in Brighton with kids. They host events where their train sets whir to life, and a gaggle of vintage toys surround you.
When you’ve satisfied your curiosity, it’s time to see some of the magical places that make up Brighton.
Brighton day trip: what to see
Take a bus from the central clocktower, or walk east past the Lanes to reach the Royal Pavilion, an opulent palace that looks like it belongs in India but was actually built right here in Sussex for King George IV. It’s got lashings of gardens and looks good from every angle, but you can also step inside and wander its palatial rooms for a small fee.
Walk south and it’s time to get the full seaside experience – and hope for some sunshine! Start by strolling the pier, which is a hive of activity in itself with shops and games all along it. I like to buy some candy floss, then take it to the very end of the pier (usually pretty quiet) and have a Titanic moment. It’s the closest thing to walking on water! If it’s sunny, there are free deckchairs set up on the pier’s edge where you can bask and look out to sea.
Turn right from the pier and duck down onto the beach. Besides you are nooks in the side of the city that house shops and eateries, the rest of the people walking high above you. Doing this place right will involve weaving into the Fishing Museum to see ancient mariners hauling in Brighton’s younger days and then trying their catch. There’s also a palm reader, so why not try some unusual things in Brighton? As you walk you’ll pass a kiosk selling fresh seafood with a view of the sea. Jellied eels are the traditional and brave option, but not to everyone’s taste. If you’re a bit unsure, the oysters are delicious.
Depending on how your feet are faring, you can keep walking, another 20 minutes walking west along the beach will take you to Hove and it’s a colorful array of beach huts. It’s a great spot for an Instagram shot and one of the top things to see in Brighton and Hove area.
Another great spot for taking not one but several amazing shots is the British Airways i360 tower. Overlooking the city at over 500 feet, this somewhat recent addition to Brighton’s skyline can be a pretty epic experience if the weather is good. The futuristic observation tower grants exceptional views for under £15 and you can enjoy the bar up there, so it’s also a good spot to go with friends. Children up to 3 are free of charge.
If you’re keen to go a little further by car or train, Arundel is just a half-hour from the city and features a castle that belongs in a fairytale.
Back to our Brighton day trip itinerary, it’s time to plan your evening in town. The pier glitters at night like a birthday cake and the air is full of excitement. Glance right and you’ll see the wreck of a second Victorian pier, the West Pier which was left skeletal by a fire, against the skyline. Some would call this an eyesore, but it’s incredibly atmospheric – the two piers form the perfect contrast of dark and light against the stormy waves. You’ll want to wend between the bars on the front and try some local cocktails while you enjoy the view.
Where to eat in Brighton
Before all good things, there should be ice cream. Gelato Gusto in the North Laine (2 Gardner St), is the perfect kick-off, a cute little purple parlor that often attracts queues out the door – so arrive early. They use only local Sussex milk, and you can taste it.
When you’re next peckish, made up for that moment of unhealthiness at the incredible Ilic Brighton eatery (60 North St). All the food here is vegan (yes, that’s a very Brighton thing) but also mouthwateringly good, fresh, healthy and immensely affordable. Fill your plate with fresh options from their buffet and stuff yourself for just a few pounds.
If it’s fish and chips you need, though, to top off your experience, pop over to The Regency. The faded glamour of this venue suits the English seaside and it’s right at the heart of the action (131 King’s Rd) with plenty of outside tables. You can’t beat their cheap and cheerful fish and chips for flavor.
Or if you’re a true carnivore, the city can deliver on fresh and well-cooked genuine Argentine steak. Latinoamerica on one of Hove’s main streets (36 Church Rd, Hove) will sizzle up a steak to perfection.
Where to stay in Brighton
If you decided to stay longer or maybe spent a weekend in Brighton there are plenty of great hotels to choose from. There are places to stay in Brighton for every budget, check out our recommendation for the best hotels in Brighton:
Hope to see you at the seaside soon, enjoying the best of Brighton in one day!
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A small-town girl on a mission to live in 10 different countries before she pops her clogs! Follow her adventures on her blog Live in 10 Countries, Facebook and Twitter. She wrote a great guide about relocating to the UK.