So you’re planning to visit Brighton? In the first of our special city guides, we’re taking you on a trip to Brighton in East Sussex, aka ‘London-by-the-Sea’, home to more celebrities than you can shake a stick at.
Everyone knows about Brighton’s miles of pebbly beaches, piers, Royal Pavilion, Festivals, excellent independent shopping, vibrant gay scene and countless nightclubs. But there’s more to this famous fun city than meets the eye.
If you’re a curious traveller who gets a kick out of discovering the unusual, odd, interesting and eccentric, this Brighton guide is for you.
Welcome to Brighton’s curious side
First, the sensible stuff. Here are a few handy facts about travelling in and around Brighton.
- The entire city has a 20mph speed limit, making it safe for pedestrians
- There are plenty of cycle paths and places to hire bikes – but bear in mind some areas of Brighton are really hilly and steep!
- The bus service is excellent, with unlimited all-day travel across the city and way beyond into Sussex for £9 per ‘family’ (2 people or more)
- The train service is equally good
- City centre parking is expensive unless you can get into the car park on Providence Place, in the North Laine shopping area just off Trafalgar Street, which is particularly good value for money
- There are loads of taxi ranks in the city centre
- Brighton is actually quite small – it’s easy and fun to explore on foot
10 places to explore – It’s off-beat Brighton
Here’s a list of things to do and places to see that the tourist maps and mainstream guides might not tell you about.
- Anna’s Museum on Upper North Street – Walk along the south side of Upper North Street, going east from the Dyke Road end, and you’ll see a tiny museum in a former shop window. It’s a collection of curiosities found by Anna, who must be around 15 years old by now. She’s been collecting strange, weird and wonderful natural things her whole life and her ‘museum’ has been a favourite with locals for years. You can find out more about it here.
- Brighton’s secret snickleways – The city is full of little snickleways: narrow passages between houses and shops. They’re often scenic and pretty, overhung by fig trees and climbing plants, giving you peeps into miniature patio gardens through gaps in smartly-painted flint walls and iron gates. The Clifton Hill area, directly west of the railway station, up the hill to your right as you look at the sea, has loads to explore for an alternative view of the city through the back gate. Frederick Gardens is fun, and the lanes running parallel to the seafront, in the city centre, are beautiful – Find Meeting House Lane and take it from there.
- Go bungaroosh / bungarouche spotting – Brighton sits on chalk, laid down millions of years ago in shallow, warm tropical seas. The only stone for miles around is flint, and it’s tricky to build with. Many of the city’s buildings are made using boungaroosh, a local word meaning more or less ‘anything you can find that’ll do’. Open up the stud walls in many a terraced house or shop in the North Laine or Hanover, fight your way past the lath and plaster and you’ll find the walls are ‘built’ using anything from chunks of broken brick, glass bottles and broken pottery to chunks of wrought iron, tin cans, horseshoes, gravel, sand and flint. Take a meander through the North Laine or Hanover area and see if you can spot any. You’ll see some fascinating sights, streets, shops and houses while you’re at it.
- Get the bus to Devil’s Dyke – Local buses include special weekend and public holiday routes direct to the South Downs beauty spots of Devil’s Dyke (no. 77) and Ditchling Beacon (no. 79). Both destinations come with absolutely spectacular views. The Downs north of Brighton are high and steep but once you’re up there on the top, the going is relatively flat. You can walk east or west and enjoy vast unfolding views across the Sussex plain into Surrey, wit the sea in the distance. In spring and summer the grassy downland landscape is fragrant with colourful wildflowers. Here’s a link to the city’s bus services page.
- Walk the Undercliff Path to Rottingdean – Head for the pier, face the sea then hang a left along the seafront, walking parallel to the beach. It’s an easy stroll to the Marina, at which point you can either go right and walk through the marina itself, admiring the boats, or stick to the path and bypass it on the landward side. This is where things get scenic. Continue along the foot of the white chalk cliffs, a glorious walk with the sparkling sea to your right, and you’ll eventually come to the beautiful little village of Rottingdean. The Black Horse pub, about half way along the high street on your left with the sea behind you, serves fabulous food, and there are several excellent cafes and tea shops.
- Marvel at Eaton Nott – Find the London Road and walk north, crossing it with the fire station on your right, walking past the big pub in the middle where two roads split. Now you’re on Preston Road. Eaton Nott is at number 26, open 10-5 Monday to Saturday. They sell a remarkable collection of curiosities including taxidermy, human bones, animal skulls, weird creatures in formaldehyde, fabulous jewellery, industrial lighting and gorgeous ‘roadkill couture’, headpieces, hats, collars and clothing made from roadkill. You have to see it to believe it – here’s a link. Even if you’re not in buying mode, it’s a facinating place to explore.
- Grafitti safari – Brighton has embraced the art of grafitti. It’s everywhere, it’s awesome and it’s about much more than rubbishy tagging. Make the London Road shopping area your must-see first then head sea-wards through the North Laine for a visual feast of embellished frontages and even entire back streets transformed from tatty eyesores into works of fine street art.
- It’s Hove, actually – Hove is Brighton’s posh relative, a place of leafy, broad avenues and large, sturdy Victorian and Edwardian residences. Much of the seafront architecture is Regency, though, and there are some splendid terraces and squares to explore, all decked out in a buttery heritage cream colour. Adelaide Mansions, west of Regency Square, is particularly grand. If you love that cool, precise, elegant Regency style, it’s worth a visit. If that’s you, you’ll also appreciate the Clifton Hill area, Clifton Terrace in particular.
- Visit a proper local pub – Brighton has more than its fair share of ordinary pubs. But the city’s local pubs are worth winkling out. They’re usually less manic than central watering holes and many serve fantastic gourmet food. Having said that you’ll need to get in early to catch a seat at The Basketmakers on Gloucester Road in the North Laine, the food’s so good. If you want to track down a proper ‘local’ pub, the North Laine, Clifton Hill, Hanover and Kemptown areas deliver plenty of choice.
- OMG, what massive Gunnera! – Gunnera and thin, chalky topsoil don’t go together. But the clever gardeners at the small yet wonderfully exotic garden on Preston Park Road, on your left as you head north out of the city, have managed to grow some epic specimens. They’re absolutely huge. Preston Park itself, directly opposite, is home to the Preston Twins, thought to be the world’s biggest and oldest Elm trees. If you’d like to see lots of real, live, thriving elm trees for yourself – a rare sight these days thanks to Dutch Elm Disease – they grow all the way up Elm Grove, just off the Lewes Road.
Our next city guide? Coming soon
We’ll be back with more city guides shortly, taking a different view from the usual tourist stuff, exploring cities both at home and abroad.