Have you ever travelled to a location that just epitomises happy? A Disneyland of sorts, (which for some of you may actually be Disneyland,) a destination that exudes colour and vibrancy, energy and put plainly, a place filled with fun.
As travel writers, we read and we write page upon page about exotic locations and far flung destinations. I’m not alone in aspiring to visit Bora Bora beaches and Serengeti safaris and yet, for most of us anyway, for large chunks of our lives, the pursuit of the fun factor was far more readily accessible.
As a child living in South East England, day trips to Brighton were a highlight of any summer with sun-kissed afternoons on the pier, soft serve plummeting down the sides of the cone, my hands a gluey mess of delight.
As one of the most liberal, welcoming and environmentally conscious cities in the UK, Brighton has rapidly become a popular residential base for the London commuter hub and after my recent anniversary weekend in Brighton, I could see why.
The city encapsulates all that I love about London but is more compact, quirkier, dare I say it friendlier, is right by the sea and who, I mean who doesn’t like to be beside the seaside?!
A City Break in Brighton
It might have been a drive away rather than a flight but visiting Brighton together was a first for us and I make no exaggeration when I state that our perfect summer weekend in Brighton neatly tucks itself into my top five most fun weekends of all time.
Ready to join me on a tour of one of England’s most famous seaside towns? Grab your party hat and your dancing shoes (no, literally) – let’s go.
Where to Stay
First things first, after all these years of playing tourist around Brighton, this was the first time I spent long enough there to explore more than just the pier and basing yourself in Brighton for a couple of nights affords you the luxury of exploring the city’s offerings at a much more relaxed pace. City dwellers, leave your turbo speed back in the city because Brighton is all about the leisurely vibes.
Accommodation near the pier or the Laines will leave you reasonably well located for the highlights, particularly for a first-time visitor and there are no shortage of boutique hotels and charming B&Bs to choose from. Booking at only a few days’ notice, we lucked out when we found a room still available at the charming Drake’s Hotel, a boutique property, moments away from the promenade and pier.
Aside from its incredible location and helpful staff, it has a Michelin starred restaurant at the basement level for the foodies among you but what I loved most were all its thoughtful touches: individual White Company gift bags, a cafetiere in every room and cylindrical, inscribed stick of rock sweets left on our coffee table for us each day for late afternoon re-fuelling.
Where to Play
For the little kids (and the bigger ones,) the pier is the first port of call, particularly if you’re on a limited sunshine quota but if you find yourself in the city on a soggy weather day, the Brighton aquarium is adjacent (and reportedly one of the largest aquariums in the UK.) Those who prefer a proper work out can…ahem… head to one of the sea front crazy golf courses. One day, just ONE day (possibly not in this lifetime,) I will beat Pumpkin at this game.
As we made our way to the adventure playground that is Brighton pier, we resisted the urge to stop at the numerous ice cream vans, fish and chip and doughnut stalls that passed us. Catchy summer corkers blared out from the loudspeakers, as arcade games and vintage photo shoots divided our attention. Forever phobic of roller coasters, I stood content simply watching the undulating elephants bob up and down, whilst the tamer tea cups adjacent to them rotated on their axes.
Only one ride caught Pumpkin’s attention, however, and thankfully for me, it was more out of intrigue than desire. If you’ve seen the Booster Ride, you may already know it is the UK’s highest fairground ride and whilst I have never been afraid of heights,I do loathe drops from heights. Even the sight of this left me nauseated so after a cheeky seat in the (not so) Haunted House, we took a couple of obligatory silly photos and went in search of an experience we feel far more at ease with – al fresco dining.
Where to Eat
I had wrongly assumed that the beach front restaurants would generally be tourist traps but numerous online guides suggested The Lucky Beach Café as an exception to this – a must-try for excellent value, delicious all-day dining, plating up fresh, on-trend produce from crab and avo bruschetta to coconut milk vegan chai tea lattes. There was no faulting the flavours here and the millennials with menus could be seen doing their happy dance for miles.
Not all English June days, however, are so kind and predictable climate wise and so we kept our evening dinners indoors with an organised, pre-booked meal at the epic all-vegetarian restaurant Terre a Terre on our first night in Brighton and a somewhat less organised, stand-in-line-but-oh-so-worth it affair on night 2 at one of the city’s finest seafood restaurants, Riddle and Finns.
On warm sunny days (and unexpectedly, there were many in the UK this year,) it seems every table in Brighton is sought after so don’t make the same mistake as us and make your bookings in good time.
But if sit down dining really doesn’t appeal, fish and chips on the beach is something of a rite of passage in Brighton. All the retro feels but you certainly wouldn’t want to get your cholesterol checked after that meal…
And Where to Cool Down
What’s a beach holiday without ice cream, especially when you’ve earned it with all those marathon walks along the pier and all the calories your eyes burned by staring at the loops of the roller coaster? Such are the dubious and flimsy arguments I have told myself over the years but the locals queue at Cloud 9 with very good reason.
The daily changing menu throws in some innovative twists to standard classics and vegan options but the roasted almond flavour and apple ice cream were so seductive that we made a little detour back there as we left Brighton for London, simply to dabble in a couple more flavours before our return to reality.
Where to Shop
The Laines. Period. I am not a shopper, not a smidgen but it is difficult not to get swept up in the maze of independent boutique shops, handicraft sellers and artisan food vendors that comprise the Laines. Whether you are after chunky pendants or vintage watermelon dresses (fruity fashion is on point) you are sure to find unique pieces in this little pocket of the city and I can neither confirm nor deny reports that I bagged a red polka dot number myself.
Where to Get a Coffee
In a phone box. Obvs. Don’t worry about your loyalty card and stamps because once you have seen this coffee “shop,” every other one for the rest of all time will seem positively boring (and enormous.) What this barista manages to do within such a tight space is simultaneously endearing and genius with a delightful range of hot and iced coffees and teas offered alongside moreish snacks.
He stands side by side with a phone box florist and after one look, I was miffed with myself for publishing my quirky phone box post prematurely. I think some addendums may be in order.
If you love supporting small independent businesses and don’t want to see yet another Starbucks steal the spot, head for the red phone box next time you need a caffeine hit in Brighton.
Where to catch a Birds Eye View of Brighton
Whilst I sacrificed seeing the birds’ eye view of Brighton from the Booster ride, a brand new way of achieving the same was about to come my way – far less stomach-turning and far more practical for taking photos. After the launch of the British Airways i360 a couple of years ago, this was top of my list of attractions I wanted to experience in Brighton this time.
We booked ahead to select our preferred time slots but many fellow guests arrived as walk-ins to catch the extensive panoramas across the sea.
A bar stands cosily inside the glass pod for drinks and bubbles if, like us, you had taken to the skies to celebrate. We spent most of the experience flitting indecisively between the sea views that stretched for miles and the city views that contrasted so starkly with the city we live in.
What to watch
Okay, so you haven’t come all the way to Brighton for a trip to the cinema and yes, in a hip city like this, there are probably more credible productions afloat but Punch and Judy are not a duo to be messed with and, much to my surprise, have stood the test of time since I was a wee lass. To this day, they continue to air their dirty laundry to beach-goers across the nation and whilst it might be a touch dated, that certainly didn’t stop it drawing in the crowds (even if the average age of said crowd was about 6.)
If you aren’t looking to entertain a 4 year old however, then do as we did and make a swift beeline after a few minutes of Punch and Judy joviality and avert your eyes instead to the pop up photo galleries on the beach or if you plan your trip well, one of the numerous shows and live performances scattered across Brighton in May/early June as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival.
How to get around
Well the accurate (but boring) answer is on foot . It is easy to walk around, compact enough yadee yadee yada.
How I really wanted to transport myself over this weekend was in one of these beauties of a vintage car. I am no car connoisseur but a burger and chips stand by your mirror will win over even the least enthusiastic drivers among us.
Truth be told, we had no clue why a collection of ogle-worthy vintage cars had parked up on a closed off street by the pier but our wedding anniversary and visit to Brighton had coincided with both the Brighton Fringe Festival and the London – Brighton vintage car run. I hadn’t felt such car envy since my vintage car days in Havana .
Where to dance
Errr…that would be on the street. If you think my blog post is becoming progressively sillier, I promise this is no fib. We danced on the streets. One of us decidedly more willingly than the other, granted, but first, allow me to explain. Guru Dudu, an all singing, all dancing, yoga-guru-come-performer of previous Edinburgh Fringe festival fame, happened to be in town the weekend we were there as part of Brighton Fringe.
Did we know it was Fringe whilst we were in Brighton? Had we planned any Fringe festivities ourselves? No. Had we ever heard of Guru Dudu? No. But did we see a group of ?? inebriated adults dancing to…errm…nothing…like a bunch of loony tunes gone loco? Yes. They looked positively bonkers dancing as if they were dressed in their pyjamas at home with absolutely no one around them – and yet all and sundry on the streets of Brighton could were watching.
Rather uncharacteristically for someone easily self conscious (who doesn’t drink,) I decided I absolutely had to participate and with an abdomen full of dread, Pumpkin reluctantly agreed (whilst silently making the executive decision to consume significant quantities of alcohol prior to survive this social sin.) Luckily for him (at least for now,) it was fully booked. It seemed there was one ticket left for sale the following day on the Sunday but 2 tickets was out of the question.
And so, a few sad emojis worth of disappointment later, I dropped the idea and carried on in my blissful Brighton bubble. The next day, whilst excitedly chasing after the phone box coffee shop, who else should turn up right beside it other than a group of pumped, enthused Guru-Dudu worshippers. “Hold my coffee a sec,” I told Pumpkin whilst he gave me a panicked look as I made a mad dash towards the lycra-short wearing Australian Guru.
A bit of sweet talking later, followed by a teenager looking to flog a ticket and we were all systems go. Poor Pumpkin! He didn’t even have a chance to hit the pub beforehand and could hardly refuse me this heartfelt request on our actual anniversary day?!
Headphones on, beats pumping and a few loops of Brighton’s tourist route later, this was hands down, one of the most fun hours of my life AND I burnt off some calories in the process. If laughter really is the best medicine, then I am in serious danger of losing my job if more Guru Dudus start to take over the world. If you have a lust for life and don’t take yourself too seriously, you need this slice of silliness in your life.
Where to be a Culture Vultre
After all the singing, dancing, birds eye viewing, chip-eating, ice cream slurping, vintage dress shopping, golf putting and phone box hunting we managed to squeeze into our weekend, we sadly ran out of time to be culture vultures. And we had to ensure something was left untouched to prompt a return visit after all and thus, we skipped seeing the Brighton Pavillion from the inside but rumour has it that it is filled with stunning murals and ornate art. In the interim , the architecture of the exteriors with its white domes and slanted minarets were reminiscent of the Taj Mahal and other world-famous mosques.
And that completes my guide to a June weekend in Brighton, so brimming with fun that you might just be bouncing off the street-art splattered walls. We may have arrived on an anniversary weekend that was all about celebrating love but we returned home far more gushy about our love for Brighton than for each other!😁😁
Have you ever explored Brighton?