Why go now?
Colourful, cosmopolitan and with more cheek than a nudist beach, Brighton attracts a year-round crowd. However, it’s during the warm, summer months that this Regency resort really sparkles.
On Sunday, the Naked Bike Ride comes to town (bikeweek.org.uk), followed by the British Heart Foundation London to Brighton Bike Ride on 21 June, now in its 40th year (bhf.org .uk). The neighbouring seaside village of Rottingdean marks Rudyard Kipling’s 150th birthday with the Kipling Festival from 25 June to 5 July (kiplingfestivalrottingdean.co.uk).
Direct trains to Brighton Station (1) take 52 minutes from London Victoria, stopping at Clapham Junction and East Croydon en route. Trains also run from Gatwick airport in about half-an-hour. There are regular rail services from Hastings, Portsmouth, Bristol and Bedford (08457 484950; nationalrail.co.uk). National Express services run from other towns and cities to Pool Valley coach station (2) on the seafront (08717 81 81 81; nationalexpress.com).
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Get your bearings
Brighton is a small and walkable city despite the undulating hills that ripple from the South Downs. The briny English Channel peeks in and out of view as you go. From the station (1), you can be stocking up on hessian smocks and hemp fudge in the bohemian North Laine quarter in less than five minutes.
The beach is a 10-minute romp down Queens Road, while the city’s signature “Taj Mahal”, the Royal Pavilion (3) is a 15-minute stroll. Visitor information points are dotted throughout, including in the Pavilion shop and at 64 King’s Road (4) (01273 290337; visitbrighton.com; 10am-5pm daily), where you can also book a “Brighton greeter” – locals who host free tours of the city. Hove lies west of the city centre and favours wide avenues of Regency townhouses and red-brick mansion blocks. It is overrun with posh delis, gastro pubs and fancy interiors shops.
Whether you’re on a champagne or a cider budget, there’s no shortage of places to stay. YHA Brighton (5) has recently taken over the former Regency-era Royal York hotel at the Old Steine, and now offers modern, budget accommodation just steps from the beach. Bag a dorm bed for £16 a night or a private en-suite room for £60. There’s also a trendy café-bar and guest kitchen (0845 371 9176; yha.org.uk).
Overlooking Regency Square and the rippling waves of the Channel, the Artist Residence (6) (01273 324 302; artistresidence.co.uk), a chic 23-bedroom boutique hotel at 33 Regency Square, is a far cry from the B&Bs and boarding houses still remaining from Brighton’s “dirty weekend” legacy. Themed rooms are stacked with local art, while a cool cocktail bar and restaurant sets it apart. Doubles from £140, B&B; two-night minimum stay.
For those out to impress, you can book a sea-view suite at The Grand (7) at 97-99 King’s Road, the empress of Brighton hotels. Beneath its ornate Victorian exterior, the once dour rooms now have a contemporary, seaside-y decor, thanks to a extensive overhaul, while the glitzy New York-style champagne and oyster bar, and the heavenly day spa seal the deal (08712 224 684; grandbrighton.co.uk). Doubles from £225 B&B; two- night minimum stay at weekends.
Take a view
For a gull’s-eye view, take a spin on the Brighton Wheel (8) on Madeira Drive (from £7.20 if booked online; brightonwheel.com; 10am to 9pm Sunday to Thursday, and to 11pm Friday and Saturday). On a clear day you can see the green sweep of the South Downs and as far as the Isle of Wight. (Next summer, the i360, the world’s first vertical cable car opens further west along Madeira Drive. Rising 162 metres, it promises dizzying views along the coast.)
Lunch on the run
Grab a posh saveloy and chips from new gourmet chippy Fish + Liquor (9) on Madeira Drive (01273 604462; fishliquor.com). Match it with a Brighton gin and tonic, distilled right here at the seaside, or grab a growler (a 64oz flagon) of Sussex ale from the Bison Beer Crafthouse (10) on nearby East Street.
Antique hunting in Kemptown is de rigueur for Brightonians, but you can cut out the middle man at Moderne (11), 30a Upper St James Street (modernebrighton.com; open Saturday, Sunday and Monday 11am to 4/5.30pm, other days by appointment). This cavern of fancies is divine, if not for the timid wallet.
The North Laine area is a treasure trove for vintage lovers. Hope and Harlequin (12) at 32 Sydney Street (01273 675222; hopeandharlequin.com; closed Tuesday) is the place to go for hand-picked finds from Victorian wedding dresses to Seventies lamé bomber jackets.
The Bluebird Tea Company (13) on Gardner Street is revered as the UK’s only tea mixologist, flogging a cornucopia of fine leaf teas from ice cream float flavour to pineapple mint (bluebirdteaco.com).
Head to the beach and the underground caves of the new Tempest Inn (14) at 159-161 Kings Road Arches (01273 770505) for a Seagrog, a glass tankard of Kraken rum and ginger ale topped with a pale ale foam. Don’t leave without a shot of Tuaca, a vanilla-and-citrus spirit that’s a key ingredient to any night out in Brighton.
Dining with the locals
Opened in February The Salt Room (15) at the Metropole Hotel, 106 King’s Road (01273 929 488; saltroom-restaurant.co.uk) is one of a slew of modern, new, fish restaurants. Bag a seat on the terrace and feast on octopus salad (£8.50) and the surf board: a platter of coal-roasted oysters, prawns, scallops and squid (£45).
The Urchin (16) at 15-17 Belfast Street (01273 241881; facebook.com/urchinpubhove; kitchen closed Monday and Tuesday) is a shellfish and craft beer pub which opened in Hove in February. There are more than 100 beers to wash down your razor clams in lemongrass, chilli and coconut broth (£6.50) or moules marinière (£9.50). Alternatively, push the boat out with fresh lobster, lime and coriander butter (£25).
Plan ahead and book a rare-as-hen’s-teeth table at The Little Fish Market (17) at 10 Upper Market Street (01273 722213; thelittlefishmarket.co.uk; closed Mondayand Tuesday). Owned by former Fat Duck chef, Duncan Ray, this intimate restaurant already has two AA rosettes and is well on the way to earning Brighton’s first Michelin star.
Sunday morning: go to church
The Renaissance-style St Andrew’s Church (18) on Waterloo Street is no longer used for religious worship. It’s now home to the Sunday Assembly (brighton.sundayassembly.com), a godless congregation that meets monthly to hear inspiring talks, belt out pop songs, and enjoy tea and cake. The next “service”: 28 June at 11am.
Take a hike
Start facing the West Pier (19), bear left and wander past the Brighton Centre (20) and West Street. Hang left up Middle Street and wind through the narrow, Victorian Lanes crammed with antique jewellers, boutiques and sweet shops. Emerge on to East Street and cross over to the Pavilion Gardens, stopping to gaze at the Prince Regent’s palace (3). With the domes of the Pavilion behind you, cross over Old Steine gardens and dog-leg to the right to St James’s Street. Stroll past the rainbow flags of gay bars and through to Kemptown village.
Out to brunch
Refuel in Kemptown’s Busby & Wilds (21), a pub at 9 Rock Street. Decked out in nautical hues, it does a cracking Sunday roast (01273 696135; busbyandwilds.co.uk).
Take a ride
Hop on the Volks Railway, the world’s oldest operating electric railway, which rumbles between the marina (22) and its terminus (23) near Palace pier (volkselectricrailway.co.uk; from £1.70).
Built for George IV in the 18th century, the Royal Pavilion (3) is like a grand Indian palace (0300 029 0900; brightonmuseums.org.uk; 9.30am-5.45pm daily, £13.50 for a History Pass for three museums). Opposite, the Brighton Museum (24) hosts the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until 6 September.
Icing on the cake
Five miles away, Devil’s Dyke is best reached by bus (77 from the seafront; £4.50). This mile-long chasm amid rolling moors was described by Constable as “the grandest view in the world”.