Brighton, the largest and best-known seaside resort on the English Channel, stretches some five miles along the pebbled and sometimes-steep chalk shoreline of the South Downs. Once a fishing village with narrow winding lanes, the 18th century saw Brighton blossom into an elegant vacation spot where England’s elite relaxed under the restorative influence of sea air while strolling along the boulevards and piers, or relaxing in fashionable spas and hotels. Reminders of this period still abound: charming Regency terraces, the delightful Palace Pier and the Royal Pavilion, the exotic summer home of one of the country’s most flamboyant and eccentric kings.
Today, Brighton’s famous pebble beaches are lined with countless souvenir shops and amusement arcades. But it remains a culturally vibrant destination with a full calendar of cultural events including horse races in the summer, and the famous London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in November. It also boasts a rich literary history, and over the centuries has played host to distinguished writers including Samuel Johnson, Jane Austin and William Thackeray.
1 Royal Pavilion
The Royal Pavilion is difficult to miss. Located in the center of Brighton just steps from the sea, the pavilion’s extraordinary peaks and spires look as if they’d be more at home in India. That was certainly the intention of architect John Nash, who designed the summer palace for the Prince ofWales (later George IV) in the Indian Mogul style.
Tours include the Banqueting Room with its lovely oriental décor, the Royal Bedrooms and the tent-like Music Room. Over in the former Royal Stables and Riding School is the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. Visitors can admire an impressive collection of Art Deco pieces, a costume gallery with fashions from the 18th century onwards and the excellent Willet Collection of porcelain and ceramics.
Location: Church Street, Brighton
2 Palace Pier
With its decorative ironwork, the Palace Pier juts out to sea like the upper deck of a steamer on spindly iron legs. Built in 1891, the 1,700 ft-long Palace Pier is the last of Brighton’s three such structures to remain in use (one was destroyed by a storm, while another stands derelict near the town’s seafront). No trip to the English seaside is complete without a visit to a pier, with its amusement arcades, joke shops and fish-n-chip stands.
A fun diversion is Volk’s Electric Railway. Built in 1833 and the oldest operating electric railway in the world, this narrow gauge line runs along the seafront from the pier to Brighton Marina.
Location: Madeira Drive, Brighton
3 The Lanes
The center of the old fishing village of Brighthelmstone, as Brighton was once called, stood on the site of the bustling narrow alleyways known as The Lanes. The charming little 17th century cottages with their colorful wooden “weather boarded” facades are now antique shops, boutiques, galleries and cafés.
To the east of The Lanes is the Old Steine, a former village green. It is now a well-tended square extending to Grand Parade, a magnificent boulevard lined with trees and planted with flowers.
Location: Meeting House Lane, Brighton
4 Regency Houses
Much pleasure can be had strolling through Brighton’s residential areas with their lovely Regency style terraces and squares. West of the town center, heading towards Hove, are street-after-street of old homes with their round bay windows and iron balconies. The best examplescan be found at Regency Square, Brunswick Terrace, Brunswick Square and the horseshoe shaped Adelaide Crescent. Sussex Square, Lewes Crescent and Arundel Terrace, all east of the town center, are equally worth seeing. Another fine local example of historic architecture,Preston Manor, is open to the public and perfectly captures life at the turn of the century.
Location: Preston Drove, Brighton
5 Brighton Festival
The annual three week long Brighton Festival runs from early to late May, and attracts artists from around the world for performances ranging from orchestral and church concerts to jazz and comedy shows. Film screenings and recitals are also among the 400 events offered in this diversified festival.
Although the repertoire is varied, 19th century music predominates. Venues include the Royal Pavilion, the Theatre Royal and local churches.
Address: 21-22 Old Steine, Brighton
6 Brighton Toy and Model Museum
Located under Brighton Station, the Brighton Toy and Model Museum is a treasure trove of over 10,000 toy exhibits. Model trains dating from the 1860s, period antique diversions as well as toys from the world’s leading manufacturers feature in the exhibits. Want to rediscover some childhood memories? Then be sure to check out the well-stocked museum shop.
Address: 52-55 Trafalgar Street, Brighton
7 Brighton Racecourse
Set high on the Sussex Downs, the stunning views of Brighton and the English Channel from Brighton Racecourse provide a unique background to the races held here throughout the spring, summer and fall. Regarded as one of the most intimate racecourses in the country (horses cross the line no more than a few feet from the crowd) it’s a great day’s outing at one of the country’s oldest courses (1783).
Location: Freshfield Rd, Brighton
8 Brighton Wheel
One of the town’s newest attractions, the Brighton Wheel is located just minutes away from theRoyal Pavillion and other popular sightseeing attractions. Standing 150 ft in diameter, this large Ferris wheel offers panoramic views of the town’s seafront, architecture and landmarks. Each of the wheel’s 36 enclosed glass pods (including an exclusive VIP pod) can take up to eight passengers, and provide commentary about the town’s rich heritage.
Location: Madeira Dr, Brighton
9 Bluebell Railway
Located just a few miles from Brighton, the Bluebell Railway is a fascinating piece of Britain’s engineering heritage. Running some 11 miles along the border between East and West Sussex, this fully functional railway operates between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead. From there, you can catch a connecting train to London or Brighton.
Famous as the first preserved steam passenger railway in the world to operate a public service, the railway’s collection includes 30 vintage engines and almost 150 carriages and wagons, most of them pre-1939. Special themed train rides are offered, including fine dining, murder mystery nights and Thomas the Tank Engine for the kids.
Location: Sheffield Park Station, East Sussex
10 Veteran Car Run
While not quite Wacky Races, the Royal Automobile Club’s annual Veteran Car Run is probably the largest collection of unusual looking vehicles you’re ever likely to meet. It is the world’s longest running motoring celebration, and has been held almost every November since 1927.
The event attracts entrants from around the globe, each eager to test their vintage vehicles on the historic 60-mile run from Hyde Park in London to Brighton’s seafront. An average of some 500 examples of pre-1905 cars attempt the trip, all of them a huge draw for the throngs of spectators and tourists who line the route to cheer these often slow moving machines onward to the finish line.