“I am sure my sisters must all envy me. I only hope they may have half my good luck. They must all go to Brighton. That is the place to get husbands.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
I’m gonna let you guys in on a little secret; times have changed. Nowadays, Brighton is NOT the place to find husbands. What happened?
Sometime between the age of Jane Austen and now, Brighton has become the gay capital of the UK. Don’t ask me how. Don’t ask me when. But let me just say, around 75% of the young men I’ve met over the year in Brighton bat for the other team. Not that I mind. In fact, I love it.
Because Brighton is the coolest, hippest, trendiest, quirkiest little town in the UK, a place where you can just let lose and go wild. In fact, nowadays, I skip London altogether, and head straight down to the south coast to Brighton whenever I find myself in the area, and incidentally where my favorite Brit lives. At the risk of offending everyone, I will step out on a limb and say that Brighton is awesome because it’s so different from the rest of the UK.
Not that my deep abiding, everlasting love for Jane Austen has anything to with it. Cough cough.
Austen aside, with the beach within spitting distance of the town, a university nearby, an hour south of London and more funky shops, restaurants and bars than you can shake a stick at, it’s no wonder Brighton has always been a popular holiday destination for Brits. Sparkly, vibrant and just plain fabulous, what’s not to love?
It’s not easy for me to put a finger on why exactly I love Brighton so much, rather all the weird and quirky parts of the city tug at my heart over and over again, until I never want to leave, and end up spending longer and longer on each visit, overstaying my welcome and sleeping on my friend’s blow-up mattress.
Here are my nine favorite parts of Brighton, each one emblematic of this great, occasionally overlooked town and each one representative of why I love it so much here.
1. The colorful town
One of my favorite things about Brighton is, well, just how BRIGHT a town it is! It’s so colorful compared with many other cities in Europe, with vibrantly painted buildings, pastel houses and rainbows splashed just about everywhere. With my own personal belief that the more color the better, Brighton is the perfect place for me.
I never get tired walking along the different neighborhoods and exploring the old-fashioned lanes with Charles Dickens chimneys. Brighton has all the charm of historic Britain revamped with a twist and lots of neon colors. What more could you want?
2. The Seven Sisters
Brighton is located on the beach, and nearby you can find beautiful rolling green hills and the chalk cliffs so emblematic of the UK’s south coast. This time around, we had perfectly sunny weather, so we decided to escape to the beach outside the town for the afternoon. Hopping off a double decker bus in the middle of nowhere, I followed my friend through open fields towards the sea and a famous little spot called the Seven Sisters.
Have you heard of it? Does it look familiar?
If you’ve ever seen the movie Atonement, you might recognize this place from the postcard of a town that Keira Knightley and James McAvoy dream about living together in one day.
Excited to visit a place I’ve seen in a movie, we spent the afternoon wading around in the icy water eating ice cream and reminiscing. It’s a perfect day trip from Brighton.We finished up at the local pub watching the sun set and drinking a chilled Pimm’s and lemonade, a popular summer drink over on that side of the pond. Delicious.
I feel obligated to add a little note that I went to university at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the first of the Seven Sisters consortium of women’s colleges in America. Almost feels like fate visiting a place with the same name on the other side of the world.
3. Kipps Backpackers
Normally when I visit Brighton, I crash on my friend’s floor. Not exactly glamourous. This time around since I was fresh off the plane from a transatlantic flight, my grown-up side took over and convinced me to stay in a place with my own room and bed. Cue Kipps Backpackers.
When I first started traveling around Europe years ago, I was always on a tight shoe-string budget which meant massive dorm room hostels were my bread and butter. Nowadays with tons of deals to be found online, I am happy to shell out a bit more for my own space. However, I travel alone almost exclusively and sometimes, well, it gets lonely and I want to meet people, which is when I usually check myself into a private room in a hostel. The best of both worlds.
With online reviews having more and more importance, I always make sure I check myself into a top-rated or luxury hostel, so I don’t have any unfortunate incidents, even with a private room.
Kipps is great for many reasons, but probably my two favorite aspects were the location and the cozy room. Located right smack in the middle of everything in Brighton, it couldn’t be more convenient and easy to find and to get places. My attic private room was exactly the cozy English den I could have wished for. Everywhere around the hostel you can find little quirky and unique touches, making it a memorable place to stay.
Downstairs in the lobby there are plenty of tables, chairs, and sofas to lounge around on and get to know people, along with a bar, kitchen and group activities every night, pretty much guaranteeing that you can meet new people. Verdict? Loved it.
4. The North Laine and the Lanes
There are tons of little neighborhoods and vibrant districts around Brighton to explore. My two favorite areas are mildly confusing, but equally fun areas to get lost in. The North Laine and the Lanes, not connected. The North Laine is an area of Brighton around the Royal Pavilion that is the bohemian, cultural side of the city. All my favorite cafes and shops are here, and I can easily spend hours walking up and down these streets, along with spending all my money.
With lots of pubs and cinemas nearby, there is a ton to do here, making it a really fun part of the city filled with colorful shops and colorful characters.
Just down the road you can find the Lanes, which is a different shopping area of the city, and feels much more like a neighborhood out of a Charles Dickens novel. Here the streets are super narrow and winding, not wide and straight like the North Laine.
Along these narrow alleyways you’ll find lots of cute shops and boutiques, with plenty of other posh restaurants and fun cafes. My favorite cafe in Brighton is called Naked, and it’s tucked away off of one of these little streets. It’s a hodgepodge cafe of random stairs, small rooms, low ceilings and exposed beams, something I love about the UK. The coffee ain’t bad either. This is a great place to work or spend a lazy afternoon with friends.
5. Brighton Pier
To be perfectly honest, I’m not generally a fan of piers, boardwalks or other common beach town spots; I think they are cheesy at best and trashy at worst. That being said, Brighton Pier is a fun spot to visit, and I am a fan of walking up and down the beach in Brighton, especially when the sun is shining. With the colorful chairs nestled in the sand, people cycling up and down the road and the twinkling blue FRIGID water in the distance, my heart warms every time I catch a glimpse of the pier.
Because it’s over one hundred years old, I also am a fan of this pier because it looks like something from a different age. I could imagine women walking around with parasols back in the day and little boys with knee highs on eating cotton candy. But maybe that’s just my overactive imagination. Just down the way on the beach you can find the creepy skeletal remains of another old pier that someone set fire to in 2003.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
6. The food scene
I know what you’re thinking, right? British food? Good? Yeah right, in what world?
Get this – Brighton has a burgeoning, awesome foodie scene. I’m as astonished as you are. Literally I have not had a bad meal in all the different trips I’ve been there, and that’s saying something. From cool fusion restaurants and plenty of ethnic dining spots to chose from, to awesome cafes, bakeries and theme bars, it’s hard to pick a favorite.
Personally, my favorite meal of all time is brunch. Serve me up a sexy, hearty in-between-breakfast-and-lunch, and I’m a happy camper. This time around my friend took me to the colorful Bill’s, a great place to dine in Brighton, for any meal.
Bill’s is the place to be in Brighton and it’s usually packed. A bit of a hidden gem, it’s almost restaurant meets grocer, with the walls lined with homemade goodies and juice for sale. They even have their own beer.
However, there are tons of great places to dine around Brighton, and I make it my mission to try all new spots every time I visit. Just have a peep on Yelp or ask around and I bet you’ll find somewhere fabulous too.
7. Brighton Pride
I mentioned before that Brighton is the LGBT capital of the UK, and it’s none more evident than during their annual Pride festival and parade. I first experienced this phenomenal pride even back in 2009, and let me just say, it did not disappoint.
Someone once told me that Brighton is kinda of like the San Francisco of England, which is something I can definitely see, especially since I finally visited San Fran two weeks ago. In fact, while I was walking around the Castro in SF, I spotted not one but TWO complete naked me trotting down the street with only a sock on their, um, business. Gold sparkly socks. of course.
Now Brighton may be a liberal freewheelin’ town, but it’s still in England. I have yet to see anything remotely similar on the streets, even during Pride.
The best part of Brighton Pride is the parade, where everyone comes downtown and watches the floats, cars and drag queens strut their stuff down the main road, all dolled up with rainbows everywhere.
It’s great fun, and everyone and their children show up for the parade, most covered in rainbows. The bars are overflowing, kids are in costume, adults are in costume, and there is just a general jubilation around town. It’s really the best time to see Brighton and if you have to pick a weekend, come during pride.
And if you’re homophobic, don’t worry – you’re not invited.
Banksy, Banksy, Banksy. One of my favorite people in the whole world.
I love a good mystery almost as much as I love saucy political messages, which means Banksy is perfect for me.
If you happen to live under a rock and don’t know who he is, Banksy is probably the most famous graffiti artist in the world. except nobody knows who he is. He’ll show up and mysteriously tag political messages and sometimes even put on pop up shows and has produced movies. His controversial art now sells for millions or is destroyed, depending where you are. Super cool, right?
Outside the Brighton train station, there is a famous Banksy tag of two (male) cops full on making out in perfect Brighton fashion, poking fun at all the homophobes around town.
9. The Royal Pavilion
Another quirky, random facet of Brighton is that smack in the middle of town is a royal residence that looks like it belongs in India, not in southern England.
The Royal Pavilion was built in Regency England as an extravagant place for the prince to escape with his mistress. Oh intrigue. Nowadays, it’s decadent, flamboyant, and to be perfectly honest, a little bit ridiculous, but it’s one more crazy addition to the Brighton personality that I love so much.
And in the summer, it’s a great place to lounge around the lawn in front of and have a picnic and try to tan, something always difficult in the UK.
Just writing this post and revisiting all my favorite haunts around Brighton makes me incredible homesick for this part of the world.
Brighton is quirky. It’s charming. It’s colorful. It’s filled with happy, weird people and it’s a really fun, exciting city to visit. Next time you are in the UK, I heartily suggest skipping out on Londontown and heading south to where the real party is at: Brighton.
Just don’t expect to find any husbands.
Have you ever been to Brighton? Would you like to visit here? What’s the quirkiest, fun town you’ve ever been to?
Many thanks to Kipps for hosting me in Brighton. Like always I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect anything less from me!