Day Trip to Brighton
25th November 2018
Even though Brighton is only about 50 miles due south of London, I hadn’t visited in more than 15 years. So, when I was invited to a Brighton and Hove Albion FC Premier League evening football match at the nearby AMEX stadium, I jumped at the chance to take a day trip to Brighton and reacquaint myself with this seaside resort town.
This photo I took of the famous Brighton Palace Pier in black and white could easily be an image out of Brighton’s past. Renowned for its pebbled beach and pleasure pier, vibrant waterfront and quirky Lanes, Brighton began as a small Saxon village when the Saxons landed and founded the kingdom of Sussex in the 5th century. Home to both fishermen as well as the farmers, the farmers lived in a village above the cliff and the fishermen lived under the cliff on the foreshore. During the Middle Ages it became a busy market town and by the 16th century it was considered a large town with a population of around 2,500.
Today, Brighton is a popular seaside resort that’s continuing to undergo a vast transformation. When I was there 15 years ago the waterfront was a mostly empty pebble beach. The Brighton Pier (which opened in 1899) – with its arcades, rides and food kiosks – anchored one end of the promenade and the beach huts anchored the other, with not much in between. Today the waterfront is a jam-packed stretch of seafront clubs, bars and restaurants as well as all sorts of businesses nestled underneath the Victorian beachfront arches. There are artists’ galleries and independent shops selling everything from furniture to fashion, as well as the ubiquitous fish and chips and ice creams with flake. And, of course, in case you forget your flip-flops…
You can also try out all sorts of watersports such as kayaking and paddle-boarding, as well as beach sports such as volleyball. There’s even a climbing wall!
Brighton is also known for its vibrant nightlife, a bustling LGBT community, and Laneways shopping. Brighton Pride attracts around 160,000 visitors to its annual parade and festival, which also includes an arts and film festival, a dog show and a village party.
Brighton is a super easy day trip from London, about an hour from Victoria station by rail and anywhere from £18-£28 off peak same day open return. The train station in Brighton is an easy 20-minute walk to the pier.
It’s also an easy drive of around 2 hours, either via the M25/A23 or the M23/A23. The M25 route is longer but can be quicker, depending on traffic.
We had planned to take the train but actually ended up driving on the day due to a rail strike. We took the M25/A23 route and it was just under 2 hours driving with hardly any traffic. There’s plenty of parking available throughout Brighton, though it gets way more expensive the closer you get to the seafront. For example, the NCP Car Park at Brighton Centre Russell Road right next to Churchill Shopping Centre is £30 for anything over 5 hours. By contrast, we parked in the small 36-space Oxford Court Car Park on Oxford Street (BN1 4LA for Google Maps) for only £9 for up to 10 hours.
It’s a one mile walk down to the waterfront through an area that’s not very interesting until the last quarter mile. At that point you can detour to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, and walk through the Royal Pavilion Garden to the Royal Pavilion (which is one of my top things to do in Brighton, see below).
Top 5 Things to Do on a Day Trip to Brighton
There is a LOT to do in Brighton and the Visit Brighton website is a great resource. London’s Time Out also has terrific suggestions things to do and see for a day or weekend. I always like to experience a place on foot so these are my top 5 things to do on a day out in Brighton.
As much as I love the sea, the Royal Pavilion is my favourite attraction in Brighton. It’s absolutely startling to come upon this building in the middle of Brighton that looks like it’s been transported straight from India. Built by Prince George (who became King George IV) starting in 1787, it’s one of the most opulent buildings in the UK. The striking Indo-Islamic façade we see today is the John Nash designed refurbishment and extension that took place from 1815 to 1822. There’s no photography allowed inside, but it’s an extraordinary rampage of interior design, with heavy Chinese and Indian influences. The dragon-themed banquet hall is astonishing and there are dragons and snakes slithering around the music room, which has a ceiling of 26,000 golden scales. The Royal Pavilion Garden is really beautiful and definitely worth a wander. It’s a peaceful oasis in the heart of the city and is said to be the only fully restored Regency garden in the UK.
The Brighton Palace Pier was officially opened on 20th May 1899 and cost £27,000 to build (over £2 million in today’s money!). This grand Edwardian pier is a quintessentially English seaside experience, tacky and wonderful with traditional fairground rides, amusement arcades and all the junk food you could ever want. It’s worth a walk down to the end of the 1,722 foot long pier to see the views from the end, although I spent most of my time here underneath the pier!
Originally opened in 1866 as a promenade for the middle classes on holiday, the historic West Pier was essentially a Victorian- and Edwardian-era entertainment centre, with a bandstand, restaurant, concert hall and even a miniature car-racing track. It was closed in 1975 and in 1982 it became the first pier in Britain to be Grade I listed. Eventually derelict, in December 2002 it started collapsing into the sea. It’s since caught fire twice and is now a burned husk darkly silhouetted on the water against the afternoon sun. It remains a haunting, beautiful sight with thousands of starlings swooping in and out of the structure during the winter.
The waterfront is a heaving promenade of pubs, restaurants and shops built into the Victorian arches beneath the road above. I have to admit I found it all a bit tacky but on this glorious autumn day it was a photographic dream.
Brighton’s Lanes were once the heart of the medieval fishing village and it’s a fantastic maze of historic winding alleyways with all sorts of quirky shops, designer boutiques, and cool cafes and restaurants. It’s also famous for its antiques.
North of the Lanes, you’ll find the appropriately named North Laine. Once considered the slum area of Brighton it’s been gentrified into a residential, shopping and cultural quarter, with pubs, cafes, theatres and museums. There’s an open-air street market every Saturday at its furthest end.
Brighton’s newest attraction opened just 2 years ago, in 2016, at the point where the West Pier used to make landfall. It’s a 162-metre (531 ft) observation tower made of reinforced steel and concrete with a fully enclosed viewing pod where you have a 360-degree view across Brighton, the Sussex coast and the English Channel. I didn’t have time to go up as we had to get to the football match but I wish we had. It was a spectacular day and I’m told that on days like this it’s possible to see all the way to Beachy Head 17 miles (27 km) to the east and the Isle of Wight 49 miles (79 km) to the west. Prices are reasonable for this kind of attraction, with adult tickets going for £16.50, students for £14.50, children aged 4-15 for £8.25, and children 3 years old and under for free. You get a 10% discount if you book online in advance.
Premier League football at the AMEX Stadium
I’m not a huge football fan, but I was invited to a Premier League match with hospitality at the nearby AMEX Stadium and it was really good fun. The AMEX hospitality is done extremely well, the local supporters are very vocal, the seats were terrific and we were treated to a very good match between Brighton and Hove Albion and West Ham United.
For those of you who don’t know much about football, the Premier League is the top football league in England, and arguably the toughest league in the world. The AMEX stadium – officially the American Express Community Stadium – is a fairly new stadium opened in 2011, with over 30,000 seats. It’s located northeast of Brighton about 20 minutes by car or 10 minutes by train to the nearby station of Falmer, which lies about a 10-minute walk from the stadium. We actually made the mistake of driving; the traffic was terrible even though we went well ahead of kick-off time and we had no idea that if you haven’t booked parking in advance there is essentially no parking. We ended up parking at the nearby campus sports centre, although of course you’re not supposed to, and I think we were lucky not to get a parking ticket.
Even so, it was a really fun way to end the day and after the match it was a breeze driving back to London. All in all, a terrific day out at the seaside.
To see more photos from my fabulous day trip to Brighton, go to One Day in Brighton in My Photo Album.