Colourful, cultural and vibrant Brighton has been on the weekend getaway map since the Victorians declared that the sea had healing powers. With Brighton Festival and Brighton Fringe both kicking off this week May is certainly one of the best times to visit.
Our Contributing Fashion Editor Hannah Hughes gives you an insider’s guide to what to do in Brighton.
Where to stay in Brighton
Waking up in Brighton deserves a sea view so head to the seafront’s Harbour Hotel for its contemporary designed rooms and modern British restaurant. Little touches such as the complimentary decanters of gin and sherry in each room and the incredibly friendly staff really make this hotel really shine, but its the brand new basement spa that really adds another layer of luxury to your stay. Treat yourself to a hot stone massage and some time in the hydrotherapy pool and you’ll be putty in anyones hands.
Just up the promenade on the impressive Regency Square (opposite the i360 viewing tower) is The Artists Residence, no doubt one of the most stylish place to rest your head in Brighton, this quirky townhouse hotel is filled with up-cycled furniture and rooms decorated by local and international artists. The exposed brick and darkly painted interiors make it cosy and atmospheric for winter and the huge regency windows welcome the sun when it shines. Be sure to visit next door’s Set Restaurant where you can chose from small tapas style plates or indulge in a creative set menu with wine pairings and wonderfully unpretentious staff.
Where to shop in Brighton
A five minute walk from the station will find you in Brighton’s North Laine. If you’re only here for a flying visit I’d suggest spending most of your time to spend time browsing this area with its hundreds of independent shops and cafes. I love Wolf and Gypsy on Sydney Street for their excellently curated second-hand day wear – the store is light and airy, perfect for those who hate the usual vintage rummage. Next door Hope and Harlequin offers an eclectic array of retro dresses and occasion wear with a small vintage bridal section at the back.
Head over to Gloucester Road and you’ll find Tidy Street Store based on the concept of an American general store this stylish one stop shop is filled with on trend slow fashion brands and small batch gifts. Pick up everything from acetate earrings, basket bags, folksy dresses and pottery. Directly opposite, Tidy Print is worth a peek for their original screen prints, gifts and cards. If you’re the arty type book in for a private screen printing lesson.
Around the corner on Kensington Place you’ll find Blackout (painted yellow), a hidden treasure trove literally packed to the brim with Mexican and Indian gifts. I guarantee this is the place to find that weird and wonderful something for the quirkiest of friends.
Nearby pedestrianised Kensington Gardens really sums up Brighton with its cobbled street and colourful flags. Snoopers paradise is a giant rabbit hole marketplace full of bric-a-brac and kitsch curiosities, but beware you can lose hours in here! Abode and Pussy focus on brilliantly curated home-wear & gifting and be sure to stop by Artemis for the best quality sheepskins in Sussex.
Heading south into Gardner Street is Waiste Vintage who specialise in second-hand western vibes. Upstairs houses the incredible Spider Plant shop a jungle of unusual hanging vines, cacti and succulents.
Where to eat in Brighton
Brighton’s food map is off the scale. From tasting menus to food vans there’s something for every budget. This is a city where vegans and carnivores live in harmony and with more and more restaurants choosing to focus on locally sourced ingredients, you’ll find sustainability is now a key factor in many menus.
With the amount of browsing Brighton has to offer a quick coffee recharge will probably be necessary. Pelicano Coffee Co on Sydney Street displays mouth-wateringly juicy cakes to temp you out of that no sugar diet. Bond Street Coffee and Black Mocha both serve superb brews in relaxed atmospheres.
Got kids in tow? Raining? Head to the East of the pier to the brilliant C:/SIDE Quest, a games concept cafe which has board games, computer consoles and good brews in both forms.
Brunch and lunch
With its floor to ceiling windows & decked terrace Grow 40 is the ideal place to brunch and watch the buzz of the North Laine go by. For quick canteen style food head to Ideaya which specialises in hearty veggie meals that won’t leave meat eaters unsatisfied. The Earth and Stars pub does a fantastic Sunday roast (be sure to book). For something typically Brighton head to Silo (open Wednesday to Saturday), a zero waste restaurant whose locally sourced seasonal menu is designed to have as low an impact on the environment as possible. Chose 2-3 small dishes and wash down with one of their own fermented brew drinks.
On the seafront Lucky Beach is a great spot to brunch and catch a sea breeze. Their speciality organic burgers with inventive toppings are are well worth the extra kcals or chose a healthy miso cod salad with green tea lentils.
On a warm day nothing beats eating alfresco on the beach. Grab a fresh crab sandwich or a hot smoked mackerel roll at Jack & Linda’s tiny arch cafe (just by the fishing museum). Jack smokes his own fish in the tiny black smoke hut on the beach outside. There’s always much chatter about where to find the best fish and chips and I’m never disappointed by Sea Siders – crispy fish and fat chips just to the west of the pier.
If you’re a foodie be sure to book the tasting menu at Isaac’s small but perfectly formed restaurant. Four or six courses are accompanied by perfectly paired Sussex wines or locally brewed non alcoholic drinks so subtle yet flavoursome they’ll blow your mind! Sharers should head to Circo whose Asian infused tapas has got he town talking. Be sure to try the whisky flambéed giant prawns washed down with a bottle of Spanish red.
For something more rustic and off the tourist trail Planet India is a hidden gem, its wholesome vegetarian curries come in huge portions and bargain prices. The charismatic menu and owner are guaranteed to make you smile.
Head down to London Road to find the best Mexican in town, Carlito Burrito serves up street food and cocktails and is famous for crispy beer battered fish tacos and oyster & tequila shots. And don’t miss the very newly opened The Ivy in the Lanes – the decor alone is worth the visit.
Down the hatch
Brighton’s independent and eclectic style certainly shines in its drinking holes. Looking for a relaxed sofa to sink into and sample cheese and wine? Head to L’Atelier Du Vin, a prohibition style wine and cocktail bar in the heart of the North Laine. In town Brighton’s warm pub atmosphere is served best by the Basket Makers and the Lion and Lobster (towards Hove).
If you venture to the Kemptown area The Black Dove on St James Street is well worth a visit for its dark friendly ambience or walk a little further East and you’ll stumble upon the tiny Hand in Hand. This shoe box of a pub only fits around 25 people but plays legendary jazz on a Sunday night and is well worth a visit!
Afternoon happiness comes in the form of the Harbour Hotel‘s happy hour, a sea view and four cocktails for £20 between 5-7pm is a deal not to be missed!
What to do in Brighton
May is one of the best times to visit Brighton as it hosts its very own Brighton Festival alongside the Brighton Fringe. Immersive theatre, comedy, poetry, art, circus street performers and children’s shows…you name it, Brighton hosts it.
Artists open houses
From the 5th to 28th May Brighton’s artists open up their private homes for the public to have a snoop around. Book a visit whilst stocking up on well priced art and unusual gifts and cards.
Most visitors are aware of The Pavilion‘s infamous domed silhouette but its decadent interior and history is often overlooked. Discover gold gilded Chinese banqueting rooms, spectacular Game of Thrones style silver dragon chandeliers and the story of the original party prince (Harry, you were tame compared to King George lV!).
For a quick art fix in-between shopping pop into the free exhibitions at the gallery housed in an old church on Duke Street.
Well known for its squawking sashes and L plates, Brighton also has many classy hen options to offer. Book a Frida Kahlo-inspired floral headband workshop with Flower Show Presents. Bring your own fizz and paint ceramics at Paint Pots Brighton on Trafalgar Street, or book a retro tea party or styling session with Betty Lou.