From beaches to big beats, bohemian Brighton has heaps of things to do for both day trippers and those pleasure-seekers looking to spend a number of days there. A coastal city that prides itself on its pier, arts and LGBTQ scene, and only an hour away by train from the capital, Brighton is sometimes described as ‘London by the Sea’ (hmmmm – best not say this to the locals).
Here is our guide to things to do in Brighton in a day:
Brighton for the day
How to get to Brighton from London?
Brighton is an easy day trip from London and there are regular trains that run all day. The journey is just under an hour from London Victoria station, or an hour and 10 minutes from London Blackfriars station. Check thetrainline for the best train fares.
Brighton beach is one of the best seaside escapes on the south coast. Given it is less than an hour by train from London, the pebbled beach is always packed, especially on weekends and bank holidays. Brighton Beach is free to visit (although you will have to pay for hiring deck-chairs) and you are welcome to take your own food and drink / picnic, as long as you tidy up after yourself. The water is also very welcoming, more so in the summer months.
If sunbathing or relaxing isn’t your thing, Brighton also has a wonderful beachside path that has loads of bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs along it. Several fresh seafood shacks are dotted along the way, offering oysters, whelks and crabsticks – if you are feeling brave, try jellied eels, a traditional english dish served cold which isn’t for everyone (definitely not us).
In the mood for something more sedate? To the left of Brighton Pier and just past the zip line brings you to Volk Railway, operating in the southern months. It is the oldest operating electric railway in the world, having part-opened in 1883.
Dating back to 1899, Brighton Pier is a must-visit when visiting the beach. From fairground attractions to arcade machines and candy floss stalls, there is something for everyone to enjoy (and best of all, free to visit). As well as numerous free deck-chairs to sit in with your ice-cream, there are several bars, restaurants and tea-rooms to soak up the sun in. Definitely one of favourite things to do in Brighton and one of the best piers in the UK – I guess you could call it ‘peerless’… (sorry!)
Fish and chips
Fact – you simply have to do fish and chips* on the beach when you visit Brighton – it is the law! (* or nearest vegan / veggie equivalent). Several cafes and kiosks along Brighton Beach offer various fish fare, starting from about £5 for a small portion of fish, chips and peas. Whilst they can vary in quality (generally you get what you pay for here), our main advice is to watch-out for the seagulls – they’ve been known to swoop down and dive bomb for chips.
Bohemian, kitsch with a dash of retro (but enough of us), the North Laine is spread over several streets and is an eclectic mix of vintage shops, cafes and record stalls, with around 300 retailers in total vying for your attention – and wallet.
Characterised by the colourful murals and street-art / graffiti, from craft fairs to craft beers, this is an awesome afternoon of fun, hopping from place to place.
The living incarnation of Aladdin’s Cave, this historic treasure trove of stalls sells an array of antiquities, artefacts and retro goodness, found on North Laine – several stalls also specialise in old toys and annuals so you can relive your childhood under one roof (a bit like being in your very own episode of the BBC’s Bargain Hunt). Photography is prohibited inside so best to put your camera away before entering.
Brighton Royal Pavillion
When you first see the Brighton Royal Pavilion, you can be forgiven for thinking you’ve taken a wrong turning somewhere and have accidentally arrived in South East Asia. Very different from any other seaside dwelling we’ve seen before, this exotic and luxurious former royal residence is a Grade I listed building, dating back to 1787 and built for King George IV.
Situated in Pavilion Gardens (popular for picnics and street musicians), this lush Brighton landmark features on all the town’s souvenir postcards and magnets and has been used as a filming location for movies such as The Current War, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Richard III and The End of the Affair. Admission is usually around £15, tickets are cheaper if you buy them in advance online.
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
Just across from Brighton Royal Pavilion, this magnificent museum houses both permanent and temporary collections, specialising in art, design fashion and style. Admission is usually £6 per per person to get in, but there are a couple of weekends every year when this is free to enter (we visited for free during a Open Heritage weekend).
One of the snazziest viewing platforms we’ve seen, Brighton i360 is situated right next to the beach, offering coastal vistas (you can also see the former, burned down West Pier) and views of the town. Unlike similar viewing platforms we’ve tried, in this one you are free to wander round – if you are after something a little different, they also do ‘Yoga in the Sky’ once a month.
A Brighton institution, Komedia has been kicking around for over 25 years and is an award-winning arts and cinema centre in a prime position in the North Laine. We first went to Komedia back in 2014 to watch Delphic perform (where are they now?!). Playing host to over 700 performances every year, you can find out what’s on during your visit by checking out their listing posters outside or visiting their website. If you are only in Brighton for the day, their cafe / bar also does a brisk trade with heaps of alfresco tables overlooking the Laine outside.
Brighton’s only covered market, this is more of a regular local’s haunt with fresh fruit and veg stalls, several cafes, artist’s studios and some quirky gift stalls. If you are limited for time, we’d recommend you visit the Laines over this, but if you want to escape the sun and tourist hordes, this might be more up for street.
Brighton Marina is chock full of chain bars and restaurants, overlooking the harbour. From Five Guys burgers to Wetherspoons and Pizza Express, you’ll pretty much find every high street restaurant here (shame there aren’t more independents here).
Given this is a half hour walk from the town centre (and the paving on the last stretch is a little dubious), we’d only recommend this on a sunny day, if you are visiting Brighton over several days and fancy some moderately priced food and drink in the sun with fresh sea-air.
We could go (Bright) on and on about all the wonderful things to do here – but have we missed anything? Let us know in our comments section below as we are keen to Brighton again soon…
Here are some highly rated accommodation options if you decide to stay in Brighton for longer than a day trip!
Friendly and comfortable hostel close to the train station with on-site bar, terrace and lounge area. Both dorms and private rooms available. Check out prices and availability for Kipps Brighton
A Room With A View
Grade II listed Georgian hotel located on the seafront – most of the rooms have sea views. Check out prices and availability for A Room With A View
Townhouse hotel featuring boutique-style themed rooms inspired by pop culture, glamour and music located on the seafront. Check out prices and availability for Hotel Pelirocco
The Grand Brighton
Renaissance style hotel located a 10-minute walk from Brighton Pier on Brighton’s seafront, with stylish cocktail bar, restaurant and terrace. Check out prices and availability for The Grand Brighton
3-star townhouse hotel in the heart of Brighton town centre and less than a minute’s walk from the beach. Check out prices and availability for Blanch House
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