The Muddy Insider Guide to Brighton
Staycationing this summer? Then you'll be needing our bang-up-to-date insider guide to Sussex's iconic city by the sea, including the tourist classics and hipster hangouts.
Creative, quirky, and inclusive, Brighton & Hove is often dubbed London-On-Sea yet it’s within easy reach of the South Downs, wrapped in the green arms of the rolling hills. With a vibrant, buzzing cultural and foodie scene and real independent spirit, it’s a fabulous place to live, and an equally brilliant place for a mini-break or staycay. Whether you’re a local or just visiting, there’s so much going on you’ll always find new things to do and places to discover.
Brighton’s foodie scene has exploded over the last few years and there’s never been a better time to eat out here. For fine dining with a creative tasting menu head to etch in Hove, the first permanent restaurant from MasterChef the Professionals winner Stephen Edwards. Neighbourhood bistro Wild Flor is also well worth a visit for classic cookery and world-class wines, set across two dining rooms.
For fish classier than the battered kind try The Salt Room or champagne and oyster bar-inspired Riddle & Finns, which has two locations in Brighton, one in indie shopping hub Hanningtons Estate in the Lanes, and one on the seafront.
After some great food on the beach? You’ll be spoiled for choice with Brighton’s newest seafront food market and bar Shelter Hall, which features seven unique kitchens from local chefs including Masterchef winner Kenny Tutt, and Worthing’s Crabshack which is famous for the quality and freshness of its seafood.
Among many great small plates-style eateries are French-slanted Plateau, The Set on historic Regency Square, 64° in the Lanes (run by Great British Menu winner Michael Bremner), modern Italian Cin Cin, and wine bar-style Market and Fourth & Church in Hove.
But of course, eating out isn’t all about the fine dining and hipster joints. Let’s face it sometimes you just want good old comfort food and Brighton has this in spades.
For casual dining, check out contemporary Indian Curry Leaf Cafe (which even has a kiosk at the station), pizza restaurants Fatto A Mano and (vegan) Purezza and busy Mexican La Choza. Veggies are very well catered for, with Terre A Terre and Food for Friends the best known meat-free restaurants.
Want a cafe? Walk a few paces. There must be over a hundred independent coffee shops in Brighton, the majority excellent. For the best pancakes in the city head to either Seventies-tastic Nowhere Man or Hove’s Jo & Co, and for brunch you want Starfish & Coffee, which is about as Brighton as cafe names get. Over in Hove, new kid on the block Oeuf cafe has an enviable location (right next to relaxation haven The Float Spa, that’s at least one of your mornings in the city sorted) and a reputation to match. For afternoon teas in vintage surrounds it has to be Metro Deco in hipster haven Kemptown, which also does a mean brunch.
Bohemia Brighton scooped the Best Bar award in the Muddy Awards 2021, and it’s a unique venue across three floors with theatrical mixologists whipping up spectacular cocktails and DJs spinning old-skool tracks at the weekend. For a more refined vibe head to The Plotting Parlour for table service. Gin specialists include The Colonnade Bar next to the Theatre Royal and the recently revamped Old Albion pub in Hove. Look out for homegrown Brighton Gin, served with orange slices.
Prefer a pub? For craft beer try Brighton BierHaus (home of Brighton Bier), North Laine, BrewDog, or The Cow. Or straddle the pub/bar divide with eccentric decor and retro DJ sets at Black Dove in Kemptown while in Hove, Cafe Malbec serves up great South American wine with authentic empanadas.
Sussex wine is having a bit of a moment of late, so if you fancy a trip out of town to sample some of the best local wines produced on the South Downs, family-owned Albourne Estate is just eight miles away.
For the ultimate Brighton experience, follow Cate and Kylie’s lead and stay at Drakes of Brighton in a seafront room. Take a free-standing bath (champers and rose petals optional but recommended) before swaddling yourself in a waffle robe and slippers and sipping a freshly ground coffee as you devour the in-situ glam mags.
Alternatively, Brighton Harbour Hotel right opposite the seafront has fresh and stylish seaside-slanted rooms and a fabulously quirky spa set in the brick arches of its historic basement. When you’re done pampering, surface for a meal or afternoon tea in its respected restaurant The Jetty. If you want quirky, Brighton’s original rock n roll boutique Hotel Pelirocco is your place and for smart and creative Artist Residence and Hotel du Vin are old favourites. More traditionally minded? The Grand is the old dame of the seafront.
If you’re not local, the first thing you need to know is the difference between The Lanes and North Laine. The Lanes is an historic higgeldy-piggeldy area near the sea, chocful of antique and contemporary jewellers. Here is where you’ll find food, shopping and culture hotspot Hanningtons, a pedestrian-only area home to makers, designers and foodies with a lovely intimate atmosphere and plenty of iconic Brighton street art.
North Laine runs for several blocks between Trafalgar Street (just under the station) and Church Street near Brighton Dome and is where you’ll find hundreds of independent boutiques – quite unprecedented in most cities. Browse designer-makers, indie galleries, quirky interior stores like DIGS, gorgeous children’s toys at Whirligig, gifts and homewares at Appendage, vintage fashion at Beyond Retro and Wolf & Gypsy and much, much more.
There are also a clutch of newer shops in the King’s Road arches beside the BAi360. Brighton Photography gallery here is always worth a pitstop.
THINGS TO DO
Naturally the beach is the big draw in warmer months. Most day-trippers hang out round the Palace Pier but anywhere West of the skeletal West Pier will be quieter.
Brighton Pavilion – the famous onion domed palace built by King George IV is Indian on the outside, Chinese on the inside, with swoon-worthy decor. There’s a pretty ice rink here in winter. The newer landmark is, of course, the BA i360, the giant doughnut up a stick that’s Brighton’s answer to the London Eye. There’s a bar inside and you can even dine at the top on selected dates.
But it’s culture where the city really comes into its own. In May, Brighton Fringe alongside the main Brighton Festival is the biggest in England and you can catch many acts here warming up for summer’s colossal Edinburgh Fringe. May also sees The Great Escape weekend festival showcasing new music and usually supported by BBC 6 Music. Musos also rate the programme at offbeat pub The Hope & Ruin which features a lot of grassroots indie talent.
Brighton Dome (in George IV’s ostentatious former stables) is the major venue for big name music and comedy acts and it was on this very stage that ABBA shot to fame by winning the Eurovision Song Contest. The historic Theatre Royal has many strong touring productions. The impact of Covid saw Brighton Open Air Theatre come to the fore, this lovely outdoor venue, perfect for a picnic whilst catching a show in summer, was one of the few arts venues able to keep going throughout the restrictions. For good bands not big enough to fill the Dome keep an eye on Concorde 2 on the seafront. The Brunswick pub in Hove also has a busy live music line-up plus some spoken word events. Independent theatre The Old Market in Hove is worth checking out for a strong lineup and a commitment to female representation.
Komedia in North Laine is part cinema, part award-winning comedy club with regular multi-act weekend shows plus a series of decent stand-up and fringe one-offs.
Numerous independent galleries include Phoenix, and Muddy Award-winning Cameron Contemporary Art in Hove. Don’t miss the chance to pop-in on local creatives during Artists’ Open Houses in May and again before Christmas.
Of course Brighton is famous for its LGBTQI+ scene, in fact the city’s Pride celebrations in August are the biggest in Europe! Kemptown, to the east of the Palace Pier, is the area with the highest concentration of gay bars. Check out too the monthly Bent Double comedy nights at Komedia and busy LGBTQI+ arts programme at The Malborough pub and theatre.
Hove is the hotspot for young families and it’s here beside the beach you’ll find Hove Lagoon – a small watersports and boating lake where (with your own kit) you can fish for crabs for free. There’s also a popular skate park and playground here either side of Fatboy Slim’s family-centred Big Beach Cafe.
Cycling lanes run the length of the front and beyond and on-the-spot hire bikes are newly available in several places (don’t forget your helmets). There’s a nice cafe, a kids’ sandpit and diverting action at the Yellow Wave volleyball courts east of the Palace Pier and a playground and crazy golf next door. Further out, Art Deco Saltdean Lido has reopened following major restoration.
Take a walk through the shark tunnel at the ever-popular Sea Life centre set in Victorian arches near the pier, or see the skeletons at Booth Museum of natural history which has an interactive gallery and events for pre-schoolers. More centrally Brighton Museum near the Pavilion includes Ancient Egyptian exhibits. There’s also a tiny Toy & Model Museum with vintage train sets near the station. Look out for visits from children’s authors at Muddy Award-wining The Book Nook in Hove.
If you must have your well-worn favourites, Brighton Marina is overrun with family-focused chain eateries. You can also take kids out on a boat trip mackerel fishing from here or to see the offshore windfarm. And at high tide you’ll find great rock pools at the beach just beyond as you walk or cycle towards Rottingdean.
There are plenty of walking tours that take in the city’s heritage, among them the Blue Badge-guided Only in Brighton tours which feature themes such as Piers and Queers, a nod to the city’s LGBTQI+ status, Secrets of the Lanes, and History Women Brighton.
But if you want to really stretch your legs, head up out of the city and onto the South Downs. Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon both provide fabulous views, hours, if not days, of walking via the well-signposted South Downs Way and a network of footpaths and bridleways, and both have car parks, frequently featuring ice-cream vans and coffee trucks. If you make it as far as Truleigh Hill in Shoreham, around five miles West of the Dyke, the Cadence Cycle Cafe will be waiting for you with open arms and top-class coffee. Alternatively pop across to Stanmer Park for yet more easy parking, open parkland and wooded trails, mountain biking, and coffee and cakes at the cute Stanmer Tearoom.
Brighton’s detractors would most commonly cite its hipster side as their irritation but if you embrace that beardy vibe you’ll love Brighton’s craft beer scene and it’s numerous tattoo parlours. The Mod culture of the Sixties still lingers in the city with retro men’s boutiques like Jump the Gun and designer Gresham Blake invokes the spirit of the 90s and has dressed numerous stars of the Britpop and Fatboy Slim era.
Fancy a soy latte? You’re in the right place – the city is super veggie/vegan-friendly. For all your quinoa needs you’ll find long-running Infinity Foods in North Laine the Mecca. The most prominent among the vinyl shops is Resident in North Laine, where you’ll also find Magazine – a shop devoted entirely to niche titles (no, not the rude kind!). Do your food shop on Saturdays at Florence Road market, Brighton’s answer to Borough market stuffed full of local producers.