The City of Brighton and Hove is one of the UK’s coolest spots (and yes, I am biased because it has been my home for many, many years). There is something inherently cool in a city that prides itself on being tolerant, independent and fun. There is so much to see and do but with only a day in Brighton, we need to focus on the city’s highlights so here are 17 ideas for your London to Brighton day trip.
17 Ideas for a Day in Brighton
One – Explore The Royal Pavilion
Officially The Royal Pavilion, known by tourists as Brighton Pavilion and called “Pav” by trendy locals, this building is the emblem of Brighton and Hove. The Prince Regent (later King George IV) spent the royal money like water while his father was ill and on the throne. He wasn’t trusted to leave the country so instead, he built a pleasure palace in Brighton. At first, it was a small(ish) farmhouse but the two architects commissioned to expand it, took inspiration from the burgeoning British Empire and created a Mughal-inspired exterior, and interior utterly full of chinoiserie.
Visitors are taken through the Pavilion in an order similar to the guests of the Prince Regent’s many balls. With each new room, the drama of the interior decoration ramps up, culminating in the wholly extravagant Chinese ballroom. You also get to see “backstage”, including the superb kitchens and muted servants quarters.
I don’t want to ruin the surprises you’ll see around the palace but my top tip is to look u to your right when you enter the long gallery near the entrance. The thin, horizontal red windows were connected to the Prince’s bedroom suites. As guests arrived and mingled in this area, he would spy on their outfits and sometimes run back to change (once it happens four times). He just wanted to be the best-dressed chap at the ball.
Top Tip: The tea room makes a great slice of cake so grab one if you’re peckish.
Two – The Pavilion Gardens
This small park is not the nicest park in Brighton by any stretch of the imagination but it is the heart of the city. During the day families stop here for picnics in the sun and old ladies chat at the tea hut tables, chewing on rock cakes. Shoppers and tourists pass through on the thin, winding paths. Later in the evening, cheerful students and grumpy loners sit and enjoy a few beers. The whole place holds a strange sway over the city, a park full of people who want to be close to the Pavilion but can’t get past the fences.
Three – Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
Running along the Northern side of the Pavilion Gardens is a collection of large buildings, built at the same time as the Pavilion. The first of these now contains the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. More than just a museum about Brighton (although there is plenty about the city) it houses quite an eclectic series of exhibitions from ancient Egypt to fashion throughout the centuries, via popular Victorian toys. If it is a nice, sunny day you should probably give this a miss and stick to outdoor activities but if the weather is a little more miserable, this is a good option.
Four – Brighton Dome & Corn Exchange
Brighton Dome has had many faces. The huge space was originally built as the stable for the Prince’s horses. It was the most ridiculous structure, and even at the time people were very confused by this reckless excess. The Corn Exchange building was turned into assembly halls and concert hall in the 1960s. It has been renovated several times, with the latest re-jig opened in 2002 with world-class acoustics and the grand dome in tact. It holds concerts, comedy and talks nightly so have look at what’s on here.
The Corn Exchange was built to hold the riding school, attached to the Dome stables. It is now a part of Brighton Dome with performances and events taking place here.
Five – Shop Til You Drop in The North Laine and The Laines
Brighton has a staunchly independent retail sector. For the big brands, shoppers head to Western Road and Churchill Square Shopping Centre but for an alternative and much more pleasant experience, they head to this area in central Brighton. A series of roads heading north (the main ones being Bond St, Gardner St, Kensington Gardens and Sydney St) are lined with unique and quirky boutiques, excellent cafes, restaurants and vintage/secondhand shops.
Top Tip: No, that isn’t a misspelling. Laine means field and that what the stretch of land that all these fun shops are built upon was called.
The Lanes, although sounding similar on the surface, is also home to many independent shops but here these tight, pedestrianised alleyways are more specialist. A cluster of jewellery shops occupies the southwest corner of The Lanes, filled to the brim with blinging jewellery and shiny military weapons alike.
Six – Get Lost in Snoopers Paradise
Whilst this is technically a shop, its weird and wonderful collections could almost be a museum. It is a little overpriced so maybe window shopping is the best plan if you are spending a day in Brighton on a budget? The nonsensical way some of the goods are presented is thanks to each case being full of a different seller.s wares. It gives the whole place the freneticism of a bric-a-brac sale. It is why we love it. Around one corner you will find an old metal lamp next to a collection of mint condition troll dolls and around the next a vintage wingback chair surrounded by 1960s gowns. Who knows, maybe you will uncover a bargain in North Laine.
Seven – Avoid the Cracks on Brighton Palace Pier
Extending half a kilometre from the coast, a long mass of metal, wood and flashing lights is Brighton’s second icon. The Brighton Palace Pier (forever just the Palace Pier to locals) is a stretch of old-fashioned fun. Along its length, you will find covered benches, deck chairs, entertainment arcades, rock shops and even a small amusement park. It is easy to lose a few hours and a whole lot of cash (literally if it falls out of your pocket and through the boards) on the pier.
We recommend taking a walk along the length of it and just picking a few choice distractions.
- The doughnuts on the pier are stodgy sugar bombs cooked freshly in front of you with a fun automated machine. These are especially good if there is a cold wind whistling across the coast.
- The dolphin derby is the seaside incarnation of the game where you throw balls into a hole to make your figure race across a huge track. It is always fun!
- The rock shops are another place to hit your calorie budget for day. Rock is super hard candy, traditionally flavoured with peppermint. Grab a stick and try not to crack your teeth. Alternatively, you can pick something up for a friend, be it a traditional pink stick with Brighton all the way through, a breakfast plate made entirely of rock, or a willy on a stick.
Eight – Play at Mechanical Memories
Mechanical Memories is a better way to spend your money than the loud coin guzzlers on the pier. It is just to the right of the pier (as you look out to sea) on the lower promenade. Visitors exchange their modern money for tokens that can be popped into a series of games and penny slot machines. These machines date from 1900-1960 and the tactile nature of some of these ancient amusements is extremely/pleasing. Especially good are the fortune-telling machine, puppet shows and spring-loaded ball games.
Top Tip: The “What the Butler Saw” machines are not for children…there are some very naughty ankles on show.
Nine – Relax on Brighton Beach
Brighton’s beach is iconic It has featured in films, TV shows and books but don’t expect soft white sweeps of sand. Instead, Brighton’s coastline is lined with pebbles. It creates a stony barrier between the land and sea that is hard to climb up when you have cold, wet feet or a few drinks in you.
Take the time to close your eyes and listen to your surrounding. Even on the quiet stretch of beach, seagulls cry above you and the sound of the waves dragging pebbles back and forth is rhythmic and oh so satisfying.
On a warm day, you can indulge in some sunbathing. You can either just relax on the stones, or pay to rent a stripy deck chair. There are plenty of bars and bathrooms backing the beach so you won’t be left wanting anything. If you are feeling particularly brave you can have a bit of a swim. Just a little heads up, the sea is freezing in spring so you may not manage much more than a knee-deep paddle and if you do go in, bring a towel so you aren’t soggy for the rest of your day in Brighton.
Ten – The British Airways i360,
The British Airways Brighton i360 is one of Brighton’s newest attractions and definitely one of its most controversial. The freestanding tower reaches 162m into the sky and takes visitors up to the top in a large glass doughnut. The trip takes around 30 minutes and guests can take in 360° views of the city. There is a bar on board so you can make it an extra special experience by trying Nyetimber sparkling wine, produced in Sussex.
Eleven – Snap the West Pier
Brighton’s other pier is slowly disintegrating into the sea. Years of neglect after its closure in 1975 let it fall into disrepair and a huge fire in 2003 gutted what was left. The metal skeleton stands forlornly out to sea, home to hundreds of starlings. It makes a fantastic (if slightly heartbreaking) photo.
Twelve – Wander West for Brighton Bandstand and the Hove Huts
Strolling along the promenade takes you past a few smaller Brighton sights. The bandstand is a nice spot for a photo. It is the country’s oldest bandstand but rarely hosts performers, being used more as a wedding photoshoot location. Keep going past grand old Brunswick Square and the Peace Angel statue that marks the border of Brighton and Hove until you reach Hove Lawns. The great green expanses are a lovely place for a picnic if you don’t want pebbles in your panini s, and are lined by picturesque beach huts. The walk takes around 15 minutes each way.
Thirteen – Observe the Wonders of the Deep at SEA LIFE Brighton
Although the Sea Life Centre (as its s still referred to by Brightonians) is now owned by the big entertainment conglomerate, SEA LIFE Brighton still retains its own personality. It has a lot of history behind it. It is the world.s oldest aquarium, built in 1872 and still retains many of the original Victorian tanks, as well as the impressive vaulted ceilings. The aquarium is home to over 3500 creatures and a great way to spend some time if it is a little rainy to enjoy the beach. SEA LIFE Brighton is just opposite the entrance to Brighton Palace Pier.
Top Tip: It can get chilly in here so even if it is warm outside, bring a jumper.
Fourteen – All Aboard the Volk’s Railway
Walk East from Brighton Palace Pier and you will find a real curiosity. There is a little stretch of Brighton Beach that is strangely untouched by tourism these days but still retains some of the features that brought Victorian tourists flocking. Crazy inventors used Brighton to display their weird and wonderful new inventions, including the Volks Railway. This is one of the first electric railways in the world, and unlike his other hair-brained schemes, this one stuck.
The line extends from SEA LIFE Brighton alt he way to Brighton Marina. As you pass along he route look for these other Brighton points of interest:
- Concorde II – Brighton;s number one music venue for bands. This gig venue plays hosts to big names and the distance from the crazy Weest Street bars keeps the crowd to true music lovers,
- Madeira Lift – This lift opened in 1890 and transported tourists from the beach to Madeira Drive above. It used to get thousand of visitors but now the lift operator gets pretty lonely.
- Sussex Square – This giant private garden has tunnels connecting it to the promenade and was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
- Nudist Beach – When you come across a large bank of pebbles between you and sea, you have reached the Naturist Beach. It was the first in the UK, opening in 1979 and this pile of pebbles shields the sunbathers from the railway and road.
- Yellowave Beach Sports Venue & Cafe – Brighton’s beach volleyball centre was built in hopes it would attract the Olympic committee to hold the games here. Sadly, they picked Horseguards Parade in London but the city embraced this centre and throughout summer, it is full of sporty types hitting volleyballs and yummy mummies sipping coffee at the cafe.
Fifteen – Saunder the Under Cliff Walk
From Brighton Marina, a path runs adjacent to the chalk cliffs for around 5km to the suburb of Saltdean. This is a lovely way to spend a sunny hour but we wouldn’t advise it in bad weather as the waves can crash over the sea wall, and the cliffs do erode from time to time. Once you reach Saltdean, hop on a number 27 bus back into town.
Sixteen – Have Your Cake and Eat it Too
Brighton gives good cake1 There is such a lot of cafes that they all have be pretty darn good. As well as the Pavilion.s tearoom, you will get a great slice at:
- Cloud 9 – The rainbow cake here is a speciality and the cupcakes are so more-ish. There is a branch on Kensington Gardens, and one in the Lanes.
- Metrodeco – Afternoon tea here is the best in town but even just popping into this Kemptown cafe for a smidgen of cake is a good plan.
- Flour Pot Bakery – From the sticky doughnuts coated in salted caramel and honeycomb to the rich chocolate brownies and moist carrot cakes, everything is good here. The Flour Pot Bakery can be found on Sydney St so it is not too far from the centre of town.
Seventeen – Chuckle at Komedia
The Brighton outpost of this West Country comedy empire, is a hub of performance in the city. Every day, at least one of the performance spaces will play host to the funniest people on the circuit. Small plays, stand up comedy and music gigs are all popular but the jewel in the crown is the Kramer Comedy Club which is on every weekend. This raucous but extremely friendly night is a fantastic way to end a London to Brighton day trip. Lots of laughs with a drink from the bar and an excellent plate of nachos from the kitchen, perfect.
Top Tip: The Krater Comedy Club is actually best on a Sunday when the crowd is devoid of stag and hen parties.
Where to Eat and Drink in Brighton
Brighton is absolutely rammed with places to eat. In fact, with 1 restaurant per 250 residents, it is the greatest density of places to chow down in the country. Other than the cafes mentioned above (as the cake doesn’t count as calories and you might still be hungry) these are a few of my favourites:
Hands down my favourite place for dinner. The seafood is reasonably priced, packed with flavour and the Greek waitstaff are such fun. Although the grilled platter looks tempting, you will have a better meal by picking individual dishes. Top of our list is the whitebait that comes in a huge, crispy pile, scallops drowning in garlic butter and of course the fish and chips. Leave room for dessert as they do the classics so well!
In a city full of great urges, Grubbs is institution. The menu features a collection of greasy but great burgers served with wonderfully salty fries. It is not classy, or “intentionally casual”, but a proper old-fashioned fast food joint. If you have a wet wipe handy, the Malaysian burger with lashings of peanut butter and fiery chilli sauce is a total winner.
Foodilic is probably the antithesis of Grubbs. They serve up a glorious selection of healthy dishes with plenty of vegetarian, vegan, raw and organic options. Diners load up with a selection of fresh salads and hot dishes like honey glazed chicken or vegan moussaka. It is delicious and leaves you with the glow of a job well done.
The Chilli Pickle
Going for an Indian needn’t mean scoffing seven litres of cream-laden chilli-blasted sauce, the same volume of beer and ten tonnes of doughy naan, and The Chilli Pickle is proof. Showcasing street food from across India, the food is precise and packed with flavour. Alongside the menu of carefully crafter curries is a fun cocktail menu and decent wine selection. Don’t worry, they also have a good choice of beers too. I guess what I am trying to say is it is an Indian dining experience that is refined but not in any way stuffy.
Shakeaway is a nationwide chain of milkshake shops but that doesn’t mean it isn’t deserving of being on the list. Every teenager in Brighton has spent a happy afternoon wandering around the lanes or down to the seafront with a yellow and blue cup clutched in their hand. The menu is huge with plenty of fruit and chocolate bars to choose from. Your choices are whizzed together with milk and ice cream until you have a cup of cold, sweet delight.
Getting to Brighton
This is the best way to travel if you are a day in Brighton. Trains travel to Brighton from several London stations taking up to 1 hour 15 minutes to make the journey. Southern operates from London Victoria whilst Thameslink passes through King’s Cross St Pancras, Blackfriars and London Bridge. We favour the Victoria route as it terminates at both ends of the line and so getting on early and finding a seat is easy. At London Bridge, on a warm day, it can be a real scramble.
When booking your train be sure to take note of the ticket conditions. Some only allow travel on selected trains restricted by time (peak/off-peak) or company (Thameslink/Southern). The more flexible the ticket, the more expensive.
All trains arrive at Brighton Station. Most visitors head straight out and down Queen’s Street that runs directly down to the seafront. We prefer taking Trafalgar St, the steep thoroughfare that passes under the bridge. Walking down here will lead you to the northern edge of North Laine, allowing you to wander through en route to Brighton.s other sights.
Top Tip: Walk to the front of the train so you will be first through the ticket barriers on arrival (every second counts when you only have one day in Brighton)
National Express coaches arrive from London into Brighton’s small open-air coach station Pool Valley. It is just a stone’s throw from the beach (a little pebble humour there) and so it is great for getting straight on with your day in Brighton. However, the journey between London and Brighton takes up to 3 hours, depending on traffic so you could end up wasting quite a bit of your stay sitting on a bus.
Driving to Brighton is an option but there are a couple of downsides to consider.
Parking in Brighton is a nightmare. Paid parking costs a small fortune and many residential areas are only for permit holders. If you know what you are going to be paying, that’s fine but otherwise, it could be a nasty shock. Do be careful if you are driving to your designated car park in central Brighton as some roads like North Road and Western Road are not ope for private vehicles.
The other problem is a familiar one to all drivers, how can you have a spontaneous drink if you are driving? With a huge number of pubs per capita, Brighton is a great place for a swift half and we wouldn’t want you feel left out.
Things to Pack for your Day in Brighton
It may well be a glorious summer’s day, but you will still need a jumper or jacket. If you are catching the train, there is usually some rather fierce air-conditioning. Plus, Brighton often has a wind blowing that can make the temperature feel a little lower than advertised. If you aren’t using it to keep warm, it can be good for sitting on at the beach.
Yes, you CAN get sunburnt in the UK. Being in the very south of England, the sun can actually get quite strong here and the constant breeze is deceptive. Many a train from Brighton to London has been packed with lobster-pink day-trippers. Try to avoid being one of them.
An External Phone Charger
From checking this blog post to snapping a million photos with ice cream in hand, your phone is going to run out of charge quickly on a long day trip to Brighton so bring some extra juice with you! You wouldn’t want to get to 3 pm and run out of battery, left unable to check train times back to London or watch an episode of your favourite show on the tube home.
A Quick History of Brighton
The Early Years – 1750
Brighton started life as a quiet fishing village. it was destined to be as cute and sleepy as the rest of the Sussex coast, but it was discovered by a famous Doctor call Richard Russell. Rich folk from across England came to Brighton for the curative effects of the seawater, both bathing in and drinking it. We really wouldn’t recommend drinking it these days!
1750s – 1840s
In the late 1700s Prince George took a liking to the small town and its fortunes were changed forever. He built a holiday home here and quickly, Brighton became extremely fashionable. The wealthy came to party and beautiful, big squares were built to house those that decided to settle here.
1840s – 1920s
The next big moment for Brighton was the building of the Brighton to London railway in 1841. Yup, the same one you are travelling on. Whole workforces from London factories decamped en masse for huge day trips to Brighton. The invention of the weekend, and five-day working week, allowed people to travel to Brighton for a night. And so, the dirty weekend in Brighton was born.
1920s – Now
The popularity of Britain’s beach resorts hugely increased with places like Brighton and Blackpool booming. In order to continue this level of tourism, they have adapted and evolved now encompassing families in search of wholesome fun, screaming hen dos in need of a drink and pleasant coach trips of older visitors.
By the Way
Throughout its history, Brighton has been a haven for the alternative, pleasure-seekers in life. It is considered the UK’s LGBT capital and its queer history runs in tandem with the story of Brighton. From the 1930s, an established and reasonably open gay scene started to open in the Kemptown area and they are still going strong. Brighton’s first gay wedding, the day after the law was passed, was held in The Royal Pavilion, showing the city’s commitment to its LGBTQIA+ community.
Thankfully, Brighton’s open-minded attitude persists. In fact, as a Brightonian myself, I can confirm that residents live in a very happy Brighton bubble; green, queer and liberal.
And Finally…A Few Fun Facts about Brighton
- As if Brighton wasn’t camp enough, ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest at the Brighton Centre in 1974.
- Much of Brighton, built in the 800s is made of a material called Bungaroosh. Basically’ you find whatever bricks, stones or flints you can find lying around and surround them with lime. Wait for it to set and you have a wall. It is a pretty unstable building material so at some point, Brighton is going to start falling to bits. A good example of this can be seen on the wall running between the Prince Regent swimming pool entrance and the Corn Exchange.
- Brighton’s local newspaper, The Argus, has some truly hilarious tabloid-tactic headlines. See if you can spot any of the red signs outside newsagents to catch the drama of the day.
- The Royal Pavilion is like Marmite for world leaders. Queen Victoria hated it so much that she sold the lot off for £50,000. The town of Brighton bought it and has been trying to buy all the furniture back every since. On the other end of the spectrum, it is rumoured that Hitler wanted the Pavilion for his seaside residence so the Luftwaffe were told to avoid bombing it!
Final Thoughts on Your London to Brighton Day Trip
Every year, Brighton gets 8,000,000 visitors and a whopping 6,500,000 of those are day-trippers so you are in extremely good company. Luckily it is such a compact city that you can see an awful lot with just a day in Brighton. You may have found too many of these ideas appealing and are off to book a whole weekend in Brighton?! However you choose to enjoy my home town, I hope you have a blast!