Brighton, on the South-East coast of England, makes the most wonderful destination. You can visit as a day trip from London, or do it the old-fashioned way, and book a dirty weekend. Whatever you do decide to do, the first thing on your list should be The Laines.
Haven’t you spelled that incorrectly?
Although it is pronounced exactly like “lanes”, and some of the streets seem small, this isn’t just a typo. When Brighton was a small fishing village (when it had the longer name Brighthelmstone) it was surrounded by five tracts of farm land. In the old Sussex lexicon, these open spaces were called “Laines”. This farm land was slowly surrounded by the roads of Brighton and developed into housing and workshops.
The big regency squares housed the affluent population, but they needed cheap labour, ironmongers, slaughterhouses, cobblers and no end of other small businesses to uphold their lifestyles. When Brighton station was built in the North-Western corer of the North Laine, the area became increasing populated, with two storey properties, and developed the irregular grid system you find today.
If you cross North Street, from Sydney Street, you will see a small opening next to the One Stop Travel Shop. This is the entrance to The Lanes. This is an area that developed along with the 16th/17th fishing village and I am going to write a separate article about it one day. The Lanes, and The Laines are pronounced in EXACTLY the same way and so if you ask for directions to either, be sure to include or leave out the “North”!
The Laines Now
The heart of Brighton’s creative scene, the Laines an ever-changing line up of exciting independent shops. cafes, and arts ventures. There have been shops that I love that have and come and gone, and many that have had three different locations in as many years. Here I going to share some of my favourite places, still up and running, and their current locations.
To Be Worn Again – 12 Kensington Gardens
A retro/vintage clothing shop that seeks second-hand clothes, as well as upcycled items. They do a fabulous line in denim skirts with other material inserts, sure to brighten up any summer outfit. Prices are realistic and so you won’t feel as if you’ve been mugged when you leave.
Beyond Retro – 42 Vine Street
This has a very different feel from most vintage clothes shops, and even from its London location. The space is large and airy. The smell of dust is kept at bay and there is natural sunlight pouring through the skylights.
The clothes here are a mixture of vintage, retro, vintage style accessories and costumes. There are 80s jumpers in every hue, gorgeous fur coats in one corner, a rack of old cheerleading gear in the other and you can try it all on in the large dressing rooms. Rides are very reasonable (especially when compare with London’s Shoreditch offerings).
Beretun Designs – 23 Bond Street
This tiny boutique is a mix of real treats. Here you will find vintage style summer dresses and killer pin up wiggle dresses. Further in are the ball gowns and wedding dresses. I fell head over heels with one wedding dress here, a white ballerina length, fifties style dress with large red roses embroidered onto the hem…sigh.
They also do a great range of shoes, the best of which are designed by the owner. The shoes are hand painted and completely adorable. I had a slightly crazy airline themed wedding and look what we created together.
Collectif – 29 Bond Street
The Brighton branch of this vintage -style shop is not as huge as it’s Camden sister but it is packed to the rafters with exciting clothes in styles based on the fashions of the 40s, 50s and 60s. So excited was I to pop, I completely forgot to take a photo. Instead, here is a quick snap of the shoes and play duo that I bought in the sale (£20 for both, woohoo).
Silverado – 31 Bond Street
This jewellery shop, that been in Brighton for over 20 years, has a special place in my heart. I bought one of their gorgeous liquid silver necklaces for my prom, at the end of secondary school.
I also had a ring from there, which looked like a belt. Oh how I loved that ring! The day I lost it, I was heartbroken. Their designs range from the quirky (belt rings, seahorse studs) to delicate and elegant. The jewellery is sophisticated, sparkling and the build quality is excellent. It makes a nice change from the more traditional gold-laden jewellers of the other Lanes district, across North Road (confused, I’ll explain this later)
Snoopers Paradise – 7*8 Kensington Gardens
This should be a tourist destination. Do you love bric-a-brac sales, jumbles sales, or just poking around in your friend’s storage spaces. Take a trip beyond the turnstile and be transported into ao world of random bits ‘n’ bobs. Here you will find genuine treasures from the past slotted in between recreation tin signs, paraphernalia and slightly overpriced things that you threw away in the early 90s. Whether you walk out with a purchase or not, and I have had three beautiful items of vintage clothing from there in the past, you can have a wonderful hour exploring the nooks and crannies of this labyrinthine building.
GAK- 76-82 North Road
Guitar, Amp, Keyboard Centre sells anything you could need for a really rocking gig! GAK is a musical shop that just keeps growing and growing. Seemingly, every time I come back home to Brighton, they have taken over another shop on their block.
If you know your Fenders from your Gibsons, you have probably already heard of this shop. It is packed to the brim with all kind of musical goodies. As well as the aforementioned guitars,amps and keyboards, you can find drums, DJ equipment, and even pianos.
Dave’s Comics – 5 Sydney Street
Let your inner child, or your cartoon-y adult run free. Dave’s is a classic comic book shop and has been here for as long as I can remember. Every Wednesday they get a new delivery of comics to pick through. You’ll find books, graphi novels, comics and the kind of memorabilia that will never leave the packaging. Eve if you’re not a huge fan. some your favourite characters could be in here….Hello Kitty fans say “hee-eey”. With the geek culture surrounding comic books/graphic novels becoming almost mainstream thanks to The Big Bang Theory and the Marvel movies, I wonder if Dave’s has experienced a resurgence in popularity.
Mangetout – 81 Trafalgar Street
On the very Northern edge of the Laines is a wonderful little restaurant that do a fabulous brunch. You can get a slice of sourdough topped with a smoked salmon, hollandaise eggs royal alike. Alternatively, their “full English” consists of sausages,bacon and eggs all served on a thick slice of toast, slathered with Mangetouts signature tomato jam. I can’t even tell you how good this is. We managed to stick around long enough to have a dessert from the lunch menu, a wonderfully wobbly panna cotta.
Wai Kika Moo Kau – 11a Kensington Gardens
Another brilliant option for a Laines brunch, is this vegan restaurant. Had you guessed it was vegan? No? Just read the name out loud….
If you think vegan food is boring, come and get stuck into one of their large breakfast plates. Plus, there are lots of other lunch options, and a selection of cakes.
The Balcony Cafe – 1 Kensington Gardens
Known as Kensington’s for forever, but now focusing on their moniker of The Balcony Cafe, this place is a bit of an institution.
I once had a panini here with brie, bacon, walnuts and cranberry. It was life-changing! At heart The Balcony Cafe is a greasy spoon, but it is a Brighton greasy spoon. This means a great selection of vegetarian and vegan options. The view is better than you might expect from a “caf” too. It’s position overlooking Kensington Gardens makes it excellent spot for people watching.
Infinity Foods – 25 North Road
In 1971, a small shop opened in Brighton that sold vegetarian whole foods and baked goods. Brighton was the heart of the vegetarian scene and so it was no wonder it went down so well. My step-mum used to go and help them unpack potatoes during her lunch hours as a teacher. I believe this shows the co-operative spirit of the business. Over the next four decades it expanded, moved to North Road and has even opened a cafe along the road serving beautiful vegetarian fare (50 Gardner Street).If they have the wholewheat mustard rolls, get seven, they are delicious!
Pavilion Gardens Cafe – 29 New Road
Brighton’s most famous building sits just South of the Laines. You can see it’s onion dome from the Pavilion Gardens located behind it. In these grounds is a small cafe that played host to many mother/daughter chats in the past. Here we are talking location, location, location.
Sit and have a drink whilst watching people in the gardens with Pavilion as a backdrop. In summer you will hear buskers, watch children running playing, and watch tourists, shoppers and students taking a break on the grass.
Cloud 9 – 15a Kensington Gardens
In a town with so many cafes, picking out one particular place to sit and have a cake is a tricky business. However, in the Laines, I have a definite favourite. The branch on Kensington Gardens is the little sister of the main bakery on Brighton Place and so it doesn’t stock the full range of cakes, but for this guide, it’s by far the most convenient.
Cloud 9 produces a super selection of cakes. The flavours are intense and you won’t be left wondering if you could pick up the hint of orange the label mentioned.
If you have a sweet tooth, get a slice of the rainbow cake. It is an exciting hit of vanilla and always a fun surprise when you cut into the plain exterior.
I VERY nearly got my wedding cake from here but couldn’t work out how to get the cake from Brighton to London safely without a car. I do always try and head their way when I’m back in Brighton now and and one day I will get a birthday cake from there to make up for my lack of bravery.
Caramella – 29a Kensington Gardens
Honestly, this is not the world’s most original sweet shop, but it has been located here for as long as I can remember (it opened in the same year I was born in fact). You will find every kind of confection here from cheap fizzy treats to fine chocolates and of course, Brighton rock!
Choccywoccydoodah – 3 Meeting House Lane, The Lanes
This is probably Brighton’s most famous cake shop. They have outgrown two locations, added a cafe, opened a Covent Garden shop and even had their own TV show! For many years, as a kid, I had my nose stuck up to their shop window, looking in awe at the chocolate sculptures. It was all a little more expensive than my pocket money would allow.
To my delight, I was thrown a surprise birthday party when i turned 13, and the centre piece of the party food was a choccywoccydoodah cake with an explosion of chocolate erupting form the top….divine!
I like their creations but I think the best thing about this shop is the cafe. You haven’t tried hot chocolate until you’ve had one here. They melt chocolate truffle into milk and it is the richest cocoa hit on the south coast. On a warm Sunday evening, I went for an ice-cream sundae just as they were shutting up for the evening. The only things they had left to put in it were a tasty berry compote and white chocolate truffle. It took me a full hour to demolish it and I think I vibrated for about a week.
This cake shop is not located in the North Laines, but in The Lanes…..I know, I know, this is horrible confusing. I don’t have a photo of it because I wasn’t going to include it in the list (being just outside the borders of the North Laines) but I just couldn’t resist because it just SO good.
The Prince Albert – 48 Trafalgar Street
Just beneath Brighton station you will find a brightly coloured wall; the side of the Prince Albert. For a long time there was just a huge piece of street art featuring beloved broadcaster John Peel but was undated not too long ago.
This pub is staffed by friendly, trendy staff who will serve you with a sarcastic joke or two. Upstairs, you will find a performance space. This space can be full of hand banging rockers, foot tapping country followers, hip popping pop fans, or gently swaying folkies. In fact, this pub has a gig nearly every night if the week so it’s a pretty good bet that you’ll find something going on.
The White Rabbit – 13-14 Kensington Gardens
This pub is packed during winter and spills out onto the outside tables during the summer. It is full of fun, quirky bits and bobs, even having its own red London telephone box. It is a lovely place to have a drink on a summer’s evening. If you are here in winter, pop in for dinner. Here you’ll find a selection of American diner classics, given the gourmet pub treatment. Proper comfort food to warm up your insides.
Komedia – 44-47 Gardner Street
Komedia is home to the excellent Krater Comedy Club which is the most wonderful way to end your Friday, Saturday or Sunday. You will see three or four of the most fabulous comedians in a very convivial atmosphere. You can order good food and drinks at the bar; I’ve never failed to enjoy their jalapeño laden nachos!
Along with the downstairs space, there is a larger theatre style space upstairs. These two rooms play host to not only comedy, but music, cabaret and spoken word. These shoes can be for adults, children, those who want thumping club music and those after high art. Basically, what I’m saying is that their programming has a huge variety and so there should be something to tickle your fancy.
See those legs? They are small recreations of the UK’s oldest functioning Cinema, the Duke of York’s, also here in Brighton. This is because they show films here as well.
Thinking of Visiting The North Laines?
This post was written in winter, when the cafes are mostly an indoor affair. If you visit in summer, they will have tables spilling out across the road, especially on Gardner Street.
If you visit in May, the whole of Brighton is celebrating the Brighton festival. This is Europe’s second biggest arts festival after Edinburgh, and you will find every possible space turned into a performance venue. Pubs, pavements and every hall in town will be hosting top class comedy, theatre and music. The Komedia is one of the festival’s main venues so it is definitely worth checking out.
Driving to Brighton probably not the best plan. Traffic reduction schemes mean driving through town can be confusing,and cars are not allowed to drive in many areas. Added to this, parking is extremely costly. Finally, you can’t have a drink or two at the end of the day…and where’s the fun in that.
Catching a coach from London is easy. National express run coaches nearly every hour from Victoria Coach Station but it can take 2.5 hours.
This is by far the best option. You can reach Brighton in just 52 minutes from London Victoria and a little more from London St Pancras. It also connects to many other destinations along the South coast. Book in advance on Southern Rail’s website and you can get tickets for just £5 each way from London, Victoria.
Brighton train station is located at the northwestern corner of the Laines and so it makes a perfect jumping off point for your explorations. Don’t walk straight out and along the road in front of you like most people. Turn right, do a U-turn opposite The Bystander cafe and take the steep road that leads straight under the bridge.
I’ll see you there!!