Brighton rises from the glittering seafront to the protective
However, if you take a closer look beyond the hedonistic pleasures that Brighton has to offer, an astonishing diversity, warmth and sense of community shines through. There is real freedom here through expression of individuality, tolerance of different ways of life, and an invigorating entrepreneurial spirit. Whatever your interest, be it sport, theater, eating out, clubbing or just strolling down the promenade taking it all in, Brighton will not let you go away disappointed.
Hitting the Beach
Start at Brighton Station once you have stepped off the train. Head straight out of the station and down the hill. This is Queens Road, and its best attraction is
Shopaholics will spy
To the east lies Brighton Pier, all flashing lights, funfair rides, cotton candy and cheeky good times. Just behind Brighton Pier look out for the acclaimed
For a drink try
You can walk west along the promenade all the way to
If this all sounds too energetic, then why not head for the shops, swiftly followed by the bars. City Center
Brighton is the one of the best places to shop, eat and drink in Great Britain. Start back at the
Adjacent to Churchill Square is the
From the Clock Tower turn east down North Street. A short way down is Ship Street on the right. This is a good place to enter The Lanes area. Packed with bars, restaurants and shops, there is too much good stuff to mention. Don't miss the
Back on to North Street, continue down the hill and turn left at Bond Street. This brings you into the
Returning once again to North Street, head down to its foot and to your left you will find the stunning
Hove, Kemp Town & North Brighton
There is so much to do in the central area of Brighton that many do not venture further afield, but they are missing a lot.
In north Brighton, you should try and squeeze in a visit to the
Grab a map of the area (free ones are available from Brighton
TOUR 1: Seafront Stroll
This walk will take you along the seafront from Brighton Pier to the King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove. The distance is about two miles and will take about half an hour. The terrain is totally flat and suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. There are plenty of places to stop for refreshments along the way.
Starting at Brighton Pier, make your way along the seafront to the west. Down below, you will see The Boardwalk, a restaurant/bar situated right on the beach. There can never be too many al fresco establishments in Brighton, whose residents have completely embraced European cafe culture. Over to your right is Pool Valley Coach Station and access into The Lanes where you can hunt for gifts and souvenirs. Don't get lost in there, it's like a labyrinth of tiny passageways and streets. It can get very crowded in the summer so try to come early in the day or midweek. There are some fine restaurants such as
If you're looking for hip, cosmopolitan and relaxed, look no further. This place is big on entertainment and is a renowned weekend getaway.
Outside London, Brighton has one of the most vibrant clubbing cultures in Britain, easily rivaling Leeds and Manchester. For a big night out its definitely worth visiting some pre-club bars around The Lanes, near the seafront - The Fishbowl, Ali-Cats, The Prodigal, The Western Front - and then depending on your tastes, a visit to Kings Road Arches down by the beach or West Street which spreads down from the Clock Tower in the centre of town. The West Street vibe is more young and populist, while Kings Road Arches attracts the more discerning clubber. West Street has Event II which puts on major gigs in town as well as huge club nights and traveling road shows. At Kings Road Arches look to The Zap, probably Brighton's best known club which plays host weekly to the big names in DJ club culture. Just along from the Zap is The Beach, another draw for the big name record spinners, whilst down at the other end of the beach strip, the Honeyclub puts on equally well-attended, pumping nights of club anthems. Other choices include Phonic: Hoop at The Enigma, Casablanca or the Jazz Rooms.
The live music scene isn't half bad either. With regular showcases each month entitled Brighton Rocks! at the Concorde 2 there's an explosion in indie-based sound, while venues such as The Freebutt and
Although the local land has been inhabited since 3000 BCE, it was not until the arrival of the Saxons that Brighton's foundations were laid. By the 6th century they were in control of much of Southern England; in fact Sussex means the "kingdom of the south Saxons." The original name of Brighton was "Brighthelmston" and was almost certainly distorted from the Saxon name "Brithelm" or "Beorthelm," and "tun," meaning farmstead. During Saxon times the settlement developed as a modest community with a population of 400 which revolved around fishing and farming.
Brighthelmston was a village constantly fighting to survive. In 1514 the French pillaging of the south coast all but destroyed it, but against all odds the village recovered and went on to thrive as a fishing community as never before. Despite this growth, the town fell into decline as rising sea levels, culminating in the violent storms of 1703 and 1705, destroyed its lower part. By 1730, a population that had swelled to 4,000 in 1600, had dwindled to half that number.
The Royal Resurgence
In 1750 Dr Richard Russell of Lewes, popularized beliefs in the healing power of drinking and bathing in sea water and breathing sea air. Dr Russell, as well as others who maintained his views, advocated this struggling fishing town as the ultimate health resort. The wealthy but unhealthy started to trickle down from London to see if it was all true. For many the cleaner air and the seawater did the trick, but even if it did not, Brighthelmston quickly began to provide social pursuits at every turn, from cock-fighting or theater to drinking and gambling.
Once George, Prince of Wales added his emphatic approval after visiting in 1783, the trickle became a positive flood. Prince George defined the new image of the town, now unofficially called Brighton. Artistic, witty and charming on one hand, he was excessive and hedonistic on the other. Be he saint or sinner, he left his mark physically as well as spiritually, most famously in the fabulous Royal Pavilion. The Chain Pier, on the same site as the current Brighton Pier, was completed in the same year, 1823, and along with the classic style of houses built in the Regency period of 1811-1820, Brighton was acquiring many of its enduring characteristics. When the town finally lost royal favor under Queen Victoria, it bought the Royal Pavilion to keep it from neglect and opened it to the paying public, bringing in yet more revenue. By 1861 the population of Brighton (officially called so since 1853) had risen to 78,000. The final stages of this population explosion were accelerated by the opening of the first London to Brighton railway in 1841, a service which got faster, cheaper and more frequent as the years passed. The railway meant that Brighton was becoming a more and more viable prospect for the masses, who came for newer attractions such as Palace Pier. Brighton was evolving into what some called a "Cockney Paradise" as Londoners found all the amusements of the capital fit snugly into a friendly seaside town.
The War Era
Although Brighton had flourished for over a century, its success disguised an unsettling underbelly of poverty and crime. Wealth was not evenly distributed, and many who tried to make their fortune here failed. After the First World War poverty was at crisis level and government money was given over to clear some of the worst slums. Unfortunately, many people were moved to new estates without thought, and old homes were lost and families separated. £2m was spent on slum clearance, road widening and refurbishments between the wars, but the image of Brighton was tarnished, as is demonstrated by Graham Greene's novel of this era, Brighton Rock. If anything, though, the seedier side of Brighton increased its attraction and the crowds flocked. On the August Bank Holiday of 1945, Palace Pier attracted 45,000 visitors. A few weeks later the beach was lined with barbed wire as Brighton awaited Hitler's forces. They never materialised, but Brighton was still right in the firing line, and 56 air raids during WWII killed 198 people and destroyed 280 homes. The town's architectural treasures survived however, and Brighton continued entertaining, this time U.S. and Canadian troops.
The Modern Era
After the war, Hove Council failed to see the lucky escape and proposed to demolish the beautiful Brunswick Square, Brunswick Terrace and Adelaide Crescent and replace them with high rise blocks. In reaction to this the Regency Society was formed and successfully protested against the developments. Further successes included campaigning to have hundreds of Brighton buildings listed by 1952.
The society could not stop all progress, however, and high rises popped up over the 1960s, as did a modern shopping center at Churchill Square in 1968. The protection of the South Downs always had massive support, and in 1966 the area became an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA), safeguarding the Downs for the future. Other positive developments were the foundation of the University of Sussex and Brighton Polytechnic (now University of Brighton). These, along with the Brighton College of Technology and numerous language schools, made the town a major center of learning, and education became the number one employer.
The increasing young population brought more nightlife to the town, as well as more political activism and, in some cases, more trouble. The most dramatic episodes occurred in the rivalry between the mods and rockers, culminating in the pitch battle on Whitsun Bank Holiday of 1964. The turbulent social pattern in Brighton discouraged some visitors, as did the rise of the holiday camp, foreign holidays, car ownership and competition from other seaside resorts. Theaters and other attractions were forced out of business and the neglected West Pier was closed in 1975.
Even as the rot was setting in, Brighton was fighting back. The first Brighton Festival was not a success in 1967, but it grew to represent Brighton's cultural diversity as the city bloomed again in the late 1980s. The Brighton Marina project, initially derided by some, came to fruition in the 1990s. A massive success was the Brighton Centre, which has been in constant use since its completion in 1977 with political conferences, concerts and other events bringing tens of thousands of visitors to Brighton every year. And, as ever, there is the sun, the sea and the friendly and welcoming people of Brighton drawing visitors in and making them want to stay. With train links to London now dipping under 50 minutes, more and more people are coming round to the charms of Brighton.
It is a history such as this, of bad times as well as good, that has given Brighton a richness of character that enables its visitors and residents to revel in its delights as never before.
Photo by: JP Oakar