Can you believe museums have opened again? What ones will you head to first? My last visit was to this one in London, 500 days ago! I’m desperate to squeeze in as many visits as possible this summer in case we get locked down again.
Seeing as readers often ask me to recommend alternative museums to the Pavilion and Brighton Museum, today I’m sharing a list of 10 small, unique and unusual museums in Brighton to visit on your next weekend at the seaside.
I’ve written about this mini natural history museum in a beautiful old shop window before, but it’s become a big part of my life! I often pass it dodging the shopping crowds on Western Road which runs parallel. The display changes regularly – think taxidermy seagulls, bones, eggs, even letters from fans! It belongs to a young Brightonian, Anna, who started collecting aged four. It’s also close to one of Brighton’s nicest neighbourhoods, I call the ‘Notting Hill of Brighton’ for all the beautiful houses and leafy streets, which is a great place for a romantic walk. There’s also a great coffee shop close-by.
This is my go-to place if I’m entertaining visitors with children, mainly because it’s free and on the seafront. We went one boiling hot afternoon to escape the crowds for a bit, before a play on the carousel, grabbing ice cream and cooling off with a paddle in the sea. It’s set inside two big seafront arches, and is filled with seaside nostalgia – old signs, black and white photos, and relics – that tells the story of the Brighton. The centrepiece is a big boat, the Sussex Maid, and there are pieces of the old West Pier which burned down years ago, and more old boats outside kids love climbing inside.
3. Toy and Model Museum
This hidden collection of 15,000 toys and models is packed into cabinets set in four arches underneath Brighton station. Walking inside, you feel transported and you browse around to the sound of nostalgic jazz playing quietly in the background. I love taking my nephews here to watch the model railways, which is a big deal as they only run twice a year. We go for pizza here after. You have to pay to get in. Prices and opening hours if you fancy it.
Brighton’s smallest listed structures are home to the Dog and Bone Gallery, Brighton’s smallest art gallery! I’ll often walk past it on my way into town, for a nose. It hosts changing exhibitions by local artists and is run by Sam Toft who owns the Little Mustard gift shop around the corner on Clifton Hill. They’re usually kept locked, so if you’re passing, you have to peer in at the exhibitions from outside. If you’re interested in buying anything, nip to her shop and they’ll be able to help.
There are lots of windmills around Brighton, but this is the only with a museum inside! It tells the story of the mill, and how it used to work. It’s basically a reason to snoop inside an actual windmill, if you like that kind of thing. Fun facts: I read that it was once used as a polling station! There’s also a little café on the ground level.
6. Booth Museum of Natural History
This was one of the first places in Brighton I wrote about (excuse the outdated look!), when I started looking for off-the-beaten-path things to do. Honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long to visit. This is Brighton’s very own natural history museum, and is incredible because it’s the first of its kind to display birds in their natural habitat – which don’t actually look that great in photos, due to the glare from the cabinets. It’s an idea since copied all over the world and perfected in New York’s American Museum of Natural History and The Smithsonian Institute in Washington. They also do back-stage tours of their secret collections.
In the Town Hall basement, where the city’s first police station once stood, is this huge collection of memorabilia – it fills the parade room, offices and cells – telling the story of the Sussex police force. You book an appointment with a guide who shows you around and tells you lots of stories. You can even get married here!
8. Middle Street Synagogue
I walked past this building along Middle Street on my way to the seafront so many times, before I realised you could see inside. I always assumed because it was boarded up, it was abandoned, until a friend told me it wasn’t. My jaw-dropped when I saw inside, all the ornate details, and the view from the balcony is spectacular. Here is some information on the Jewish community in Brighton and upcoming open days if you’re intrigued to visit.
Yes, this exists and no it doesn’t involve swimming around in Brighton’s waste! This has got to be the most unusual museum in Brighton, in that it takes visitors deep under the city for a tour of its vast network of Victorian sewer system. Which sounds really gross, but is actually interesting! The fun part is that although you start by the Palace Pier, you magically emerge out of manhole in the Stein by the Victoria Waterfall at the end!
10. The Grange
This is an excuse to leave the city behind. When you get to breezy Rottingdean, you feel the stress melt off! This is one of those bizarre local museums you expect will be dull, but you end up learning fascinating, random things like about Audrey Hepburn’s visit to Brighton and other parts of the Sussex coast in 1951. It’s also a winner with in-laws, aunts and grandparents, as it means you can go to The Trellis tearoom after at 39 High Street.