Today I’m launching a new series of travel guides on Ellie & Co featuring insider travel tips on places to eat, drink, shop, stay and discover in places I travel to around the world, starting with my hometown of Brighton, of course!
I’ve lived in Brighton since the early 2000s (yikes!), and have been writing about the city and its secrets for a while now, so I’ve lots of insider travel tips to share if you’re planning a weekend in Brighton. As I love researching places to go before I go on a trip, I also understand the appeal of finding out where the locals eat, drink and shop.
Brighton has changed a lot since I moved here. Back then it was all hippy shops and grunge. Most restaurants weren’t worth talking about and no one cared much for hot new hangouts. It still has alternative small-town charm, but most hippy shops have made way for artisan cafes, edgy fashion boutiques – and restaurants I actually want to recommend!
A Local’s travel guide to brighton
Rather than an overarching round-up, this local’s guide to Brighton features my favourite places to eat, drink, shop and discover along with twists on visiting the big-ticket tourist sights. They’re basically things I’d recommend to a friend if they asked me what they should do here. I also offer ideas for escaping the crowds, the best day trips from Brighton and things to do in Sussex if you want to explore further. Let’s go!
Things to do in Brighton
enjoy the Beach like a local
If you’re planning to visit Brighton, there’s a high chance you’ll want to hang out at the beach. I suggest starting with a brisk dip in the sea before warming up at the seafront sauna (£30 for a 90-minute session). You’ll feel refreshed and ready for a browse in the art shops and galleries along the arches and have a seafood lunch (the Copper Clam near The Shelter Hall is great) leaving time for a boat trip out to Rampion Wind Farm (£40 for a two-hour ride).
If you want to hang out on the beach but don’t like crowds in summer, avoid the stretch between the piers. Instead, make a beeline for quieter shores at Hove Lawns or Kemptown east of the Palace Pier. I’ve written about hidden beaches close to Brighton if you want to escape further.
Hidden Brighton walks
Half of the fun here is simply strolling around the Brighton neighbourhoods fringing the centre, often overlooked for the classic seafront haunts or shopping areas. Most have a unique character and hide the city’s best architecture, cafes, delis, pubs and restaurants.
I’d start in the cool Seven Dials neighbourhood not far from Brighton station, with its weekend cafe culture and conservation area, moving on to Brunswick Town in Hove a block from the seafront, running from the Paris House pub in the east and Brunswick Square in the west.
Leave time for shopping-heaven North Laine before wandering over to historic Kemptown for an early bowl of beef bourguignon at this candlelit French bistro or a juicy steak burger, string fries and a glass of red at independent family-run Busby and Wilds.
Go Gallery hopping
Brighton is a well-known artists’ enclave and is packed with galleries which are fun to hop around. My favourites are Fabrica, in a former chapel, which hosts three contemporary art shows a year, and the big Phoenix Gallery which hosts 12 free shows a year across two huge spaces, and has a cool coffee bar, too.
Some of the studios here also open up to the public in May and November Brighton as part of the Artists’ Open Houses event. To browse art outside, it’s fun to find the novel Dog and Bone Gallery set inside two old red London phone boxes in Seven Dials. There’s also Anna’s Museum, a mini natural history museum in a shopfront window.
Movie night in a vintage Picturehouse
Brighton has several cinemas but none more beautiful and nostalgic than the single-screen Duke of York’s, near this tiny East African, Gujarati and Ismaili restaurant, Kitgum. The Picturehouse opened in the 1900s and still has its original façade and black-white-checkerboard flooring at the entrance.
It’s still going strong, thanks to a loyal local following. It used to specialise in niche arthouse films and documentaries but it now shows a curated pick of mainstream films.
Watch the murmuration
You might have heard me say: “I would rather be punched in the face than go on Brighton Pier in peak summer”. Now, I’ve found a far more peaceful and interesting way to enjoy it, which also makes a romantic winter experience. Stroll arm-in-arm to the Palace Pier at dusk between November and March to be captivated by the sight of the city’s starling population coming together to perform their murmuration dance overhead. It goes on for about an hour and is magical.
find secret Brighton
Hunting for hidden treasures in Brighton is how my blog began, so my Secret Brighton archives are a good place to start if you want to go off-the-beaten path, away from the tourist crowds. For example, like most Sussex towns, Brighton is filled with secret alleyways tucked between other streets. These are known locally as ‘twittens’. Camden Terrace is one of the most beautiful but surprisingly the least known. Find my guide to all the hidden streets in Brighton here.
If you need a distraction mid-shopping-spree around Western Road, make a detour towards the pretty Upper North Street to discover Anna’s Museum, an old shop window filled with curious pieces of natural history. Finally, thousands of visitors come to enjoy Preston Park every year, but very few know that hidden away in the rock garden opposite – one of the city’s best-kept secrets in itself – is a magical waterfall.
WHERE TO EAT In Brighton
People often ask me to recommend places to eat in Brighton – especially those independent neighbourhood favourite cafes and restaurants. I’ve already written about restaurants both romantic and no-frills, cosy cafes, tea rooms and independent pubs. Here’s a pick of a few favourites we go back to time and again, some for a quick bite, a splurge and, of course, fish and chips:
There are so many cafes in Brighton. Café Rust near Preston Park is my pick for a beautifully presented breakfast or filling brunch. Its dark grey and gold façade and blue faded walls, dark wooden floors, give it a pleasing rustic French farmhouse vibe. Their creamy cappuccinos and piles of smoked salmon and fluffy scrambled eggs on sourdough are the best. If it’s a Full English you’re after, this timewarp corner café a block from the sea is your place. They do fry-ups in every combination imaginable, advertised on laminated signs, as well as bubble and squeak, pie and mash, fish and chips, tea in mugs, sandwiches and rolls, toast, omelettes – that kind of thing.
Bardsley’s Fish and Chips
When it comes to fish and chips in Brighton, where to get the best is a hot debate. One of my favourite spots is the city’s oldest: Bardsley’s of Baker Street opened in 1926, its tiny dining room is full of music hall memorabilia relating to Brighton’s vaudeville star, Max Miller. Bankers on Western Road on the east end of Hove is also good; another sit-down place, the portions huge. For takeaway, I like Wolfies in Hove, and my local: the ‘accidentally Twin Peaks’ fish bar.
I cannot live without Bincho Yakitori, a perma-packed tiny inexpensive Japanese tapas restaurant that makes you feel like you’ve been transported to Toyko. It serves delicious and inexpensive small plates made for sharing, cooked as ordered and served when they’re ready. It also does the world’s best fried chicken and plum wine. The vibe is cosy, yet buzzy and fun and it’s a great place for date night or dinner with friends. Insider tip: It’s best to reserve ahead for a table here.
Wild Flor in Hove is one of the city’s newest small neighbourhood gem restaurants, which just keeps getting better. They have a beautiful relaxed candlelit upstairs dining room, perfect for date night. The classic menu offers a mix of decadent (pappardelle of glazed pig cheek, peas and aged parmesan; rhubarb and cardamom custard mille-feuille), yet light and lively dishes (Cornish crab, pink grapefruit and celery; Saddlescombe lamb, apricot, saffron and lambs lettuce).
The wine list is epic and they now do a £25 set lunch menu of favourite dishes, including their famous Madeleines to finish. Other nearby restaurants for a splurge are the Little Fish Market hidden along a Hove backstreet and The Gingerman I talk about here.
Brighton’s first-ever covered food hall, Shelter Hall is set inside a transformed old waiting room built in 1888. Inside, it’s a gleaming contemporary space with high ceilings and statement-tiled floors, high stools around wooden tables. It’s a well-administered home to seven kitchens and two bars, brimming with helpful, smiling staff who will bring plates of Neapolitan pizza and Vietnamese-inspired bao to your sea view table.
Where to drink in Brighton
Ten green bottles
Sleek wine bars are few and far between in Brighton. You’ll find Ten Green Bottles oddly sandwiched between a Mexican restaurant and dermatology specialists opposite the library. It’s based on the idea of the enotecas in Italy: small, friendly places where you can have a glass of wine, some good cheese, and walk away with a bottle recommended by the owner.
For a sophisticated French cafe-bistro-wine-bar not far from the seafront, Plateau is great. It has a sleek informal downstairs dining room which gets loud, and a quieter one upstairs. It’s good for power lunches, laid-back lunches, a mid-shopping-spree pitstop, cocktails before a night out, dinner with friends, date night… The food is modern French. They do little dishes to share: the piping hot shishito peppers work well with a Margherita before the delectable bavette steak with pomme frites and rocket.
Hand in Hand pub
This colourful pub, the Hand in Hand, in Kemptown village is special. The walls and ceilings are lined with newspaper and crammed with random decorations, including ties pinned to the beams, ceramic beer mugs, and all kinds of pictures. There’s a piano, a box for playing the Sussex pub game, Toad in the Hole (you have to throw metal discs into a hole on the top of the box), and they do jazz nights on a Sunday.
Its piece de resistance is its microbrewery – the Hand Brew Co – where they make their range of unusual beers like toasted coconut porter, cocoa nib, and oat-filled breakfast stout. On the right day, you might even bag yourself a tour, which boasts the accolade of being the UK’s smallest working tower brewery.
WHERE TO SHOP IN BRIGHTON
Wolf and Gypsy
For vintage pieces that reflect modern styles – think 90s crinkle tops, 70s smock dresses, 80s neon cardis and dresses – Wolf and Gypsy is winning. They also sell new pieces including tie-die sweatshirts and pyjamas, as well as homewares. It’s always fun to walk past their window displays, too, which are always fun and change with the seasons or reflect events or things going on in the news.
Set in a Hove townhouse, this marvellous time-capsule chocolate shop, Audrey’s, has its roots in the 1920s. Outside, the façade is humble and inside it looks as it did when the shop opened in 1961 by Mr William Pain – all panelled in oak, carpeted in red, with old 1960s glass cabinets full of handmade chocolates – all made on-site in the upstairs chocolate factory.
Rainbow Organic Chocolates in the Open Market is another absolute must for a sweet treat. Owner Suzanne, a former scientist, relocated to Brighton six years ago after starting the business in Edinburgh 10 years ago. She makes every delectable chocolate herself, and her recipes use the best organic seasonal ingredients.
A little browse in Hi Cacti, a colourful cactus shop, takes you to Seven Dials. This is Brighton’s only shop specialising in cacti, and easy-care houseplants and it’s run by the lovely Sabine Palermo who started it when she moved to England from Austin, Texas – which explains the Tex-Mex meets Palm Springs vibes inside. If you’re having a bad day and arrive here sad, you will leave full of inspiration and cheer.
Brighton Flea Market
Snoopers Paradise in North Laine is an amazing vintage flea market, but it gets seriously busy, especially at the weekend. Brighton Flea Market is a much quieter option in Kemptown across town with the same mix of vintage finds to browse spread across two huge floors – think antique glassware, 1970s bookcases, crockery, artwork, mirrors, and more. It’s also an excuse to grab a coffee at the Marmalade Store.
Where to stay in Brighton
Brighton has no shortage of great hotels for every budget, so the hardest part is picking which one is right for you. I live in Brighton but if I were to spend the weekend here, I’d want to wake up either facing the sea, or in a cute, quiet local neighbourhood that huddles the centre – like Seven Dials, Kemptown, or Brunswick that feels less chaotic, and have little neighbourhood restaurants and bars. Here are some to think about:
This is the city and seafront’s dominant hotel – its location practically defines the centre of the city, and its ornate facade is synonymous with Brighton’s seafront. It might be a little faded at the edges as a five-star hotel, but it still makes for a luxury stay. They also have a great breakfast in a huge ballroom with high ceilings. Doubles from £99, B&B.
This is the Brighton hotel I recommend most. It’s a playful, stylish and good value (a double costs from £85/night including breakfast). It’s cool yet without being pretentious and homely at the same time. It feels like you’re staying at your stylish artist friend or eccentric relative’s house – the eclectic lounge and dining rooms, have comfy vintage armchairs and a big rustic table where you can work on a computer, meet friends for a drink (they have a bar) or just relax. They also have a separate apartment downstairs if you want to stay with your kids or friends.
The Oriental on Oriental Place is a good-value hotel with charm in a story-book Regency townhouse near the West Pier. It’s close to cosy cafes, romantic restaurants (like The Gingerman I talk about here), and little shops, and it’s central so you can get around town easily. The rooms look dated but they’re clean, comfortable and cheap (doubles are £100 a night in summer – but they will beat any internet rates you find if you call them). I love the little baskets of old-fashioned sweets in each room! There’s also a tiny bar for a cocktail (the Oriental: lychee liqueur and vodka with a dash of Tabasco is incredible) over a board game.
This is the place “Grown-up travellers who pine for the relaxed community vibe of their hostelling days will feel very at home,” according to The Telegraph. It’s an unpretentious, stylish budget hotel (doubles go from £50 and family rooms from £60 in low season).
I love its light and modern design, and the pastel-pink café facing the sea near the West Pier – which becomes a Mexican restaurant by night. Digital nomads are welcome to pop in and work, and they also host DJ nights. You check in via an app and at reception sign up for activities like paddle-boarding, yoga, and even a beach clean. There are also plans to open a co-working space in the future.
Rent an apartment
This way you’ll instantly feel like a local. You’ll have a kitchen and living room if you want to cook or stay in and watch films, and you’ll have extra space if you have children or other people on holiday with you. You’ll save money and there are many amazing apartment rentals in Brighton and Hove, especially on Airbnb.
DAY TRIPS FROM BRIGHTON
If you’re visiting for more than a few days, you might want to go further afield so here are 6 day trips I highly recommend. I also suggest places to visit in Sussex not far from Brighton, such as little-known wineries, under-the-radar villages to hop around and off-the-beaten path country pubs with incredible gardens and my favourite campsites closest to Brighton.
Brighton and Hove together make a small and walkable city, so pack comfortable shoes and don’t be afraid to explore on foot. That’s my favourite way to see the city, and the best way to appreciate the architecture and smaller details you may miss in a car. However, it’s also easy to get around by bike or cab. I recommend visiting in spring before the summer holiday crowds take over, or early autumn when the leaves are changing but it’s not too cold yet.
If you want more inspiration, I have a hunch these books will get you in the mood.