Today, I’m sharing the second in the new series: ‘7 secret highlights’. To be honest, I only just decided it would be a series. When I wrote the first post like it on 7 secret highlights of a weekend in Seville, I hadn’t thought I would do more. Seeing as I had a great response, I’ve made it into a thing! So, welcome to the second intallment in my new travel series: 7 secret highlights of a weekend in Brighton.
I’ve been hunting out hidden places in Brighton for a few years now, so writing this post gave me the opportunity to look back through the secret Brighton archives, and pick out some favourites. It goes without saying these are overlooked places you won’t find on most tourist itineraries. This doesn’t mean they aren’t worth visiting or trying out – far from it. If you enjoy stepping off the beaten path, you’ll know that sometimes it’s these little-known, out-the-way discoveries that get to the heart of a place. So without further ado, let’s discover 7 secret highlights of a weekend in Brighton.
secret highlights of Brighton
1 Seven Dials, the Notting Hill of Brighton
The quiet, residential area of Seven Dials is overlooked by most visitors to Brighton, yet it’s full of charm and history. It’s home to some of the most beautiful houses in the city, and also within walking distance of central Brighton and Brighton seafront for evening strolls.
If I was planning a weekend in Brighton, I’d make Seven Dials my base. It’s a compact neighbourhood and I like that it feels like a village. It has a bit of everything that makes it so: peaceful shady streets lined with townhouses, and lots of neighbourhood cafes, pubs and shops. Even a couple of places for a culture fix. You could easily just spend a whole day in this area of Brighton alone.
You’ll find good coffee at Puck, Small Batch, and Stoney Point, and delicious Portuguese treats at Latina deli. Culture-wise, you can browse curiosities in a shopwindow, or art in a phone box. There are lots of pubs nearby for cosy drinks – The Crescent, or The Cow – and tiny cosy restaurants for dinner, such as this postage stamp Japanese restaurant called Murasaki. Meanwhile, the Atelier Du Vin cocktail bar has a hidden terrace out the back for summer wine drinking.
Side point: A good way to discover the area is by wandering and weaving around the backstreets on my self-guided walk around Seven Dials. If you’d like to do it, you can find directions and a map here.
2 My secret Brighton holiday apartment
When the owner of my secret Brighton holiday apartment, Paula Barnes, spotted I’d included her place in my Brighton AirBnB guide, she got in touch to thank me. I took the opportunity to invite myself round for a proper look around, take some photos and get a feel for this special place.
This is one of my favourite Airbnb discoveries in the city so far (except for this houseboat) for its authentic charm and character. The best part? It costs from just £120/night. It’s set within an 1860 mews/stable on Cambridge Grove, a quiet cobbled street in Hove, just off The Drive. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and is decorated with quirky collected treasures, colourful textiles and old paintings, but has plenty of modern comforts as well, like a great shower, TV, Netflix, and comfy beds.
The piece de resistance is the kitchen, set inside a giant greenhouse. I love all the natural light flooding in, the plants, books, vintage finds, which Paula is expert at curating. Most of the features of this room are original, too, including the full height glass ceiling, the floorboards and the lime-rendered walls.
3 Anna’s museum, a shop window of curiosities
Sometimes it’s the smallest, quirkiest and most overlooked sights that offer the biggest clues on a place, the locals and their story. They’re often the most fun places to discover, too, taking you off the beaten path into streets and areas of a place you might not walk along otherwise. Anna’s Museum in Brighton is one of these kinds of places.
I stumbled on it by chance one Saturday day, on a detour up a side street to escape the shopping crowds in the centre of town. It’s easy to miss though, as it’s not a museum in a traditional sense; more a secret shop window of curiosities – as I like to call it – that you stop to look at on a wander past.
4 Audrey’s Chocolates, a timewarp sweet shop in Hove
I’d like to share my best discovery yet, the most treasured shop with heart you’re likely to come across in the city, if not the world, called Audrey’s Chocolates. The scene is set for this marvelous time-capsule chocolate shop with its roots in the 1920s in a charming, yet ordinary Georgian townhouse tucked down a Hove side street.
Outside, the façade is humble and inside it looks exactly 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.
Side point: Believe it or not, Audrey’s Chocolates in Hove supplies London food emporium, Fortum & Mason. Each and every chocolate they ship to London is made in a secret chocolate factory above the shop. You can read about it here.
5 Beach Box Sauna Spa, a Scandinavian-style sauna experience
The Beach Box Sauna Spa is a unique outdoor bathing and authentic sauna experience here in Brighton. You’ll find it in my secret Brighton beach club. With an its cosy beachside setting and a distant view of the Palace Pier, this is where you’ll find hardy locals and visitors in the know hanging out. Open all year round, this little hidden gem is guaranteed to invigorate and refresh you in sunny months or warm the chilly cockles in winter.
Approved by the Swedish Sauna Academy, Beach Box Sauna replicates the traditional Scandinavian-style sauna experience. It features three wood-fired saunas – two set inside converted horse boxes and a new one made out of upcycled materials, a plunge pool, cold showers and a fire pit. You can also enjoy various natural body treatments, try leaf whisking – a treatment which involves hitting yourself lightly with birch and oak twigs – ‘whisks’ – to promote better circulation, or take a dip in the sea. I feel invigorated just typing this.
How it works: Sessions last two hours and you start with a cold shower* before hitting the sauna, which you stay inside until you feel like you want to cool down – you’ll know when. At this point you come out, take another cold shower, then either a dip in the plunge pool or the sea. Repeat as many times as you can fit in to your session! Around about your second sitting, your sauna master will bring you any treatments you fancy. You need to save about 30 minutes of your two hours, to get changed and enjoy a bit of a post-sauna sit down.
6 vintage floor mosaics and ghost signs
Writing guidebooks to the unusual means I’ve trained my eye to spot all the little flourishes and details in a place that offer clues to the past. Other than old shopfronts and faded ghost signs, I’ve become particularly sentimental for vintage shopfront entrance mosaics. Like this one I found recently – isn’t she beautiful?
These beautifully tiled mosaic entrances were the height of fashion and sophistication in the 19th and 20th centuries and most shops and apartment buildings had one. I imagine nothing was more fancy than entering a shop which displayed their name in this way. To me, they’re not just pieces of social history, they’re works of art a lot of skill and patience has gone into creating. Personally, I think they should all be preserved.
Side point: Since my first spot, I’ve been faithfully keeping an eye out for others, snapping them whenever I see one, which I’ve gathered together into this post. I’ve also included a handy map at the end of the post so you can plan your own treasure hunt.
7 Duke of York’s Picturehouse, the oldest cinema in the country
If there’s one building that stands out among the mish-mash of architecture around Preston Circus, it’s the Duke of York’s Picturehouse, not only for the giant Can Can legs on its roof, but also its ornate Edwardian baroque-style façade. The Duke’s, as everyone calls it, opened in 1910 and is thought to be the oldest surviving purpose-built cinema in the UK, having operated for over 100 years continuously.
Today, the cinema seats 278 people, but in its heyday, it seated over 800 people and looked much different. Apparently there was a ticket booth between the main doors, where customers would buy tickets before going inside. There were also two shops to each side; one selling French pastries delivered daily by the ferry from Dieppe to Brighton’s West Pier; the other selling cigarettes, cigars and confectionery.
Today it’s a luxurious independent cinema, which has recently been refurbished and I highly recommend you pay a visit to it. There’s a balcony with some sofa seating, and you can even buy wine! Check the listings here.
Bonus secret highlight – Blackout shop, if Aladdin had a shop in Brighton…
If you’re looking for a souvenir gift for that special, eccentric friend or family member, you need to discover Blackout Shop. It’s a carefully curated riot of colour and kitsch from around the world, all of it tamed within one of the dinkiest shops in the North Laine area of Brighton. Together with the low ceilings, ambient lighting, it feels like you’ve stepped inside a fortune teller’s gypsy caravan bursting with shiny trinkets or a giant treasure chest dripping with sparkly jewels.
Everything you can imagine kitsch-wise is here – colourfully painted enamel plates, mugs, cups and bowls, beautifully weathered vintage tins from India, Mexican loteria cards, glittery decorated boxes of matches, pom poms, lanterns, hanging dolls and light up rabbits, colourful candles, vibrant scented soaps, key rings, notebooks, jewellery, not to mention cushions, bags, trays, clothes, socks… I could go on. Until you can visit, they now have a website!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my favourite secret highlights of a weekend in Brighton and feel inspired to plan a weekend at the seaside.
Do you have a curiosity in Brighton to recommend? I’d love to know! Read the first post in the series, here.
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