Christmas is coming! I am one of those people you love to hate at Christmas time. I start talking about everything Christmas earlier than you like to hear, put my tree up at the end of November, and watch my first Christmas film at the same time. I’m sorry, not sorry, but I just love this time of year, especially in Brighton.
The city emerges from its shoulder season slumber, signs of the festivities start popping up around the city, lights and trees peeping through windows, wreaths on front doors, mulled wine in pubs. Seeing as readers often ask me to suggest things to do in Brighton at this time of year, today I’m sharing six charming reasons to get excited about Brighton at Christmas. So crack open the eggnog and let’s go!
1 Drink mulled wine at the Christmas market
At last, Brighton has a Christmas market! OK so let me manage your expectations. London’s Southbank this is not, but it’s what we have to work with. Insider tip: to have the best time, go when it’s dark. It’s just not the same when it’s light. To find it, take a romantic wander through Valley Gardens – Brighton’s new city green space – along paths decorated with string lights, Christmas songs playing overhead, until you get to the Steine where you’ll find the market. Inside the entrance near the King and Queen pub you’ll find wooden stalls selling gifts and food made mostly by locally-based producers, like Brighton gin, Brighton cacao company and Ceilo Cakery. A couple of local pubs, The Dorset and The Cleveland, also have stalls. The Valley Gardens runs 1.5km north to south from St Peter’s Church near The Level down to the Palace Pier and it opened in 2020. There are bike lanes, and beautiful flowers that bloom all year around and it’s one of my favourite places to spend an afternoon in Brighton. The Christmas market is part of a new city-wide project called the Brighton Christmas Festival which runs from 26 November to 31 December and features lots of other events.
Find out more here.
2 Wander around the North Laine
As well as pubs, Brighton has an incredible number of independent shops, the biggest cluster of which you’ll find in the North Laine Bazaar area. One of the nicest ways to shop is just wander. Streets not to miss are Sydney, Gardner and Bond streets and Kensington Gardens shopping alleyway, each lined with small unique shops set inside tiny, old fishermen’s cottages. Not surprisingly the area gets busy at Christmas, but feels seriously festive, especially in the late afternoon when it starts to get dark. Shops also stay open late one night in December for a special Christmas shopping event, when retailers hand out mulled wine and mince pies while you shop. To get you in the mood for some Christmas independent shopping in Brighton, I’ve also written about shopping in Brighton by neighbourhood, about my favourite independent shops, the coolest vintage boutiques, and this incredible chocolate shop. And this wonderland of kitsch gifts.
3 Go on a cosy festive Brighton pub crawl
Brighton has no shortage of cosy candlelit pubs for soaking up the Christmas atmosphere. In fact, I read recently that the city has more pubs per square mile than in London. Although this can be overwhelming so to help, I recently shared some of my favourites in this guide to some of Brighton’s most notable traditional pubs worth checking out. My current favourites for cosy candlelight ambience are the Shakespeare’s Head, Lion and Lobster, and The Geese. Or you could just let me take you on a cosy Brighton and Hove pub crawl here.
4 See the lights at the Charity Christmas House
Every October, a family in the Hangleton area of Hove start decorating their house to rival Clark Griswald’s in my fave festive film, Christmas Vacation, for charity. It has to be seen to be believed! Michael and his wife Lynn began decorating their house for Christmas just for fun 20 years ago, starting with a santa and a snowman in the garden. Each year, they’ve added more and now their house is a city attraction. Since they installed a wishing well decoration one year, people started leaving money in it, which they pass to various non-profit charities in the local area. They usually turn on the lights at the start of December.
Find it at 32 Amberley Drive, Hangleton, Hove
5 Do the Santa Dash (or just watch)
If you’re in town on Saturday 11 December, head to the seafront of the city’s famous Santa Dash which sees hundreds of generous soul dressing up as Santa Claus running 5km along Brighton and Hove seafront to raise money for the local charity, Rockinghorse, which helps sick children.
Find out more here.
6 Go gallery hopping (and snoop in other people’s houses)
Seriously who doesn’t like snooping around other people’s houses? Every year, as part of the Artists Open Houses event, artists around the city turn their houses into mini art galleries which they open to the public. It’s fun to walk around the city, hop from one house to another, drink mulled wine and shop for affordable art. Oh, and snoop inside other people’s houses. You can plan your trail by open house – I’ve already bookmarked this mews studio in Kemp Town – by artist, or by using this handy map. The event takes place across four weekends in the run up to Christmas, and annually in May, too.