Come this time of year, people often ask me to recommend things to do in Brighton in winter. Not before they ask if it’s worth visiting Brighton when it’s cold outside. Yes! There are so many reasons coming to Brighton in cooler weather is a good idea. The summer crowds have long since gone but the city is still open to enjoy with the locals and those who make the effort.
Brighton beach is quiet at this time of the year, too. The seafront is a lovely place for a bundled-up brisk walk followed by a hearty Sunday lunch or tucked in at a nice bar. So, without further ado, here’s a list of more than 20 awesome activities, restaurants and holiday fun I recommend check out in Brighton in the winter (and please add yours).
5 CHRISTMAS ATTRACTIONS in Brighton THAT ARE actually COOL
1 the lights at the Hove charity Christmas house
Every October, a family in the Hangleton area of Hove starts decorating their house to rival Clark Griswald’s in Christmas Vacation, for charity. They started for fun 20 years ago with a Santa and a snowman in the garden adding more each year. Now it’s a city attraction you take in while Let It Snow blasts from loudspeakers. it’s completely over the top in the best way and It makes for a lovely bundled-up winter walk. Money left in the wishing well decoration is donated to 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.
Insider tip: For your visit, grab a portion of freshly cooked chips wrapped in paper from Wolfies Of Hove near the station, or afterwards head to Banker’s Fish and Chips on Western Road to dine in.
2 Do the Santa Dash (or just watch)
If you’re in town on Saturday 10 December (the date moves each year but is around this time), head to the beach to catch a look at the city’s famous Santa Dash which sees hundreds of generous souls running 5km along Brighton and Hove’s seafront dressed up as Santa Claus to raise money for the local charity, Rockinghorse, which helps sick children. Find out more here.
Insider tip: I don’t have one, as I’ve never done this before!
3 Catch a performance of The Nutcracker
There’s no more classic holiday activity than catching a performance of The Nutcracker. Join Sugar Plum Fairy in the Land of the Sweets (usually) each year at The Brighton Centre, The Theatre Royal and the smaller, historic Old Market. It’s magical even for adults.
Insider tip: Grab a swanky bespoke cocktail before or afterwards at one of Brighton’s cosy cocktail bars. If you’ve little ones, book into a matinee showing tuck into a Margherita pizza and slice of chocolate cake from city-wide favourite Italian restaurant Pinocchio, or a plateful of rosemary fries at Honest Burgers.
4 Artists’ Open Houses Winter Festival
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. You can plan your trail by open house – I’ve already bookmarked this mews studio in Kemptown – 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.
5 Brighton Christmas Festival
At last, Brighton has a Christmas market! Although, London’s Southbank’s Winter Festival it is not, but it’s what we have to work with. It’s best to go when it’s dark. It’s to approach it from the north on a walk-through Valley Gardens – Brighton’s new city green space – along paths decorated with string lights, Christmas songs playing overhead. There are wooden stalls selling gifts and food made mostly by local producers, like Brighton Gin, Brighton Cacao Company and Cielo Cakery. A couple of local pubs, The Dorset and The Cleveland, also have stalls.
6 OUTDOOR ADVENTURES FOR ROSY CHEEKS
Hit the beach!
Winter, for me, is the best beach weather. I cannot tell you how much fun I find it to put on my warm coat and boots, and then get the bus to Brighton Beach. The seafront promenade is gorgeous in the winter light and even prettier if it’s snowing. The area around Blackrock is being developed, so there’s even more to discover.
Insider tip: Creamy cappuccino and flaky pastries are waiting for you at The Flour Pot Bakery near the i360 viewing tower, or local street food like comforting chicken burgers inside the gleaming new food market, Shelter Hall.
Ice skate in front of the Royal Pavilion
Disclosure: I’ve never been ice skating. However, if – and when – I decide to pop my skating cherry it will be in winter in front of the Royal Pavilion. Every year, an ice rink is set up on its leafy grounds and opens from the end of October to the first week of January. Practising your pirouettes is an especially immersive experience in the evening when the ornate building with its famous domes is lit up in bright colours.
Insider tip: Grab a mulled wine afterwards at the Rink café, or for something more decadent, head to a luxury hot chocolate shop, Knoops in the Lanes, for a bespoke sweet drink. I recommend 75% chocolate with rosemary and salt.
See the sights on a bike tour
Hopping on a bike and cycling around town makes me happy every time. Especially now there’s a new seafront cycle lane which makes it much easier and safer. If you cycle west, you’ll adore the view of the West Pier over to Worthing, the sparkling sea, boats and the sunset which on the right weather day, looks incredible! Pick up a bike near the Palace Pier, or join a guided cycle tour around the sights, with Brighton Bike Tours.
Insider tip: If you’re cycling independently, head for cafe bar, Rockwater, for an impromptu glass of red wine and some lunch or dinner.
Sea swim with salty seabirds
Nothing gets your happy endorphins going quite like it. You could brave the icy water on your own, or if you need some encouragement, you could join the Salty Seabirds, a friendly community of swimmers who swim in the sea off Brighton and Hove beaches every single day! They post on Facebook when and where they’ll be swimming for others to join them. There are usually early morning, daytime and evening swims.
Insider tip: Stock up on post-swim snacks at the authentic French bakery, the Real Patisserie. I know I talk about this place a lot, but it does arguably the best-baked goods – and croissants – in the city, as well as delicious, filled baguettes and inventive quiches.
Beach Box Sauna Spa
With its secluded setting and a distant view of the Palace Pier, this traditional Finnish sauna experience is like walking into another world. It’s where you’ll find hardy locals and visitors in the know hanging out in all weathers. It’s amazing and invigorating and will refresh you in sunny months or warm the chilly cockles in winter. Dan and I have been to the sauna many times; it’s always exhilarating, whatever the weather. It’s particularly romantic in the rain!
Insider tip: Afterwards, walk through the sophisticated Kemp Town Estate until you get to Marmalade Store, a little takeaway café set in a quirky old tram shed. It sells foodie gifts like giant jars of homemade marmalade and deli treats, like stodgy almond croissants and generously filled mozzarella and pesto sandwiches on Real Patisserie’s city-famous Chewy Brown bread.
Bundle up and Stroll around town
When you live somewhere for a long time, it’s easy to forget to slow down and take in your surroundings. My series of hidden walks around 5 neighbourhoods of Brighton and Hove offers some inspiration. One of my favourites is around the ‘Notting Hill of Brighton’, with the most beautiful – and expensive – homes in Brighton and Hove. Hunting out the city’s hidden streets is a good way to discover a new part of town, too. I also discovered this magical ‘mindful’ walk around the Pavilion Gardens which is a nice way to appreciate this usually busy place.
Insider tip: Another excuse to buy food at the Real Patisserie!
4 WAYS TO SOAK UP SOME BRIGHTON CULTURE
Chill out at a jazz night
On Sunday nights, the Hand in Hand pub in Kemptown – also home to the country’s smallest brewery – hosts bands playing cool live jazz, amid a cosy and eccentric pub décor. Other places to listen to jazz include the basement bar inside The Verdict, another Kemptown spot nearby; or The Brunswick and The Paris House both across town in Hove.
Insider tip: Beforehand, you can’t go wrong with a heaped plate of Pad Thai at nearby tiny, colourful, super-friendly Suriya’s Kitchen.
Watch a movie at the Duke’s
One of my favourite things to do in Brighton when the nights draw in is to curl up and watch a film at Brighton’s vintage cinema, the Duke of York’s at Preston Circus. It also happens to be the oldest cinema in the country. It’s fun to bundle up and watch the hustle and bustle of Preston Circus before the film starts.
Insider tip: Grab a wine or local beer from the bar to sip from your comfy sofa on the upstairs balcony.
Catch a comedy show
There are several great places to shed tears of laughter in Brighton. The best known is Komedia on Gardner Street in North Laine, and a new venue, The Forge, both often feature well-known names. Less well-known is The Secret Comedy Club. It started life at the Brighton Fringe Festival. Now, it’s on one night a month inside the Artista Cafe & Gallery.
Insider tip: Book in for some patatas bravas and a glass of Rioja at the cosy, postage-stamped size Solera Tapas on Syndey Street; or my favourite Japanese place, Bincho Yakitori, for a plate of their crispy fried chicken and a glass of plum wine.
Go gallery hopping
Put on a fancy dress and a warm coat and hop around the galleries of Brighton. Ones to check out our Phoenix Art Gallery, Fabrica, Onca, Cameron Contemporary and of course Brighton Museum, to name a few. The websites Art Rabbit and Visit Brighton list what exhibits are on and when.
Insider tip: Refuel at veggie haven, Ideya, or dip in and out of some of Brighton’s cosiest independent pubs you’ll likely spot while you’re on the move.
The Best areas for shopping in Brighton
Brighton has a gazillion shops which look cosy and decorated for Christmas. One of the best areas for soaking up festive shopping is just to wander around. If you have a free afternoon, I’d suggest exploring the North Laine (central Brighton’s bohemian shopping area). Start on Trafalgar Street with its numerous cafes (you’ll find great coffee at Bread & Milk and excellent brunch French-style at Mange Tout. Think croissant au jambon and full Mange Tout breakfast with Toulouse sausages).
At the bottom of Trafalgar Street, turn right onto Kensington Place with its pretty whitewashed cottages. At the end is Blackout Shop for kitsch souvenirs, from where you walk west, weaving your way through the narrow streets. Sydney Street is a fun mix of some of the city’s most off-beat shops, and weekend café culture (try Pelicano, and The Roastery); onto busy Gardener Street for Starfish Vintage and stylish designer shop Tribeca on Bond Street. Alternatively, you might prefer to explore Brighton’s hidden shops or those in local neighbourhoods.
Insider tip: Take a nature break in the Royal Pavilion garden before snapping a picture outside the unique structure that is the Royal Pavilion itself.
4 EXTRA COSY BRIGHTON RESTAURANTS
On a brisk afternoon or evening, you might want to tuck in for a meal somewhere with a toasty atmosphere. Here are a few inviting Brighton restaurants to consider:
BIncho Yakitori, a postage-stamped Japanese tapas restaurant near the seafront (order the crispy fried chicken); a new bright, stylish Italian spot, Tutto (amazing salt baked celeriac and pappardelle, chianti slow braised beef shin); or Busby and Wilds in Kemptown for killer burgers and string fries in a cosy gastro pub setting; Riddle and Finns in the Lanes, with its New York vibe and candlelit tables.
4 REASONS TO GET INTO THE SUSSEX COUNTRYSIDE
Have a day at the farm
Less than an hour from Brighton is the huge Middle Farm. It is home to the Cider Barn, home to the ‘world’s largest permanent collection of cider and perry’. There are over 100 types of each, and you can taste many of them before you buy them. They also serve mulled cider at Christmas time as well as Christmas trees.
To hike in the South Downs
When the sun shines on a brisk day, pack a picnic, a blanket, and a flask of something hot, and head for the hills! Country ramble opportunities abound in the South Downs National Park on Brighton’s doorstep. Don’t be tempted by the obvious spots – Ditchling Beacon, Friston Forest, Devil’s Dyke, Seven Sisters Country Park – just because they’ve got a carpark. I’d recommend trying one of my refreshing Sussex countryside loop walks each starting in a lesser-known village away from the crowds.
Lunch at a cosy country pub
Country pubs are good for all seasons – especially if they have a roaring fire for curling up in front of with a glass of wine after Sunday lunch. (The Bull in Ditchling has one of the biggest set inside a historic low-ceilinged bar room.) I have a list of trusty list of favourite Sussex country pubs near Brighton I head for when the moment strikes, each one tucked up lost lanes and into the folds of the South Downs National Park.
To eat Sussex Charmer cheese on toast!
I may or may not be obsessed with cheese. So the fact Charmer cheese is produced in Sussex, the most amazing creamy mature Cheddar taste followed by the zing of Parmesan is a little dangerous. Not only that but also there’s a café in Sussex that specialises in Sussex Charmer on toast! Oh my! It’s called The Milk Churn Café which – if you’re feeling fit – you can cycle to along a beautiful bike and walking trail called the Downs Link which starts in Shoreham. They even do Charmer macaroni cheese, Charmer cheese straws and… Charmer cheese quiche!