Two days in Brighton featuring where to find the best Japanese food ever and an outdoor spa-sauna experience you’ll rave about for years.
Today I’m kicking off a new series of weekend city break itineraries starting with Brighton, England’s south-coast seaside city.
The walkable Regency-era city is easy and cheap to get to from London. It tempts travellers with its mix of historic Regency architecture, cosy old pubs, fun bars, blustery beach – and most of all, its liberal attitude to partying. This is the place for afternoon pints as the sun sets, long lazy seafood lunches by the beach, blustery coastal walks, before wild nights spent at live music gigs and clubs.
This 48-hour Brighton city break itinerary features a mix of local places Brightoners love – like where to find the best Japanese food ever, a (very) romantic date idea, and an outdoor spa-sauna experience you’ll rave about for years – and twists on the big-ticket sights like the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Palace Pier. Enjoy!
A weekend in Brighton: a 48-hour itinerary
Friday afternoon in BRighton
Check into the Artist Residence, a charming 24-room boutique hotel inside two Regency-era townhouses on a historic square facing the English Channel. It’s equally well-located for seafront escapism and city centre adventures. Inside it’s a maze of rooms with bohemian décor mixing original and vintage features like wooden floors, exposed brick walls, slouchy worn-in sofas and luxurious bathrooms with roll-top baths.
For a fun, casual dinner, I love Bincho Yakitori, a buzzy postage-stamp-sized Japanese tapas restaurant. It’s fun to sit at the counter and watch the chefs at work. Go for the crispy, piping hot kara-age (fried chicken) and a sweet plum wine over ice. If you want to stay out, the Royal Sovereign pub next door is a fun place for a nightcap.
Saturday morning in Brighton
After breakfast in your sea-facing hotel, I’d recommend starting your Saturday in Brighton with a refreshing walk along the seafront lined with Regency-era townhouses and modern buildings. Even if it’s a rainy day in Brighton, watching the waves crash spectacularly onto the pebbled shore beneath a dramatic sky is fun.
Your hotel on Regency Square faces the skeleton of the distant West Pier which burned down over 10 years ago and is a constant reminder of Brighton’s seaside heyday. Next to it is one of the city’s big-ticket sights, the British Airways i360 viewing tower. Spotting large-scale artworks atop the city’s rooftops is a good reason to play tourist and brave a trip up it.
Personally, I’m scared of heights so prefer a browse in the vintage designer shop Re-Bound, or walking west towards Hove Lawns where you pass Embassy Court, a stand-out Modernist apartment block designed in the 1930s to look like a beautiful ocean liner.
Lunch in Brighton
For lunch, head back east to the Shelter Hall street food market set inside a once-derelict Victorian waiting hall. Grab a table on the outside terrace, balcony or inside, and tuck into a dish from one of seven kitchens hosted by chefs from around Sussex. For something fancier, try the nearby The Copper Clam, an overlooked, unpretentious seafood restaurant. Their platters of fresh shellfish caught locally are impressively presented. If it’s raining, the upstairs arched window overlooking the sea is the place to grab a table.
After lunch, carry on east. Towards the end of the prom, just before the Brighton Palace Pier, is an area known as the Artists’ Quarter. It’s home to lots of little galleries to browse. Atelier Beside the Sea is one of the newest and largest, home to a gallery, and a shop selling local makers’ work.
There’s no more authentic way to soak up the seaside nostalgia than with a stroll on the boardwalk of Brighton Palace Pier. It was built in 1899 and is one of the oldest pleasure piers in the UK. Crowd-phobes listen up: the place heaves with visitors in the height of summer so it’s best enjoyed on weekday mornings when it’s at its quietest or at dusk between November and March when the starlings perform their murmuration dance.
If you carry on further east towards Brighton Marina, you’ll discover an outdoor gallery with a twist; a mysterious collection of sculptures surrounded by a fence – some up to eight-foot-high – of figurines decorated beautifully in flint and shells from the beach.
Saturday Afternoon in brighton
Saturday afternoon in Brighton is best spent hunting for vintage finds in the North Laine, an area of independent shops, cafes and restaurants north of the main shopping street, Western Road. To find it, wander away from the seafront through The Lanes, a tangle of narrow streets, where you’ll find lots of little jewellery shops and this hidden high-end vintage fashion boutique.
Carry on wandering until you get to Meeting House Lane which takes you out to Western Road. Cross over into the Royal Pavilion gardens, in Brighton’s Cultural Quarter. This exuberant party palace is the jewel in Brighton’s Regency cultural crown built in three stages, starting in 1787, as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, who became the Prince Regent in 1811, and King George IV in 1820.
Apart from a couple of chain shops, Brighton’s North Laine area remains almost completely independent. It is the perfect place to spend the early afternoon pottering around Brighton’s coolest bookshops, vintage boutiques and flea markets. Snoopers’ Paradise is a rambling emporium on Kensington Gardens of retro and vintage finds you could lose hours in. For kitsch gifts, Blackout Shop (ironically the brightest shop in Brighton) is the place to be.
Escaping the shopping crowds
If you have the urge to escape the crowds, my series of hidden Brighton walks is your friend. Each one sees you wandering and weaving around the backstreets of Brighton’s loveliest neighbourhoods. Kemptown with its historic Regency architecture, cool bars and village feel, runs the distance from Black Rock near Brighton Marina to just short of Brighton Palace Pier. It’s an area of grand squares and crescents lined with whitewashed Regency townhouses, leafy private gardens, and a contrasting buzzy centre around St James’s Street, long associated with LGBTQ culture, where rainbow flags adorn many of the bars, clubs, cafes, and B&Bs.
Off-radar Seven Dials near Brighton Station is another nice place for a walk. Despite its timeless beauty and city-centre location, it remains off most visitors’ hit list. It’s home to some of the most beautiful homes in the city, alongside two cultural curiosities: Anna’s Museum, a tiny natural history collection in a shop window, and Dog and Bone Gallery, the city’s smallest gallery set inside two tomato-red London phone boxes.
Saturday night in Brighton
Brighton is packed with pubs which are fun to hop around. If you fancy planning your own Brighton pub crawl, my guide to Brighton’s cosiest and best independent pubs will come in handy. Personally, I love The Great Eastern on Trafalgar Street with its spit n sawdust saloon vibe, without the spit and sawdust – think low ceilings, stripped wood floors, wood panelling – and a wide range of whiskeys and bourbons on offer. The Basketmakers Arms is also great, with curio-filled walls decorated with old metal tins containing messages, jokes and random musings from punters scribbled on the back of receipts and flyers. There are lots of beers on tap and they serve decent food.
Prefer a cocktail and dinner? Grab a pre-dinner drink and one of Brighton’s cocktail bars. Like the Plotting Parlour, a reservation-only stylish and sultry-looking cocktail bar hidden up a seafront side street on the fringes of Kemptown. Then head towards the North Laine for a spicy dinner of southern Indian street food at The Chilli Pickle. The tandoori butter chicken is amazing.
Sunday morning in Brighton
After a weekend soaking up the culture and pounding the pavements, a session at the Beach Box Sauna Spa on the seafront near Kemptown is a treat. It’s a traditional Scandinavian-style sauna experience approved by the Swedish Sauna Academy. It’s open year-round and features wood-fired saunas set inside converted horse boxes, a plunge pool, cold showers and a fire pit and various natural body treatments to try.
Your final afternoon in Brighton is best spent eating Sunday roast and drinking red wine in one of the city’s independent pubs, such as the Sussex Yeoman near Brighton Station or The Basketmakers Arms in the North Laine, to reflect on the fun you’d had.
The best way to get to Brighton from London is by train. Southern Rail and Thameslink have regular services that link Brighton with London and Cambridge. For more information on Brighton, visit the Brighton tourist board.