white townhouses in distanceIf you read this post, you’ll know I’ve launched a new Brighton and Hove neighbourhood guides series on the Ellie & Co travel website. So far, we’ve covered, London Road, the edgy, overlooked neighbourhood of Brighton no one thinks to visit, but should. Today in the second instalment, we’re getting to know Kemptown.

This historic and eclectic neighbourhood runs about a mile east to west from a regenerated seafront area called Black Rock by Brighton Marina to the end of St James’s Street just short of the Palace Pier. It’s a tangle of little streets lined with historic terraced houses leading from the seafront.

Kemptown, BRIGHTON: A NEIGHBOURHOOD GUIDE

To understand Kemptown, I see it as a trio of distinctive parts: The Kemp Town Estate in the east with its elegant Regency-era townhouses centred around a private garden called the Kemp Town Enclosures, Kemptown village filled with delis, cafes, antique shops and bars and the buzzy, hedonistic St James’s Street long associated with LGBTQ culture. Let’s explore…

row of regency townhouses

Things to do in Kemptown, Brighton

Hidden Kemptown walk

Get your bearings on my self-guided walk around Kemptown, which features in my hidden Brighton walks series I designed during the lockdown. I tend to start near the seafront on Lewes Crescent, in the Kemp Town Estate, make my way up Sussex Square to Eastern Road and meander my way west, ending at Brighton’s smallest tearoom just off St James’s Street.

Don’t miss a detour to discover Millfield Cottages, one of Brighton’s secret streets. It’s known locally as a ‘twitten’ and lined with pastel-coloured homes. Follow my self-guided hidden walk around Kemptown, here.

wild garden design

Secret Garden Kemp Town

The Secret Garden Kemp Town is an outdoor community arts venue; the only one of its kind in Brighton. It’s set in a garden that served number 32 Sussex Square you once accessed through a tunnel – which is now bricked up. The entrance today is through a huge wooden gate in Bristol Gardens. Until recently, it only opened for one-off events or during Heritage Open Days but now hosts an annual summer exhibition event. It’s also free! Find the Secret Garden Kemp Town at Bristol Gardens, Brighton BN2 5JE

seafront sauna

Beach Box Sauna Spa

The Beach Box Sauna Spa is a unique outdoor bathing and authentic sauna experience with a cosy beachside setting and a distant view of the Palace Pier. It’s approved by the Swedish Sauna Academy and features three wood-fired saunas – two set inside converted horse boxes and a new one made of upcycled and take a dip in the sea. I feel invigorated just typing this. It’s open all year. Find the Beach Box Sauna Spa at Banjo Groyne, Behind Volks Railway Workshop, 299 Madeira Drive, Brighton BN2 1EN. Open daily 8.45am-8.45pm, except Tuesday

white building with green dome

A night of cabaret. In a tomb

At the east end of Kemptown village is an elaborate Oriental-style building with a pagoda. This was originally a mausoleum built by a wealthy Brighton businessman. Today, it’s the setting for a Proud Cabaret which hosts dinner and entertainment nights, effectively in a Grade II-listed former grave. As well as evening cabaret, they also host a Drag Brunch, every Saturday and Sunday, which promises raucous entertainment and bottomless booze. Find Proud Cabaret at 83 St George’s Road, Brighton BN2 1EF

Where to Shop in Kemptown

Brighton Flea Market

Snoopers Paradise in North Laine is an incredible vintage flea market, but it gets seriously busy, especially at the weekend. If you prefer browsing in peace, you’ll appreciate Brighton Flea Market – with a bright pink façade and a cool neon sign in the front window you can’t miss. Antique glassware, 1970s bookcases, crockery, artwork, mirrors, and more are spread across two floors. It has a sister flea market, too, in the chocolate-box town of Lewes, if you fancy a day trip. Find Brighton Flea Market at 31a Upper St James’s Street, Brighton BN2 1JN

Kemptown Bookshop

Open in 1976, which apparently makes it the oldest in Brighton, The Kemptown Bookshop is set in a small Regency townhouse which makes browsing feel like you’re in someone’s cosy home. There are three floors to wander, two filled with new books and gifts, and the top home to a quiet space for writers to work in. As well as books, irresistible stationery, children’s toys and games, and fine art prints by the previous owner are also for sale. Find The Kemptown Bookshop at 91 St George’s Road, Brighton BN2 1EE

Other Kemptown shops worth stopping by are Oriental Arts specialising in Chinese stationery like paper and brushes, and David Ingledew Pianos, which often has a baby grand in the window.

busby and wilds kemptown

Where to eat in Kemptown

Busby and Wilds

Dan and I live near Preston Circus, but we’ll happily bike it across town to Busby and Wilds, a gastro pub around the corner from Sussex Square in the Kemp Town Estate. It has a relaxed atmosphere, and the food is traditional English with a modern edge (think potted Sussex crab with fennel, apple puree and toast, steak and chunky chips, and sticky toffee pudding).

I come here for a large glass of red and a Busby beef burger with slow roast tomato, onion jam, and dill pickles, served with skinny chips and coleslaw. Insider tip: Thursday night is predominantly burger night – there are seven different types on offer from £10. There’s also a pretty courtyard garden open in good weather. Take a peek here. Find Busby and Wilds at 9 Rock Street, Kemptown, Brighton BN2 1NF

Pizza Face

Opposite The Well taproom and bottle shop (see below) is Pizza Face, a tiny take-out pizza joint – you collect your order from a hatch – selling playfully named, full-flavoured pizza, made with or without gluten. Holy Cheeses! sounds tempting: gorgonzola, parmesan, mascarpone, caramelised onion; Vesuvius, challenging: pepperoni, chorizo, red onions and fresh chillies.

Personally, I love the Nadine: sun-dried tomatoes, goat’s cheese, and caramelised onions. Vegans are well looked after too and there are sides, like coleslaw, to add to the mix. Find Pizza Face at 35 St George’s Road, Kemptown, Brighton BN2 1ED

Open Bakery

The family-run Open Bakery is the best bakery there is. It opened in 1997 as the Real Patisserie but recently changed its name to expand on its creativity and its baking and cookery classes. All the bread and patisserie, sandwiches and lunches are made from scratch here in the shop. Hot tip: Arrive early enough and you’ll get them warm. Find the Open Bakery at 34 St George’s Road, Brighton BN2 1ED

leman tea room kemptown

Leman Tea Room

With just three tables, Leman hidden on the corner of St James’s Street and Madeira Place in Kemptown might be Brighton’s smallest tearoom. The décor is typically tea-room chintzy – pastels, floral wallpaper, table clothes and vintage china. This part of Kemptown gets busy, so it’s worth bookmarking this place if you find yourself in the area and need a quiet escape hatch, a spot to ponder your day, recharge your batteries, and do some people-watching. Find Leman on 15A Madeira Place, Brighton BN2 1TN

colourful shop interior

Where to Drink in Kemptown

The Well

Tap rooms are all the rage. Most can feel a bit masculine, modern and stark. The Well is a breath of fresh air with its vintage-homely décor – white walls, slouchy leather sofas, G-Plan tables, stools in the window, vintage Moroccan rugs and lots of plants. They specialise in craft beers and have 100s of them, alongside shelves of natural wines. You can take away or drink in (you pay corkage on the wine). Find The Well at 102 Saint George’s Road, Brighton BN2 1EA

Hand in Hand

When it comes to independent pubs in Brighton, this tiny colourful corner pub in Kemptown Village might be my favourite. It exudes old-school proper pub vibes. The cosy bar room is decked out in time-worn patterned carpet, curio-decorated walls, complete with a piano and a wooden box on legs for playing the Sussex pub game, Toad in the Hole (you throw metal discs into a hole on the top from a distance). Upstairs is a microbrewery, which on the right day, you might blag a tour of. They also host jazz nights on Sundays from 8pm til 11pm. Find the Hand in Hand at 33 Upper St James’s Street, Brighton BN2 1JN

Black Dove

An edgy and lively small pub north of Kemptown Village that’s both cosy and candlelit. The upstairs bar is small and narrow with sultry décor: bottle-green walls hung with wonky framed pictures and curios. Bottles dripped in years of candle wax rest on windowsills. There’s always a DJ playing ska and Northern Soul.

Downstairs is a low-lit underground drinking den. They don’t serve food, but you can order takeout pizza from nearby PizzaFace if you’re in it for the long run. Surprisingly, they also have a cocktail list. Find The Black Dove at 74 St James’s Street, Kemptown, Brighton BN2 1PA

Twin Pines Coffee

For awesome coffee in nostalgic surroundings, head to Twin Pines on buzzy St James’s Street. Inside, you feel transported to 1930 New York, they’ve captured the era of the jazz club authentically – dark mustard walls, dark polished parquet floors, a tin-style relief ceiling with brass ceiling fans, vintage coffee bean grinders, and even an old teak counter with a glass cabinet displaying their coffee wares.

Apart from seats outside, and stools at the front, most seats are in nooks, around corners, under low ceilings, or in the hidden basement lounge, complete with standard lamps, armchairs, and coffee tables. Find Twin Pines Coffee at 11 Saint James’s Street Brighton BN2 1RE

Where to stay in Kemptown

Most Brighton hotels I like to recommend are located nearer to the centre of the city, but there are a few nice options nearby. No 27 is an impeccably decorated bed and breakfast in a historical Georgian townhouse five minutes from the seafront, this one-bedroom flat has a balcony with a sea view, or how about this beautifully renovated house that sleeps 10, both available on AirBnB.

Final tips

Kemptown in Brighton is a small neighbourhood and easy to walk around, so pack some comfy shoes. It’s minutes from the seafront, and a 30-minute walk to Brighton station, and central Brighton.

You’ll find a map of Kemptown independent shopping and addresses of note, here. If you want more inspiration, my secret guidebooks will take you off the beaten path.

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