36 hours in Brighton

Join Catriona Aitken on her sojourn to pastel, picturesque Brighton.


The staycation has become increasingly popular over the last few years. Many of us who live in the UK are yet to explore the many beautiful corners of the country, so I decided to get away for a while after exams and kick-start my summer with a trip to sunny Brighton.

The perfect image of a trip to the seaside definitely includes a few rays of sunshine, and I was incredibly lucky to coincidently pick the fleeting English June heat wave to travel south. The incredible heat was the perfect holiday setting, despite the fact that being used to the average weather of Scottish summer meant the increased temperatures came as a bit of a shock, making sightseeing a rather sweaty affair!

On arrival in Brighton you are immediately met with the youthful, hipster, energetic buzz that radiates from the town. The town centre is comprised of a hub of students and tourists, with people from every walk of life enjoying the beautiful weather in a melting pot of culture and creativity. Upon stepping off the train an iced coffee was the top priority, so I headed to Pelicano House coffee shop in the heart of the Brighton Lanes. The Brighton Lanes are a maze of narrow streets lined with a multitude of small shops, which have become a central feature of Brighton’s old town and are flogged by tourists and locals alike. Everyone is taken in by their unique fusion of antique stores and unusual independent businesses. As soon as you enter your senses are awakened by the amazing smell of freshly ground coffee and the eye-catching display of home-made cakes and pastries. It was a very aesthetically pleasing experience, although I decided to stick with a delicious iced vanilla latte to go, then head to my first stop: the British Airways i360.

I had planned ahead and booked a ‘flight’ on this seaside attraction, deciding that it would be the perfect way to get a good view of the town and get my bearings. Based on the weather, I was expecting clear blue skies and views for miles, however there was some mist in the distance. Inspired by the popular London Eye, the i360 experience began with a small museum and film depicting its impressive construction. Once sat on the i360 itself, we began moving slowly upwards, until reaching the peak at a fantastic 138 metres. From there, we could take in panoramic views of Brighton, Hove, and beyond. I noticed the extensive collection of street art on many of the high-rise buildings, further emphasising the artistic and expressive atmosphere I was already feeling immersed in.

The flight wasn’t long, but the round, glass carriage of the observation tower, which is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world, made for ample photo opportunities. Upon landing, I decided to walk a little further down the beach, towards Brighton Pier, and stopped off at a bike hire shop right beside the sand. We were welcomed by the very friendly owner, who helped us select brightly coloured bikes and told us where to find the best cycle paths. From the pier you can head in two directions, so we began by peddling towards the marina and white cliffs. The gentle ocean breeze and flat terrain made for ideal cycling conditions and we soon reached the end of the coastal route, where we were in close proximity to the famous chalk cliffs of Sussex.

We then turned around and began to cycle back towards the pier, stop ping for lunch at the Brighton Marina. The marina’s location makes for the perfect pit stop, with a large choice of shops and restaurants to browse. Sat overlooking the working harbour that warm afternoon, you couldn’t help but feel as though you may as well be abroad.

Once passed the pier, you can decide to make the most of your hire and cycle in the other direction towards Hove. Now travelling on a path sandwiched by the beach on one side and the bustling main road on the other, I was struck by the oddity of our location, a bizarre but beautiful experience unattainable from your average city break. On this stretch, I highly recommend veering off the main path and going down onto the promenade in order to get a glimpse of the brightly coloured, old-fashioned beach huts of Hove. These not only give you a flashback to the traditional English seaside weekend but also make for a must-have Instagram story addition.

We chose to conclude our seaside day the way only a true Brit knows: a fish supper. However, while you may imagine us sitting on one of the promenade benches, munching on this salt and vinegar doused delight, this was not a practical choice. Brighton is home to some savage seagulls so we opted to take our food elsewhere. I recommend the Old Steine Gardens as an alternative location, as it is just two minutes’ walk from the pier.

Situated in the centre of the gardens is the Victoria Fountain, commissioned by John Burrows in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1837, surrounded by plenty of grassy areas and public benches. The gardens are also conveniently located between the beach and town centre, so, after polishing off the last of our chips, we stopped by our hotel before continuing into town.

We decided to go for cocktails. An evening drink is the perfect summer holiday treat, and we headed to The Twisted Lemon during their happy hour. The Twisted Lemon turned out to be a small and exceedingly popular bar, which offered half-price cocktails as part of a happy ‘hour’ that seemed to last most of the day, as well as extremely friendly service from the bar staff. Watching them prepare our English Mojitos was fascinating, as they sliced and shook and stirred with passion and energy you can’t find in your average pub. The quirky décor and simple but effective touches, such as tea lights on the tables, were the perfect embodiment of Brighton’s artistic scene and social culture. Sipping refreshing drinks with friends was, to me, the perfect end to a fantastic first day.

Heading out early to make the most of my remaining hours in Brighton, I stopped for breakfast at The Flour Pot Bakery in Brighton’s North Laine district. The bakery and its cute street-corner café are renowned for their high-quality artisan bread and the display counter did not disappoint. For a second morning, my greedy eyes were met with an overwhelming array of niceties, and eventually, I settled on a cheese and mushroom croissant.

We followed breakfast with a wander around Brighton’s notorious Laine districts. With such a vast quantity of independent boutiques and stores, offering everything from fudge to rubber ducks, and narrow streets draped in bunting and sporting stalls selling jewelry and local crafts, we were able to spend several hours browsing and admiring. We even paid a quick visit to Choccywoccydoodah, a shop known for its astonishing statues and other crafts, sculpted purely out of chocolate, often of a ghoulish theme. In short, it was the kind of store that would seem completely out of place in most streets but, down a side alley of this diverse shopping quarter, came as no surprise.

All that walking in the heat of the day was quite exhausting but you certainly are not short of places to stop for a cooling treat. We picked Boho Gelato, which has a small shop in the Laines and a larger parlour at the sea front. The lovely staff member told us that their flavours change frequently, even catering to dairy and gluten-free dietary restrictions. In the end, large scoops of Oreo Cookie and Salted Caramel tempted my taste buds.

No trip to a coastal location as iconic as Brighton would be complete without embracing your inner child and paying a visit to the pier’s amusement park. For £20, you can purchase an unlimited wristband for the entire day, and so we spent our remaining hours being flung into the air and dropping from precarious heights, as well as spinning until we could hardly stand; a classic rollercoaster ride, funfair experience. My personal favourite had to be the log flume, in which we were seated in carriages elevated directly above the sea, and then so entirely soaked that the only course of action was to ride it all over again!

As the sun set and views of the horizon were tinted with indescribable shades of blue, pink, and orange, our time in Brighton was drawing to a close. But as darkness set in, we had one last stop to make. The Royal Pavilion, not too far from the Old Steine Gardens we had sat in the previous day, had caught our eyes as being one of the most unusual of the historic buildings we had happened across. Built in 1787 as a seaside retreat for the then prince of Wales, it’s Indo-Saracenic architectural style, which was very popular in 19th century India, completely differentiates it from your standard royal dwelling. Its exotic nature is only further emphasised at night, when it is lit up in colours so beautiful and illuminating you feel as though it has been lifted directly from one of Southeast Asia’s many different cities.

With that last glimpse of the multiculturalism of a town dominated by both its seaside location and quirky urban vibe, it was time to say farewell to Brighton, but definitely not goodbye for good.


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