London may be the favored destination of international travelers to England, but where do Londoners go to get a break from the city?
Brighton, located just an hour south of London by train, is a much-loved seaside haven on the English Channel. Known for its Victorian architecture and pebbly beaches, Brighton has also become prime real estate for well-to-do commuters from the big city. Don’t be fooled, though—Brighton is renowned for its young and decidedly counter-culture population.
Brighton Pride, England’s highest profile LGBT event, is an annual celebration that draws thousands of revelers from all over the United Kingdom. The festival, which celebrates all manner of personal freedoms, permeates the Brighton lifestyle throughout the year. In 2010, the City of Brighton and Hove elected the UK’s only Green Party Member of Parliament. The street art of Brighton is just as liberal, with Banksy’s ‘Kissing Coppers’ being the most notable example.
Not that Brighton isn’t also a place for older travelers looking for sunshine and the ubiquitous fish and chips. There are elegant bed and breakfasts located along the many miles of seafront, as well as some famous (and infamous) luxury hotels. The Grand Hotel, for instance, was thrust into international headlines when it was bombed in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Margaret Thatcher in 1984. The hotel has since been completely restored, and the rooms have unparalleled views of the Channel. On a clear day guests can see all the way to the Isle of Wight.
Today Brighton is vibrant; full of creative energy and unusual sights. The Pavilion, a former royal palace, has become the favorite landmark of tourists and locals alike. The grand exterior looks as if it’s come straight out of India, while the decadent interior is reminiscent of ancient China. The surreal mix of cultures, eras, and artifacts makes this former residence of King George IV simply unmissable. The manicured grounds double as a public park and serve as a meeting place in the center of the city.
The Brighton Pier, just a short stroll from the Pavilion, is another famous structure. The Pier dates from 1899, a time in which seaside piers in England were a common sight. Only a few examples now remain, with Brighton’s being the most recognizable. Ice cream vendors provide a gateway to the Pier itself, which boasts arcades, shops, restaurants, and an unusual view of the city. Less than a mile away is the skeleton of the old West Pier, an icon that is slowly collapsing into the sea.
For a bit of retail therapy, as well as a taste of Brighton’s past, ‘The Lanes’ are delightful. What was once the fishing village is now a winding maze of hundreds of unique shops, stocking everything from authentic samurai swords to posh designer clothing. The narrow streets are perfect for pedestrians, and the lack of cars makes it easy to imagine you’ve stepped back in time. The modern version of an English fishing port, the Brighton Marina, is only a few miles’ walk along the seafront promenade.
After the sights have been seen, Brighton’s public houses beckon with their excellent meals and charming ambiance. Finding an establishment is not difficult, as Brighton is rumored to have the highest pub-to-population ratio in England. The best pubs have changeable menus that feature seasonal, local produce and are quite reasonably priced in comparison to traditional restaurants. So sit back, have a pint, and enjoy your time by the English seaside.
Written by and photos by Amy Vasereno for EuropeUpClose.com