The Royal Pavilion is Brighton in a nutshell – or rather in a huge, crazy building designed by...Royal Pavilion
The UK capital of cool has made a sensation of itself in the last 20 years – colourful, alternative, quirky and teeth-clenchingly trendy in equal measure, Brighton can be more fun than anywhere else in Britain or a sensational letdown. It all depends on what you know and where you go. With a party-loving populace and more than its fair share of famous residents, this London-by-the-sea is ripe with opportunities for awesomeness, but it’s also got dodgy hostels and overpriced beer. Set your secret spot radar on full blast and pack your glow sticks. It’s time to get hedonistic.
For the ultimate travelling experience, visit Brighton during the summer – when festivals rock the streets way past dusk and beach parties see proper A List celebs getting funky with the locals. Chances are the man or woman behind the decks lives just up the road and is dating a film star. This is where the UK steps outside the normal boundaries of society.Read more
Brighton Beach Huts
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Brighton’s winning combination of uber-chic residents and wild partying harks all the way back to the 19th century, when the famously debauched Prince Regent decided he needed a seaside pad.
The Royal Pavilion
The resulting Royal Pavilion is both the town’s most obvious landmark and a masterwork in the key of mental: an enormous Arabian seraglio of a place topped with domes and minarets and supported by delicate colonnades. As the Pavilion lights up in the evening, and Brighton’s nightlife kicks into high gear, there’s nowhere more emblematic of the little town that loves to dance.
Brighton’s anarchic underbelly has long been immortalised in popular culture: it’s the backdrop to Graham Greene’s masterfully creepy Brighton Rock, and it was there in the skins and quiffs of the battling mods and rockers in Quadrophenia. Real-life tribes still call Brighton their spiritual UK home: there are oodles of burlesque clubs here, you’re as likely to be staying next door to a fetish dungeon as a boutique hotel, and the gay and clubbing scenes are out of this world. For a small seaside city, Brighton’s got personality nailed.
Architecturally, Brighton is beautiful: tumbledown streets wind their picturesque ways to the seafront, many of them populated with Georgian houses split up into flats or boutique stores and trendy hotels. Of particular note is the North Laine, which has more hippies, punks and eccentrics per square metre than anywhere else in the country; and The Lanes, another shopping street built on the original fishing-village plan, full of jewellery stores and chichi eateries. Brighton Pier (also called Palace Pier) is a striking example of the late 19th/early 20th century type – and of course there’s the already-mentioned Royal Pavilion, well worth a visit during the day as well as at night.
Internally, travel around Brighton is easy on foot if you’re fit (the town is very hilly). Cycling is also becoming a popular way to get from A to B within city limits.
Brighton’s own airport, Shoreham, is unlikely to be of much help unless you want a chartered flight around the area. However, the city is very close to London Gatwick (less than half an hour on the train), so it’s possible to visit Brighton by plane from most major global destinations.
On the train, visitors come from London, Hastings and Portsmouth or Chichester Mainline trains run from London Victoria and London Bridge. Trains into Brighton are operated by First Capital Connect and Southern. Because of the ease of travel by train between Brighton and London, a large proportion of the city’s residents work in the capital: so expect hellish rides if you travel at high commuting times.
Brighton is linked to London via the A23, and to the east and west coastal towns by the A27. Be aware that the city itself is already too full of cars, and it’s never easy to fit another one in! Driving to town is no problem, but getting around and parking both present significant problems, particularly on festival days (of which there are many in the summer).
National bus routes stop at Brighton, and provide a cheaper option for budget travel. The circuitous nature of the route around the south coast can add several hours onto a journey that could have been done in less than one on a train, though.
There are plenty of local buses, which serve all the major locations and attractions. If you’re feeling environmentally conscious and/or hard up, try a Big Lemon bus, which runs on used cooking oil. The tickets are cheap and the profits go straight back to local business investment. Nice.
Brighton started life as a tiny Anglo-Saxon fishing town, and stayed that way until the mid 18th century. In the 1730s, Lewes doctor Richard Russell popularised the contemporary belief that seawater and sea air were good for curing ailments. At the same time, roads from London were being improved and French ships began to disembark here. The result was rapid expansion. By the late 18th century, Brighton was filling up with spa complexes and bath houses.
The Prince Regent
The Prince Regent (Prince of Wales, son of George III), first visited the town in 1783. By this time, the fishing village had become a Georgian resort fashionable with the moneyed classes, and the tumbling streets of cottages had been replaced with solid Georgian terraces. The Prince liked the town so much he adopted it as his holiday spot (and made use of his newly-completed Royal Pavilion to carry on a lifestyle of debauchery). Brighton’s fate was sealed. It was now the fashionable party capital of the British Isles.
In 1841, the railways came to Brighton when the London to Brighton rail route was completed. The railway put Brighton in reach of the Victorian traveller (and turned Queen Victoria away from the town, which she felt was too public) – over the next 60 years, some of its most recognisable landmarks were built to serve the tourist population. These included the two piers and the Grand Hotel.
Brighton was expanded in 1952, swallowing the neighbouring areas and villages of Rottingdean, Patcham, Moulsecomb and Coldean among others. A period of development ensued, with a number of more modern housing designs incorporated into suburban housing estates.
Brighton’s modern reputation as an alternative bolthole for London’s famous residents has caused a recent period of gentrification. Newer building projects in the city are now conducted with sympathy to its Georgian heritage.
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