Breakfast and bargain hunting
For such a laid back city, there’s an awful lot going on in Brighton. If you’re here for a few days it’s a good idea to plan some days out, to ensure you make the most of your time here. Thanks to its diverse community and incredible location, there is always something going on to suit all tastes and budgets. And you don’t have to go too far to experience it. There are a few things that should be on every visitor’s ‘to do’ list, such as the Royal Pavilion, the beach and exploring the shops and cafes on North Laine. But once you’ve ticked them off, there is so much more to discover. You could easily spend a day antiquing (yes, that’s a verb!).
Start in Kemptown and then head to North Laine, where you will find Snoopers Paradise, which has been Brighton’s biggest and best loved antique, bric-a-brac and vintage market for more that 20 years. Then head to the quirky shops in South Lanes, before finishing at the Three Angels in Hove, which specialises in decorative antiques and French furniture.
There are plenty of places to refuel on the way, or you could kick off the day with breakfast at Egg and Spoon on St Georges Road. As well as an excellent full English they serve eggs in a variety of guises, including Benedict and avocado smash on sourdough. The waffles are also very good. Later you could grab afternoon tea at Treacle and Co on Church Road in Hove, which has a beautiful selection of cakes and pastries. Or for a real treat why not splash out and have a seafood afternoon tea at The Grand?
Another side of the city well worth exploring is Brighton Marina. As well as a fabulous selection of shops and restaurants, it has an eight-screen cinema, health and fitness club, 26-lane bowling alley and casino. There’s also a great range of water sports, from learning to scuba dive or sail, to fishing and jet skiing. Or you can just sit back and relax on a leisurely boat trip along the Sussex coastline. Getting to the Marina is half the fun as you can hop on the world’s oldest operating electric train. The Volks Electric Railway takes around 12 minutes to get from the aquarium to Black Rock station at the Marina.
The aquarium is another piece of history worth visiting. Built in 1872 Sea Life is the world’s oldest operating aquarium, and its Gothic architecture creates an incredible atmosphere, alongside the fascinating fish and other marine life. The Marina is also a good starting point for one of the city’s best walks. The undercliff walk is around 4.5km and takes you all the way to Saltdean. What makes it such an interesting walk is that you follow the coastline, with the white cliffs towering above you on one side, and the waves crashing against the seawall on the other. Make sure you pack your sunnies as the glare from the south-facing cliffs is intense. A popular stop off point is the cafe at Ovingdean – well it’s really just a shed, but it serves the best cup of tea in Sussex and a great selection of home-made cakes, alongside sandwiches and other snacks.
Another great coastal walk in Brighton is from the Palace Pier to Hove. Before you get hiking, make sure you wander to the end of the Pier, which offers great views back across the city. You’ll get an even better view from the top of one of the funfair rides. Thrillseekers should buy a wristband, which offers unlimited rides. Get them online for a 25 per cent discount. From here it’s a scenic walk along Brighton’s seafront, which has seen some serious redevelopment over the past few years. There are great shops, restaurants and cafes to check out, but the biggest attraction (quite literally) is the i360. This glass viewing pod glides slowly up to 450ft where you can enjoy breathtaking 360-degree views over the city and countryside beyond.
If you’d rather be in the countryside, than looking at it from afar, a visit to the South Downs National Park is a must. It covers 1600km2 of rolling hills, offering fantastic views. You don’t have to travel far to enjoy the great outdoors, as there are 18 accessible walks from the city via buses 77, 78 and 79. Both Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon are just five miles away and provide stunning panoramas across the weald. Devil’s Dyke also features the longest, deepest and widest dry valley in Britain. You can walk through the mile-long dyke to the Hiker’s Rest tearooms at Saddlescombe Farm and at the other end of the walk reward yourself with a pint and a pie back at the Devil’s Dyke Pub.
Ditchling Beacon is the second highest point on the South Downs and was once an Iron Age hillfort, where fires were lit to warn of impending invasions. You can amble along the top ridge, or for a more challenging walk drop down into valley below. Before you tackle the big hill back up again, grab some lunch at The Bull or White Horse in Ditchling, or the Half Moon in nearby Plumpton. All serve top-quality food, from Sunday roasts with all the trimmings, to home-made burgers and hand-cut chips. This route is also a popular place for cyclists, who for some bizarre reason relish the challenging climb from Ditchling village up to the Beacon. Apparently the road has roughly the same gradient as Tour de France’s Mont Ventoux, but is 14 times shorter.
Leisurely strolls and a trip to Lewes
For a more leisurely stroll head to Stanmer Park, which is just three miles from the city centre, but a whole world away. It’s still part of the South Downs, but the park is enclosed by beautiful woodland, which makes is less open to the elements and therefore popular with families, who come for a kick about with a football. Bring a picnic or treat yourself to lunch at Stanmer House, a stunning 18th-century Georgian manor house. It has an extensive menu, which includes breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and a three-course dinner. For something less formal Stanmer Park cafe is hard to beat, serving tea and cake, amazing breakfasts, a range of light lunches and roasts on Sunday.
Other walks further afield on the South Downs Way include the Seven Sisters, which is a series of seven hills in the chalk cliffs between Seaford and Eastbourne. Just east of the last peak is Birling Gap and beyond that is the iconic Beachy Head. Walks range in length from an hour to all-day hikes, and have spectacular scenery and diverse wildlife.
If you’d rather be mooching around town than marching up a hill, a day trip to Lewes will be more your thing. It’s a stunning and atmospheric town, with cobbled streets, set beside the River Ouse and surrounded by the South Downs. Take the 10-minute train from Brighton, so you can enjoy the town’s quaint pubs once you have exhausted yourself browsing its independent boutiques, stylish jewellers, quirky bookshops and antique shops. The sleepy town comes into its own on Bonfire night, when the people of Lewes take to the streets in fancy dress carrying burning effigies, flaming torches and other health and safety nightmares.
Year round activities include the 1,000-year-old Lewes Castle, which kids love. You can climb to the top for panoramic views and on the way up the family can dress up in Anglo Saxon costumes. In the gardens below there are traditional games, trails, quizzes and other activities. Next door, in the Barbican House Museum, you can learn more about the history of the area through interactive and static display. On a hot day it’s easy to lose a few hours at Pells Pool. The original structure was built in 1860, making it the oldest freshwater outdoor public swimming pool in the UK. The 46x23m pool is spring-fed and surrounded by a tree-lined lawn, making it the perfect place for picnics. There is also a paddling pool for little ones.
Days at the farm
Continue along the A27 past Lewes and you’ll get to Charleston, which was the country home of Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Wolf) and Duncan Grant, who were part of an influential crowd of intellectuals, artists and writers known as the Bloomsbury Group. Vanessa and Duncan used the house as a blank canvas, painting the walls, doors and furniture to create a unique decorative style. In addition to the house and artists’ garden, there is an exhibition gallery showing a mix of contemporary and historical art, a Crafts Council shop selling art and books, and a cafe.
Directly opposite Charleston is Middle Farm, which is the perfect place for kids to let off steam. The 625-acre working family farm has a range of animals to pet, from rabbits and goats to pigs and llamas. You can also watch their prize-winning herd of pedigree Jersey cows being milked each afternoon. In addition, there is a picnic area, nature trail, two outdoor playgrounds and a hay barn to play in. For adults there is a farm shop, gift shop, restaurant and over 100 different draught ciders and perries to taste. Just make sure someone else is driving!
Drusillas Park and Bodiam Castle
Other popular farms include Spring Barn Farm, which is in Kingston near Lewes, and Washbrooks Farm in Hurstpierpoint, just outside Brighton. Both have a range of cute and cuddly animals to meet and greet, as well as adventure playgrounds, pedal tractors, go karts and giant jumping pillows. Washbrooks also has an indoor play area for wet days. Take a picnic and make a day of it, or you can eat in their cafes, which serve seasonal, locally-sourced food. Another great day out for all the family is Drusillas Park, which is 12 miles from Brighton and widely regarded as the best small zoo in Britain. Alongside the monkeys, flamingos and penguins there are a number of awesome adventure play areas where children of all ages can climb, slide, jump and swing.
Go Safari! has three, African-themed rides, while the Get Wet! Area features a thrilling collection of water jets, ground geysers, twirling streams and spiralling sprays. Sussex is also home to a number of National Trust properties. Nymans Gardens, Wakehurst Place and Petworth House all have stunning grounds for adults to enjoy and children to play in. Sheffield Park is where the heritage Bluebell Railway starts, before chugging its way to East Grinstead, via Horsted Keynes and Kingscote, through picturesque woodland and countryside. The station also has a shop, model railway, museum and a fantastic collection of locomotives and carriages to explore.
Bodiam Castle near Robertsbridge is another family favourite, with a 14th-century moated castle offering great views from the top. As well as fun medieval games in the grounds, there are a number of seasonal events held throughout the year, from archery to 1940s tea dancing. With so much going on in around Brighton, what you are waiting for? Put down this guide, pack a day bag and get out there and enjoy it.
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