Brighton always reminds me of a part of London that never existed: somewhere between a cuddlier Dalston and a less posh Notting Hill. Brighton is packed with good bars and places to eat, and although it cannot be described as cheap, it’s not expensive compared to the capital. You can get to Brighton from London Victoria or London Bridge in under an hour, which is less time than it would take to get from Barking to Richmond, so it’s easy to do in a day trip or as a weekend break. Here are five insider recommendations for things to do and places to visit while you’re there.
1. Blow Some Cash in the North Laine
The real retail heart of Brighton is not the generic chain stores of Churchill Square, but the quirky, individualistic boutiques of the North Laine. Contrary to popular belief, this bohemian district’s name is not ‘the North Lanes’ but ‘North Laine’ after the olde Sussex word for an area of land. Here you’ll find everything from vintage clothes to second-hand books, New Age paraphernalia and more. One North Laine institution is the eccentric flea market Snoopers Paradise, which has existed for as long as anyone can remember. Snoopers is a mish-mash of many smaller stalls specialising in ancient cameras, retro toys and other esoteric collector’s items. It’s not all gold – I’m sure some items have been there for the ten years I’ve been visiting and will be there for another ten – but there are some gems to be had.
2. Get high on caffeine at Marwood Coffee Shop
Ship Street is only a short walk from the North Laine and home to one of Brighton’s best cafes, Marwood Coffee Shop. Decorated with a criminally eclectic selection of kitsch toys and knick-knacks from the 1980s, Marwood is probably the hippest place this side of Shoreditch to grab a frothy latte or genuine Breville sandwich toastie made with cheap white bread. Their ‘life-changing’ cake and seriously mismatched furniture is the perfect backdrop for penning your latest novel or utilising their wi-fi.
3. Amble to Rottingdean
If the hustle and bustle of the city is getting you down, head for a stroll along the seafront from the Marina to the historical village of Rottingdean. This refreshing route runs below the chalk and flint cliffs, following the sea wall which prevents the cliff-side from collapsing into the English Channel. Rottingdean village is only a couple of miles away and boasts an improbable number of tearooms in which to refuel after your journey. The town was once a haven for artists and writers, and you can still experience Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling’s Secret Garden, which is free for visitors.
4. Refuel at Pompoko
Named after the racoon in a cult Japanese anime film, Pompoko is rapidly establishing itself as the place to get cheap, tasty Japanese eats in Brighton. It’s a pretty low-key affair and not an ideal place to bring a date, but if you’re after hearty portions of donburi (rice bowl dishes) or yakisoba (noodle dishes) at under £5.00 each, Pompoko is the place to be. They also do a takeaway service and let you Bring Your Own Booze, which earns them six out of five stars in my book.
5. Relax with a film at the Duke of York’s cinema
Why not end your day in Brighton with an arty film at the UK’s oldest continuously running cinema? Located in a beautiful Grade II listed building, the Duke of York’s makes a marvellous change from the generic Odeons of Brighton Marina or West Street. Its single screen shows a carefully chosen selection of art house, foreign language and independent films, while you can relax in style in vintage velveteen seats with plenty of leg room. It’s no wonder Aussie songwriting legend turned Brighton local, Nick Cave, calls it home. If you like films, but sometimes in a foreign language and with fewer explosions, then the Duke of York is the place for you.
As you might expect from a popular weekend holiday destination like Brighton, there are plenty of accommodation options ranging from value for money (Best Western Princes Marine Hotel) to the quirkily boutique. One boutique hotel worth checking out is the rather rock ‘n’ roll Hotel Pelirocco, where all the rooms have a unique character and the beach is only a Stone’s throw away. Alternatively, accommodation provider HotelClub offer around twenty different Brighton hotels, which can be booked on their website at reduced rates.
Photo credits: North Laine: garyknight on Flickr, Marwood: official Marwood website, Rottingdean tearoom: Alex Gunningham on Flickr, Pompoko: Guide2Brighton website, Duke of York’s: Wikipedia