Advantages Lively, eccentric, varied
Disadvantages Expensive, considerable amounts of traffic
Recently granted city status, Brighton has traditionally had a reputation for being a destination for a convenient day-trip or a dirty weekend, but such fleeting visits barely do the area justice. Spread out along the coast, around 50 miles south of London's outer fringes, the city has enjoyed a rather successful decade of regeneration and growth. This has brought a number of new developments (with the long-standing promises of much more to come), which have very much enhanced and enlivened the place, complementing more famous landmarks.
The aforementioned "city" status was actually granted to "Brighton & Hove"; the two towns officially joining together. As, geographically, there is no clear separation between the two, which run into each other and neighbouring towns in a strip alongside the sea, this is quite logical - however, this does make Brighton as an individual entity feel a little on the small side for a city; although this need not be a bad thing.The main traffic hub of the area is probably the Old Steine, a roughly half-mile long opening between the buildings, where a congested one-way system carves up a series of parks and monuments, running from St.Peter's Church at one end to Brighton Pier (the one which isn't derelict and crumbling) at the other. Brighton Pavilion sits in its gardens on the western edge of the Steine, looking curiously out of place, with its faux-Indian architecture and "onion" domes.
For the pedestrian, however, the Clocktower is likely to be the central point around which Brighton revolves - and it is from here I will generally give directions, assuming one is facing south, towards the sea. This lies around a ten-minute walk south from the station down Queen's Road, and is also close to most of the car-parks in the area, most notably the large, multi-storey NCP 200 yards straight ahead down West Street. To the right of the clocktower is the recently rebuilt Churchill Square shopping centre, a clean, gleaming affair unrecognisable from the gloomy concrete monstrosity that it replaced. The shops here, and along the length of the adjacent Western Road, are of the identikit, familiar-name type found in every high street up and down the country, but are plentiful, well laid-out and easily accessible.To the clocktower's left lies the polar opposite of this area, The Lanes. A number of entrances to this zone can be found off North Street, the main artery running down to the Steine. The tight, winding alleys and unexpected little squares hiding between the buildings house a great variety of unique local shops, restaurants and cafes - jewellers and independent clothes shops predominate, but a multitude of premises can be found - if indeed you can find them; it's deceptively easy to disorientate yourself. The North Laines, on the other side of North Street, are wider and easier to navigate, but just as odd and varied. National chains are sadly starting to penetrate these areas, but they still retain the charm and uniqueness which makes The Lanes such a perfect antidote to the homogeny of Churchill Square.
In between these two major shopping areas lies West Street - which is either a vibrant strip of clubs and bars, or a vomit-drenched pit, depending on your perspective. Either way, you'll find better areas of town - the establishments are either over-priced meat-markets, soulless chain-bars or cheap, grotty dives; sometimes all three. That, or kebab shops. Much better clubs and pubs can be found all over the city, most within five minutes or so - although, on the positive side, if you accept what you're getting, everything's in easy staggering distance, and you're guaranteed crowds.At the foot of West Street, the seafront extends outwards, to Brighton Pier and the Old Steine to the left, the wrecked West Pier and Hove Lagoon to the right. The beach is as pebbly and sand-free as ever, but is relatively clean and nonetheless crowded in summer. The front, lowered from the road, has had a significant makeover recently, and is now much-improved, lined with benches, Basketball courts and even a modest patch of sand! An assortment of bars, cafes and predictable-enough chippies and rock shops also face the beach.
Beyond the beach, the Marina, built around a decade ago, lies a mile or so to the west. Housing a multiplex cinema, supermarket, restaurants and shopping, the complex is impressive enough to look at, but is generally rather over-priced and underwhelming in substance.
The train network is of less use to visitors - it runs across the northern fringes of the city, serving mainly residential areas (plus the two universities), for typically excessive prices, although it does offer a relatively quick, easy route to and from London, for around £10-15.
As a fairly small city, Brighton is pretty easy to walk around - most things of interest are within a ten-to-fifteen minute radius of the clocktower. However, if you're feeling lazy, or fancy going a little further afield, the bus network is excellent - a number of streets and lanes have been turned into bus-only areas, so zipping around on one of the many is likely the quickest way around the city. Most bus-stops also have train-style electronic information boards detailing time & destination, so getting about is pretty easy. Fares are either a flat-rate £1.40 to go anywhere in the city, or £2.60 for an unlimited one-day ticket (£2.50 if bought in advance).
Driving in the city is, as indicated above, difficult. The roads in the centre are set up to cater for public transport, and long delays are commonplace around the Steine and along the seafront, where it will seem as if the traffic lights are all conspiring against you. A park-and-ride scheme operates from Withdean Stadium (clearly signposted off the A23, a mile or so after Mill Road roundabout), but if you do opt to drive into the centre, Churchill Square car-park offers the best chance to find a space. Street-parking is non-existent, and parking wardens are more common than seagulls, so it's barely advisable to try.Taxis are plentifully available, especially around the station, and can use the bus lanes, so are another quicker (and pricier) alternative.
~ Sights ~
Of course, the other infamous image of Brighton is the Pier, specifically the broken one. Ravaged by storms, and more lately, fires, it is simply a shell falling progressively into the sea - although it looks rather more elegant reduced to its iron skeleton than it ever did as a crumbling, decaying wreck. I'm not sure where the millions of Starlings that formerly inhabited the structure live now, mind. The other pier, a mile or so to the west, is intact, but has limited appeal. Made up of novelty shops, amusement arcades and some fairly tame rides, it's nothing outstanding, although is worth a walk along for the views out to sea and back to the shore.
Pub-wise, similar variety exists. There's the bigger, more generic chain affairs on West Street, the smaller, more unique establishments in and around the Lanes, and everything in between elsewhere - the Steine possesses a number of large pubs, while several glass-fronted bars line the route from Station to seafront. Again, a great part of the fun is to be had searching out drinkeries for oneself, but The Smugglers, on Ship Street, and The Font & Firkin, just into the Lanes off here, stand out for me as distinctive venues with exceptional atmosphere.
The major attraction of the city is less in any particular "sight", more in the all-round entertainment Brighton provides - after the shopping and cafes in the day, an immense amount of restaurants and a strong variety of comedy, music and theatre are on offer, once again all within a half-mile or so of each other. Some of the best eateries are to be found in the Lanes and surrounding streets, although I'll resist suggesting specific venues - partly because there's such a variety of styles and settings that every person will have a different group of favourites, partly due to a major part of the enjoyment being wandering around seeking a feeding without really knowing what it is you're after.
Clubs are less widely distributed - concentrated principally on West Street and the seafront. The latter are probably the better of the lot, but come at an increased price. Drinks, as ever, are ridiculously expensive in almost all of the venues - take advantage of the great number and quality of pubs and bars first.As for non-alcoholic or food-based entertainment, the City is superbly well-stocked. The Komedia, on Gardner Street, hosts endless varied shows, which are invariably well-received, whilst the Dome is the venue for well-known theatre, stand-up and less mainstream music. The Brighton Centre, on the seafront at the foot of West Street sees most of the big-name bands and shows, and also acts as the usual home of the Brighton Bears basketball team. See respective websites for up-to-date details.
The Brighton Festival runs from May 7-29th, showcasing the city's enthusiasm and talent for the arts, making it a great time to visit.
However, these are only minor negatives. Brighton is a lively, eccentric, varied city, with a great range of entertainment of all kinds on offer to visitor and resident alike. The regency architecture is a pleasant change to the homogeny too often found elsewhere - and for anything the area doesn't have, London is only an hour away. The lush countryside of the South Downs is also within easy reach, and offers endless walks along a number of tracks, including the 161km-long South Downs Way. So (I nearly made it this far without saying it ...) Brighton does indeed Rock; if only we could import a few thousand tons of sand and drag over the Mediterranean weather, it'd be getting on for perfect …
Brighton has few down-sides for visitors; and those that it does are simply those that apply to almost any city - parking is a nightmare and most everything is expensive. The city also suffers from a significant lack of major sporting facilities - both the football ground and ice rink have disappeared in the last decade without being replaced, despite promises to the contrary.
Attention, this is the first review from this author
Instead of giving a negative rating, consider:
Help this member by giving your advice
Report fraud (for example plagiarism) or other issue with the review to the Ciao support team
Add your comment