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A UNIQUE CITY IN WHICH TO LIVE OR VISIT
Cosmopolitan, full of things to do and see, all - year - round resort
Parking (charges), traffic, no department store
Value for Money
Ease of getting around
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BACKGROUND TO THIS REVIEW
The Star ratings listed against items below are a locals' opinion of a venue, place or activity, i.e. MINE!
You may, of course, be inclined to take no notice of them whatsoever!
Times are suggested for a leisurely visit, not including meals or spending lots of time in the shops.
I offer an apology to Ciao, in that I am fully aware of the rules regarding "links" to other sites. I have bent the rule slightly here, after all I'm not trying to actually sell you anything here - merely reduce the length of what has turned out to be a mammoth review. Secondarily, of course, admission prices and opening times change according to inflation and season, neither of which your reviewer can claim to have any control over!
The review is also rather selfish, in that it assumes that you, the reader, share MY interests, if you are looking for reviews of Brighton pubs and nightclubs then I am sorry but you are reading the wrong review. You are not entirely out of luck however, as I know that there are a good few reviews of just such places only a couple of clicks away from here.
Apologies to the many of you who know the town and say; 'RICHADA you've left out this, that or the other' - I'm sorry, but this is MY review. I am sure that there are many interesting places not listed below. If you want a whole volume on the subject, the finest book in my possession is Timothy Carder's "The Encyclopaedia of Brighton", widely available in the town - I award it a 5 Star recommendation!
This review is written from the perspective of a 40 year old, born and bred Brightonian who has travelled widely in this country and enjoys visiting museums, historic towns and villages, country houses and various heritage sites. My review however probably has a slightly 'new dimension', let me, as briefly as I can, explain.
During my formative years, growing up in this town, my parents always had a rather jaded view of the place. They had met and moved down here from London when my fathers' business moved here in the late 1950's. They always regarded it as a rather 'seedy' place, in my mothers' words: "the kind of place a married man brings his girlfriend for a dirty weekend!" I was always very much brought up with the idea that we did not live here from choice and that almost anywhere would be a better place to live.
Mrs Richada and I now live here very much from choice!
My wife, as those of you who have read any of my previous reviews will know, is Polish. Myself, being a late starter in all things, it was only when she came to this country four years ago that I started to really SEE Brighton and enjoy it for what it is.
Like many people who have lived in their own home town for many years I tended just to take it for granted. You want to go shopping; you know where to go, where to park etc. My parents did not take me to the beach or onto the pier when I was young, several of the famous places that I list below they never took me to and in all honesty I just accepted their word that such and such a place (the Royal Pavilion for instance) was "just for tourists".
All of that changed almost over night when my wife first came here, herself on that occasion nominally at least, a tourist on a two week vacation in May 2001.
In truth, my view of it changed over the Christmas period of 2000. By that time we had started talking on the telephone and exchanging emails. She, having never been outside of Poland, although fluent English speaking, was fascinated to hear and more importantly SEE what life in England looked like.
A week before Christmas 2000, on the very day that Brighton & Hove were awarded city status, I snuck an afternoon off work and went on photographic assignment to capture the sights and scenes of the town of my birth. During those two hours walking and photographing on that freezing cold but sunny December day my eyes were opened to this town, through the viewfinder of my camera. I saw the totally familiar buildings and streets, shops even, in the eyes of a foreign tourist, i.e. for the very first time. I was truly amazed at the beauty and diversity on offer in this town, particularly in terms of architecture, and I only hope that I can pass on some of that to you in the form of what I am afraid is going to be a rather long review.
HOW TO GET HERE etc.
Parking in Brighton is notoriously difficult and VERY expensive. e.g. on street parking in the city centre is now £1.50 for 30 mins! The main NCP car parks are a little cheaper, but if you can get in there the two Churchill Square shopping centre car parks are much more reasonably priced at around £1.20 for two hours. These car parks are modern, safe and well lit.
Another option is to use the well sign posted park and ride car parks on the A23 to the north of town at Withdean Stadium or on the A270 at Brighton University.
As a local, I'll give you a tip, we use the big multi-storey car park at Brighton Marina - it is huge, again, safe and well lit - and completely free of charge. On a sunny day it is a very pleasant walk along the sea front to the pier and then to the centre of town. You could of course ride it on Volks Electric Railway - see below!
Our local authority have done everything they can to put you off taking a car into the city centre, when you see the huge queues of traffic heading south on the A23 on the outskirts of Brighton on a Sunny summer Sunday morning you will understand why!
WARNING: Do not risk parking where you should not - the tow away squads are very keen to make money here. ALSO! Unlike most towns of my acquaintance, Brighton and Hove charge for parking on Sundays! The council make a fortune out of this and from the fines slapped on out of towners not in the know. You will also find precious few single yellow lines around the town for this very reason, I have told you the ONLY free place that I know in this town in which you can legally park!
Our road system in the town centre is also confusing, a couple of one way systems, dozens of traffic lights plus bus and cycle lanes it is all very confusing to a stranger to the place.
Pictures of Brighton in general
Breathtaking view of Brighton Pier from the Marina
main railway station is very central, and within sight of the sea, there is little in Brighton that cannot be reached within a 30 minute walk of the station. Naturally this is one of the main hubs for the, now (it did not used to be!), very good "Brighton & Hove" bus service.The town is also notoriously short of public toilets, this was a ridiculously short sighted money saving scheme on the part of the council around ten years ago. There are free toilets on the Pier and also in Churchill Square shopping Centre.
Don't be surprised if you can't understand what people in Brighton are talking about - it's not because they're Southerners with funny accents - foreign students outnumber locals during the summer months!
As in any big city beware drunks, beggars & muggers, although the town is a lot safer than it was say ten years ago. All the usual big city warnings after dark very much apply here; Brighton is not referred to as "London by the Sea" for nothing.
Finally before moving on to the "body" of the review, I must mention the cosmopolitan atmosphere in Brighton. We have large immigrant communities, even in winter you will hear all the worlds' languages spoken here. We also have one of the largest gay populations (in percentage terms) in Europe too.
The Gay Pride Parade (August 6th this year) is really a sight to behold, whatever your sexual orientation. We went to look at the parade last year, it was a safe, fun afternoon, extremely colourful and with a continental "carnival" atmosphere - my 10 year old Polish sister in law had a ball at this free event!
Items that follow are roughly in alphabetical order, although for obvious reasons some link together and are therefore listed together.
1) *** (3 Star) AQUARIUM & DOLPHINARIUM - Now a "Sea Life Centre".
(2 hours) ON SEA FRONT OPPOSITE BRIGHTON PIER (Re-opened as The Seal Life Centre following re-development 1999/2000)
The dolphins here of my youth are now long gone, maybe 30 years ago I once witnessed them sing "happy birthday" to a delighted child, although the splendid building and terraces are still here. On the upper decks are the usual fast food bars and amusements, whilst the aquarium is partly sub-terrainian. This location makes an ideal starting point for a walk (East) along Madeira Drive to Black Rock & the Marina - try travelling back on:
VOLK'S ELECTRIC RAILWAY *** (3 Stars).
This was opened on August 4th 1883 and was the first public electric railway in the country. There are future plans to extend into the Marina, building a new terminus there. The open sided electric carriages only run during the summer months. A return fare from the Marina (well Black Rock - a short walk away) to the Aquarium will cost you £2.50 for an adult - concessions apply for children and O.A.P.'s. (www.volkselectricrailway.co.uk will give you times and further prices, plus a full history lesson!)
2) ***** (5 Star) BRIGHTON MUSEUM & ART GALLERY (FREE admission)
(As much as 2 - 3 hours) PART OF THE DOME COMPLEX, DIAGONALLY OPPOSITE FRONT ENTRANCE TO PAVILION
Originally this building and the Dome and Corn Exchange all making up one large complex housed the King's stables. On the outside it is beautifully preserved, complementing the style of the Royal Pavilion, whilst over the years the interiors have been sectionalised, modernised and turned into a first class modern museum, concert venue (the Dome) and multi-use area - the Corn Exchange.
The Museum, was totally re-furbished a couple of years ago, now taking up much of the area in which the library used to be housed. This was always a much underrated treasure in Brighton but is now a museum to be really proud of, worthy certainly of a review on its own, I am not going to go into any great detail here except to say that along with the Pavilion it is a "must see" when visiting Brighton.
The Museum is housed on two floors, the upper of which has many interconnecting galleries, plus a very good, and by local standards cheap, tea room. As a whole it contains good art galleries, mostly local scenes by famous artists, collections of ceramics, costume and also quite a lot of fashion may be of interest as are superbly reconstructed shop fronts. Of particular personal interest is the "modern" furniture displayed - including the famous "Marilyn Monroe Lips" sofa. Naturally in a local museum the development of the town is well covered, using both modern touch display computer screens and some fascinating good old fashioned models (particularly the Chain Pier).
3) **** (4 Star) BRIGHTON MARINA (FREE Admission)
(2hrs - 1/2 day) SITUATED AT THE EASTERN END OF BRIGHTON SEA FRONT - FOLLOW MARINA SIGNS A pleasant walk on a fine day can be taken over the locks and onto the eastern arm (breakwater), this rather feels as though you are walking "at sea" although I would not recommend it on a windy day! The opposite (western) breakwater is a shorter walk in which you can enjoy the sea air and a particularly good view of the splendid Kemp Town Terraces and Brighton Pier to the west. If you are so inclined, fishing day permits can be obtained from a small café building as you walk onto the western breakwater.
The shops in the Marina Square development are rather disappointing, although there are more of them now - far more up-market are the huge range of bars and restaurants, some expensive, some very good value, just about every cuisine of the world is available here! The large boats are interesting - as are some of the more upmarket apartments, those with moorings included, start at about £300,000 for a 2 bedroom one. The best cinema in town is also located here.
4) *** (3 Stars) THE CLOCK TOWER (1888)
(As long as it takes to view a clock tower!) OPPOSITE THE BOOTS STORE, NORTH STREET, RIGHT IN THE CENTRE OF THE CITY. The copper ball at the base of the mast was designed (by Magnus Volk) to rise up the mast to fall its' 16ft height on the hour. The noise it made when it fell was such that it scared so many horses, causing accidents, at this, always, the busiest junction in town, that a few years later it was fixed in its present position - never to rise or fall again! The Clock Tower was fully restored in time for the Millennium celebrations but is now being totally overshadowed by modern new developments on both corners opposite.
5) **** (4 Star) DOME & CORN EXCHANGE (1803-8)
(15min outside) IN PAVILION GROUNDS & FRONTING CHURCH STREET Viewing this building from any direction the reason why it is called the Dome is plainly obvious; it is topped by a huge circular dome! This is one of our top two entertainment venues (with The Brighton Centre). Abba won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in this very building! Top acts still perform regularly. It was built as the Pavilion stables to house 44 Royal horses, with grooms' accommodation above in the galleries. After suitable conversion, on 24th June 1867, the Dome was opened as a 2500 seat music hall.
The Corn Exchange was built as a riding school & used as such from 1850-68. A corn market was held here from 1868 to 1914 when it was requisitioned as a military hospital. Since the First World War it has been used as an exhibition hall.
This whole site has been totally refurbished and restored to the very highest standard, thanks to Lottery Grant. Along with the Pavilion it has to be regarded as the jewel in Brighton's crown!
6) *** (3 Star) NORTH LAINE
(1 - 2 hours) SITUATED BEHIND (West of) LONDON ROAD NORTH OF CHURCH STREET and SOUTH OF TRAFALGAR STREET. The way this area is viewed is going to depend entirely on your perspective! It was one of the poorest areas in the whole town, an area where partial slum clearance was carried out before restoration of many of the 1820's streets turned it into a "hot" area to live - extremely popular now with non-car owning commuters as it is adjacent to the railway station.
Since the early 1970's when the rejuvenation of this area got underway it has become a very cosmopolitan area of largely pedestrianised streets, terraced houses mixed with small, trendy shops, our favourite being the little "Chinese Supermarket". Saturday markets, largely antiques and junk stalls also take place here. Several pleasant "pavement cafes" and many tiny traditional town centre pubs are also to be found here. Also worth seeking out are some very pretty alleyways and restored 1800's terraced town houses - this is now a very trendy place to live in the city centre.
7) ** / **** (4 Star - in summer!) OLD STEINE & STEINE GARDENS
This is an area of gardens, mostly lawns, but with some excellent flower displays during the summer, from the Palace Pier up to St Peters Church at the foot of Ditchling Road. Lining the road on both sides are some truly wonderful bay fronted terraced houses, some, facing the Pavilion with flint facings. Unfortunately this area is the heart of Brighton's one way traffic system and is choked with traffic and fumes at most times of the day. During Brighton Festival Weeks guided tours of our Victorian sewer system are available from here. At the sea end, the 1846 Victoria Fountain is well worth a look, so is the Mazda Fountain (if working) opposite the King & Queen pub. This pub's origins are older even than it looks (pre 1772) although it now attracts the very young drinkers from the Brighton University nearby, being known locally as a teenager's pub.
8) ***** (5 Stars) OLD TOWN - BETTER KNOWN AS "THE LANES"
(2 hours) THIS IS THE AREA CONTAINED BY EAST, NORTH & WEST STREETS & THE SEA FRONT This is the oldest and most characterful part of the whole city, as I write this review Brighton turns out to have far more jewels than I had anticipated!
The Lanes is mostly a complex of pedestrianised alleyways, dating in layout from the thirteenth century, formed the original fishing village of Brighthelmstone which grew into the Brighton of today. It is now our most expensive and interesting shopping area, jewellery, antiques, art and specialist shops - a big draw particularly for American and Japanese tourists. Very old and modern architecture has been very well and unusually integrated in this area, Bartholomews, where the Town Hall and Tourist Office are to be found, are the latest additions.
9) ** (2 Stars) THE OPEN MARKET (How long do you need to shop for fruit & veg.?)
TO THE EAST OF LONDON ROAD - WEST OF DITCHLING ROAD, OPPOSITE THE LEVEL A cheap local alternative to superstore shopping, some good locally grown & caught (fish) produce. Go early, tends to be rather smelly later in the day!
SITUATED AT THE SOUTHERN END OF STEINE GARDENS AND IS THE MOST SOUTHERN POINT OF THE A23 LONDON to BRIGHTON ROAD. This 1650ft long Grade II listed pier was completed in 1901 at the cost of £137,000. It has since seen continuos development and additions, is very well kept and has several cafes, amusement halls, bars & restaurants. On the sea end is a large fun fair, very popular and busy in the summer months.
A particular mention has to be made here of the superb free fire work display every Saturday evening through the summer and Bank Holidays - see notices on the pier for times and dates.
The derelict structure in the sea to the West is what was once, the really beautiful WEST PIER, now completely gutted by a series of fires and rusting away into the sea. This 1115ft pier was opened in October 1866 at the cost of £27,000. In 1974 it was saved from demolition, but has been closed since 1971 when it was condemned as being unsafe, remarkably it survived the great gale of 1987. In hindsight that was a pity, had it been totally destroyed that evening at least this once glorious attraction would have been spared the indignity of it all.
10) **** (4 Stars) PRESTON MANOR, CHURCH & PARK (www.prestonmanor.virtualmuseum.info) (2 hours - 1/2 Day)
ON THE A23 LONDON ROAD - SIGNPOSTED (Approx. 3 miles) NORTH OF CITY CENTRE This splendid manor house, along with the Pavilion is Council owned and run. If you wish to see Preston Manor & the Royal Pavilion an "all in" ticket (from either site) will save money.
Preston Manor dates from 1250; the current house is mostly 1905, having been largely remodelled for the Thomas-Stanford family (local dignitaries). Locals who have visited recently have come away impressed, there is an "upstairs - downstairs" theme, showing the lifestyle of the masters and servants of the time, i.e. at the turn of the last century. The servants' quarters and below stairs kitchen are particularly popular. The house has a small attractive garden complete with pets' cemetery.
Behind the Manor is the beautiful ancient St Peters Church (1250) and graveyard. Here we have enjoyed the company of squirrels, foxes and rabbits, a pure delight for the children! The churchyard gives access to the 63 acre expanse of Preston Park, bordered by the busy A23 London Road, it has seen better days, however £200,000 of lottery cash has been grated for its improvement, which is well underway. This is Brighton's' main sporting centre, particularly for tennis & bowls. There is also a cycle track behind the Manor.
On the opposite side of the busy London Road is the enchanting "Rockery Gardens". A small landscaped park, climbing the hill to the railway line at the back, here you will find water falls, well stocked fish ponds with stepping stones from one side to the other and a breathtaking array of trees and rare shrubs. When visiting us in the summer this is another of my sister in law's favourite places. When a 10 year old child awards something a 5 Star rating it has to be worth visiting for an hour or so.
11) *** (3 Stars) RACE HILL & THE RACE COURSE
THE RACE HILL IS VISIBLE FROM MOST PARTS OF BRIGHTON BUT IS MOST EASILY FOUND BY DRIVING ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP OF ELM GROVE FROM THE LEVEL You should now be enjoying the best available views of Brighton & Hove. The south side of the downs and the spectacular sweep of coastline right round to Selsey Bill (about 35 miles) if the sky is clear. On a really clear day, the Isle of Wight is just visible from here.
12) ***** (5 Stars) THE ROYAL PAVILION (www.royalpavilion.org.uk) (2 hours- inside tour!)
This is Brighton's most spectacular attraction and the main reason why so many foreign tourists come here. My (now) wife, when I emailed to her, in Poland before we met, photographs of this extravagant palace, honestly believed that I was pulling her leg. "Such a building cannot possibly exist in England" she sent on a reply email!
Many residents have never been inside and begrudge supporting this building on the council tax! It originated as a farmhouse in 1787 and was transformed for Prince Regent (who later became George IV) by John Nash between 1815 and 1822. The Council has spent a fortune restoring this extraordinary palace to its present condition. Even locals, including myself and of course my Polish wife, who have been inside recently are very impressed with its' opulent interior. The Queen Adelaide Tea Rooms upstairs offer good value food and refreshment in the most extraordinary surroundings too!
We would thoroughly recommend visiting the adjacent shop too. On offer there are some unusual books, gifts and souvenirs, particularly enjoyable if you collect chinaware - it is extraordinarily well stocked.
Drunks apart, the unkempt appearance of the gardens in parts is supposedly authentic of the Regency period!
The whole Pavilion and grounds are particularly spectacular when floodlight on a fine evening.
My suggestion would be to make a whole day of this, seeing the Lanes, Museum, Piers / Sea Front and town centre whilst in the area.
(5 minutes walk from the Pavilion.)
13) **** (4 Stars) THE SEA FRONT - LOWER PROMENADE (2hrs to 1/2 day - with Pier)
STEPS TO THE RIGHT (WEST) OF THE PALACE PIER LEAD DOWN TO THE LOWER PROM. Vast sums of money have been spent landscaping & smartening this area, now known as "The Boardwalk" due to its wooden (decking) type pavement construction. This rejuvenation, in conjunction with the renovation of many of the "Arches" has been a great success. The Fishing Museum, located in one of the arches under the main South Coast Road is relatively new, but there are still local fishermen who pull their boats up the beach here. The National Museum of Penny Slot Machines is an unusually interesting little place too.
Lately much of Brighton's café culture has very successfully spread down here, away from traffic and fumes and adjacent to the beach, on a hot summers' day you could almost dream of being in the south of France here.
I would suggest combining this with a visit to the Brighton Pier & possibly a trip on Volks Railway.
14) ***** (5 Stars) THEATRE ROYAL (An evening out?)
SITUATED IN NEW ROAD TO THE WEST OF THE ROYAL PAVILION GROUNDS This is a truly lovely old theatre, built in 1806. Outside the architecture blends into the rest of New Road, with a colonnaded pavement linking the theatre to adjacent cafes and restaurants. Inside it is a different world of plush, old English charm. The place itself is well worth seeing, but many of the productions here are Pre-London releases and it therefore has a high reputation for staging the latest plays with top line international actors treading its 200 year old boards.
I guess no town or city review would be complete without mentioning the shopping facilities.
WESTERN ROAD & CHURCHILL SQUARE
ABOVE CLOCK TOWER IN NORTH STREET TURN LEFT. This is our "High Street" area. Churchill Square is a bright new shopping centre only opened in the autumn of 1999. Western Road is standard High Street shopping fare. If you really feel the need for an "M & S" then this is where you'll have to come!
Other areas of the town offer more interesting shopping opportunities - the Lanes, Queens Road, North Street and even St James's street and Kemptown. However hard you look though, you will not find one single proper department store - a disgrace in a town of over a quarter of a million inhabitants.
Here endeth my review of the town in which I was born!
There are many, many, places left out and I have tended to concentrate on the bits that I know as a visitor to the town that I would appreciate and find in some way interesting. There is an awful lot to do and see in this very lively seaside town, and unlike Blackpool or the Isle of Wight, it does not close down through the winter either - that is the time that we, who live here, reclaim our town from the tourists and really enjoy it!