Must-Visit Attractions in Brighton, England

Be sure to pay a visit to Brighton Palace Pier, whether it be for a spell in the arcade or a hearty fish-and-chip feast
Be sure to pay a visit to Brighton Palace Pier, whether it be for a spell in the arcade or a hearty fish-and-chip feast | © tony french / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Bryony Hatherley
11 September 2020

Known as the UK’s LGBTQ Capital, Brighton prides itself on its reputation as a cultural and environmental powerhouse. Once the destination for curative sea-bathing, people have been flocking to Brighton for hundreds of years. But it’s not just something in the water; the city hides a plethora of riches in its diverse streets – plentiful pubs, boutiques, cafés and a cultural quarter bursting with offbeat offerings. From the South Downs to the Channel, here’s a list of must-sees for the seaside experience of a lifetime.

The Royal Pavilion

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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The Royal Pavilion. Brighton, England
© Paul Carstairs / Alamy Stock Photo

The flamboyant charm and vision of George IV is responsible for the iconic Pavilion, which is still holding court in the heart of Brighton some 230 years later. Richly eccentric, the one-time pleasure palace of a robust, gambling good-timer blends Mughal and Islamic architectural traditions with stunning results. It can be appreciated from the outside well enough, but also permits visitors to explore it and learn more about the history.

Pavilion Gardens

Architectural Landmark, Music Venue
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Not to be outdone by the shadows of spires and onion domes, the promenade winding through the Royal Pavilion and its neighbour the Brighton Dome is worth a stroll any day of the year, but is most resplendent in the spring and early summer. The Pavilion Gardens regularly play host to a variety of events, including small outdoor concerts and horticultural shows, and there’s even a small café on the fringes, so you can enjoy a coffee in this idyllic setting.

May Festival season

Natural Feature
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Each spring, the cultured, artistic masses descend on Brighton for a stellar lineup of unique festivals; the Brighton Festival spans the month of May. The Brighton Fringe brings the weird and wonderful to venues throughout the city while The Great Escape showcases new and unsigned bands during a whirlwind month of carnivalesque proportions. There are a number of other, more specific festivals which take place during May, so it’s worth checking online to see what’s happening and plan your trip around what holds the most appeal.

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery

Art Gallery, Museum
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Part of the Royal Pavilion Estate, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery hosts a considerable archival collection from early Brighton in print, as well as many personal pieces from King George IV. Historical exhibitions and new art installations rotate through the museum’s schedule month to month, as well as hosting special events.

The North Laine

Market
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Before heading down to the sea, amble and browse over 400 unique shops and cafés in this colourful quarter. Some of the best watering holes the city has to offer are situated here – as are some of the best venues for an evening of entertainment – the stunning, Grade II-listed Theatre Royal and Komedia.

The seafront

Natural Feature
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Brighton beach
© Cultura Creative (RF) / Alamy Stock Photo

It may sound like a no brainer, but no trip to Brighton would be complete without a bumpy seat on the city’s infamous pebble beach – better yet, take a ride on a candy-floss painted horse on the classic carousel before renting a striped deck chair to watch the sunset. There are numerous bars and restaurants lining the beach, so you won’t be stuck for places to drop anchor, and you can even rent a kayak and hit the waves if so inclined.

Brighton Palace Pier

Amusement Park, Architectural Landmark
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Cheap thrills, spills and stuff-your-face fills await on this icon of a bustling seaside retreat. To the west, you can glimpse the Pier’s elegant, fading sister – the West Pier – still standing regally in the distance.The Palace houses a massive arcade which you can lose hours in, as well as a boardwalk which provides one of the best viewing platforms anywhere in Brighton.

SeaLife Centre

Aquarium
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It’s the world’s oldest operating aquarium, and a mainstay of Brighton’s seafront. Their motto is Breed, Rescue, Protect, with monthly beach cleans. Key attractions include the Day & Night display, a 750,000 litre tank which can show visitors the coral cycle across a 24 hour period. You can even skim over the top of the tanks in a glass bottom boat.

Graffiti

Architectural Landmark
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Tags and murals line the back streets of the city, creating an ever-changing backdrop of colour. It could take days to find your favourite. Streets like Orange Row and Regent Street are a wash of colour, and you can even spot the work of some famous artists if you know where to look, including a replica of Banksy’s Kissing Policemen (the original has sadly since been covered up).

South Downs National Park

Park
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Sunrise in South Downs National Park, East Sussex.
© Slawek Staszczuk Photo / Alamy Stock Photo
A viridescent carpet drifting towards the top of the world, this enormous sweep of hills, thickets and chalk cliffs spilling to the sea offer spectacular vistas. Encompassing the Seven Sisters, Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon, the air up there, it seems, is just a bit sweeter too.

Earthship Brighton

Building, Park
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The Low Carbon Trust’s pioneering project culminated in the country’s first Earthship, a sustainable, low-impact community centre designed to educate and inspire climate-friendly lifestyles. Tours of this special space explore clean energy initiatives and the ingenious building methods that went into this trailblazing build.

Upside Down House

Art Gallery
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Brighton, UK. 14th May, 2019. Early morning runners and walkers by Brighton's newest tourist attraction the Upside Down House on the seafront near the West Pier on a beautiful sunny morning with temperatures reaching into the twenties in some parts of Bri
© Simon Dack News / Alamy Stock Photo

If you casually walk along the beachfront between the i360 and the Beach Club, you might notice something peculiar – a house that has literally been flipped on its head. In reality, the Upside Down House is one of Brighton’s best curiosities. Venture inside and you’ll find a gallery of optical illusions and topsy-turvy furniture. Few attractions are better fodder for the ’gram than the Upside Down House.

Helicopter Tours

Natural Feature
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Why simply walk the streets and beaches of Brighton when you can see everything from the air? A helicopter tour is an exciting, comprehensive way to experience a city, and this is particularly true of Brighton. Using the HeliFly company, you can book a ride over the city, seeing the divide between older historical areas and newer ones, or if a tour isn’t your thing, helicopter your way to a nearby country manor house for a classy lunch.

Court Garden Vineyard

Winery
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Sitting on the outer fringes of Brighton, closer to the village of Ditchling, Court Garden has become one of the most renowned vineyards in the UK since its establishment in 2005. Tours are given regularly, enabling visitors to walk the fields, learn more about the process and sample some of the wine the vineyard produces. You have to venture just out of Brighton to reach it, but it’s worth the journey.

Brighton Toy and Model Museum

Museum, Train Station
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Brighton, Sussex, UK. 7th May 2013. Brighton Toy Museum are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Frank Hornby who created the famous train sets and Meccano . The museum is holding a week long celebration of events starting on the 11th MayP
© Simon Dack News / Alamy Stock Photo
During the late 19th and early 20th century, the UK went into a golden age of toy production – model trains, dolls’ houses and just about everything else you’d find in a haunted attic. All of it can be seen and enjoyed in a kind of living diorama across 1,000 square feet of Victorian cellar space. The museum features more than 10,000 pieces and donations mean that it is always growing.

Brighton Open Market

Market
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With a 50-year pedigree, Brighton Open Market is the only open air marketplace in the city, and has become a mainstay for local vendors and shoppers alike. Many shops around the city have a stall there, as well as artists and even a radio station. Unlike many similar markets, the OM is open seven days a week, and even plays host to special events throughout the year.

Additional reporting by Callum Davies

These recommendations were updated on September 11, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.