Brighton Festival 2021: What to See and Where to Stay

Brighton Festival 2021 will put on several thrilling events
Brighton Festival 2021 will put on several thrilling events | © Mark Morreau / Brighton Festival
Chloe Thrussell

Production Assistant

As lockdown eases across the UK, the eagerly anticipated revival of public arts festivals has begun – starting in Brighton.

Set to take place in May, the 54-year-old Brighton Festival returns with more than 90 events, exhibitions and installations across Brighton and Worthing. Poet, writer and broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE, guest director for the cancelled 2020 edition, returns to lead the festival this year under the theme of “care”. And what could be more apt after this year of collective uncertainty and isolation? The festival will consider this theme across its strands of theatre, film, music, literature and comedy.

From 17 May, government guidelines dependent, live performance venues will open for the first time since March 2020. And with a variety of indoor, outdoor and online events, social-distancing measures such as reduced capacity seating, ticketed free events and temperature checks at some venues will provide a necessary backdrop to the festival.

There’s a wealth of talent coming to Brighton to perform – comedians including Josie Long and Mark Watson, authors Dame Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen, while actress Jane Horrocks showcases a personal memory shop in Dukes Lane. Here are some of Culture Trip’s highlights from this year’s festival, and some lodgings to book for your stay.

1. Ray Lee: Points of Departure

Architectural Landmark

Points of Departure, Ray Lee Brighton Festival 2021
© Roy Riley / Brighton Festival

Award-winning sound artist and composer Ray Lee brings his singing sculptures to the concrete thickets of Shoreham Port. Take a walk through towering tripods fitted with illuminated swinging speakers, and listen to their sci-fi symphony as they rotate higher and higher. Haunting, dynamic and dazzling, this installation quite literally dances in the dark.

May 1 to May 23; tickets cost £15.

2. Yara + Davina – Arrivals + Departures

Architectural Landmark, Music Venue

Arrivals+ Departures image by Tom McClaughlan in collaboration with the artists small
© Tom McClaughlan / Brighton Festival

What is the power in the act of naming? Concerning birth, death and the journey in between, this interactive work by Yara + Davina both celebrates and commemorates life, naming those born and lost on conventional airport-style arrival and departure boards. This platform invites the audience to contribute names of their loved ones, encouraging a communal reflection on grief and collective care.

April 30 to May 8, Pavilion Gardens; entrance is free.

3. Blast Theory – Rider Spoke


Rider Spoke_Brighton Festival 2021_credit Blast Theory
© Blast Theory / Brighton Festival
Blast Theory return to this year’s festival with a meditation on the influence of technology on human connections via an immersive cycling tour of the city streets. Guided by a narrator on a specially designed app, and with no particular destination, you will be drawn to unexpected places in search of the perfect hiding place for a secret. The city itself becomes the interactive space for this guided game.

May 1 to May 23; tickets cost £5.

4. The Forked Forest Path

Art Gallery

Olafur Eliasson, The Forked Forest path, 1998, copyright the artist. Installation view. Image_ Towner Eastbourne 2
Courtesy of Brighton Festival

Immerse yourself in the sprigs and limbs of a fictive forest in this exhibition at Fabrica that has sprouted from the mind of installation artist Olafur Eliasson. Tempting, twisting trails will lead you through the varied scents and textures of the winter copse, sustainably sourced from Stanmer Park. Get lost among the twigs and tendrils of this impressive, fairytale feat.

May 18 to June 20; entrance is free.

5. Le Gateau Chocolat – Liminal


© Lee Faircloth / Brighton Festival

For a contemporary fusion of disco, opera and pop, legendary drag artist and cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat returns to Brighton with a unique vocal performance at Brighton Dome. Known for works that centre on otherness, tolerance and self-acceptance, this one-night-only portrait will articulate the intimate experience of an artist living through a year of turmoil and change. It will ask the question: where do we go and who do we become when we lose our anchor?

May 30; tickets cost £20.

6. BAIT with Live Score by Gwenno and Georgia Ellery

Theater, Music Venue

Georgia Ellery_Brighton Festival 2021
Courtesy of Brighton Festival

The Bafta-winning Bait (2019) is presented anew at the Brighton Dome alongside a live performance by Welsh-Cornish singer Gwenno Saunders. Deemed a bizarre expressionist melodrama, Mark Jenkin’s film depicts the stark and embittered tensions between locals and tourists in a once-thriving fishing village in Cornwall, and does so through the ghostly grains of black-and-white 16mm film. This meeting of social realism and poetic sensibility is amplified by a new score, with synth, violin and live vocals adding new textures to this dreamlike, modern masterpiece.

May 22; tickets cost £18.

Where to Stay

7. Brighton Square Apartments

Serviced Apartment, Apartment

A modern sitting room at Brighton Square Apartments with a grey sofa and bright cushions
Courtesy of Brighton Square Apartments / Expedia

A stay in Brighton doesn’t get more central than in the historic Lanes. These airy one- and two-bed apartments, which come with a bath, 40in LCD TV and washing machine, are within easy reach of many festival venues. Step outside your door into the maze of alleyways that comprise the Lanes; enjoy the independent shops and cafes, and you’re only a five-minute walk from the beach, Brighton Palace Pier and the Royal Pavilion.

8. Artist Residence Brighton

Boutique Hotel

Artist Residence room with wood floors, four poster bed and rug
Courtesy of Artist Residence / Expedia

If you’re looking to take festival creativity home with you, book a stay at Artist Residence Brighton. Each of the 24 rooms are individually designed by local artists, making a stay at this boutique property in Regency Square, just off the seafront, a one-off. Rooms aren’t huge, so for more space opt for a sea-view apartment; all options come with a rainfall shower, writing desk and coffee maker, while some offer a rolltop bath and a balcony. Downstairs, the laid-back Clubhouse bar/lounge has chilled-out seating areas serving brunch through to evening cocktails. Book your stay after May 17, when hotels are due to reopen.

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,100 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article