One day in Brighton – day trip ideas to eat, drink & play
By Helen Wright
We all like to be beside the seaside and a day in Brighton, East Sussex, is a top spot to do that – especially when the sun is shining. Just an hour by train, a day trip to Brighton from London is the perfect seaside getaway, especially if you only have one day to enjoy the coast. With its winding and windy lanes, lined with rainbow shops and hipster coffee bars, 3.5-mile seafront and choice of award-winning restaurants, Brighton has something for everyone. Planning a Brighton day trip can be tricky if you don’t know your way around, so we’ve put together the perfect one-day itinerary for Brighton as a guide. Just don’t forget to pick up a stick of Brighton Rock before you head home!
(Cover image: Garry Knight)
How to plan the perfect day in Brighton:
A day in Brighton: Getting there from London
Getting to Brighton from London is easy. The train takes an hour from London and is also only half an hour from London Gatwick Airport. Trains leave from St Pancras, Blackfriars, London Bridge and Victoria and saver deals are available if you book in advance. By car, a door-to-door trip from London to Brighton takes around 2.5hrs.
Once you arrive, the beach and the main tourist areas are all walking distance (downhill) from the station.
Brighton Food: Breakfast of champions
One of my favourite places (possibly the favourite) is a little cafe, which is five minutes from the station and serves the best breakfast in Brighton. Mange Tout is an independent-run bistro that serves breakfast / brunch, lunch and dinner, using top quality and locally sourced ingredients. It’s really tiny, so booking is recommended, but it’s the perfect place to feast on brekkie before you start your day in Brighton.
One day in Brighton: A wander through the lanes
Kick off the day with a morning stroll around the famous Brighton Lanes. Mange Tout sits at the top of North Laine, so (as well as providing a delicious start to the day) it’s perfectly placed to start your Brighton day trip. Collectively, the lanes make up a maze of colourful streets with a mix of trendy boutiques, slightly tired shops selling weird hippie garments, tacky crap merchants and coffee shops. Atmosphere is fun, but it gets very busy as the day rolls on, so morning is best when the shops are (mostly) all open – from around 10.30am.
A potter around here is primarily for people-watching and curiosities, but I do have a few favourites, including Powell Craft (a vintage-inspired clothing boutique), Pussy Home Boutique (a modern-yet-kitsch and cheeky interiors store), Toby Tiger (kids shop) and the Army and Navy style Snooper’s Paradise (a vintage junk yard with some hidden treasures). Plus, if you didn’t arrive in time for breakfast or you just fancy a sweet treat, you have the perfect excuse to nip into Gelato Gusto for an ice cream brownie…
Brighton day trip: head to the seafront
Let’s face it, if you don’t live by the coast, the seafront is the biggest attraction in a destination like Brighton. The stoney, slightly breezy, beach stretches 3.5 miles from Brighton Marina to Hove, and embodies that classic British seaside persona. Think stripy deckchairs, Mr Whippy vans, fish & chip cabins and open hatch kiosks bursting with neon inflatables. However, a closer look will reveal more of the city’s character and personality.
Brighton is an underrated spot to relive the glory days of Victorian seaside culture and design. Heading downhill to the seafront and turning left, Madeira Drive and Terrace, is a beautiful Grade II listed arcade designed by Philip Causton Lockwood. Currently undergoing a huge restoration project, this stretch of 151 seafront arches is thought to be the longest cast-iron structure in Britain. From here, take a ride on the Volks Electric railway. Established in 1883, this cute little train, that runs along the beach, is the oldest electric railway in the world. (Return trip, £5 each, running summer season April – October)
Heading back along the seafront, you can’t miss the historic Brighton Palace Pier. The attraction is open year-round for traditional, British fun (more on that later). Keep walking and you’ll see the dramatic, charred remains of the ill-fated West Pier. Built in 1866, closed in 1975, damaged by a storm in 1987 and then ravaged by fire in 2003 (some luck, huh?), the ghostly shell of the West Pier is now the most photographed building in Brighton
A walk along the front (Kings Road) will also showcase the newly restored The Grand, Brighton Hotel, with its glamorous wrought-iron balconies. Further still, look out for the delightful Brighton Bandstand, which was restored to its Victorian splendour in 2009. You can actually get married on the Bandstand and it has also become a popular Instagram spot for those who like to pose.
A day in Brighton: Lunch
Brighton food: The best Fish and Chips Brighton Beach
A day in Brighton isn’t really official until you’ve had good old British fish and chips along the seafront. Basic, but true. Freshly caught fish, salty chips with vinegar and a side of sea breeze remind me of the holidays we had as a kid. Maybe it’s all in the mind; maybe its Brighton food; but fish and chips just tastes better by the sea!
There is a lot of competition, but the winner of the best Brighton fish and chips for two years running, is Melrose Brighton, just across the road from the British Airways i360 and the former West Pier. We have to agree. The location is perfect, you can choose to sit indoors or outside, or order a take away to scoff on the beach. Cod and Chips, £8.75, bottle of white wine, £25, Prosecco, £24, beer, £4.95 and if you feel fancy, half a dozen oysters are £8.75 (all plus a 10% service charge for eating in).
If fish and chips isn’t your thing, a quick search for the best Brighton food will pull up an unassuming burger joint called Grubbs Burgers (no apostrophe…). This cult Brighton burger bar is a favourite with locals, especially students. At £3.75 for burger and chips, I can see why. There are plenty of typically ‘Brighton foodie’ options on the menu, such as the Malaysian burger (peanut butter sauce and chilli) and the Mango Curry burger, but even the classic hamburger makes for a tasty lunch. This independent chain has a few outposts but no website. You’ll find the 89 St James’s Street branch in Kemptown, just uphill from the Volks Electric Railway station.
a day at Brighton Beach
Brighton beach is 3.5 miles from the Brighton Marina to Hove Beach. Despite this, mostly everyone sits in the same stretch, meaning the wide, pebble beach can become crowded on sunny days. The areas around Brighton Palace Pier, the Sealife Centre and the British Airways i360 are the busiest, because they are closest to the seafront shops, cafes and bars. The whole beach is mostly stones, but when the tide is out, patches of sand can be found. We try to avoid the larger crowds that gather near the pier, which is often dope-smoking teenagers or groups of drunk people, and head 10-15 minutes along the promenade to the slightly less busy and more family-friendly beaches at Hove lawns. It’s mostly residential here, so aim to pack a picnic or stock up on what you need before walking down. Having said that, there are a few beach cafes and ice cream vendors along the beach path if you need refreshments.
Brighton can be windy, so even on the hottest days it never feels boiling hot. Watch out for the deceiving breeze or you’ll definitely end up with sunburn! The sea is cold but folk don’t seem to mind, there are always people paddle-boarding, body surfing or swimming – even in the winter! Paddle boards and kayaks can be rented from the shops along the beach path, but it isn’t cheap (£17 for an hour or £70 for a day). The low tide means younger children can paddle safely at the waters edge, so a day in Brighton on the beach is cheap and family friendly. There is more sand as the tide goes out, but even then the stones can be sharp, so pack some beach shoes or jellies for both adults and kids.
If you fancy a swim to clear away the cobwebs, my recommendation is to just jump or run into the sea. Be warned, once you dip a toe in, the cold water might put you off! For obvious reasons, everyone plans a Brighton day trip for when it’s sunny, but even when the weather isn’t perfect you can still enjoy the beach. Walking along the water’s edge, throwing stones into the sea and building a fort from the pebbles is all part of the fun – and that’s just for the adults! Bring your own blanket and enjoy the view.
Brighton Pier – cool off in the breeze
A Brighton day trip wouldn’t be the same without a little walk on the world-famous Brighton Palace Pier! The grade II listed pier originally opened in 1899 and is a throwback to the days of wholesome family fun. A stroll along the boards will take you past fudge and toffee apple huts, doughnut shops and local retailers ,a choice of flashing arcades and even a soft play. There is a, slightly spendy, fairground with spinning rides, a rickety rollercoaster and a Helter Skelter. For those who just fancy chilling out, deckchairs line the ornate railings (£5 per hour) and offer lovely views of the coastline.
What else to do during the day in Brighton:
British Airways i360 Observation Tower
Confession: I haven’t been on the i360 (Finn is desperate to go on it, so we will next time we visit). However, those I know who have taken a trip to the top said the 25-minute ride is fun and the views can be spectacular. On a clear day, some have spotted the Isle of Wight (64 miles away!). The moving observation tower, which is the tallest in the UK, reaches 450ft and has a bar inside – which sounds good to me! Tickets are cheaper if you book in advance online at britishairwaysi360.com (Adults, £14.95. Children aged 4-15 £7.40).
Brighton Ice Cream and Coffee
Another reason to head toward the British Airways i360 is for ice cream. I know, I know, you can get ice cream anywhere… but here is the best. The blue and white van behind the i360 at beach level, serves soft scoops of Callestick Farm whipped ice cream from Cornwall and it’s delicious. You can’t miss it, there is usually a line. Cones are £2 for a sizeable serving with a chocolate flake – and come fully toddler-approved.
Also in this area is The Flour Pot Kitchen; a cute cafe built into the arches opposite the West Pier. My photo (below) was taking during the pandemic, when they were only open for takeaway, but usually they have outdoor tables in the sun and shade. The bakery serve pastries, brunch and handmade sourdough pizza if you feel peckish, but I mainly go for the delicious coffee and banana bread. Get your caffeine fix with their house-blended coffee (a mix of Colombian, Rwandan and Brazilian beans). It’s really, really good. For grown ups, at sunset they serve wine and aperitifs too…
Kids paddling pool on Brighton seafront
If you’re visiting with kids, the final spot to check out on your Brighton day trip is the Kings Road Paddling Pool. On the beach path, just past the i360, is a large playground with a huge, shallow paddling pool that is ideal for children to cool off if you don’t want to let them loose in the sea. Complete with a fountain and splash jets, parents can take a seat on one of the surrounding benches and enjoy a cappuccino from The Flour Pot, while the kids (big and small) are happily entertained.
A day in Brighton: what to do in the evening
Where to watch the sunset in Brighton
On a clear day, you will get a great view of the sunset in Brighton from anywhere along the beach at sun down. Due to its unique mark on the horizon, the most popular place is in front of the West Pier. It’s a good place to start, as there are a few cute spots along this stretch and you can wander along the seafront for different perspectives. The art-deco building that houses The Beach Club restaurant, and the Brighton Grandstand also look pretty in front of a magenta sky.
Evening drinks and food in Brighton
Even if you only have a day in Brighton, the last train to London leaves around midnight, so you still have time to sample some top notch Brighton food for dinner and have a drink at one of the best bars in Brighton. I’ll keep it simple with three of my favourites:
Brighton Pub: The Mesmerist
This pub is a kind-of cocktail bar / old man pub / gig haunt / trendy joint mixed into one, but I really like the atmosphere. In the afternoon, you can grab a quiet drink (the cocktails are really good) and read the paper, while a cluster of NCT mums jiggle their babies in the corner. But, at weekends you are just as likely to bump into a rowdy hen do, complete with pink tutus and an inflatable penis… By night, the vibe is dressier and more trendy as Brighton’s bar scene begins to ramp up. Plus, at any time of day, you might even catch some live music.
Brighton Food: Dinner at The Chilli Pickle
This place is a personal favourite. A modern take on Indian street food, the diverse, pan-Indian menu has some stand-out sharing plates, including Courgette and Kurly Kale Pakoras (£6), Kashmiri Mutton Curry with biryani rice and Beetroot Riatta (£15) and Crispy Vindaloo Wings (£8). The colourful, canteen-style restaurant is usually buzzing and their cocktails (£8) are pretty decent too. If you’re in a rush, the street food cart outside sells tasty Taj ‘railway boxes’ to take away, starting from £16.
Brighton Bar: Shuffle
Sit on wooden crates draped with fairy lights and control the music with your own phone in this fun Brighton bar. The vibe is cheerful (beware the hen and stag dos!) and the drinks are cheap. Be warned, if you are over 30, aim to get a bit tipsy before you go in or initially you might feel very Millennial…
last train home:
Don’t miss the last train home! From the seafront and Kemptown, leave yourself 15 minutes to walk uphill to the station. Times vary, but the last London-bound train is usually around midnight. If you miss it, head back to the bar for a few hours as the first train of the day is at 3.30am… Failing that, you should be able to find a cheap hotel for the night.
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