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The land at the foot of the South Downs has been settled since the 7th century with the founding of the sleepy fishing village of Brighthelmstone. In 1753 this changed when Dr Richard Russell suggested that a swim in the sea would be good for Londoners' health, and that Brighton would be the ideal place for it. Visitors began to arrive in droves, and Brighton has steadily grown from a sleepy fishing village to a vibrant, modern and cosmopolitan city.
Brighton has long been regarded as a vestige of the artistic, the rebellious, the intellectual and the marginalised. The annual Brighton Festival is England's largest, and second only to Edinburgh in the UK. The city has more Green councilors than any other, and two well-regarded universities. Brighton is also home to a thriving gay scene.
Many daytrippers from London jump off the train and walk straight down Brighton's shabbiest streets to the most crowded section of beach, spend a fortune in the most characterless bars and head straight back the same way. Wandering a little off the beaten track will reward you with some interesting sights, fab food, great shopping and friendly, characterful pubs and bars. Below is a sample itinerary for a half day that would take in many of Brighton's attractions.
Starting from the station, ignore the stream of people heading towards the sea down Queen Street and head under the railway bridge down Trafalgar Street. Hidden in an archway under the bridge is the tiny Brighton & Hove Toy Museum - probably not worth a visit unless you're an enthusiast. At the bottom of the hill you can see the imposing St Peter's Church, built in 1828 but in the gothic style.
Carry on down Trafalgar Street until you reach the junction with Sydney Street, and then turn right. You are now in the North Laine, a string of narrow streets with colourfully painted facades and interesting, eclectic small independent shops and cafés - you won't find Borders or Starbucks here. Follow the obvious route (lined with shops and cafés) along Kensington Gardens and Gardner Street, and turn left down New Road.
On the left as you walk down New Street is the shiny Jubilee Library, opened in 2005 - it won the Prime Minister's award for best public building, and was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.
At the bottom of New Street is the Royal Pavilion. A genuine Royal Palace, the quirky and spectacular pavilion was built for King George IV in 1803. The exterior is inspired by the Taj Mahal. The interior is inspired by Chinese decorative art. A guided tour is definitely recommended. A quick wander around the pleasant, if small, gardens is also worthwhile, as is a nose around the Brighton & Hove Museum housed within the grounds.
Leave the Pavilion Garden through the entrance you arrived from, on New Street, and follow the wall around to the front of the Pavilion for a great photo opportunity. You're now in the Old Steine. To your left is bohemian Kemptown, also home to Brighton's 'gay village' with a wide range of shops, bars and clubs catering to the community.
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Just to the left of the entrance to the pier, along Madeira Drive, is the Volks Electric Railway. Created in 1883 by eccentric Brighton inventor Magnus Volk, the railway was only the second electric railway in the world, and is the oldest still operating. Part of the railway used to run over the sea on stilts, but this has long since been removed. The railway has stops by the new Beach Sports Centre, and by Brighton Marina at Black Rock. Give the Marina a miss, unless you like Marinas, as it seems to have been built exactly the same as every other Marina in the developed world. Back at the entrance to the pier, a right turn takes you down to the attractively developed esplanade, which is really quite pleasant if the weather's nice and it's not too busy.
From the seafront, take a right turn up Black Lion Street or Middle Street and head into the cobbled alleyways of The Lanes. This is the heart of old Brighton, with streets too narrow to fit a car down, and a great place to get lost in. There is a preponderance of cafés and expensive jeweller's shops here, but also some great independent shops including the indie music stalwart Rounder Records where you can pick up tickets fo pretty much any music event in Brighton. Leaving the Lanes through the exit on North Street leaves you opposite Bond Street in the North Laine, giving you the option of heading back to the station the way you arrived.
Brighton Festival is England's largest festival.
Brighton Pride is a week-long summer festival, though the main events are the Carnival Parade and the hundreds of stalls and activities in Preston Park. The parade includes people dressed in extravagant costumes, music and huge floats. Dates very slightly year to year. In 2009 the main events will be held on Saturday 1st August.
Brighton's weather is typical for what you get in England, though in general both winters and summers are milder than places more inland and to the north. Temperatures in winters are mostly above zero and fall and winter are the wettest time of the year. Spring and early summer is drier with some heavier rainshowers possible in summer, when temperatures are mostly around 20 °C or slightly more.
The nearest international airport to Brighton is Londong Gatwick Airport, 25 minutes by train from Brighton with very regular services. There are also direct trains from London Luton Airport, Southampton and Bournemouth.
If you're arriving from the north of France, or from Alderney, you could fly into tiny Shoreham Airport - just five miles (8 kilometres) from Brighton and home to Britain's only art deco terminal building.
Brighton is 50 minutes by train from London Victoria station. Direct trains with National Rail also connect Brighton with other destinations including Southampton, Bath, Bristol, Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester.
Transmanche Ferries operates a regular service between Dieppe and Newhaven, a short train journey from Brighton.
The Brighton & Hove Bus Company runs a very regular and comprehensive service within the city. If you're going to be doing a lot of travelling around Brighton, the cheapest option is to buy a 'day saver' ticket as you board any bus - this currently costs £3 and gives unlimited travel on all Brighton & Hove buses.
Taxis are plentiful and reliable, and there is a fun 'tuk-tuk' service where colourfully painted tuk-tuks (like the ones you might see in Bangkok) ply a fixed route around the city. Another slightly wacky option, and a bona fide tourist attraction in its own right, is the Volks Electric Railway - the oldest operating electric railway in the world, and the second ever constructed.
With so many cafés and bars, you're never too far away from a half-decent bite to eat, and the standard of food is good compared to most of the rest of England.
Brighton is home to two of the best vegetarian restaurants in Britain, if not Europe:
For the best thoroughly Brightonian dining experiences, here are two recommendations - one of the most expensive listed and one of the cheapest:
The official YHA option is a very pleasant old building but is actually five miles (8 kilometres) out of town, at Patcham. There are regular bus services, but if you want to be in the thick of the action you might want to base yourself elsewhere. Budgies Backpackers is a cheap old favourite where some people end up for months. St Christophers Inn is a bit of a party hostel - great location, cheap and clean but don't expect much sleep if you stay there at the weekend.
The manky Brighton Backpackers has vanished, and in its place is the Grapevine Seafront Hotel, with really cheap, newly refurbished rooms. Grapevine also runs a cheap hostel/B&B in the North Laine.
Brighton is littered with B&Bs, most of which are perfectly OK. Make sure that you book ahead if you're travelling during mid-summer, or on an English bank holiday, as all of the accommodation in Brighton can be booked up. Check the Brighton Bed and Breakfast website for more details about prices and availability.
A complete overview including travellers ratings includes:
|Kipps Brighton||76 Grande Parade||Hostel||87|
|Seadragon Backpackers||36 Waterloo Street||Hostel||87|
|SoBo House Brighton||10 Seafield Road Hove||HOSTEL||62|
|St Christopher's at The Palace Hotel||10/12 Grand Junction Road BN1 1PN||Hostel||82|
|West Beach Hotel||135 Kings Road||Hotel||81|
|Journeys Brighton Hostel||33 Richmond Place Brighton||Hostel||71|
|Umi Brighton||64 Kings Road Brighton||Hotel||87|
|New Madeira Hotel||19-23 Marine Parade||hotel||-|
|Grapevine North Laine||29 - 30 North road||Hostel||81|
|Kings Hotel||139-141 Kings Road||hotel||82|
|Urban House & Urban Retreat Spa||20-21 New Steine||hotel||-|
|The Grapevine||75/76 Middle Street Brighton||Hostel||77|
|Beach Hotel||1-4 Regency Square||hotel||-|
|Gullivers Hotel||12a New Steine||hotel||85|
|Atlantic Seafront||16 Marine Parade||hotel||88|
|Andorra Guest Accomodation||15/16 Oriental Place||hotel||86|
|Hamptons Hotel||3 New Steine||Hotel||-|
|Pink Pavilion||12 Madeira Place Brighton||GUESTHOUSE||-|
|Waterloo Courtyard||52 Waterloo Street, Hove BN3 1AH, Ground Floor||APARTMENT||-|
|Garden Powis Square 1 Bedroom Plaza||4 Powis Square Brighton BN1 3HH, Flat 5||APARTMENT||-|
|Green Powis Square 2 Bedroom Piazza||22 Powis Square, Brighton BN1 3HG, Flat 4||APARTMENT||-|
|Adelaide House||51 Regency Square||GUESTHOUSE||-|
|Smart Sea View Brighton||9-12 St Catherines Terrace Hove Brighton||HOSTEL||77|
|The Old Palace Guesthouse||7 Madeira Place||GUESTHOUSE||81|
|Vavavoom Rooms||31 Old Steine||Hostel||-|
|The Istanbul Ev||8 Madeira Place||GUESTHOUSE||82|
|The Miami Hotel||22 Bedford Square||Hotel||84|
|Brighton Youth Hostel.....by the Sea||11 Seafield Road||HOSTEL||-|
|Grapevine Central||75-76 Middle Street||Hostel||-|
|The New Madeira Hotel||19-23 Marine Parade||Hotel||-|
Internet cafés can be found in many cities and towns. All UK public libraries provide access, often branded as "People's Network", usually at no or little charge, though there is usually a time limit. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access, including wifi, but most times at a cost. Using the internet on your personal phone can become expensive very quickly, with carriers charging 100's of times the local rate for data. To avoid these expensive roaming charges, you can hunt for wifi at a local cafe or hotel, or rent a mobile hotspot via several providers including DATAPiXY, and XCOM Global.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to the United Kingdom is: 44. To make an international call from the United Kingdom, the code is: 00
In case of emergency, call 999 or 112 from any phone. Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you for your location, and the service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard or mountain rescue). You can call this number from any mobile telephone as well, even if you do not have roaming.
Although the number is declining, you can still find payphones in many public areas, especially stations, airports etc. You can usually pay with cash and sometimes by creditcard or, for international calls, special phonecards are still available.
Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2. 3G data services are available, usually priced per megabyte and coverage is usually very good in the UK, however it may lack in rural areas. Roaming on your personal phone plan can be expensive. To manage costs, consider purchasing a local UK SIM card for your phone. Several companies offer local SIM cards including Telestial, and CellularAbroad.
The Royal Mail provides postal services in the United Kingdom. The Royal Mail's store fronts are called Post Office and offer services ranging from sending letters and packages to foreign currency exchange. Use the branch locator to find the nearest Post Office branch. There will be at least one post office in any town/city and there are quite often post offices in larger villages. It's common for a post office to be incorporated into a grocery store, where there will be a small counter located at the back of the store for dealing with post related matters. All post offices are marked with signs that say 'post office' in red lettering. Post boxes can be found at any post office and standalone large red post boxes on the streets or red boxes in the sides of public buildings.
For sending packages overseas, it might be a good idea to check prices and services with international companies like TNT, UPS or DHL.
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I studied, lived and worked in Brighton for around 6 years. I have a good knowledge of the city's restaurants, pubs and live music scene, and a working knowledge of the local history. Feel free to ask me any questions, and I'll try my best to answer them!
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