Whenever I talk to people over here about a) how much I love spending my weekends exploring new places b) how much I miss the sea living in London or c) a combination of both, the thing I always hear in response is, “Have you been to Brighton?!” I’m somewhat ashamed to say it took me more than a year to get there, but this weekend I finally ticked Brighton off my travel bucketlist!
Only a cheap (£11 return) and quick (1 hour) train ride from London, Brighton is a charming town on England’s South Coast. Being only a stone’s throw from the capital it is the chosen seaside escape for many London dwellers come summertime. A friend from my school days in Sicily has recently relocated, so despite the surprise-slash-warning of many, I headed out to the coast in the height of winter and arrived – surprise, surprise – to grey skies and a light mist hanging through the streets. Grey or not, I cannot describe how good it was to be by the sea again. It is one of those things I kind of forget I love so much, finding so much else in London to win me over. Then I hear it, smell it, see it, and all of a sudden I’m wondering why I ever moved away from it in the first place. It’s definitely the average Aucklander takes for granted.
After taking a moment to just revel in the glory of the ocean, we walked along a very misty beach which, despite its current conditions, I can just imagine in pulsing midsummer. Rather than throngs of Brits seeking out a bit of sunshine though, all I saw of the beach life I saw this visit was a pack of either brave or slightly crazy locals who I watched with a mix of horror and amusement as they approached a surging grey sea and plunged in. These Brightonians (yes, that’s what they’’re called... how great is that?) are a different breed.
Brighton pier juts out from the beach and is crammed with carnival rides, food and drinks stalls (largely abandoned at this time of year( and seagulls in equal measure. The increasingly wintry weather kept us from staying long, but it is definitely a spot I plan on visiting again in warmer months.
Brighton is often referred to as the UK's hippest city and as we left the pier and headed into the centre, it's not hard to see why. This is a town that is vibrant and buzzing; down every street there are at least a dozen buildings coloured some wild vivid hue. Independent cafes and bars overflow with students, local old men and families alike. There is a proud LGBT community who's rainbow flags fly prominently down certain streets. The Saturday markets were in full swing when we were visiting, so I feel like - despite the season - we were seeing Brighton at its best. Maybe even because of the season when I think about it, as there was a notable lack of tourists and gimmicks... I feel like I was seeing Brighton as it really is, when all the holiday makers have gone home.
What I loved most about this place was the eclectic mix of old and new; the delightful mix of styles both of the people and the building that occupy Brighton. Every bar we went into was full of old knick knacks, from typewriters to vintage food tins and wire radios. There is also no shortage of fantastic second hand shops... Damn you Brighton for making me spend money on glorious books and jewellery and vinyls I had no intention of buying (but am so glad I did).
While I'm sure Brighton is well worth seeing in summer months, it was actually far lovelier than I thought it might have been at this time of year. If you're happy browsing diverse shops, strolling along bright streets singing with buskers' voices, and drinking good coffee (better than you'll find in London... winning!) then there is enough to keep you busy no matter the weather. Truly a breath of fresh air from busy London life, and at such an easy distance, worth taking a day or two to experience!
Some recommendations of places I really enjoyed for any of you that visit Brighton in the future:
Fish & Liquor on the waterfront does some of best fish and chips I have ever had. Seriously yum.
The Black Dove is a dimly lit old pub with walls jam packed with hangings, paintings, mirrors, signs, and bric-a-brac that has a distinctly antique feel about it. Worth going just to witness a near metre high mountain of candle wax which must have been years in the making...
Village Brighton, located in the colourful suburb of Hanover, is both a cafe and pub that serves whatever you're after, coffee or wine (or both? Yes. Both please.) to young and old alike. It has a seriously comfy sofa for those wanting to lounge around, extremely friendly staff, awesome artwork on the walls and loads of old books on the shelf. Good cake too.