Brighton is a party city on the south coast. Hailed as the gay capital of the UK, it’s a very liberal place with an anything-goes vibe. Brighton is credited with inventing the so-called “dirty weekend.” Before foreign travel became affordable, Brighton was a top resort destination. It was a place where conservative social mores were suspended. If walls could talk, this city would thrill and shock you in equal measure.
Unlike other seaside towns in the UK, Brighton hasn’t sunk into decline. It’s proximity to London, buzzing nightlife and large LGBT+ population give it a unique energy. It’s one of the most exciting and also one of the most expensive places in the country. Brighton is quite small so you can walk around very easily. Ready for your dirty weekend? Here’s our insider’s guide to Brighton.
By far the most famous attraction in Brighton, the Royal Pavilion is one of the campest buildings in the UK. The Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and George IV, had the Pavilion built as a seaside pleasure palace. He was obsessed with the east, even though he never went there. He wanted his palace to be like something from the Arabian Nights. He got his wish.
Construction began in 1787 and it wasn’t finished until 1823. No expenses were spared. He had hand-painted wallpaper and furniture sent over from China. Brighton’s Royal Pavilion is a temple to excess – and some would argue bad taste. In short, it’s the building that perfectly sums up Brighton. You can sit in the Pavilion Gardens and also take a tour around some of the lavish interiors.
Gay Pride in Brighton evolved from fairly humble beginnings in the 1990s. It’s now considered to be one of the biggest and best gay Pride events on earth. Recent headliners include Britney Spears, Grace Jones, Chic and the Pet Shop Boys. Mariah Carey was due to headline in 2020, but a global pandemic scuppered that.
Pride in London is really a parade and then loads of after-parties. London is so huge its Pride celebration isn’t really cohesive, although it’s very fun! As Brighton is so compact, the whole city becomes a big gay party. It’s like gay Glastonburry. Gay Pride in Brighton is a destination event. Book early if you want to get a hotel!
It’s not a soft sand beach, this isn’t French Polynesia. Brighton’s beaches are comprised of pebbles. At least you won’t get sand in your shoes. Brighton Beach is usually packed throughout the summer months. You can take a stroll down Brighton’s famous pier. It’s tacky as hell and all the more appealing for it. A little further down the beach towards Hove you’ll find the West Pier. It was closed in 1975. In 2003 it was destroyed in an arson attack. The charred remains of the West Pier have become one of the most iconic monuments in Brighton. It’s like something from a gothic fairytale.
You can stroll from the main pier in the direction of the marina to find the nudist beach. The nudist beach tends to attract a lot of LGBT+ people.
Brighton has many quaint shops and art galleries, most are located in The Lanes. It’s a warren of twisting, old-world streets in the centre of the city. Get lost in The Lanes and explore the historic jewelers, cafes, bars and restaurants.
Protectionist measures have preserved The Lanes in their full glory. You won’t find chain stores in The Lanes. It’s a haven of independent shops and a magnet for vintage enthusiasts.
Brighton has one of the highest LGBT+ populations in Europe. This was, as we established, the home of the dirty weekend. A place where the ordinary rules didn’t fully apply. It inevitably became a draw for LGBT+ people in less liberal times.
Once you’ve had a shop in The Lanes, head up the road to St James Street – it’s right by the pier. Along St James Street you’ll find many gay bars. You’ll find even more along the seafront. The most famous gay club in Brighton is probably Revenge. It’s the biggest gay club in the South outside of London.
If you’d like to take a day trip from Brighton, Seven Sisters is a great choice. As long as you like walking and cliffs! There are plenty of buses from Brighton to Seven Sisters. It’s around a 40-minute drive. You’ll need around 6 hours to do the full Seven Sisters walk. It makes for one of the most spectacular walks in the UK.
Seven Sisters comprised of seven chalk cliffs ranged along the South Downs. England’s famous white cliffs plunge down to the beaches below. If you have vertigo it’s fine – just don’t walk too close to the edge. There’s a nice cafe at the end of the trail and direct bus routes back to Brighton. You can also visit the beaches and have a swim in the sea.
Literary and design enthusiasts will be charmed by Charleston. It was the wartime retreat of the Bloomsbury set and country home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. It’s the best-preserved Bloomsbury-era property – the others were bombed during The Blitz. It’s a 30-minute drive from Brighton to the Charleston Trust in Firle, Lewes. The decor is divine. The stories of the tangled romantic exploits of Charleston’s inhabitants are pretty wild.
From Charleston, you can take a trip to Lewes, a charming and quite posh town up the road. It’s very English and a good place for some food and a well earned drink before taking the train back to Brighton.
by Alex | More: Gay Brighton