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Brighton, on the East Sussex coast, is for many, gay and straight alike, the best-loved seaside destination in the UK, and officially, the most visited.
“London on Sea” as it is affectionately known, Brighton has a big city feel, though with very much its own unique urban style and attitude.
With a busy commercial centre featuring many independent and local retailers, a huge arts scene, an abundance of pubs and restaurants, bars and clubs, a Marina, one working pier and one ruined one, several intact Regency house terraces, miles of beaches and seafront walks, and all surrounded by the lovely South Downs, Brighton really does have something for everyone.
Brighton has been attracting gay visitors since forever (it seems) and is without question, the most popular weekend get-away destination for gay Londoners, with many choosing to move here.
The Brighton gay scene is centered around the Kemptown side of the city centre (close to the sea) and St James Street in particular. It attracts both the large local gay population and the many gay visitors and tourists who flock here throughout the year, to sample the many gay pubs and clubs, and the general gay-friendly and relaxed vibe that is very much integral to the city.
Brighton’s local government and tourism authority are huge supporters of gay community and invest heavily to promote the city as a gay travel destination, as you can see from this video.
Brighton owes part of its popularity to the ease of getting there. The city has regular fast trains from London (from both Victoria and London Bridge, with stops at East Croydon and Gatwick Airport en route), with a journey time of around one hour from London. Prices can vary quite dramatically.
If you are flying into Gatwick, the fastest direct trains from the airport to Brighton take just 20 minutes but there are cheaper ones that are slightly slower.
There are good road connections also, with the A23 from London to Brighton, and the A27, which runs along the coast. The traffic invariably builds up around long weekends, especially when the sun is shining (and always for Gay Pride weekend in early August).
Buses and taxis are plentiful to get you around the city but are not cheap (similar to London prices). If you are staying in the centre, the gay scene around Kemptown, the beaches and the main shopping and restaurant areas will all be within easy walking distance.
For our list of recommended hotels near the beach and Kemptown gay village, visit our Gay Brighton Hotels page.
The sheer volume and variety of what there is to see and do in Brighton is very much part of its enduring appeal. Here is just a brief sample flavour of what is on offer:
The British Airways i360 – A brand new 162-metre observation tower on the seafront of Brighton. A huge donut shaped glass enclosed platform lifts you 140 metres. Spectacular views of Brighton and the south coast. Highly recommended.
Brighton Palace Pier – All the fun of a traditional English seaside pier, from fish and chips to penny arcades and the fun fair at the end. Brighton’s second, West Pier has long been a ghostly ruin, still visible from the beach, poking out above the waves.
Brighton Beach – Miles of pebble beach, from the nudist beach at the far Eastern end of town (the little Volks railway will save some of the walk) all the way to Hove in the West. Running all along the entire beach front is a well maintained series of paths, board walks and cycle lanes, with many landscaped areas, bars and cafes dotted all along. The coast is perfect for seaside walks at any time of the year.
Brighton Royal Pavilion – This Brighton landmark was commissioned as a Royal Palace by the Prince Regent (later King George IV) and designed by John Nash, between 1815 and 1823. With Indian and Chinese influences, it has a quirky and uniquely English eccentric appeal and is well worth a visit.
The Lanes – This maze of tiny lanes close to the seafront is a famous Brighton attraction, and is home to many jewellery and craft stores together with small cafes and restaurants.
The North Laine – A whole network of narrow streets filled with independent retailers selling everything from bric-a-brac to the latest trendy T-shirts and trainers, with lots of cafés, bars and restaurants and small galleries all mixed in. Uniquely Brighton, and always fun to stroll around and savour the atmosphere and meet the many local characters.
Theatres and galleries – From the Theatre Royal to the Pavilion Theatre, Corn Exchange Theatre and the Dome Concert Hall to an array of smaller theatre and music performance spaces and art galleries galore, Brighton has a thriving arts scene, which really comes into its own during the annual Brighton Festival (held every May).
Brighton Marina – Located to the east of the main city seafront (best take a local bus or taxi) is the boat-filled Marina, with shops, cafés, restaurants and a cinema.
Brighton is popular year round, though as a seaside town, always attracts the largest numbers throughout the peak English summer months of July and August.
Any warm sunny weekend (potentially from April to September) will bring hordes of day trippers and weekend breakers down from London on the spur of the moment.
Brighton Pride is hugely popular and always takes place in the first week of August. Gay London descends on Brighton every year for the Saturday parade and party in the park, nostalgic with memories of how London once had a Pride this fun and inclusive.
With the active support of the local council, Brighton has somehow managed to retain the magic and celebration of what makes a good Pride event really special and memorable and long may it continue to do so.
In recent years, the UK has tightened its immigration procedures and introduced the use of biometrics. Full details can be found here.
Most visitors from Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and Taiwan do not require a visa – check here to see if this applies to you. Other visitors from Asia need to obtain a visa before travelling to the UK. You will normally be required to attend an interview at your local British Embassy.
Entry is normally permitted for a period of 6 months, and you are free to travel anywhere in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A British visa is not valid for travel to other European countries.
The UK currency is the Pound Sterling, symbolised by £. Euros are not accepted as payment in the UK.
Visa & MasterCard and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere. American Express and Diners cards are widely accepted. The UK uses a ‘Chip and PIN’ system for all payments. If your card has a microchip, expect to be asked to enter your PIN number rather than sign. If you do not have a PIN, expect to be asked to show official photo ID.
Exchanging cash into British Pounds in the UK can be expensive. Most Asian travellers get a better rate by exchanging currency before travelling to the UK.
As well as the annual Brighton Arts Festival held every May (second in size only to Edinburgh), there are many other special events which are great fun to experience in Brighton.
There is a long tradition of special events which link London to Brighton, all of which culminate on Brighton seafront. The biggest of these are:
The London to Brighton bike ride – held every June to benefit the British Heart Foundation.
London to Brighton veteran car run, which started way back in 1896, and which is still going strong – held over 3 days every July.
And just so you can impress the locals with your in-depth local knowledge, Brighton officially became a city by joining with its neighbour Hove, to form Brighton and Hove in 1997, with official City status being granted by HM the Queen in 2000 as part of the Millennium celebrations.
Hove is quieter and more gentrified than its brash bigger sibling, and features many gorgeous seafront Regency Terraces with Brunswick being one of the most famous and still intact.
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