AS a Cork woman who has done her fair share of travelling the world, I am ashamed to admit that since moving to London over two and a half years ago, I have barely strayed outside the capital.
This year, I swore I would explore more and embrace the ‘staycation’ so with a bank holiday weekend approaching, I enlisted a willing friend and we made for the first place on my ‘To Visit’ list – Brighton.
Brighton attracts eight million tourists a year, so expectations were high.
Living in east London, I am deprived of trees and green spaces so I was hoping Brighton would provide a healthy dose of nature and a good night out, as well as a little culture and lots of good places to eat and drink. It delivered on every front.
After an hour-long train journey from London Bridge, we arrived in buzzy Brighton and made our way to our alternative accommodation.
Hotel Pelirocco is situated in one of the city’s seafront regency squares and it lives up to its rock ‘n roll billing, complete with saucy signage, mod art and album covers on the walls and the most surreal lift I have ever been in.
Each of the rooms is decorated with a different theme (The Pin up Parlour is dedicated to Diana Dors – Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe, there’s a burlesque boudoir called the Play Room, a Dollyworld room inspired by the silicone-enhanced country legend herself, and a print-clad boudoir dedicated to 50’s bombshell Betty Page).
We had the Sex Pistols room, which has a retro student bedsit feel complete with quirky mismatched mugs and Curly Wurly bars instead of the standard shortbread biscuit. Even if you aren’t staying at Pelirocco, the bar is worth a visit in the evening and they do a great Bloody Mary breakfast.
Outside, Brighton beach (10 times longer than I had imagined) cries out to be walked, if not just for the exercise and view, then do it to build up an appetite, because food is one of Brighton’s finest offerings. Whether you want a top class seafood restaurant, modern Indian cuisine or delicious tapas, Brighton has it all.
A culinary highlight has to be popular vegetarian restaurant Terre á Terre. The menu, which would convert the most hardened of carnivores to veggie food, includes mouth-watering sesame hoisin tofu, cauliflower and ginger bhajis, a spectacular sharing tapas plate (that made a main course impossible) and a jaw-droppingly good dessert of Nosey Parkin with butterscotch sauce and baked rhubarb.
Apart from stuffing our faces, we experienced plenty of ‘culture’ in Brighton – and the good news is it’s all really easily reachable by foot.
We checked out Brighton Museum and Art Gallery (worth having a look in advance to see what exhibits are on), and the Royal Pavilion which attracts 300,000 visitors a year and has something of an Antiques Roadshow feel.
Along the beachfront there is lots of less high-brow fun to be had. From playing ping pong beneath the bandstands, fish and chips, candy floss, clairvoyants and traditional fun fair games, it is all part of Brighton’s delightfully kitsch appeal.
Take in some Art Deco landmarks and the haunting burnt-down shell of Brighton’s West Pier, which looks like an ominous scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds, covered in perching seagulls, or have a spin on the Brighton Wheel gives you your own bird’s eye view of the city from 50 metres above sea level.
Tourist attractions aside, the biggest plus for me, was stumbling upon hundreds of Brighton’s independent shops, bars and cafes.
The Lanes, a series of narrow winding alleyways, are great for pottering, picking up souvenirs or buying an engagement ring if the mood takes you, before sitting down to take part in one of the things Brighton is best for – people watching.
However, if ambling aimlessly isn’t your thing and you want an itinerary, you could download the Visit Brighton app for free.
Recommendations for a good place to park and have a drink include the always-busy Black Lion, or My Hotel for a cocktail.
For a big night out we tried Audio (upstairs is a bar and downstairs a club, so a good option for a drink and a dance). Other seafront options include Digital, Life and Coalition – but check out who is playing first to decide if it is your scene.
One thing Brighton is not short of is festivals. We were there in time for the biannual Brighton Food Festival, so we picked our way through market stalls, sampling local produce and bite sized gourmet treats.
Two of the biggest calendar events include the Brighton Fringe and Pride festivals (there’s one in winter and in summer), while for art fans there is Brighton Festival, England’s largest art festival, which takes places in May.
With plentiful places to eat, drink, party and shop, I can see why Brighton is sometimes dubbed ‘London by the sea’, but even with its odd mix of new and nostalgia, Brighton is no London, and I like it all the better for that.
Where to eat
Terre Á Terre
71 East Street
The best place to eat in the city, hands down. Super-friendly, knowledgeable staff and a relaxed, non-stuffy atmosphere – but forget all that, the food does the talking here. Wild and unexpected ingredients, gorgeous presentation and above all, utterly, utterly delicious food.
The Cream Tea
13 New Road
Stop into this tiny tea shop for a very reasonably pricedpot of tea, an enormous scone (one will do for two people) served with jam and clotted cream. Leave fatter, but happier.
38 Upper St James’s Street
If you really want to indulge in the Art Deco era, a trip to 1930s Parisian style tea salon Metrodeco in Kemp Town is advised. It’s about a 30 minute walk from the pier which will offset the guilt from all the cake you will be eating.