Here we are, catching up on my black hole of content from September of 2016 to April of 2017! So excited to be turning my detailed notes and journals into blog posts from the United Kingdom, Hawaii, Jamaica, Thailand and Bali! Shall we head to the UK together, then? Thanks for joining me on this trip down memory lane.
Oh and ALSO I’m a fool and the comments were inadvertently turned off on my original Brighton post (thank you reader Becky for the heads up!) So if you had something to say and didn’t get the chance to say it — speak up now!
In a country that quite likely has more umbrellas per capita than any other destination on earth, we were blessed with four days of sunshine for our seaside stay. In September. How lucky could we possibly be?
We woke up on our second morning in Brighton bursting with energy and excited to explore the vibrant, colorful city we’d met the day before…. you know, after we spent the morning having breakfast in bed and reading with our balcony doors flung open. It was a vacation, after all.
When we finally emerged, I cashed in on my one meal request of the trip: lunch at Pizza Express. If you hear muffled laughter right now, that’s from every British reader I have cackling into their phone or computer screens.
Dying to eat at Pizza Express is the US equivalent of traveling to New York and begging to eat at The Olive Garden, but I just don’t care — I love their garlic dough balls and I don’t care who knows it.
After lunch, it was time to start tackling some offbeat sightseeing. Our first stop? Sealife Brighton, the oldest operating aquarium in the world. I know zoos and aquariums can be controversial among travelers, but I did my research and felt confident this was one of the good ones: it contains thousands of fish, turtles, sharks and rays but no marine mammals, they host regular local beach cleans, and they focus heavily on education and conservation in Brighton and beyond.
I have to admit, though, I was mostly attracted to this aquarium not for what was in the tanks, but the tanks themselves. The Brighton Aquarium first opened in 1872, and the original Victorian architecture still stands today. The history of this space is fascinating — during World War II, the aquarium was shut for military occupation and the animals were moved to the London Zoo for safekeeping. While today, some trippy rainbow lighting reminds you that you are indeed in modern-day Brighton, the exhibits themselves were simple and focused heavily on local sealife — which I loved as I actually looked into diving in Brighton while planning this trip!
During our smiling stroll through the aquarium I was happy to overhear an educator chatting to kids about single-use plastics and how they can harm the animals they love, and tons of signs and information about conservation causes. The future looks bright in Brighton!
We bought tickets at the door which was kind of silly considering you can save a significant amount by booking online ahead of time. Even booking online, the cheapest tickets are £15.50 so it’s not a bargain but also not terribly shocking for a major attraction in a popular resort town.
Brighton’s star attraction, however, sits firmly above sea level: The Royal Pavilions are an absolute must-see, we were informed. The former seaside residence of several Kings and Princes — but dissed as “strange and odd” by Queen Victoria — is one of the most opulent structures anywhere in England, and fits right in to Brighton’s quirky and just-the-right-amount-of-kitschy streets.
A quick Google Image search of the interiors told us we weren’t really interested in paying admission to go inside (plus no photos were allowed, which is always a frustration for a shutterbug like me), but we loved strolling through the busy and bucolic park in which the Pavilion sits, and admiring its outlandish exteriors — all of which was free.
On the way back to our bed and breakfast, we — okay, mostly I — couldn’t resist popping into a few shops. In general, I’m not a major shopper, but every so often I find a destination that just gets me and somehow feel my wallet flying open on the regular. Brighton was one of those places.
In addition to its selection of fun gifts, funky attire and fly accessories I also picked on something else I loved so far about Brighton — we walked everywhere. We forwent cabs and buses and used our own two feet to get every single place we needed to go the whole trip, including to and from the train station. I love me a compact, walkable city.
no explanation, just a zebra playing a piano in the streets
That evening, after a short rest back in our room, we had an exciting night ahead: our fabulous amazing friend Kat was coming down from London to have dinner and drinks with us! Kat’s brother recently moved to Brighton, and so she arranged to crash with him for the evening so we could all meet up.
I’m officially putting my hand out for a slap, though — this blogger was so excited to see one of her dearest friends, they didn’t take a single photo of themselves!
we did get Ian with this banana mural, though
Our first stop after a shriek-filled reunion at the Brighton train station was drinks at Twisted Lemon with Kat’s brother, his girlfriend and his son. One of the things I love about the UK is it’s not a big deal to bring kids into pubs the way it would be in the states. Why not? We grabbed one of the few tables in the intimate courtyard and caught up over craft cocktails (and a juice, for the kiddo).
Afterwards, Ian, Kat and I headed back to The Set, where Ian and I had had lunch the day before, for dinner in the main dining room. Kat, who is the general manager of a major restaurant in London, was just as impressed as we had been and we confidently declared it our favorite restaurant of the trip (sorry, Pizza Express.)
Even if you don’t want to splurge on a meal here — and it is a splurge — grab a drink in The Cocktail Shack. With a fun tiki roof over the bar and drink names like Obi Wan Negroni and Sauvignon Private Ryan, you can’t really go wrong.
After dinner, we wandered into random pubs tasting ciders, reminiscing about the good old days and planning even better future ones until it was time to call it a very late night.
The next morning, Ian and I woke up feeling a bit delicate and decided we deserved a beach day. After another morning reading in bed (which was less pleasant than it sounds due to our unfortunate bed and breakfast situation) we strolled our way down to the seashore.
En route, we grabbed a cheap takeaway lunch at NooNoodles and made ourselves a little beach picnic upon arrival.
Brighton’s beach is hard and rocky rather than soft and sandy, which may contribute to the popularity of the ubiquitous striped beach chair rentals. While the water was far too cold for me personally to submerge, it felt amazing to sit out and feel the sun on my skin while we lazily ate lunch, read books, and watched seagulls terrorize comically traumatized beach go-ers. (Seriously. The last part was my favorite.)
Since I got a billion questions about it when I posted the below photo on Instagram, I’ll answer preemptively here. I got this amazing little Jaws-inspired number on Amazon, and they have some pretty fun variations out there too. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten more swimwear compliments in my life!
After a relaxed day at the beach, we decided to keep the chill vibe going for the night. After one last stroll through Brighton’s winding, charming lanes, we settled on dinner at Seven Stars Pub. While it wasn’t as note-worthy as some of the other places we’d eaten on our trip, it was just what we needed that evening.
After dinner, we tried desperately to talk ourselves into a night out — Brighton’s nightlife is infamous, and we had yet to really experience it beyond a few empty pubs — but we just weren’t feeling it. After one half-hearted drink at Lola Lo, which has since permanently closed, we enthusiastically skipped home to bed.
I’m sure I’ll be back to Brighton to dance the night away sometime in the future — ideally over a summer weekend and not mid-week in the shoulder season while mildly jetlagged.
The next morning we woke up sad to say goodbye to Brighton but excited to reunite with Kat in London. We weren’t meeting her until she was finished with work, so we still had most of the day to explore.
After a sunny early morning heavy rains were predicted for mid-day (ah, there’s that British weather!) so we planned an indoor activity at the Brighton Museum, set on the grounds of the Royal Pavilions.
We’re somewhat fickle museum-goers, but this one checked all the boxes. We loved the stylish design of the museum, the permanent Images of Brighton exhibit that highlighted Brighton’s fascinating history and subcultures, the temporary Ocean Blues exhibit that dove into the dangers facing the ocean today — primarily industrial fishing and plastic pollution — with positive suggestions for reducing or reversing their impact, Disability and Identity, a temporary exhibit about the Pavilion’s history as a rehabilitation center for World War One amputees, and Fashion Cities Africa, a temporary exhibit highlighting upcoming designers from across the continent.
Brighton has had such an amazing road to become the city it is today. Once a fishing village, the town later gained popularity as a health resort in the 1700’s as doctors sent patients there to heal with by drinking and bathing in seawater. Later, the advent of the rail system turned it into a leisure destination and tourism boomed. And I’d say those ocean breezes are still pretty healing today.
At £5.20 per ticket, the Brighton Museum provided a bargain of an afternoon.
Years ago, I would never have dreamed that the gray, stuffy United Kingdom I pictured in my head could hold a city so funky, so bright, so perfectly me as Brighton. And that’s the thing about travel and the ever-expanding bucket list. Finally traveling to England and seeing it for myself didn’t tick anything off my list — it only made it longer, and added to the roster of beloved cities that I’d now love to go to again and again.
As my post title reveals, I couldn’t help but compare Brighton to my beloved Coney Island in New York, a funky seaside town that’s equal parts cool and kitschy. Here’s to Brighton, a city I hope to someday reminisce over many happy and colorful visits to.
Next stop, London!
OK, you didn’t steer me wrong on St. Pete’s in FL, so now I’m going to have to go to Brighton! And while in England, also visit Cornwall, which I already feel I know intimately after binge-watching Poldark.
I want to go to Cornwall too! That was the one place we were really devastated to cut from this trip, but we thought it deserved more time than we had to give.
Ok good I thought it was just my computer messing up with the comments on the other post XD But anyway, wow Brighton looks super cool! That doesn’t seem like the stereotypical UK at all! And I am excited to hear all about that place you stayed, if it gets a post all to itself it can’t be good o.O
Ha, nope, probably the straight up worst we’ve ever stayed in! Can’t wait to spill all!
Pizza Express dough balls are the best! The UK has a bad rep but does hold a lot of beauty (when the weather is good).
I’m just grateful I don’t live in a country where I have year-round access to the deliciousness of those dough balls or I might turn into one, LOL.
I went to a spooky fishy wedding at Brighton aquarium one Halloween! So cool to get to be there at night without the crowds. Also well done on making it to Twisted Lemon – their cocktails are fantastic. Brighton is easily the best city in the UK (followed by Bristol). So many people never bother to leave London when they come here.
Um, that literally sounds like the best wedding ever — and so Brighton! And just stay tuned for my Bristol posts 😉
‘Such a lovely post about Brighton Alex!
Brighton is one of our best seaside resort towns, and the night life is thrilling! ‘So glad that you were able to see the Brighton Pavilion, as it reminds us all of the Taj Mahal in India, and really is very pretty.
p.s. Just to let you know, I’m a British person, and I can tell you that children in pubs in the UK, is a big deal! It’s true that kids are now allowed to go into some pubs with their parents, but not real “working men” pubs, only “gastro pubs” which in some places are called “restaurants,” and only where food is sold! And depending on the destination, only until a certain time, and in certain parts of the pubs! Many “city drinking pubs” don’t allow customers under the ages of 25!
Huh, well I read that one wrong then! I guess I’ve just lucked out into being in several drinking establishments with prams and babies in them in my times in the UK, which gave me the impression it was pretty common. I always thought that was kind of nice, that mum could get out of the house for a bit and catch up with friends. Maybe those places were bending the rules?
Oh, not at all! They’re gastro pubs – basically, pubs that serve food. And of course, if they serve food, families are very much welcomed. But again, it depends on the pub and the city. In tourist-friendly places, there are many, with the eating part upstairs and the drinking only part, downstairs! On the High Street, many pubs reduce the hours for families so that in the evening, hard-core clubbers can drink without a guilty conscious!
I have a teen, and because I tend to aim for the more up-market establishment as opposed to the breakfast for 1.99 places, it can be a little difficult…
I can imagine a teen is trickier too, since they look the age that kids start trying to sneak into pubs to drink, haha! Thanks for the clarification 🙂
Brighton really does look colourful and bright! I love the beach chairs as well. I actually don’t really like sand – ha, sand manages to get everywhere – so Brighton beach looks perfect to me!
I love getting ridiculously sandy 🙂 But I liked this rocky shore too — something different!
I’m so glad you made it to Brighton! I live 30 minutes away, if I was going to pick one place in the UK for you it would be Brighton. Plus the Twisted Lemon is awesome!!
I agree, it really did feel “me!” 🙂 That said, Bristol was a close runner-up for favorite. Stay tuned!
My favourite travel blogger covering my hometown?? Too good to be true! Loved reading this, and so glad to hear that you enjoyed your time in Brighton! ???? ps the zebra man is there all the time, he’s a local legend haha!
Ha, that’s great! He must make a pretty good income to be doing it day in and day out! And yes, absolutely adored Brighton 🙂
I can’t believe you’re wearing a cossie at that beach. Last time I went was in June and I was in jeans and a jumper, haha.
We SO lucked out. The rest of our trip was pretty cold, but our days at the beach were so sunny we were sweating! The second you weren’t in direct sunlight though, it was chilly.
Oh I love Brighton! When I lived in London I made it down there a few times and it was always somewhere I wanted to live. I love wandering the laneways and strolling the pier. Brighton reminds me a lot of the West Coast spots like Santa Cruz and Manhattan Beach 🙂
Two places I’ve yet to visit — but you just gave me some extra motivation 🙂
Awww! This makes me excited for my next Brighton jaunt. Surely 3rd time’s a charm??
I think it must be! Let me know what you think when you do get there 🙂 I think good weather was a major boost for us!
Weather makes all the difference! I have been once in February gloom & once in perfect sunshine & you can guess which one I preferred. On that note, I’ve pretty much decided to avoid traveling the UK from about November through March as it usually just makes me depressed!
I feel ya girl — you may notice I have scarcely been to the US outside May-September in YEARS!
Yay!! Brighton is the best. 🙂 So many cool things going on! I notice something different every time I visit (and I used to live nearby lol). So glad you loved it! (P.S. I love the zebra guy! Haha)
I really did! Can’t believe it took me so many trips to the UK to get there!
That’s an excellent tip about checking online for inside pics before going in. Never in my life have I been more disappointed with interior expectations than Eilean Donan castle in Scotland. On the outside it’s a stunning 13th century castle nestled at the meeting point of three lochs – on the inside it’s decorated in early 20th century style. Also, you really have the most adorable bathing suits! Great post.
Oh wow, that’s weird! Yeah, with a lot of historic buildings I prefer to appreciate the outside. Google always gives me the heads up I need, ha ha.