Best things to do in Brighton

written by Lottie Gross
updated 2/7/2023
fb tw mail_outline

Vibrant, quirky and cool, Brighton (or Brighton & Hove, to give it its official name) is one of the country’s most popular seaside destinations. The essence of the city’s appeal is its faintly bohemian vitality. There is a buzz that comes from a mix of holidaymakers, foreign language students, and a thriving LGBTQ+ community. If this sounds like fun to you - explore our pick of the best things to do in Brighton.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to England, your essential guide for visiting England.

Don't miss the Royal Pavilion

In any survey to find England’s most loved building, there’s always a bucketful of votes for Brighton’s exotic extravaganza, the Royal Pavilion. The building was the south-coast pied-à-terre of the fun-loving Prince Regent (the future George IV). He first visited the seaside resort in 1783 and spent much of the next forty years partying, gambling and frolicking with his mistress here.

The building you see today is the work of John Nash, the architect of London’s Regent Street. In 1815 he redesigned the Prince’s original modest dwelling into an extraordinary confection of slender minarets, twirling domes, pagodas, balconies and miscellaneous motifs. The result defined a genre of its own – Oriental Gothic.

Royal Pavilion, Brighton © Shutterstock

Across the gardens from the Pavilion stands the Brighton Museum – once part of the royal stable block. It houses a wonderful and eclectic mix of modern fashion and design, archaeology, painting and local history. Among the highlights are Dalí’s famous sofa (1938) based on Mae West’s lips, the 13,000-object ethnographic collection, and the mummified animals and painted coffins of the Ancient Egypt galleries.

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in Brighton © Shutterstock

Discover the Brighton Dome

Visiting the Brighton Dome (the Royal Pavilion’s former stables) should be on your list of things to do in Brighton if you are a theatre enthusiast. It is home to three venues – Pavilion Theatre, Concert Hall and Corn Exchange – offering theatre, concerts, dance and performance.

Equally popular with locals and visitors, Only in Brighton's quirky tour answers all the important questions about Brighton life. How did a song performed at the Brighton Dome help trigger the Portuguese Revolution? Why did the Prince Regent need a stiff brandy when he met his future wife? And just what connects Mount Everest and the Hove branch of Tesco?

The entrance of the Brighton Royal Pavilion Dome © Shutterstock

Relax at Brighton Beach

Brighton Beach is known for its pebble sand, Victorian architecture and colourful beach cottages. The beach is also the site of Brighton Palace Pier, where you can find activities and attractions such as amusement park rides, arcades and food concessions. Also on the beach you will find many options for activities, such as paddleboarding, wakeboarding, kayaking and beach volleyball.

Try Brighton Watersports which offers standup paddleboarding, wakeboarding and kayak rental or Lagoon Watersports which offers windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding and wakeboarding. Their sailing school based at Brighton Marina offers longer dinghy sailing courses and high-speed powerboat rides.

Brighton is a perfect option for a seaside weekend getaway. For more weekend ideas in the UK, read our guide to the best UK city breaks.

Brighton beach © Shutterstock

continued below

Take a walk down Brighton Palace Pier

To soak up the tackier side of Brighton, head down to the seafront and take a stroll along Brighton Pier completed in 1899. It's every inch is devoted to cacophonous fun. Opposite Brighton Pier, on Marine Parade, is the Sea Life Centre, which is the world’s oldest operating aquarium, opened in 1872; its wonderfully atmospheric Victorian aquarium hall is the main attraction.

Outside of London — England is known for its countryside full of history, picturesque villages, patchwork hills, and winding country roads. Explore the countryside with its castles, parks, and historical cities such as Oxford on this tailor-made refreshing English Countryside Break.

Brighton Pier © Shutterstock

Ride on Volk's electric railway

Just east of Brighton Pier, the 300m-long twin zip wires of Brighton Zip whisk thrill-seekers along the seafront. If you prefer a more sedate form of transport, try the antiquated locomotives of Volk’s Electric Railway – the world’s oldest electric railway.

It is a trundle eastward towards Brighton Marina, stopping off en route at the fabulous Yellowave beach sports venue, the perfect spot for a taster of beach volleyball, with six sand courts, plus an excellent café.

Volk's Railway, vintage tram along the most popular walking beach in Brighton © Shutterstock

Take part in Brighton Festival

Brighton Festival is one of Europe’s leading arts festivals with a different Guest Artistic Director each year. Every May the three-week-long festival takes over various venues around town. This arty celebration is among the unique things to do in Brighton and includes over two hundred events, ranging from exhibitions and street theatre to concerts and talks.

Running at the same time is the Brighton and Hove Fringe Festival, which puts on over 700 events. Also, the biannual Artists’ Open Houses Festival, when hundreds of private homes fling open their doors to show the work of local artists.

Get ready to explore Britain on this unique self-drive tailor-made Great British road trip. Choose the car of your liking before you hit the road: from the Cotswolds and its picturesque villages over the Beatle's favourite hang-out in Liverpool to Scotland's capital Edinburgh: this trip includes many highlights to be explored

Brighton's Royal Pavilion during the Brighton art festival © Shutterstock

Stroll through South Downs National Park

One of the best things to do in Brighton is to visit the famous South Downs National Park. The South Downs themselves, a range of gently undulating chalk hills famously described by Rudyard Kipling as the “blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed downs”, form the backbone of the park.

The southern slopes slant gently down to the sea, while the steep escarpment on the northern side drops abruptly to give spectacular views over the low-lying Weald. West of Arundel, the South Downs become more wooded on their journey into Hampshire, and the boundaries of the national park extend northward to cover the Western Weald, an area of woodland and heathland.

South Downs National Park is recognised as one of the most beautiful places in England. To find even more picturesque English destinations explore our guide to the most beautiful places in England.

South Downs Way, a long distance footpath and bridleway along the South Downs hills © Shutterstock

Browse antiques & curios

Everyone knows that going to the Lanes is one of the best things to do in Brighton for shopping, and this alternative itinerary will not deny you the pleasure. But make sure you head to Snooper’s Paradise and the above cooperative Snooper’s Attic, on North Laine, for a myriad of antiques and beautifully handcrafted vintage accessories.

Beware though; you could spend hours in this shop. It's best to limit your time (and budget), then move on to the Brighton branch of Beyond Retro for – you’ve guessed it – all things retro. For something a little more special try Hope & Harlequin on Ship Street Gardens, who specialise in the bespoke re-creation of event dresses and vintage wedding originals.

Small vintage market in Brighton, photography by Lottie Gross 2013

Get a new hair-do

A night out in Brighton needs preparation, and what better place to get ready than at the Parlour Rooms on Dyke Road. This quaint little tea room has more than meets the eye: beneath all the scrumptious tea and cake lies a wonderful little vintage salon where 1950s up-dos are the fashion and ruby red lipstick is an obligation.

And, if you can fit it in, there’s also a craft workshop where you can make your own accessories, and a lingerie rack full of saucy handmade delicates – this, combined with copious amounts of English tea and a vintage makeover is an afternoon well spent!

Have a cup of English tea with cakes in a wonderful little vintage salon in Brighton © Shutterstock

Learn to dance

You might think a tea dance sounds a little limp after the weekend so far, but don’t be fooled by the village hall-style venue and country-bumpkin bunting. The Ragroof Theatre Tea Dances are regular Sunday occurrences where the members will get you up on your feet and, no matter how two-left-footed you are, spin you every which way during lively jazz tracks.

There is tea, cake and champagne to order, and dancing lessons where partners aren’t required – the divine Champagne Charlie is on hand for any single ladies who need a lead. Beware though girls, don’t look directly into those eyes – you may never love again! Each tea dance is themed so be sure to purchase the appropriate attire from some of those excellent vintage shops.

Taking a dancing lesson is one of the best things to do in Brighton for fun, photography by Lottie Gross 2013

Drink vintage cocktails

For some vintage wine and cocktails head to the Bistro at Hotel du Vin. Using 40-year-old Campari and Martini Rosso, and 1950s gin and Maraschino, the cocktail waiters can mix you a truly vintage Negroni or a perfectly smooth Martinez.

If cocktails aren’t your tipple though, try some of the excellent vintage wines recommended to you by one of the 14 in-house sommeliers – their cellar has over 500 wines from around the world so don’t be afraid to ask for advice. (Many of the wonderful reds go superbly with the fillet steak, might I add.)

Drinking vintage cocktails is one of the best things to do in Brighton for fun © Shutterstock

Partying hard at the cabaret - one of the best things to do in Brighton for a unique experience

If you were looking for the definition of quirky, look no further than the Marlborough Theatre’s cabaret nights. A rather unsuspecting pub from the outside, and a relatively average looking bar inside, this venue has a secret stage upstairs where bizarre but hysterically witty musicians and drag queens play the night away for a select few with tickets.

You can see the likes of Joe Black, the “gin drinking cabaret darling and acid tongued ringmaster”, and world famous Dolly Rocket, a giant lady with a giant voice, all hosted by the terrific-in-tights Tariq. For an after party, head to The Mezmerist where you can dance ‘til you drop (or until the lights come on) and there isn’t a chart song in sight.

Cabaret dancer © Shutterstock

Where to stay in Brighton:

Find more accommodation options to stay in Brighton

Feeling inspired by our best things to do in Brighton? Discover more unconventional ideas for your weekends with our guide to great alternative UK city breaks.

Ready for a trip to Brighton? Check out the The Rough Guide to England or The Rough Guide to Great Britain. If you travel further in England, read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and best things to do in England. For inspiration use the England itineraries from The Rough Guide to England and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to England without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn commission from some of the external websites linked in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

author photo
written by Lottie Gross
updated 2/7/2023
fb tw mail_outline

Planning on your own? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Find even more inspiration for England here

Ready to travel and discover England?
Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels