This story was first published on 2 October 2017. It is now updated with the latest information on travelling to the United Kingdom under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL).
For centuries, Londoners have escaped the city’s grey weather for a weekend of sun, sea and sizzle in Brighton, which is just an hour’s ride by train.
Today, Brighton is more than just a side trip for sun-starved city dwellers as it stamps itself on the international map as United Kingdom’s most popular beachfront getaway for tourists. A perfect spot for a much-needed holiday abroad too now that Singapore has extended the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) arrangement to the United Kingdom, allowing fully vaccinated folks to travel to and fro without serving quarantines.
An eclectic mix of London hip and SoHo avant-garde (of the Big Apple variety, that is), Brighton one-ups the English capital and other top UK tourist destinations and attractions. Travelling to this side of the UK will have you enjoying its exclusive offer of an eight-mile stretch of pebbly seaside enclaves – stomping grounds for mostly affluent free spirits out for a taste of this coastal haven’s eccentric diversity, flamboyant counter-culture and indie landscape.
A colourful, hedonistic past
A most un-English town, Brighton revels in its reputation as an antithesis to London. Think a warmer, weirder, wilder alternative.
The Royal Pavilion – an eye-popping 19th-century pleasure palace of Indo-Islamic architecture with opulent Oriental interiors – was built for the Prince of Wales aka Brighton’s “Patron Sinner” (later King George IV) as his secret love nest-slash-kinky funhouse-slash-royal retreat from Regency London.
For locals, this seaside decadence – that is most definitely not a mosque – kickstarted Brighton’s rise as the bohemian coastal antidote to London’s megacity slick. A must-add to every road trip itinerary, you can either visit the fabulous palace to delve into its rich history, or take a virtual tour while travelling safely.
Eccentric town, eclectic To Do's
Brighton exudes an air of goofball eccentricity, so don’t bat an eyelid when a naked cyclist whizzes past and says hello to that bloke in a pretty frock. But there are things locals and tourists alike do take seriously when in Brighton:
Stroll along the refurbished boardwalk of the iconic Brighton Palace Pier, the fourth most popular free UK attraction, and the most visited tourist spot outside London. Speed demons and kids-at-heart will enjoy its Turbo Coaster and the biggest arcade on the south coast. Travel tip: be sure to load up on pennies!
Glide up to the skies via British Airways i360. No, it’s not a plane — it’s the world’s tallest moving observation tower, higher even than the London Eye. At 162m high, it takes sightseeing to a whole new level as you can see as far as the Isle of Wight on a clear day.
Instagram the century-and-a-half-old West Pier – well, what remains of the twice-burnt derelict – before the sea fully takes it back. A Grade I listed edifice, its eerie beauty has an inexplicable soothing effect. These days, all that’s left is a partial metal framework - still a sight to behold, be sure to pack your cameras or phones with you to grab a shot as the sun sets.
Enjoy visiting local food haunts? Let London have its gourmet fads. Brighton’s food scene is locally sourced, largely organic (practically a vegan’s paradise!), affordable, and globally diverse. We recommend the Sea Spray Café over at Rottingdean High Street, a beachfront favourite known for its famous coffee brew. While many come back just for their cuppa, there are gluten-free brunch choices, imaginative salads and organic ice cream to look forward to as well.
There are several travel myths revolving around shopping when you travel overseas. But shopping in The Lanes and North Laine will expose you to an amalgamation of kitsch and funky unlike any other wanderlust-worthy travel destination. Home to one-of-a-kind indie outlets, kitsch boutiques and antique shops, shopping – or just plain window shopping – in the heart of Brighton’s alternative scene is an essential to-do. Save trips to the big stores for London. In this madcap town, treat yourself to quirky and exotic finds.
After browsing for vintage bric-a-brac in Snoopers Paradise, take a breather at the Pavilion Gardens before a spontaneous night out. Why not start with a first-class, retro burlesque show at Proud Cabaret Brighton and step back in time in your finest regalia?
Brighton tourist requirement: an arty, adventurous spirit
If London is the formal cultural capital of the world, Brighton must be its cooler, hip, more experimental little brother. Every May, visitors go on a crazy arty bender with one of Europe’s most celebrated arts fetes: the Brighton Festival. It’s a massive, three-week-long celebration of music, theatre, dance, circus, film, literature, debate, and so on, where only the most avant-garde artists are invited… and kids are most definitely welcome. The festival made a triumphant return in 2021 as the first multi-arts festival in the UK to open after the coronavirus pandemic caused cancellations back in 2020. So, if seeing graffiti and mural street arts is your definition of a getaway, The Lanes is for you.
A city unafraid to express itself, check-in with an open attitude in August for the two-day Brighton Pride extravaganza that starts with a huge, colourful parade and ends with a 100-thousand-strong street rave.
Can’t make it to the big festivals? No worries, there’s always an artsy event shaking up Brighton:
White Wall Cinema offers free pop-up screenings of indie, cult flicks you’ll never see in a mall cineplex.
Stunning and original graffiti art (some of UK’s best!) around town, including a Banksy. Okay, the original of “Kissing Policemen” has been sold but a replica of it remains.
The Gag Factory is a weekly comedy night featuring some of the top and up-and-coming acts on the UK comedy circuit. Every session will see comedians test out new material and see if their jokes can make the cut on stage — so it’ll either be hilarious or cringeworthy, but never boring.
Things to note while travelling in Brighton
Most Covid-19 restrictions across England have been lifted: there are no legal limits on social contact (both indoors and outdoors) and social distancing. Nonetheless, travellers should continue to consider the risks of close contact with others to ensure safe travels.
Dining, leisure and events have resumed without any limits on capacity or social distancing requirements. Some venues, facilities and events that host crowded settings might still require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry. In such cases, a vaccine certificate issued by the Ministry of Health is accepted.
Masks are no longer mandatory everywhere, but some businesses and transport operators will still request that they be worn. Authorities in Brighton are advising that people continue to wear face coverings on buses and all enclosed spaces.
- Stay updated here on what you can and cannot do while travelling in the UK.
All it takes is an immersive weekend trip to Brighton to discover why it’s called “the hippest city” and “happiest place to live” in the UK. With its daring beaches, cheeky quirks and free spirit, this express beachfront getaway will open your eyes to a whole different side of the UK — and certainly something refreshing after being stuck in Singapore for so long.
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Best time to visit
Spring to Summer:
May to August to make the most of Brighton’s most celebrated weekend festivals and of course, the sunshine.
November to December when the town gets all sparkly and romantic with the new Royal Pavilion Gardens Ice Rink and the magical Burning The Clock lantern parade a week before Christmas.
Get to Brighton in under an hour by rail from London Gatwick Airport, served by the Eurostar Service at St Pancras.
Brighton is a walking city so get ready to explore on foot. All you need is Google Maps to find your way around. Alternatively, you can rent a bike at Brighton Marina or on the West Pier concourse.
Buses are the best options. Get the one-day super-saver ticket for unlimited travel within the city. Bus stations are PWD-friendly, too! While it is not compulsory, it is highly recommended to wear masks on buses for safer travel.
Britain’s currency is the pound sterling (£).
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