Spending time in London can be exhausting. Luckily, with the enviable public transit system, it’s no trouble to hop a train and head to the seaside. Brighton is an easy day trip from London. In only an hour, you can be whisked away from the crowds of the city into … the crowds of the pier… So perhaps it isn’t much less busy, but it really is worth it!
Getting to Brighton
There are at least three rail lines that run service from London to Brighton, and back again, in close to an hour. I took the Gatwick Express from Victoria Station, but the Thameslink and Southern lines do essentially the same thing. The route is very straightforward, and you’ll get to see a bit of the countryside on the way. Riding the train in England was really the best way to get a sense of the geography – hearing those frequent announcements of stations really drills the into one’s brain!
The train is not the cheapest method of travel however. Try to maximise savings by booking return trips, and try to book ahead of time. You may also be eligible for various discounts (seniors, youth, etc.) if you plan to travel by train frequently.
When to Go
Brighton is definitely a popular spot for tourists from abroad, and from within England, during the summer months. I highly recommend visiting in the off-season, when the crowds are smaller, and you can ice skate at the Pavilion! Also the Brighton Pier is a very funky place for photos without anyone else around. Check out this post with photos from my visit if you want to learn more! If you do go in the off-season, try to leave London nice and early so you get the most of the sunlight. The sun setting at 4 or 5pm in November and December really shortens the time you have to sightsee in the light.
Train tickets are cheaper if you skip peak hours – commuter time – but it does rather change the length of time you could spend in Brighton. So depending on your budget, you may choose to leave London early, and return after dinner. I went around mid morning, and since it was getting dark, came back to London around 4:30. Had the weather been warmer, I definitely would have stayed longer.
Eat & Drink
Brighton is full of funky spots for coffee, food, and snacks. We had already consumed the massive (complimentary) breakfast at The Pilgrm, so when we arrived in Brighton, we headed straight for lunch. North Laine Cafe had a cute cafe feel, with a full brunch and lunch menu. My big disappointment in Brighton was not have enough of an appetite (or need for caffeine) to try all the sweet cafes that were available. But eating your way through the small city is absolutely a justifiable way to spend your time.
Brighton had vibes a bit like Torquay without being quite so touristy. It still has a hip, student feel – like the visitors haven’t completely taken over.
I was in Brighton to pick up my ancestry visa at a bizarre little post office in a stationary shop, in a shopping mall, on the edge of the city, so perhaps I didn’t get the best tour. But there’s certainly plenty to see.
Brighton Royal Pavilion
Head to the Pavilion for ice skating in the winter, plus art, and very funky architecture. Wandering the grounds is free, and you can read the information about the Pavilion, which was built for King George as a seaside retreat.
The Brighton Pier is perhaps the best-known tourist destination. In the summer, I’m sure it’s packed with families at the fairgrounds and arcade, but in the off-season it’s kind of cool (and a bit creepy).
Walking the beach must be lovely in the summertime. Even in the cold weather, it was nice to get a breath of ocean air after sitting on an airplane and wandering through smoggy London.
Brighton’s downtown has older sections, and more modern sections. It’s also full of charity shops, vintage shops, and funky artisans, so you could spend the whole day just wandering and finding souvenirs to bring home (which you will later struggle to pack in your overly full suitcase if you’re anything like me).
A library you say?!
And of course, because I can’t go anywhere without: I visited the public library. It’s lovely! I know it’s perhaps a strange thing to do when on vacation, but the bathrooms were lovely, and it really is cool to learn all about how other libraries and programs work. This library was promoting some sort of filmmaking session, and you were encouraged to pop in a little viewing booth and watch a short film in the dark. Not your everyday tourist experience!
When all is said and done, Brighton is an easy day trip from London if you have time to kill while stay in the capital. Having done it as a day trip though, I would be glad to go back and spend more time in the seaside city, and then head further west to explore more of East Sussex.