With a Local: Brighton, East Sussex

This With a Local supplies insider tips on things to do and see while visiting Brighton in East Sussex, England.

Bumbling about in Brighton is always fun. To find out where to go and what to do there I turned to Jools Stone, a freelance travel, music and arts writer, for the lowdown about his home town.

Why do you think people should come and see Brighton?

Most southern Brits will probably already know it well, but for those from further afield, basically it combines all the best elements of a British seaside town with a cool smaller city.

It’s safe, but a little frayed around the edges, which is part of its charm.

We have a lively pier (plus an atmospherically ruined one, the West Pier, for all you budding Instagrammers out there), some truly beautiful Georgian architecture, the world’s oldest working electric railway, the Volks, so many great independent pubs, restos and shops. I could go on.

There’s lots of indie shops, an incredible array of high quality dining spots for a city of its size and so many quirky and characterful pubs.

More importantly perhaps, it’s an extremely friendly, tolerant and welcoming place with the country’s only Green Party Member of Parliament.

And we have the Royal Pavilion—a building inspired by Indian palaces from the outside, decorated with some extraordinary Chinese interiors—slap bang in the city centre.

What is your favourite place in Brighton?

I love Jubilee Street, immortalised by the Nick Cave song of the same name, which manages to retain a continental vibe year-round with its row of pubs and restaurants, always busy with people sitting out. It also has the Jubilee Library, a wonderfully airy, luminous place and one of the best in the country, in my opinion.

North Laine is great for shopping and grabbing a coffee, especially at the weekend. So many good quality independents thrive in Brighton and many of them are found there. The Lanes are worth exploring also, but preferably midweek when they’re less packed.

And I dearly love Kemp Town, where I live. It’s a lovely, laidback villagey area with much of the city’s finest Regency architecture and plenty of good pubs, cafes and quirky shops.

The Lanes? A mural on a wall in Brighton.
In one of Brighton’s lanes. A mural on a wall.

If you were going to take a guest to dine, where would you choose and why?

If they like seafood and the sun is smiling on us, I’d plump for English’s a very traditional place with penguin-suited waiters and tables set in a little piazza, where a decent jazz band regularly busks at the weekends. Their seafood platter is honestly the best I’ve had anywhere in the world.

For something spicier, I’d go for Moshimo, an outstanding Japanese place, serving excellent sushi and karagee squid. It was one of the first Japanese places outside of London and has not rested on its laurels.

Or if they prefer something spicier still (and we surely have some of the best, most authentic Indian places in the UK) they’ll have their minds and palates fairly blown by either Indian Summer or The Chilli Pickle.

And if they just fancy a bag of fish’n’ chips—why wouldn’t they?—I’d take them to my local, the Kemp Town Chippy. It’s a very unassuming little place, with erratic opening hours and one of those 1970s plastic letterboards for a menu, but the chips are a piece of triple-cooked, vinegar-soaked perfection.

For dining at the finer end of the scale, Twenty Four St Georges is excellent, as is The Ginger Dog gastropub, and for smaller plates 54 Degrees is always inventive, assuming you can grab one of the few benches available in this tiny place.

We have a stack of amazing burger joints falling over each other too, so many epic ones opening every month it’s hard to keep up with them all…that’s a blogpost for another day! Some of the best ones include Burger Brothers, Stockburger and the Troll’s Pantry in the Hobgoblin Pub.

Savouring the seaside - fish and chips served in Brighton.
Savouring the seaside – fish and chips served in Brighton.

If there is a bar or cafe that you could take guests to, which would it be and why?

The Fortune of War is great place for a lazy sunset-watching pint on the beach and The Colonnade Bar—a gorgeous, cosy little theatre bar on New Road—does a marvellous range of botanical gin cocktails, and the tables out front make a fine spot to people watch from too.

For brunch, I would recommend a few in my neighbourhood of Kemp Town. Egg & Spoon does a fine Cuban sandwich, Cuppa Joe is French run café-cum-vintage-clothing store that does a perfect croquet monsieur and Compasspoint Eatery is a fab, friendly American deli festooned with quirky, mid-century antiques. Go hungry and have some sides!

What is your favourite legend or quirky bit of history from Brighton?

I’m a big fan of Magnus Volks, an inventor who not only built the fantastic Volks Electric Railway, the world’s oldest in operation and still a Brighton must-do in my book. It’s actually cheaper than the bus for a day return! It runs along the seafront, but also an extraordinary contraption known as the Daddy Long Legs.

This was basically like a combination of a pleasure boat, a train and a moving pier, which ran on tracks on massive, 20 foot high stilts above the sea for over two miles.

Sadly, it was beset with technical and weather problems and only lasted a few years, but what a sight it must have been.

I also like the fact that the tunnel connecting Brighton Museum and the Dome with the Royal Pavilion was built simply so that porky old King George could avoid prying eyes and public ridicule.

If guests can stay in the area for an extra day, what do you recommend they do and see?

Once you’ve exhausted Brighton, you should explore the more genteel area of Hove, or wander along the coast in the opposite direction towards Rottingdean, a sweet little Victorian village with a cliffside amphitheatre, duck pond, some lovely pubs serving fresh crab and Rudyard Kipling’s house.

Further information

Follow Jools’ rail travel adventures on Railway Stays and view his work at Jools Stone. If you’ve got questions about Brighton chat to him on Twitter (@jools_octavius).

Find out more via the Visit Brighton website.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.

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A wet weekend in Brighton? Even rain doesn't dampen the fun.
A wet weekend in Brighton? Even rain doesn’t dampen the fun.

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