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 ( 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!