Brighton & Hove: the city that rocks all year round
Spring is on its way so Hooof’s fabulous Brighton correspondent Jamie Hakim gives us his essential guide to fabulous Brighton & Hove…
EVERYONE LOVES BRIGHTON. Well, not everyone exactly. Queen Victoria was most unamused by the town complaining soon after her coronation that “the people are very indiscreet and troublesome” so she promptly sold off The Royal Pavilion and was never to return. So apart from Queen Vic, everyone else loves Brighton….
Brighton has been a fashionable resort for over 250 years and throughout that time it has always managed to ‘wear its hair a little differently’ from other seaside towns which in turn attracted people who were a little bit ‘different’ themselves. The city is often called ‘the gay capital of Britain’ and according to accounts given to Brighton’s Our Story project it was well on its way to earning that title as far back as the 1920s when there was already a flourishing gay social scene. Following the Second World War the town’s reputation continued to attract gay men first as visitors and then as residents – many drawn to the infamous Men-Only beach in Hove. By the time of partial decriminalisation in the late 1960s the town had a large and increasingly political gay community. The Sussex Gay Liberation Front was formed in 1972 and Brighton saw its first Gay Pride parade in 1973. Check out: www.brightonourstory.co.uk
Mind you, it wasn’t just the gays who were attracted to the resort. Brighton also had a well-known reputation as the No1 place for straight couples looking for hotels offering no-questions-asked, dirty weekends – especially if the couple didn’t happen to be married to each other. The 1960s was also a time of regular and violent clashes between gangs of Mods & Rockers prompting author and long-time resident Keith Waterhouse to describe Brighton as “looking like a town that is constantly helping the police with their enquiries”. Brightonians are still quite proud of this rather raffish reputation but these days, trust me – it’s more about mung beans & Rasta hats than Mods & Rockers.
With a population of 280,000, it prides itself on its diversity and its creativity and in 2001 Brighton and Hove joined forces to become a city and it is now one of the most colourful, vibrant and creative places in Europe.
Less than an hour from London the city sits on England’s south coast with the South Downs National Park literally on its back door. Brighton & Hove offers fabulous Regency architecture, world class shopping, a year-round calendar of arts, food and musical events and a nightlife scene that’s got something for everyone.
The Brighton Marathon sees over 12,000 runners hit the streets every April. In May the Brighton Festival and Fringe runs throughout the month and rivals anything Edinburgh has to offer. June welcomes the London to Brighton bike ride as well as the annual Brighton Bear Weekend – an event which always promises fun and fur in equal quantities. The Brighton Pride festival is held in early August and gets bigger and more popular each year with Brittany Spears headlining this summer’s Pride festival in Preston Park on 4thAugust 2018.
Gay Gay Gay
The traditional gay scene is based around St James’s Street close to the Palace Pier and for a relatively small city, it still offers something for everyone. Whether it’s a night out at the upmarket Charles Street Tap, a bit of dancing and/or twink chasing at Club Revenge, more drinkies at Legends Bar, beer and bear chasing at The Camelford, camp cabaret at The Queens Arms or Bar Broadway or maybe some late-night cruising down to the darker recesses of Subline off St James’s Street. As I said before, it’s all out there if you want it.
Check out www.gscene.com for more information and listings on Brighton’s gay scene.
Shop, eat, drink, repeat
For big store names go straight to Churchill Square – a huge, shiny covered mall located just behind the famous Grand Hotel. It’s got a big Debenhams, a poorly lit Hollister, a Next, Top Man, Apple Store….bla bla bla. Close by is the Old Town with its famously narrow maze of lanes full of quirky shops, cafes and restaurants. A further 10 minutes north you’ll find the equally famous North Laine district (please note the spelling of Laine, I’ll be testing you later…) which feels totally different to the Lanes being made up of wider, mainly pedestrianised streets in a grid pattern featuring loads of independent shops and cafes which are quintessentially ‘so Brighton’. In complete contrast try and visit Brighton Marina which is 2 miles along the coast from the Palace Pier and features some great places to eat outside, plus lots of boats to gawp at, also a cinema multiplex, a casino and even a bowling alley. I know that might sound a bit like Basingstoke-by-Sea but trust me, it’s got enough charm to make the journey worthwhile. The best way to get to the marina is on the Volk’s Electric Railway which, #FYI, is the world’s oldest operating electric railway and runs along the beach from the Palace Pier past the famous nudist beach to the marina walls (but only between May and October –in the winter months you’ll have to get a bus or taxi or take a slow walk seeing how many nudists you can clock along on the way (there’s generally always someone down there letting it all hang out in the cold January air, some exhibitionists just don’t seem to feel the cold…
A ‘must do’ for every visitor is a trip up to Devil’s Dyke on the South Downs. Just catch the number 77 bus from Brighton Railway Station and 30 mins later you will be 200 meters above sea level on top of Devil’s Dyke enjoying breath-taking 360 degree views over Brighton to the south, the Isle of Wight to the west and as far as the Surrey Hills some 40 miles to the north. There’s also a decent pub up there with loads of outside tables so you can sit and enjoy those views whilst enjoying a pint and some pork scratchings.
Accommodation choices are plentiful with several big hotels on the seafront such as The Grand, The Hilton Metropole and the Old Ship. If you prefer a smaller, more individual hotel then you’re in luck: Brighton is full unique guest houses – or ‘boutique hotels’ as they like to be called these days. Hotel Pelirocco and Brighton House B&B both on Regency Square come highly recommended. Hotel Du Vin on Ship Street is pricey but fabulous. Over in Kemp Town guest houses such as Nineteen, Sea Spray & New Steine are popular along with many more. There’s also a thriving Airbnb community offering some lovely self-catering holiday apartments which can often cost less per night than a basic hotel. For your perfect home away from home in Brighton