Brighton isn’t the most popular winter travel destination. Nobody sunbathes on the beach in England when temperatures are near freezing. But when VisitBrighton invited me on a press trip to the city in January, I accepted. I was curious to see how the experience would compare to my last trip to Brighton, which took place in much warmer weather.
My time in Brighton didn’t start off on the best note. My train from London was delayed, then Google Maps gave me bad directions to my hotel and I ended up wandering in the pouring rain for far longer than I needed to. My accommodation, the Umi Hotel in Brighton, was in a great location but unfortunately everything that could have gone wrong with the room went wrong. By the time I dried off and set out to meet the rest of my group, I was an hour-and-a-half late for our tour of the city.
But as soon as I joined my fellow travel bloggers, the rain stopped and things started to look up. Our tour guide, who was one of VisitBrighton’s official greeters, showed us some off-the-beaten-path parts of Brighton that I hadn’t seen on my first visit.
We started out at North Laine, an area full of colorful murals and funky shops. Everything from alternative clothing racks to organic grocery stores lined the shopping streets, and the residential areas around them were full of pastel colored houses set along impossibly narrow lanes.
North of there we saw St Bartholomew’s Church, which is the tallest church in England. Built in the 19th century, the imposing brick building looked more like a factory warehouse than a house of worship. The interior was equally stark, but the tall patterned brick walls were pretty in spite of their austerity.
From the church we moved on to some of the more classic Brighton spots. These included The Lanes—narrow shopping streets full of jewelry stores and sweet shops—and the waterfront with its famous Brighton Pier. The Royal Pavilion, which is one of the city’s most famous landmarks, was closed for maintenance works, but we were still able to admire the exotic Romantic exterior.
Away from the tour, we also visited a local shop called the Big Bead Boutique, which sold all kinds of beads, bridal headpieces, and accessories. The owner, Jo, also told us about the classes she holds and the children’s birthday parties that take place in the room below the shop.
All of the walking around and shopping made us work up an appetite. It was a good thing, too, because we ate more in two days than I’ve ever eaten in my life. We started at The Cricketers, the oldest pub in Brighton. Delicious pies and pints by the fire were perfect on a cold winter afternoon.
Across the street from the pub was Food for Friends, a famous vegetarian restaurant in Brighton where we had dinner on our first night in the city. Not far from there was a Thai restaurant called Sukhothai Palace, where we ate a good two-course lunch for just five pounds.
Further afield, we spent an afternoon at Stanmer House, a Palladian-style country house near the University of Sussex that used to belong to the Earls of Chichester. The house is now a (dog friendly!) restaurant and bar that also serves as a wedding venue and event space.
We traveled by bus to get there from Brighton and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon tea by the fire with more savories and cakes than I’ve ever seen. The pastries were large and deliciously sweet, and the sandwiches hearty enough for a full meal.
Back in Brighton, we had dinner at the restaurant adjacent to our hotel. The interior of Little Bay looked more like a burlesque theater than a dining room, which I suppose was appropriate given that it featured live opera singing. The menu featured starters for 1.98 GBP and mains for 4.48 GBP, which worried me a bit, but the food was fine and the performer was entertaining.
Each night after dinner we went out to discover some of the famous nightlife in Brighton. On the first evening we went to The Latest bar to hear live music from local bands. The next night we started out at the bar at Lucky Voice, where some of us had candy-flavored shots. From there we moved on to a pub called The Mesmerist. A group called The Swing Ninjas were playing, and a room full of people were dancing impressively well.
After two days in Brighton, I had seen and done enough to discover what the city was like in the winter. The beach and the pier were uninviting, and the Pavilion was closed, but there was still a lot to entertain us on our travels. Not having to contend with large crowds was nice, too. I could have used some warmer weather during our time outdoors, but overall the experience was a positive one for a second visit. Hopefully my third, fourth, and tenth will be equally good.