A Day Trip From London to Brighton
The length of our trip to London was nine days, which seems like a lot of time. So we started researching possible side trips from the city. We thought about taking the high speed TGV to Paris. Although I desperately want to go to Paris, we decided that just a few days wouldn't give us enough time in my dream city. Then we researched Brussels, also accessible by train from London. While it sounded like it would be really amazing, it didn't fit either.
I began to realize my hesitation to go somewhere else wasn't about the "going" but about the time. I didn't want to lose a day of our trip due to travel. Sure there was enough to do in London, but wouldn't it be fun to explore a little more? Which is why we settled on two day trips: one to Brighton and one to Oxford.
The choice to visit Brighton came from wanting to see what a British beach was like. In my travels with my family, we always visited the countryside. Now my Jersey shore loving self wanted to see what a beach was like in England.
How we got there
Part of the reason we decided on a day trip to Brighton was convenience. The coastal town is accessible by a short train ride via England's Southern Railway or Gatewick Express trains. You just need to head to Victoria station and purchase your ticket.
When we first got to Victoria train station, we panicked seeing a ridiculously long line at the ticket counter. However, just a few steps away is a set of ticket kiosks and it's so easy to choose a the right ticket. We bought an off-peak ticket that would work with both Southern Railway or the Gatewick Express. This was the most convenient option with a bit of discount. We could essentially ride whichever train showed up, at non-commuting times.
We ended up riding the Gatewick Express both times and it was so easy. This train only has three stops: London, Gatewick Airport, and Brighton. It's a bit faster than a local train and got us there in an hour!
What we saw
Like most of our London trip, I kept planning our adventure in Brighton pretty low key. I figured we'd wander and figure it out. Which worked out mostly, though I wonder if I had done more research we would have seen more.
Upon arriving in Brighton, one of my first priorities was seeing the Royal Pavilion. Built by King George V as a seaside vacation home, it is quite a spectacular sight. This palace looks straight out of India with onion domes and pointed arches and brightly painted patterned decorations. It also has a beautifully wild garden to explore and wander.
Another must is of course the Brighton Pier. Much like the boardwalk in New Jersey, the Brighton Pier is lined with carnival games and amusement park rides. There is even a beer garden in the middle of the pier! Since we went on a rainy day, fewer rides were open but there were less crowds. While some of the original rides and games are gone, there are still so many fun and charming ones still left.
From the pier, you can also see Brighton's famous beaches. Nope, you're not imagining things: it really is a pebble beach! It was too chilly and rainy to venture down off the pier but the owner of our London hotel said that it is actually comfortable and warm when the sun's out. I'll take her word for it! However, I am obsessed with the blue and white striped beach chairs. I need one for next summer in Bradley Beach!
Another fun place to explore were the Brighton Lanes. Essentially a huge shopping district of connected pedestrian-only streets, there is something for everyone. From larger brands like Cath Kidston and The Cambridge Satchel Company to smaller locally owned businesses, you could get lost there for hours. There are also tons of coffee shops, vintage clothing stores, bakeries, and restaurants.
Besides exploring and shopping, we also grabbed lunch at a cozy and delicious pizza place, Fatto a Mano. This Italian pizza place is closer to the train station than the pier but not too difficult to get to. You're going to want to go there because this brick oven pizza was heavenly. Plus I cannot get over the blue and white tiled pizza oven. I need one!
We also made sure to have our afternoon tea and coffee while in Brighton. We were definitely getting into the British culture in a big way. Brighton is well-known for its many coffee shops. We chose to pop into Bond Street Coffee for a pot of tea (me) and a latte (Nick).
Would I go back?
I always like to know if someone would go back to a spot, not just stare at their pretty pictures. When it comes to Brighton, I have mixed feelings.
There were so many charming things about Brighton. The twisting lanes full of unique shops could keep you busy for hours. There was a coffee shop for everyone. We even saw the bakery that made the original rainbow cake.
There is also a very artsy vibe which is definitely my thing. There is street art everywhere from bright and colorful to random but thoughtful graffiti. Brighton is also home to a few Banksy pieces. It feels funky and a bit gritty and I like it.
However, Brighton felt crowded and bit too gritty. I think I had the mentality that everything in Britain would be insanely charming with little cottages and cobblestoned streets. But Brighton is a shore town, much of it built for tourists. While it was colorful, funky, and fun, it was a bit worn in places and a little commercialized in others.
If we go back to Brighton, I would like to have an itinerary that allows us to wander. Sounds like an oxymoron right? Since we didn't plan much, we spent a good deal of our time orienting ourselves. I'd like to know where there are more unique local shops and pop into a few more bakeries and coffee shops.
We also felt like it was too far to go to Hove, the next town over that within walking distance from Brighton's center. It's supposedly a little bit more local which might help with the crowds and touristy aspects of Brighton.
Overall, Brighton was an effortless and unique day trip from London. We got to have a bit more of the British experience and spend a little time at the beach.