The wind is consistent and comes ashore with a salty smell. Seagulls wheel overhead, hoping someone will drop a chip for them to feast upon. The waves crash and roll the rocks on the beach in a hypnotic sound. This is Brighton – “The Queen of Watering Places” according to the English poet Horace Smith. Located on Britain’s southern coast, Brighton feels like a world apart from London – but it barely takes an hour to reach this seaside escape. That makes it a perfect London day trip option; in this post, I’ll share how to plan what I consider to be the best Brighton day trip.
I first visited Brighton on my very first trip to London; a blogger friend from my earliest days on the internet who called Brighton home had sold me on a visit. I stepped off the train from London, wandered the windswept Brighton Beach (it was September, after all!), and walked through the Lanes to window shop and admire the street art before returning back to the big city later in the day. Since then, I’ve tried to make it back to Brighton every time I visit London. There’s something restorative and healing about the fresh air off the English Channel. Plus Brighton has a very different vibe compared with London.
All this to say, it’s easy to plan a day trip to Brighton from London. In this post, I’ll cover what you need to know about how to travel to Brighton (by train), what to do during the day (the beach and more), and how you can put it all together easily to fill a day of your London itinerary. Read on to discover why Brighton is my top London day trips suggestion!
How to Get from London to Brighton
By far, the easiest way to get to Brighton is by train. While you can certainly arrange a car hire or coach (bus) to get from London to Brighton, the train is easy and takes you from the heart of London to the core of Brighton.
Trains run from London to Brighton literally hundreds of times per day. That means you’ll have multiple choices as to which train station you depart from in London; all end up at Brighton station roughly one hour later. (Trains typically take between 52-82 minutes depending on the route and stops.)
Train tickets start from £5.25 one-way (~$7.50 as of writing). This makes a day trip to Brighton incredibly affordable depending on the other activities you plan and how many meals you have in Brighton.
Things to Do for One Day in Brighton
Once you step off the train and begin your Brighton day trip, you might wonder what there is to do in this seaside town. Unsurprisingly, there’s quite a lot! I’ve put this list in (roughly) order by popularity but as you’ll see, there’s something for everyone in Brighton.
1. Brighton Beach
Brighton Beach is the reason this city exists at all; the rocky shore was originally a landing place for boats, especially those in the fishing trade. Over time, Brighton grew up and eventually caught the eye of the royal family, who were advised that sea air was good for health. They in turn began vacationing in Brighton, built the Royal Pavilion (more on that below), and inspired Londoners and others from around the country to make the journey south to the coast.
Today, Brighton Beach is as good for the mind and body as it ever was. On a sunny day, you’ll see groups and families spread out on the rocky beach enjoying the sea and sun. On windier or rainy days, you still might locals out braving the elements to walk along the seashore.
In short, no trip to Brighton is complete without making your way to the beach, even if just to admire it before heading back indoors on a foul-weather day.
2. Brighton Pier
Brighton Pier (fully called Brighton Palace Pier) was opened in 1899 for entertainment along the shore. Today, as then, it houses amusements like rides and games, as well as a few fish and chippies. It still feels like stepping back in time even though the games and rides are modern.
Brighton Pier is a fun stop for families. You could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon here if you decided to splurge on the wristband to ride the rides. (I don’t love rides but even I was tempted to try a few – though definitely not the one that swings way out over the water!)
3. British Airways i360
At five years old, the Brighton i360 (sponsored by British Airways) is no longer a “new” attraction, though I have no memories of even seeing it from my two most recent trips.
If you can imagine Seattle’s Space Needle, except the disk moves up and down, you’ve got the general idea of the i360. After entering the observation pod, you’ll ascend a 162m (531ft) tower that runs through the center of the donut-shaped viewing area. From the top, you’ll have time to enjoy 360-degree views (hence the name) of Brighton, neighboring Hove, the South Downs, and the English Channel. It’s a stunning view and – like the London Eye – one that you have to do at least once.
The Brighton i360 is £16.50 for adults, £11.10 for youth, and £8.25 for children. You can book tickets online.
4. The Royal Pavilion
Whatever image you have in your mind of a royal building in Brighton, scratch that. Brighton’s Royal Pavilion is unique in architectural style, to say the least!
Beginning in 1787, the Royal Pavillion was built in three styles: Gothic, Chinese, and Indo-Saracenic architecture. Even more unusually, these three styles are blended, making it a truly unique (and understandably protected) building in British architecture. It was built for George, Prince of Wales, who became the Prince Regent in 1811, and King George IV in 1820, as a seaside escape for his health. (That’s where the idea came from!)
Today you can tour the Royal Pavilion (though if memory serves, no photos are permitted inside). Tickets are £16 for adults and £10 for children and you don’t typically need to book in advance. The grounds are also free to visit, which is a nice way to take in the building without paying to enter.
5. The Lanes
While I have eaten in many delicious spots in Brighton during my various visits, one place I always point first-time visitors to is The Lanes. These narrow, winding streets are part of the city’s historic district, and today are home to some of the most delicious restaurants in town. Best of all, these restaurants represent a variety of cuisines: I remember having Spanish tapas for one meal, a vegetarian brunch for another, and somewhere that I drank Icelandic beer on an afternoon break.
Even if you’re not peckish, it’s fun to wander through The Lanes. You might even work up an appetite seeing all there is on offer.
6. North Laine
Not to be confused with The Lanes, North Laine is in an entirely different area (though not super far from The Lanes). North Laine is a residential and shopping district near the train station. It’s a bit like several of the London markets got together and had a baby: you’ll find vintage goods like Spitalfields, clothing like Petticoat Lane, and even some funky punk shops like Camden.
This is a great place to explore if you’re waiting to catch a train back to London, or need a really unique souvenir.
7. (Banksy) Street Art
Brighton – like Brick Lane in London – is a great spot if you love and appreciate street art. And one of the most famous street artists has a work (well, a replica technically) on display in Brighton near North Laine.
While Banksy had been working for several years before he painted Kissing Coppers, it became one of his most iconic early works in part because of its controversial imagery. The replica of the original work (which was sold by the building owner) is still on display and a good starting point for exploring Brighton’s street art scene.
In particular, explore along Trafalgar Street (which borders North Laine on the north) to see all the colorful, bold street art on display. Who knows – you might even discover an up-and-coming street artist!
8. The West Pier and Bandstand
I left these last two things to do in Brighton to last even though they’re more related to Brighton Beach (where it all began). That’s because they’re actually a bit further away from the other top things I recommend. If you only have a short time in Brighton (for just a day trip), you may not prioritize them and the time it takes to walk there.
First up is the West Pier and neighboring Bandstand, both west along Brighton Beach. The West Pier isn’t anything like its sibling, the Brighton Palace Pier. First of all, it’s substantially older: it was originally built in 1866. Unfortunately, it fell into disrepair and was closed in 1975. A fire in 2003 left little but the skeleton of the original building; even that changes every year as more falls into the sea due to winter storms.
The Bandstand is a beautiful historic structure that dates back to 1884 and was restored and re-opened to the public in 2009. Today it hosts musical events and is a gorgeous spot for photos.
9. Hove Beach Huts
Continuing even further west along the shore (about 2km/1.25 miles from Brighton Pier), you’ll arrive at one of the most picturesque sights in Brighton – that’s not actually in Brighton! The colorful beach huts you’ve probably seen on Instagram are actually in the neighboring city of Hove. Keep in mind: you’ll need to plan the time to walk to/from these beach huts if you’re keen on snapping a photo here during your Brighton day trip.
A Perfect Brighton Day Trip Itinerary
Can you fit all that into a single day trip to Brighton from London? To be frank – yes, you can, but if you do all of what I recommended, you’ll end up running yourself ragged and be wiped at the end of the day – or knackered as the Brits say. Here’s how I’d spend a day in Brighton, with an option to “do it all” and one that’s a bit easier.
- Rise and shine, grab breakfast (like a bacon butty), and catch an early train from London to Brighton.
- Disembark the train and walk down Queen’s Road to the beach.
- Stroll west along Brighton Beach before taking a mid-morning ride on the i360.
- If you’re still feeling fresh, continue west to the Bandstand and Hove Beach Huts before walking back to have lunch in The Lanes. (This is estimated as a 40-minute walk in total.) After lunch, go walk on the Brighton Pier.
- If not, head to Brighton Pier to walk around before having lunch in The Lanes.
- After lunch, head to the Royal Pavilion and either tour the inside or relax on the grounds.
- Based on your train departure, head to North Laine for some shopping, admire the street art on Trafalgar Street, or both.
- Catch your train back to London for dinner.
That might not seem like much, but I promise it’s a jam-packed day with tons of sightseeing, walking, and fresh sea air. Though it’s only an hour from London, Brighton feels like a world away and is a perfect day trip spot.
Have questions about planning your own Brighton day trip? Let me know in the comments!