Secret meadows, penny arcades, vintage shopping and every species of British bird – stuffed for perpetuity – are amongst Brighton’s lesser-known treasures. Our tips for a Bohemian break on the South Coast…
Every traveller en route to England’s famous seaside resort is already familiar with Brighton Pier and the Pavilion, but – as always with our Secret Seven series of posts – the question we aim to answer is: what are the city’s cool and alternative things to do? To answer this question we have invited left-field lifestyle blogger, Ellie, of Ellie & Co. Inc, to steer us away from the stag and hen party haunts and overused sights and take us instead on an off-beat Brighton treasure hunt.
1# Subterranean Cocktails
Not even many Brightonians know about this place but if you happen to be out for the night in the Kemp Town, make sure a trip to the Black Dove pub is high up on your list. Order a cocktail at the bar, then quietly make your way downstairs. Turn directly left at the bottom of the stairs where you’ll find a secret room complete with eccentric décor and cosy booths, perfect for a romantic date night or long overdue catch up with a friends.
2# A Vintage Penny Arcade
Don’t waste time queuing up with every other tourist on Brighton Pier to play the usual arcade games. Instead, turn around and make your way along the seafront where you’ll find somewhere more interesting to spend your time. I’m talking about a little place called the Museum of Mechanical Memories, an old-time penny arcade hidden under a little arch along the main seafront promenade. From ‘What the Butler Saw’ peep shows and working models of ‘The Laughing Sailor’ to puppet machines, skill games and fortune tellers, this museum has a collection of some of the rarest penny arcade games you’ll find dating back to the 1920s. What’s so good about it is you don’t have to pay to get in and for £1 you get 12 real old-fashioned pennies to use on the machines. Only open at weekends during the summer.
3# A Regency Time Capsule
If you take a walk along Brighton seafront towards Hove, past the West Pier to Brunswick Square, nostalgia lovers are in for a real treat. This beautiful enclave is home to some of the city’s most stunning Regency homes designed by an ambitious and talented architect, Charles Busby – and it’s also the site of a unique hidden gem. Head to number 13 Brunswick Square where you can enjoy a snoop inside a Grade 1 Listed Regency property, known as ‘The Regency Town House’. Founded by a man called Nick Tyson in the 1990s as a passion project, so far the building has been reconverted from flats back into a house and is slowly being restored and developed as a heritage centre and museum that celebrates the architecture and social history of Brighton & Hove between the 1780s and 1840s.
4# A Tiny Cabinet of Curiosities
Every big city has its own Natural History Museum, but there aren’t any major versions around the world – let alone local ones – that can lay claim to being the ‘home of the diorama’. Founded in 1874, The Booth Museum in Brighton was the first of its kind at the time to display taxidermy birds in their natural habitat, an idea since copied all over the world and perfected by the likes of New York’s American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, no less. This vast gallery resembles a Victorian attic belonging to a compulsive collector, complete with the musty smell. It’s home to a spectacular collection of 300 dioramas showing every British bird stuffed for eternity in its natural environment, from seagulls and owls, to hawks and starlings. It was set up by Edward Thomas Booth, a typical affluent Victorian, exposed to hunting, the natural world and taxidermy at an early age, eventually developing a serious ambition – to exhibit an example of every species of British bird. Probably my favourite thing about this place is the collection of butterflies out the back – don’t forget to have a look.
5# A Secret Tunnel Beneath the Pavilion
Sending you into some old tunnels might sound a little odd, but then again, this is Brighton. Underneath the Pavilion, the former home of Britain’s charismatic Prince Regent George IV, is a century-old forgotten tunnel that has recently been opened to the public. The tunnel was used as a secret route from the pavilion to the Prince’s former stables in today’s Dome concert hall. The story goes that he’d become so overweight he preferred to make the journey alone to see his beloved horses. A 45-minute tour is a chance to see Brighton from a different perspective, go time travelling underground and waddle in the footsteps of the Prince and the palace staff.
6# Vintage Shopping in Snoopers Paradise
If you’re coming to Brighton looking for chain shopping, look away now, this is not a tip for you. But if you’re looking for a unique, chic and more quirky shopping boutique set in a typically charming local street, here is something you will love. Taking up almost three shopfronts on the bustling Kensington Gardens in the vibrant North Laine area of the city, Snooper’s Paradise is as its name suggests – a giant emporium filled with a maze of little concessions and crammed with all kinds of thrifty finds, bric a brac, books, furniture, home wares and memorabilia. It’s pretty much heaven on earth for vintage shopping fans, and you could easily lose hours snooping through the stacks. It doesn’t end on the ground floor, for head up the creaky stairs where you’ll find a second emporium called Snooper’s Attic dedicated to fashion and accessories. It’s another treasure trove of stuff from over 20 designers, makers and hoarders, as well as an art space.
7# A Secret Wild Flower Garden
Almost every day I ride past the lush oasis of Preston Park just outside the centre of Brighton. Originally called Brighton Park, it’s the largest green space in the city. This is where you’ll find locals jogging, kids playing, groups gathering for weekend barbecues… But there’s a quieter spot hidden away past the hustle of the main park. Follow the path south from the clock tower, past the swings and tennis courts towards the Victorian Rotunda café. This is where you’ll find what used to be a perfectly groomed bowling green a couple of years ago, but is now a beautiful wildflower meadow that comes to life every spring with multicoloured flowers that last all through the summer. Not only is it perfect to stare at, it also makes an idyllic outdoor oasis for soaking up rays with a picnic.
Bonus Tip: Grand Brighton Bike Tour
To see a little bit of everything this south coast resort has to offer, a good option is a bike tour – there are plenty of bike paths in town and overall the place is perfect for a little two wheel discovery. The Grand Brighton Bike Tour takes you to the top sights like the Royal Pavilion and sea front, but also to Brunswick Square (point 3 above!) and to the Bohemian North Laine zone (see point 6), as well as Preston Manor, the Fishing Quarter and a rather poignant / silly (delete according to sentimentality) pet cemetery. You can find out more and reserve the tour via Get Your Guide.
You may have guessed by now but Brighton is one of Urban Travel Blog’s favourite places in the UK, so get your booty down to this Bohemian seaside hang out soon – but be sure to read up on all our tips in our weekend guide to the city first. Our Secret Seven series of posts meanwhile cover everything from fun things to do in Athens, to Sydney’s best kept secrets and we’ll be publishing plenty more insider tips in the coming weeks and months. Subscribe if you don’t want to miss any!