Brighton is a short train journey from our home in South London, yet it was only this summer that I finally succumbed to my daughter’s repeated pleas to visit and organised a weekend break for us both.
Seaside towns in England generally fall into one of two camps in my experience.
On one side there is the kitsch and touristy, awash with cheap bucket and spade sets, wall to wall candyfloss and arcades for the inevitable British rainy days.
On the other there are the chic and trendy resorts favoured by those boasting a second home or wishing for one, filled with boutique hotels, cool cafes and independent shops full of unique and stylish accessories.
Brighton has a foot firmly in both camps and manages to marry the two seamlessly.
So now that my teenage daughter and I have finally been, here are my thoughts and recommendations on getting the most out of a weekend in Brighton with teens.
British seaside piers are iconic and a stroll along one is of course mandatory – even if the abundance of fast food, slot machines and gut churning fair rides that fill every weathered board above the swirling waves below are not for you.
Brighton Pier is no exception. A sensory overload on many levels, it is impossible not to become absorbed in the surrounding hustle and bustle and cheery atmosphere and I admit I found it hard to resist my daughter’s challenge to a few games of air hockey – of course I lost but it’s all about the taking part!
It is also the perfect place to pull up a striped deckchair, admire the view and indulge in a bit of people watching.
Brighton’s seaside promenade is unquestionably one of the most famous walks in England, yet in all honesty I was unprepared for the splendour of it all.
Walking West from the Pier towards Hove, the paved promenade curves along the pebbly beach and shore line with unfettered views across the Channel.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Fish n’ Chip sellers are everywhere, as are seaside stalls selling Rock Oysters and crab sandwiches. The choice is vast and you can be confident you won’t go hungry. My advice is not to stop at the first place you see. Have a wander and take your pick.
To the rear of the promenade is a row of railway arches housing a selection of independent retailers selling everything from coffee and smoothies as well as some pretty fantastic brownies at The Brighton Fishing Museum; scented candles at The Lavender Room and fashion promising to bring a little bit of Brighton into everyone’s wardrobe at The Artist Anon.
Aside from the Brighton Pier, the West Pier serves as a fitting memorial to bygone days. Undoubtedly one of the most iconic buildings on the seafront, the pier was one of the first to be Grade 1 listed in Britain and during its heyday in the early 20th century attracted 2 million visitors.
Neglect, fire and storm damage have rendered it defunct as a pier but it is eerily beautiful and no doubt one of the most photographed landmarks in Brighton.
It feels at odds to say that something so derelict could be so mesmerising but my daughter and I sat on the beach for some time just taking in the majestic view of its ravaged frame engulfed by the flocks of seagulls.
Ever since the construction of the London Eye there has been a seemingly never ending obsession with waterfront constructions that promise breathtaking views.
The BA i360 is no exception. A rather ugly concrete column encased by a doughnut shaped pod, its promise of spectacular views across the Channel is incongruous, when it is such an eyesore itself and sitting as it does so close to the structural beauty of the West Pier.
170 metre tall it is not for the faint hearted but it does live up to its promise with some impressive 360 degree views of Brighton, the South Downs and if you are lucky across to the Isle of Wight.
Taking incongruity one step further is the monstrosity that is the Royal Pavillion, stuck as it is amidst the regal Regency architecture of the Brighton shopping district, it looks as if it has been transported directly from the banks of the Yamuna river.
The grubby, tacky looking exterior, however, conceals an exotic and extravagant interior filled with lavish furnishings that hint to its days as a seaside pleasure palace for the decadent and rebellious King George IV.
It is not to be ignored and neither is a trip to its rooftop tearoom! A perfect way to finish a visit.
The Lanes and North Laine
No girls trip is complete without a spot of shopping and we decided to dedicate our final day to wandering the famous labyrinth of streets in the Lanes District.
The centre of Brighton is awash with the usual high street stores but we had shunned all of those preferring to save our energy for the independent shops and boutiques for which the Lanes is renowned and which we hoped would throw up a few unique finds. We weren’t disappointed.
We both like a plan and whilst we had a list of shops that we definitely wanted to visit, we found that despite our best intentions this place is really meant for lazy wandering.
This is definitely the cool part of Brighton. The shops and the people are vibrant and trendy and the atmosphere oozes the kind of relaxed, laid back vibe reminiscent of Notting Hill.
Shopping on that kind of scale requires stamina. Aside from the shops there are hundreds of stalls and we found ourselves doubling back on a number of occasions to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. Thank goodness for the abundance of perfect coffee shops and cafes which provided us with several much needed pit stops.
My memories are awash with trips to the seaside, all of them equally happy and unique and it is wonderful as a midlife woman to be able to add to those now from the perspective of a mother of teens. Raised on the coast, the sea is in my soul and it remains a unifying bond for me with my teens, my visit to Brighton with my daughter was no exception. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and would love to revisit it again one day.
Have you been? What were your favourite parts? Or do you have another seaside recommendation to share? I would love to hear from you as always.
Where to Stay, Eat & Shop
The Artist Residence – a quirky, boutique hotel with individually styled rooms, situated close to the beach near the West Pier.
The Coal Shed – an industrial styled restaurant offering a mixture of grilled meats and fish. Atmospheric, great food, fantastic service.
The Ivy in the Lanes – its reputation precedes it. The perfect stop for all day casual dining with an international selection of light and main meals. Each restaurant is different and the Brighton Ivy is large and vibrant with a resident DJ at the weekend sure to brighten your mood.
The Royal Pavillion Tea Room – situated on the top floor with a balcony for the warmer months offering views over Brighton, this is definitely worth a visit.
The Marwood Bar & Coffee House – described by a trusted resident of Brighton as slightly bonkers, this is not your normal coffee shop. The cake is to die for and the atmosphere – well- I will let you be the judge!
The Brighton Fishing Museum Coffee Shop – situated on the promenade this is a little gem of a find – fabulous coffee, great smoothies, delicious brownies and tubs of refreshing water melon – oh and a delightful dog to boot.
A few shops to look out for : Hope & Harlequin – the perfect place to check out some of the gorgeous range from Joanna Zara Millinery who helped me with some of these must visit places, The Lavender Room, Pretty Eccentric, Our Daily Edit, Magazine Brighton – to name just a very few!
Editor’s Note : All recommendations are my own, there are no affiliate links – for other great ideas in Brighton visit my favourite family travel site Map & Family