Brighton Hove

01273

Brighton is a bit like London on the sea, but with its own, distinct personality. If you want a cosmopolitan vibe, good food, atmospheric cafés, great clubbing and a long beach, this is your place. Despite its rapid gentrification (and rising house prices), Brighton hasn't lost its working-class soul, with the tacky but charming Brighton Pier and beach seafood huts still extant. The Victorian West Pier was sadly torched some years ago - the darkened skeleton of its former beauty still stands mid-water, like a ghost.

Brighton has a young student population because of its university and language schools, a happening nightlife, as well as a decent cultural life. The Kemp Town (dubbed Camp Town) area, east of Brighton Pier, is home to one of the country's most vibrant gay scenes.

Brighton first became popular when the dissolute Prince Regent (later King George IV) built his outrageous summer palace, the Royal Pavilion, here in the 18th century as a venue for lavish parties. And that charmingly seedy, 'great-place-for-a-dirty-weekend' vibe lasted throughout the gang-ridden 1930s of Graham Greene's novel Brighton Rock and the mods-versus-rockers rivalry of the 1960s - think Quadrophenia. Julie Burchill, Nick Cave, Zde Ball, Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) and other media folk all live here (well, in Hove, actually, to the west).

Any visit to Brighton is essentially about life's simple pleasures - pottering about and shopping in the trendy boutiques in the narrow streets called 'The Lanes' or in the separate 'North Laine'; and eating, hanging out and buying a stick of hard 'Brighton rock' candy among the tacky stalls and amusement rides on Brighton Pier (Palace Pier; www.brightonpier .co.uk; Madeira Dr; admission free).

The Royal Pavilion (HI 290900; www.royalpavillion .org.uk; Pavilion Pde; adult/child/student £7.70/5.10/5.90;

5 9.30am-5.45pm Apr-Sep, 10am-5.15pm Oct-Mar) should be your first port of call on any visit to the town. Originally a farmhouse and converted to a neoclassical villa in 1787, it only began to take its current shape when John Nash, one of London's prime architects (responsible also for Piccadilly Circus, Regent St and many of London's parks), got his hands on it between 1815 and 1822. As all things Asian were then the rage, he added onion domes and minarets to produce the final Mogul-inspired design. The interior features giant bamboo staircases and carved wooden palm trees. Don't miss the Music Room, with its nine lotus-shaped chandeliers and Chinese murals in vermilion and gold, nor the Banqueting Room, with its domed and painted ceiling.

Across from the Pavilion Gardens you'll find the redeveloped Brighton Museum & Art Gallery (@ 290900; www.brighton.virtualmuseum.info; Church St; admission free; ® 10am-7pm Tue, 10am-5pm Wed-Sat & public holidays, 2-5pm Sun). Three new galleries - Fashion

6 Style, Body, and World Art - now join its ceramics, costume and fine-arts collections from the 15th to 20th centuries.

The historic West Pier (www.westpier.co.uk) began to collapse into the sea in December 2002 and, having since caught fire twice, is a dark shadow on the water. It's still quite an arresting, beautiful sight and many visitors flock to see it. It's a shame that there are plans to replace it with a 360-degree observation mast - Brighton would lose one of its main landmarks.

INFORMATION

Tourist office (0906 711 2255; www.visitbrighton .com; 10 Bartholomew Sq; ® 9am-5.30pm Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat, 10am-4pm Sun Mar-0ct, 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat Nov-Feb)

EATING

Brighton and Hove have more restaurants per head of population than anywhere in the UK, bar London. Pick up some fresh seafood in the little huts by the beach: lobster tails, jellied eel, mussels, oysters, king prawns and other delicacies start at £1.50. Perfect for eating on the beach while watching the sea.

Regency (D 325014; 131 King's Rd; mains £3-20) All things to everybody is how famed seafood chef Rick Stein has described this traditional seafood place, which is the equivalent of a greasy-spoon caf (though with good food), serving everything from fish soup to lobster, as well as pastas and steaks.

Terre á Terre (@ 729051; 71 East St; mains £10-15) This gourmet vegetarian establishment proves that meatless food can be just as eventful as meat-based dishes. Though dishes sound overly complicated, the taste is simply delicious.

De Vere Grand Hotel ((D 224300; King's Rd; afternoon tea £14; ® 3-6pm) You have to take afternoon tea at least once while you're in England, and if in Brighton, make it here. Piano music, sandwiches and tea inside the bright conservatory. Perfect.

Due South (Ü 821218; 139 King's Rd Arches; mains £11-14) On the seafront, with a wonderfully arched ceiling, this has been one of Brighton's top restaurants for years. The seasonally changing menu might include local wild rabbit kebabs with spicy peanut sauce or sirloin with garlic and onion butter confit, but always features lots of fish, mussels and oysters.

Nia Café ((fl 671371; 87-88 Trafalgar St; mains £9-14) Rustic chic, solid wood tables, large windows and a chalkboard menu make this one of the loveliest cafés in town. It's great for breakfast or lunch.

Real Eating Company (@ 221444; 86-87 Western Rd, Hove; dishes £4-12.50; ® breakfast & lunch dally, dinner Wed & Sat) This hip deli-cum-cafe is about everyday eating and makes a top spot for breakfast (apparently it does 'the best eggs Benedict in town').

SLEEPING

Most places have a minimum two-night stay on weekends. You should book ahead for weekends in summer and during the Brighton Festival in May.

Hotel du Vin (718588; www.hotelduvln.com; Ship St; d/ste from £135/235) Located in a former wine merchant's Gothic home, this award-winning hotel has an ornate staircase, unusual gargoyles and elegant rooms.

De Vere Grand Hotel (HI 224300; www.devere.co.uk; King's Rd; s/d from £140/220) Brighton's top hotel, this is a five-star affair with luxurious rooms, wrought-iron balconies and top-hat-wearing bellboys. A piece of lushness.

brightonwave(|§ 676794; www.brightonwave.com; 10 Madeira PI; d £80-190) Combining the cool, muted design you'd expect from an expensive boutique hotel with the warm welcome of the small B&B it really is, brightonwave offers great value, service and style. Fantastic breakfasts, too.

Seaspray (§§ 680332; www.seaspraybrlghton.co.uk; 25 New Steine; s £40-60, d £60-190) Themed rooms go from Venetian (suite) to New York (another suite), the Dali room has the lobster phone

TRANSPORT: BRIGHTON & HOVE

Distance from London 51 miles (82km) Directioi South

Travel time One hour 50 minutes by bus, 50 minutes by fast train

Bu National Express (0870 580 8080; www.na tlonalexpress.com; return from £10, online funfares from £1) and Megabus (www.megabus.com; online fares from £1.50) run hourly services. Ca The M23/A23 runs straight Into Brighton town centre.

Train There are about 40 fast trains (0845 748 4950; www.nationalrall.co.uk) each day from London's Victoria station (return £17.70), and slightly slower Thamesllnk trains from Blackfrlars, London Bridge and King's Cross (return £16.40)

and the Warhol room's tables are soup cans. A fun choice in Kemp Town.

Oriental Hotel (§§ 205050; www.orientalhotel.co.uk; 9 Oriental PI; s £35-40, d £60-125) Stylishly decorated in mint and rouge, this groovy boho hotel has fresh flowers, aromatherapy lights and organic breakfasts.

Drakes (§§ 696394; www.drakesofbrighton.com; 43-44 Marine Pde; s/d from £95/115) Classy atmosphere, fantastic sea views, obliging staff, and beautiful 'feature rooms' (£145 to £450) with clawfoot baths in front of curtained windows overlooking the sea. Need we say more?

Hotel Pelirocco (§§ 3327055;www.hotel pelirocco.co.uk; si d from £50/80) Brighton's original punk'n fashion hotel may not be at the cutting edge anymore, but its rooms are still brilliant - choose from Durex Play, Betty Page, Muhammad Ali, polka-dot room, Jamaican dub and more.

Baggies Backpackers (l§ 733740; 33 Oriental PI; dm/d £13/35) Relaxed and central, this is the best hostel in town, with a good kitchen, and great music and a TV/video room.

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