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A local’s guide to Brighton: the best galleries, museums, restaurants and pubs

The Guardian logo The Guardian 23/1/2022 Ellie Seymour

Travel blogger Ellie Seymour (ellieandco.co.uk) has been based in Brighton for nearly 20 years. She is the author of the guidebooks Secret Brighton and Secret Sussex

Food

You can’t visit the seaside city of Brighton without having fish and chips, and where to get the best is hotly debated. One of my favourite spots is the city’s oldest: Bardsley’s of Baker Street opened in 1926, which has a tiny dining room full of music hall memorabilia.

I try to support independent restaurants, and love Bincho Yakitori, a buzzy, inexpensive Japanese near the seafront serving small plates cooked over fire. The covered Open Market is a global feast – Korean, Japanese, Greek, Mexican, Indian, a French bakery, homemade hummus and falafels, plus handmade chocolates and sausage rolls.

Then there’s Tilt Kitchen at Fiveways, north of the centre: this unsung veggie hero serves mouth-watering toasties, heaped salads, fragrant soups, gooey brownies and much more from a postage stamp-size open kitchen.

Inspiration

For my blog and guidebooks, I have trained myself to see my surroundings differently, and spot urban curiosities we usually rush past. I love finding ghost signs, and there are some beautiful examples here – like one for the old Western hotel above the Paris House bar on Western Road.

Brighton is a well-known artists’ enclave, and packed with galleries. Fabrica, in a former chapel, hosts three contemporary art shows a year, and Phoenix Gallery holds 12 free shows a year across two huge spaces, and has a cool coffee bar, too. In May and November Brighton holds Artists’ Open Houses, with work on display in private homes and studios.

Neighbourhood

North Laines, pictured in pre-pandemic days. Photograph: Chris Harris/Alamy © Provided by The Guardian North Laines, pictured in pre-pandemic days. Photograph: Chris Harris/Alamy

The bohemian North Laine draws big crowds but a great, quieter area for a wander is Seven Dials, a leafy neighbourhood a 10-minute walk from Brighton station. Despite its proximity to the city centre, it feels off the radar.

Don’t miss diminutive cactus emporium Hi Cacti, with its cheerful yellow shopfront; Dog and Bone Gallery, the city’s smallest, inside two red phone boxes; and Anna’s Museum, a miniature natural history museum in a shop window. The best coffee in the area is at Puck.

Nightlife

You can’t walk 10 minutes in Brighton without passing a club, bar or pub. Those in the know head to the Jolly Brewer near London Road station. It’s run by Zack and Matt, the most welcoming landlords in Brighton, and the kind of place you go to have just the one but end up making new friends and leaving at closing time.

Another favourite is the Hand in Hand in Kemp Town, where you can play “toad in the hole”, where metal discs – “toads” – are thrown into a slot on a wooden box. There’s jazz on Sundays, and unusual beers from their microbrewery, Hand Brew Co.

I also love the Duke of York’s cinema at Preston Circus. It’s in a beautiful Edwardian building, with a pair of stripy can-can legs protruding from the roof. It opened in 1910 and claims to be the UK’s oldest surviving purpose-built cinema.

Green space

With its seafront and piers, Brighton is more about blue space: the view over rooftops down to the sea from Hollingbury Hillfort is one of the best in the city, especially at dusk. However, the city is also on the fringes of the South Downs national park, and I head for the hills when I want some nature. In next to no time, you can be on a blustery hike and exploring tiny hidden villages.

Ditchling Beacon. Photograph: Guillaume Gruchet/Alamy © Provided by The Guardian Ditchling Beacon. Photograph: Guillaume Gruchet/Alamy

I am always drawn to Streat, a 15-minute drive from the centre of Brighton, even though it’s minuscule. It is a good base for a walk up and over the hills to Ditchling, and has a hidden honesty food box, Suzy’s Streat Food, filled with homebaked treats.

Related: A local’s guide to Edinburgh: the best bookshops, restaurants and bars

Stay

I love directing people to the small Artist Residence hotel (doubles from £105 room-only), where I once had a mini staycation. It overlooks the sea on Regency Square and is full of vintage charm.

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