The Brighton Fringe is now in full swing until 4th June, and the Brighton Festival will be doing its usual artsy thing until 28th May, so the city is on a high.
If you’re a first-time visitor trying to see some entertainment, but wondering how to squeeze in some tourism on the side, help is at hand. You can absolutely see the city without missing out on niche Fringe shows, especially as many venues are right in the middle of the action.
The Classic Tourist Route for Brighton Fringe Visitors
If you’ve never been to Brighton before, you can’t ignore its most obvious tourist attractions: the Palace Pier (bright lights! Fish and chips! Out of control children!), the beach (pebbles! Hardy British swimmers! Sticks of rock, à la Brighton Rock!), and the Pavilion (cool domes! Really old! Once a hospital for injured WWI soldiers!).
They might seem like clichés, but they’re fun to explore and very Instagram-friendly, plus the story behind the Pavilion’s multi-layered history is hard to beat. If you’re really pressed for time between Brighton Fringe shows, photos of all three sites from a distance, with ice cream in hand, will still impress your friends.
However, Brighton’s most recent big bucks attraction isn’t worth your time: the i360 is basically a giant needle with a viewing point and some dodgy lift access (people have been trapped up there for hours). I feel sorry for the residents living in lovely Georgian terraces, whose once uninterrupted sea views were ruined by this weird obstruction. Unlike the London Eye, it’s not nice to look at. Just like the London Eye, it’s expensive.
Roam the Lanes
The Lanes and North Laine are two of Brighton’s best shopping areas, and they’re also known for their cafes and restaurants. Brighton is unashamedly liberal hippie territory and awash with vegan types, so much of the food is geared towards this demographic – for example, there used to be a communist diner called Red Veg.
However, there’s also a yummy mummy brigade, an upper middle class and private school set, a huge student community, and plenty of hipsters, so you will find something that meets their demands, too. That means a veggie health food cafe could be next to a burger joint, a sweet stall or a leather handbag shop. There’s a big focus on upcycling and vintage products, too, though prices can vary. One of my favourite new shops is M-24, which sells bags and travel accessories from old lorry tarpaulins.
In amid the chaos, you’ll find second-hand bargains at Snoopers Paradise, and every guitar you could dream of at the vast GAK (Guitar, Amp and Keyboard Centre). Generally I find the North Laine is better for shopping and snacks, but the restaurants in the Lanes are hard to beat: Donatello (1-3 Brighton Place) is an amazingly cheap Italian place you can’t afford to miss, unless you’re a food snob. There are also some decent pubs, like The Cricketers (15 Black Lion Street), where Graham Greene used to hang out, and you’ll never be far from a Fringe or Festival venue.
Find Some Art
This is an arty city, as the Brighton Fringe will prove, but there are plenty of non-Fringe art discoveries to be made. Brighton Museum and Art Gallery is hosting a major display on the painter John Constable, who visited the seaside resort for holidays between 1824-1828. As a long-time loather of Constable’s work, I’ll be avoiding this one, but those of you who adore The Hay Wain should definitely go and see his take on moody seascapes. Save 10% on admission prices by pre-booking online before your visit. Alternatively, wander round as many of the Artists Open Houses sites as possible, until 29th May.
Brighton street art should also be on your radar. Iconic pieces include the musical mural at the side of the Prince Albert Pub on Trafalgar Street, and the ever-changing tableaux along Kensington Street and Regent Street, all of which aren’t far from classic Brighton Fringe and Festival venues like The Warren and the Corn Exchange. Whilst some formerly great street art locations have now been gentrified and painted over (I still miss the colourful side wall where the Laines met Church Street – now just plain grey), others live on.
Some of my favourites to spot are the signature tape stencils on green phone exchange boxes, by Cassette Lord (real name Martin Middleton). Back in 2010, he got a team of young offenders involved in a council-backed graffiti project to spread his tag across the city and improve otherwise ugly spaces.
Now you’ve got a taste for Brighton sightseeing, don’t forget to pack in some quality Fringe and Festival shows. Race you to the Box Office…