Brighton's Hidden Places

Brighton is a small city on the coast of the UK, directly south of London and an easy train journey from the capital. It has a history of attracting bohemians, artists and tourists who originally came for the clean air and now enjoy the nightlife, art galleries and relaxed atmosphere.

Like any English city, Brighton has its mainstream shops and attractions. Happily, they are easy to avoid and you can experience the more unique side of the city without having to put in any extra effort. As parking in Brighton is a nightmare, lets presume you're arriving on the train and provide you with an interesting walk through the hidden places that make Brighton worth visiting.

As you come out of the station, please turn immediately right before the bike racks, then left and walk down Trafalgar Street. Under the front of the station concourse is the Brighton Toy and Model Museum. Perfect for children or the very young at heart, this tiny museum contains a wide range of toys including puppets, antique dolls, and a very large set of model trains which have been lovingly laid out with model villages and working points.

Continuing down the hill from the museum, you may want to pop in to the Lord Nelson for a pint of the very fine Harveys ale, brewed a mere ten miles away in Lewes. Then it's downhill a little more to turn right at Sydney Street. This is the start of the North Laine shopping area. Their trading association doesn't allow chain stores to open in the main streets so there is a wide range of independent traders, coffee shops and small restaurants. If you want a tattoo, a unique haircut, or a bonsai tree, you'll be able to find it here.

For great food in the North Laine, try Bills on North Road. Both vegetarians and meat eaters give their regularly changing menu rave reviews. For great beer, try the Basketmakers Arms near the bottom of Gloucester Road (one road north of Bills.) For decent beer and very good pub food, the Eagle opposite the Basketmakers Arms is a great compromise.

Once you're refreshed, take in the photography exhibition above the Snoopers Paradise flea market in Kensington Gardens. Regularly changing, they show fantastic shots of Brighton from a wide variety of photographers, from people who have been homeless to experienced professionals. Once you've had your fill of art, you can pop downstairs and pick up a new (recycled) outfit, second hand books, computer games, models, records, antique furniture, and practically anything else you can think of.

If you like graffiti or 'street art', take in Robert Street, which runs parallel to Kensington Gardens. At first it looks like an average back street but look opposite the glass-fronted offices and you can see the backs of the shops have been decorated by a local allowed-graffiti scheme.

If your need for art isn't quite satiated, take a left down Church Street and then right in to the Pavilion Gardens. The Pavilion is the most famous building in Brighton, a seeming Indian palace dropped in to a British tourist town. Hidden in it's gardens is the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, which displays both local historic artifacts and local and visiting art exhibits.

Here you can chart Brighton's growth from a small fishing village in the 1800s to the current vibrant city it's become. You can also see a range of influential furniture, clothing through the ages, and regularly changing exhibitions.

Cutting through the Pavilion Gardens, then across North Street (ignore those high street shops!) You make it in to the Lanes. The buildings of the Lanes are the remains of the original village and now hold a variety of shops and businesses. Most famous for it's jewellery shops, the Lanes also holds a range of cafes, restaurants, an antiques shops.

For food in the Lanes, the Bath Arms on Union Street comes highly recommended by this author. Whilst still 'pub grub', it has a quality that puts most of the nearby restaurants to shame. If you can get in to it, the Hop Poles on Ship Street is also excellent, but is unfortunately usually full.

For a quick bite you can't beat Piccolos, an Italian restaurant in Duke Street which serves with remarkable speed from it's busy, exposed kitchen. You can have a two course meal and be on your way before most restaurants have come for your order at Piccolos.

The Lanes will lead you down to the sea. Whilst not exactly a hidden part of Brighton, you shouldn't avoid seeing it while you're in the city. On the seafront between the Palace Pier (still standing) and West Pier (an abstract-looking gridwork of remains in the sea) is a range of small art shops, a gallery, and the fishing museum.

Grab an ice cream and fight your way over the pebbles to the sea for a paddle. When you're on your way home you can reverse your route and find many things you didn't notice before, there's always something new to see in Brighton.

Paul Silver lives and works in Brighton. If you're visiting he can recommend the Cavalaire, a lovely Brighton hotel which is a short walk from the beach.

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