Have some bucket and spade fun on the (pebbly) beach and some traditional tacky fun on Palace Pier with its kids’ rides, funfair, sideshow, traditional sweet shop and fast-food stalls.
Then head for the i360 seafront observation tower by the derelict West Pier and ride up to its viewing pod for 360° views across Brighton, the South Downs and the Channel.
Explore the Royal Pavilion, George IV’s Oriental-inspired seaside palace. An audioguide for kids takes them back to Regency times to meet the Prince Regent, his footman Sneppings and the famous French chef Carême, or there are trails for kids. The Pavilion grounds are home to the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, with an eclectic collection including a Performance section with puppets, masks, costumes and musical instruments, plus regular family events and children’s workshops.
Then head for the Hove Museum & Art Gallery about 20 minutes’ walk from the centre, with a fascinating display of toys in its Wizard’s Attic, and plenty of hands-on arts and crafts activities for all ages. Also outside the city centre, the Booth Museum of Natural History is an oddball but fun little place full of stuffed birds, butterflies, bones and fossils testifying to the days when dinosaurs and woolly rhinos roamed the area, with family events and activities.
See more childhood treasures at the little Brighton Toy and Model Museum, squirrelled away in the undercroft arches of the railway station, with trains, boats, planes, dolls, puppets and more.
Shop. Start at the North Laine, where you’ll find quirky one-off stores, boutiques and market stalls selling all kinds of wares, from rare LPs, vintage dresses or fairy wings to organic beer, bongs, or fire staffs to a random assortment of folk including a fair proportion of hippies, punks and Goths. Don’t miss the fleamarket in Kensington Gardens. The Lanes themselves are more mainstream, with a smattering of antiques shops.
Ride Volk’s Electric Railway along about 1.5km of seafront between the Palace Pier (see above) and Brighton Marina. Family saver tickets make it a great bargain activity, but it doesn’t run in winter.
The railway’s Halfway Station, where you can hop off, is also known as Peter Pan’s because it’s home to the wonderful Peter Pan’s adventure playground with its open-air café. This is also where you’ll find Yellowave Beachsports, with beach volleyball, beach soccer, foot volley, beach rugby, ultimate frisbee and bouldering on offer for all ages and abilities, plus a café (see Where to Eat).
Brighton Sea Life on Marine Parade is a little tired (it’s the oldest operating aquarium in the world, within a creaky Victoria building) but it’s a reliable rainy-day option.
Head 7.5km east along the coast from Brighton’s centre to take the plunge at the 1930s Art Deco Saltdean Lido, an open-air swimming pool near the beach, with sun-loungers, slides, sandpits, a climbing frame and a children’s pool.
Explore Preston Manor outside of the centre near Preston Park, an Edwardian house retaining much of its original décor, including a child’s nursery. It claims to be Britain’s most haunted house and offers after-dark Ghost Tours.
Hire bikes as part of your family holiday and go off exploring the surrounds, including the South Downs – local off-road routes include the Downs Link, the South Downs Way, and Brighton to Lewes. The latter, a lovely medieval town, is home to Lewes Castle, where kids can dress up in old costumes, fire a crossbow, use a crane to build their own arrowslit, and more. In summer, the castle’s garden hosts lots of family-friendly performances, while other seasonal events include an Easter Egg Hunt and Christmas activities.