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Brighton and Hove family holidays and breaks

Brighton PierBrighton Pier© VisitBritain
Merry-go-round on Brighton promenadeMerry-go-round on Brighton promenade© VisitBritain
Royal Pavilion at nightRoyal Pavilion at night© VisitBritain
South DownsSouth Downs© VisitBritain
Timezone GMT
Currency British Pound

Today

Overview

Brighton may be more associated with dirty weekends and stag and hen nights than family holidays, but this hedonistic city by the sea has plenty to offer those with kids, too, and is within such easy reach of the British capital that it’s sometimes dubbed ‘London by the Sea’ (on sunny days, it often seems that the entire capital has decamped to this part of the coast).

Brighton’s hippyish, laidback atmosphere makes it popular with funky young families as well as making it Britain’s gay capital, and it’s the perfect city break destination for teens, who love its bohemian edge and grungey shops. Above all, Brighton is a place simply to hang out, on the beach or in the bohemian cafés, a beer or an ice cream in hand.

Things to do with kids in Brighton and Hove

Have some bucket and spade fun on the (pebbly) beach and some traditional tacky fun on Palace Pier with its kids’ rides and funfair (including the Super Booster thrill ride and the ghost train), sideshows and American donut and other fast-food stalls.   

Explore the Royal Pavilion, George IV’s Oriental-inspired seaside palace. An audioguide for kids 6 and up takes them back to Regency times to meet the Prince Regent, his footman Sneppings and the famous French chef Carême, or there are special guided tours, trails and guidebooks 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 an interactive Discovery Gallery and family events and activities.

There are more childhood treasures on display at the little Brighton Toy and Model Museum, squirreled 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, the latter home to upmarket shops, restaurants and cafés, and a family-friendly hotel (see Accommodation tab). 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 Grace’s Place 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 the Barefoot Café (see Where to Eat). From March to Sept Yellowave hosts beach sports skills classes on a drop-in basis for kids 6 and up; for younger kids there’s a sand play area.

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 (you can save up to £5pp by booking online).

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 sunloungers, slides, sandpits, a climbing frame and a children’s pool, plus a bouncy castle at weekends.

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.

Eat

Brighton is full of young families and many of its restaurants are geared up to this market, while the prevailing hippy ethos also means there’s a greater-than-average number of place that focus on healthy eating. Below are some of the outstanding family holiday choices; you’ll probably find a few more.

Food For Friends, a famous vegetarian restaurant in the South Lanes just off the seafront, offers a great-value, nutritious kids’ menu that includes the likes of red lentil, cheese and herb-burger, home-made ice cream or sorbet in seasonal flavours with fresh berries, and smoothies. Kids get colouring materials to keep them out of mischief. Another great veggie restaurant, holder of several awards, is Terre à Terre, where the children’s menu is about as adventurous as they come (think sticky hoisin tofu, or corn cake with avocado spice mash – as well as more familiar offerings such as poached egg on toast or linguine with a choice of sauces).

The Lanes are good for inexpensive Italian restaurants, with one of the popular being Donatello, offering lots of well-priced pizzas and pasta, meat and fish dishes in a busy, congenial atmosphere.

Between the seafront and the Lanes, the Bar du Chocolat is part of the extraordinary Choccywoccydoodah chocolaterie, and the shop’s ‘chocalistas’ serve up all manner of decadent delights, including chocolate cake and dipping pots, sundaes, milkshakes and hot chocolates. 

For fish and chips on the seafront (a must while in Brighton), there’s no better place than The Regency, praised for its seafood by none other than Rick Stein. You’ll find everything from haddock to lobster on the menu, plus children’s dishes.

The Barefoot Café by Yellowave Beachsports (see Things to Do) is a great all-day venue for everything from bacon sarnies or scrambled egg with smoked salmon to pizzas and salads, and from smoothies and hot chocolate to wine and beer, and hosts beach BBQs in summer.

In Hove, the Real Eating Company has won awards for its all-day menu of British classics and daily Modern British specials within a casual environment. Its breakfasts (until 11.30am) are especially popular, ranging from French toast with crispy bacon and maple syrup to Cumberland sausages and roast onions on sourdough bread. There’s another branch in Lewes, plus a café in Brighton’s Steamer Trading Cookshop on Ship Street, serving paninis, cakes, smoothies and coffees.

Up near the train station, Sevendials Restaurant has garnered great reviews for its Modern European cuisine based on Sussex and Kent produce. Come early evening (6–7pm) and there’s a great-value set menu plus a children’s menu, or on Sundays for a long and lazy family brunch, including boiled eggs and marmite soldiers and fresh-baked croissants in addition to more exotic fare such as fried eggs with chorizo and salsa.

Lastly, don’t miss Bill’s Produce Store (also in Lewes), a crazy mixture of food hall, farm shop and stylish café, with an all-day menu of dishes cooked up from produce in the shop, from buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup or fruit to pepper steak sandwiches. Kids get their own menu featuring such treats as fish finger sandwiches or cheese on toast. 

When to go to Brighton and Hove

Brighton is a good family holiday or break destination year-round – although January can get fairly bracing, and on bank-holiday weekends and in summer the resort can get ferociously busy due to its proximity to the capital, and you need to book accommodation well in advance. Read Dea Birkett’s feature on a rainy seaside break in Brighton.

Each May, the Brighton Festival – the UK’s second largest after that of Edinburgh – includes a children’s parade and shows and other events for kids, as well as a parallel Festival Fringe. 

If you’re in town for Christmas, try to make it for the unique Burning the Clocks on 21 December, when paper lanterns are carried through Brighton, followed by a spectacular pyrotechnics and fireworks display on the beach, to celebrate the Winter Solstice and welcome the lengthening days. Attending a lantern-making workshop allows you to join in the parade.

Keep an eye on the website of the Brighton Dome – actually several entertainment venues with year-round offerings for families, from shows to the likes of African drumming workshops. 

Don’t overlook the world-famous Glyndebourne Opera House, less than 20km outside Brighton, offering family tickets and pre-performance workshops for some operas.

Cost

Brighton is a popular day out from the British capital and hence many places have adjusted their prices towards Londoners’ wallets, but family hotel packages, competitively priced self-catering options, and good-value children’s menus keep it affordable as a family holiday or break destination. And the main attraction, the beach, costs nothing!

 

By Rhonda Carrier

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