Published April 08, 2013
Brighton, courtesy Visit Britain
A Pleasure Palace
Just an hour south of London is the seaside resort of Brighton, perhaps most famous for its “straight-out-of-the-Arabian Nights” Royal Pavilion. This extravagant palace was built as a luxury for the Prince Regent (later King George IV) in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Although it is now a museum, the palace originally served as a shrine to hedonism built in the style of the royal mansions of the Far East. Eighteenth-century writer and Anglican cleric Sydney Smith remarked, “It looked for all the world as if the Dome of St. Paul’s had come down to Brighton and pupped.”
I thought it looked more Taj Mahal than St. Paul’s, which is surely the effect the Prince Regent (later George IV) and his architect, John Nash, were going for. The gleaming white domes, parapets and cupolas may be Indian, but the lavish interior combines the glamor of the subcontinent with a tantalizing taste of China.
By complete contrast, the Brighton Pier is pure English. Far from being merely a place for a good seaside promenade, the pier is a one-stop entertainment shop. You can enjoy fine dining in a full-service restaurant or fish and chips at a take-out counter, get a tattoo or a piercing, take a ride on a roller coaster, or wander through the House of Horrors. There’s even a spa where you can indulge in all manner of pampering.
Brighton has cleaned up its act considerably from the late 18th century, when the Regent’s dalliance there with his mistress led to its being known as the place to go for “dirty weekends.”
Now, visitors join chic, moneyed Londoners who flock there to shop for the likes of Paul Smith and Cath Kidston in the fashionable boutiques of the Lanes and to nosh on oysters and champagne at high-end restaurants such as Riddle and Finns.
Still, there’s enough quirkiness to keep Brighton from being just a seaside outpost of London. For some of that quirkiness, wander North Laine, an alternative shopping area to the more upscale the Lanes. Rubbing elbows with Rastafarians and Goths, you can pick up a pair of fairy wings (always useful) or hunt for bargains at the flea market in Kensington Gardens.
For an extra dose of quirk, head over to the delightfully eccentric Tea Cosy, where customers have been asked to leave if they fail to stand during impromptu renditions of “God Save the Queen” and where menu items are named for members of the royal family.