Brighton, New Year 2016
A great winter family beach break without compromising on the comforts of city life. Would definitely come again, and we’re also keen to try when the weather is a bit more bike-friendly.
We loved: The pier, the aquarium and the beach
Downsides: It’s not a cheap short break what with the hotel living, eating out and being slap bang in the middle of a city
So why Brighton in December, Twixtmas?
A bit of shared history, a bit of handy geography but mainly a desire for a seaside town with brisk sea breezes, a smidgeon of culture, interesting shops and the all-important guarantee of a decent cup of coffee.
48 hours in Brighton
Here’s what was on our wish lists before we went to Brighton
- The beach
- The pier
- The aquarium
- The pavilion
- Some shopping in the January sales / in the Lanes
- A bike ride along the prom
- The Lego shop
- The Brighton wheel
- Maybe a trip out to Falmer (my university)
- Trip to Lewes (site of another swanky cookshop)
- Trip to Alfriston (lovely old village and home of Drusilla’s zoo)
Here’s what we actually did in Brighton
- The beach – running away from the waves a lot on the tiny stretch between our hotel and the pier
- The pier
- The aquarium
- Some shopping in the January sales / in the Lanes (only managed the South though, didn’t get as far as the North Lanes)
- The Lego shop
Our top 3 (in reverse order): The beach, the aquarium and the pier
(3) The beach
It was too cold for bike rentals (although it was great to see so many people using the cycle lane on the prom to bomb about), we never got as far as the pavilion and none of the trips further afield happened, BUT we all loved the bracing wind and big waves on the beach, so that was a big part of our trip: any time we walked anywhere we walked along the beach. Each time the weather or the waves were different and each time I took exactly one million children-enjoying-the-beach photos.
(2) The aquarium
This has to be the most beautiful aquarium anywhere. The effect of the multicoloured lighting on the arched ceilings is stunning and I think I spent as much time looking up at the architecture as the fish, though these were pretty special too.
There are plenty of ways for visitors to get a bit closer to the exhibits, like mini observation domes inside the tanks or the chance to stroke a baby starfish.
(1) The pier
If you ask the kids what they liked best of all about Brighton they’ll all say the pier. I think partly that’s because the whole thing was just so novel. Two of them don’t remember ever seeing a pier and Annie’s memories are of the much more tasteful Southwald or pared-back Clevedon pier. As a family we haven’t really done theme parks, fairgrounds or scary rides either, so this was a real treat.
Although some of it was closed for refurbishment and some of it was closed because of high winds, and much of it Orla was too small for, we did all find a couple of rides at a suitable level of thrill. Isaac screamed through the Ghost Train, but loved the dreaded upside-down ride. Odd.
The arcade was the perfect way to spend a few hours after the rides, although for me a little on the stressful side as most of the time I had absolutely no idea how to work whichever machine I was supposed to be helping with and then choosing the prizes at the end required a level of parental patience combined with mental maths agility way beyond me by that point (see the pic of the list to get a sense of the shonky prize quality and numeracy skills required).
Sleeping, eating and all the essential stuff
The Hilton Metropole
I should say something about our hotel. If you’ve travelled with three children you’ll know how hard it can be to get a family hotel room for five, unless your smallest fits in a cot or one of you smuggles him/her in under your coat while the rest of the family create a big disturbance. (The disturbance/distraction often seems to happen without trying!) We’ve done both the squeezing into a cot way past appropriate age and the sneaking in, and neither are really ideal; our seven year old IS small for her age, but even she hasn’t fit into a cot for ages and my health and safety radar kicks off with an unofficial/unregistered body in the room, not to mention the scary moment when I wonder what we would do if the receptionist turned us away for being too many bodies in the booked room.
It ticked the kids’ proper hotel ticklist: a revolving door, a buffet breakfast (preferably with pancake maker), plenty of marble and swirly patterned carpets
So I was really pleased with the Hilton because a) they offered us a family suite and b) officially we were all allowed to be in it. Plus it had a pool and was right on the beach. Then I made the mistake of checking TripAdvisor just before we left and the reviews were very mixed so I started to worry. No need – all was fine. It ticked the kids’ proper hotel list: revolving doors, plenty of marble and swirly carpets (just like the Queen has apparently). The rooms were great, the view of a wind-whipped sea even better, the pool was a hit, there was a PROPER coffee machine in the room AND, even better than all these wonderful things, the breakfast had a pancake maker. Result.
Food in so many places and all good 🙂
Here’s where we ate
- Pizza Express
- JBs American Diner: Life-sized Elvis, kitsch Americana, fries with everything, Tom and Jerry on the TV… a BIG HIT with all kids
- Gars Chinese restaurant (and they also delivered to our room the next night): Lovely dim sum and fortune cookies
Top tips: 1. Learn how to play all types of arcade machine before you go | 2. sort your parking out in advance if there’s none at your accommodation (I used Justpark for the first time) | 3. You can use Deliveroo to get takeaways in your hotel room (another first for me)
And finally, the shared history
Finally, the shared history. Long ago I was a student in Brighton and a tiny bit more recently (but still a lot of years ago) Garry helped set up a very cool cookshop in the city centre. We thought the kids might like to see both the skanky house and the swanky cookshop. Well, a swift drive-by revealed that my very skanky student house has transformed into a smart acupuncture practice (see pic). As for the swanky cookshop, it’s still full of gorgeous gadgets and also is currently doing a good deal on toasted sandwich makers. More on this below.
And the kids’ level of interest in a part of our lives before they came along? Pretty much zero, despite my attempts to horrify with tales of slimy slug covered walls, 50p meter-operated heaters and freezing cold showers. They did get excited by the toasted sandwich maker though. Who knew toasties could bring such delight? Next Christmas we might just get them each a kitchen appliance; I’m thinking maybe a waffle maker, bread machine and popcorn maker instead of the usual toys / games / books.