Microguides

How to spend a day in Kemptown, Brighton’s cool and quirky neighbourhood

A buoyant nightlife, an incredible LGBT+ scene and a wealth of options for eating and drinking – if you find yourself at Brighton seafront, make sure you turn left to reach this exuberant patch of the city, says Shilpa Ganatra

Saturday 12 August 2023 12:38 BST
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<p>Find yourself at Brighton seafront? Turn left </p>

Find yourself at Brighton seafront? Turn left

Think of Kemptown as Brighton’s mischievous cousin. It’s a little edgier, much more queer and – dare I say it – way more fun. Located east of Brighton Palace Pier, the neighbourhood traces the seafront from St James Street – the pulsating heart of Kemptown’s vibrant nightlife – to the stunning Regency buildings of the Kemp Town Estate.

That affluent pocket is where Cate Blanchett and Nick Cave were former residents, while Lewis Carroll drew inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from its private gardens – you can get a sneaky peak of them from a gated tunnel on the seafront esplanade.

But it’s Kemptown’s contemporary side that dominates the agendas of travellers to this corner of England – most famously, its immense Pride celebrations in August. But the density of Airbnbs, a rolling calendar of events on the seafront – from the Mod Weekender to the Brighton Speed Trials – and upscale additions, such as Sea Lanes and Soho House’s Brighton outpost, confirms it’s inclusive to every type of pleasure seeker. Here’s why you should turn left at the seafront.

Do

Catch a drag act

With Brighton being the UK’s LGBT+ capital, there’s an impressive choice of gay bars, pubs and clubs in Kemptown, and plenty offer entertainment all week long. Try Legends for drag on the seafront, or pile into The Queen’s Arms for its popular cabaret. Deeper into Kemptown, Proud serves drag bottomless brunches every weekend.

Read more on UK travel:

Sea Lanes

Take a dip in the 50m-long, six-lane pool

The newest star attraction of Kemptown is Sea Lanes, a regenerated beachfront area centring around the National Open Water Swimming Centre. After taking a dip in the 50m-long, six-lane pool (open-air but heated), kick back with a decadent brunch sandwich from specialists Fika, or a craft beer at the ever-buzzy Bison Beach Bar (the sunset views here are sublime). Got longer to recharge? Head to the hidden festival-like area of Beach Box Spa, comprised of old horseboxes repurposed for a rejuvenating sauna-and-dip experience.

Secret Garden

Hidden away and surrounded by mature foliage, the Secret Garden is the former pleasure garden of 32 Sussex Square – the tunnel that connects the two still exists, albeit blocked off halfway through. It’s open every Sunday over summer, and the biggest draw is its sculpture installations, which frequently change but have included work from the London-based artist David Breuer-Weil. Go for the cafe, too, which serves up innovative cakes, such as quince bakewell or roasted peach and fennel cream sponge.

Eat

Purezza

Purezza describes itself as the UK’s first vegan pizzeria

Brave is the soul that creates a business around vegan pizza, but Purezza can justify it. Their house vegan cheese does the best imitation of mozzarella’s meltiness, if not stringiness, that I’ve encountered. Their toppings are expertly combined, as proved by their lip-smacking ‘pepperoni’ and agave pizza. With inventive cocktails and vegan small plates available too, it’s a staple slice of Kemptown.

Café Rust

There’s a rake of top-quality brunch places thanks to Kemptown’s hungry Airbnb residents, and Café Rust is a stand-out. Its collaboration with William Morris Antiques shows in the lavish chandeliers and opulent mirrors that adorn the corner cafe. Then there’s the food: it offers a modern brunch menu (think full English, tofu scramble and Welsh rarebit) alongside ever-changing specials.

DaddyLonglegs

Located towards the marina, DaddyLonglegs is a refined gastropub with a huge garden, an interesting wine list and a small plates menu of intriguing, balanced dishes. Try the halloumi, served with grilled peaches and smoky freekeh, or a Sunday roast.

Graze on a menu of small plates or go for the Sunday roast at DaddyLonglegs

Drink

The Black Dove

The Black Dove is the neighbourhood’s best drinking den. It gets top marks for the drinks (all vegan), convivial clientele (everyone’s a friend-in-waiting) and the candlelit shabby-chic decor (authentic rather than try-hard). Add in bar staff who have their job down to an art form, and it’s a guaranteed good night out.

Tørstigbar

Teetotallers don’t have to forgo Kemptown socials. Tørstigbar is a low- and no-alcohol bar that hand-picks the best booze alternatives for drinking inside or taking to the beach. Choose from convincing takes on classic cocktails, a small but perfectly formed wine list, four beers on draft, or 104 cans and bottles.

Enjoy a cocktail or two – without the hangover

Hand in Hand

A tiny pub and microbrewery, the Hand in Hand’s size explains why its customers spill out on to the streets on their dinky stools, even though the quirky interior is a feast for the eyes (it includes the owner’s tie and German beer stein collections). It’s all the more endearing that the pub introduced Brighton to Toad in the Hole, a locally famous pub game that needs space.

Shop

Kemptown Bookshop

Covering three floors, Brighton’s longest-running independent bookshop purveys an excellently curated collection (including a section entitled “books about books”) and an upstairs cafe that also doubles as a free-to-use workspace. There’s a busy calendar of events, too, so check to see if any coincide with your visit.

Brighton Flea Market

In an area dense with antique shops, Brighton Flea Market is treasure trove of… well, absolutely everything, from Snoopy ornaments to vintage jewellery to second-hand fondue sets. Clear an hour or two before stepping inside.

Stay

The Lanes Hotel

A three-star Regency townhouse on the seafront, The Lanes is an option that offers value for money. Its constant modernisation won’t show through its traditional style but in peripherals such as its automatic lights and USB plugs.

Drakes

Drakes has played host to some famous faces

For a fancier stay – one that was fit for Kylie Minogue, Benedict Cumberbatch and Woody Allen – Drakes is Kemptown’s most upmarket offering. Expect roll-top baths, wood panel walls and plush furnishings, plus a fine-dining restaurant that showcases the best of Sussex.

Read more on the best Brighton hotels

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