Something for the weekend: Seaside viewing in Brighton
As Brighton gears up for festival season Nicola Brady highlights the attractions
Brighton has long had a reputation as a city buzzing with life, charm and the sense that anything can happen. Seen by many as London's cooler sibling, it's a vibrant seaside town with plenty going on.
But come May, the action is multiplied with the start of festival season. Between the Brighton Festival and the more avant-garde Brighton Fringe, there are countless events throughout the month that are sure to please all.
What to see
So much happens that it's worth planning your schedule well in advance. There are huge musical productions, with orchestras filling the majestic Brighton Dome. A big top tent with burlesque performers and acrobats swinging from the rafters. Small performances from dance troupes not in a theatre, but in the middle of the train station. There's nothing too small, or too obscure, for the festivals.
You'll definitely want to catch a show in the outlandish Spiegeltent, an eccentric venue home to cabaret acts and a plush bar. And you won't want to miss Sh*t Faced Shakespeare (May 23-30), where one of the Bard's plays is performed by classically trained actors. The twist? One gets rip-roaringly drunk before they tread the boards. If you're with the kids, they'll love the huge Children's Parade on May 3.
Where to go
The heart of the city is in the Laines, a hotchpotch of streets where you'll find the best independent shops, bars and restaurants. This is also home to the majority of the venues – shows are as likely to take place in a tiny room above a pub, as they are a theatre. In between shows, grab a coffee and head to the lawns around the Pavilion.
Where to eat
Vegetarians will have no problem finding great food in Brighton. Terre a Terre (terreaterre.co.uk) is a veggie spot so good that carnivores won't even miss their meat.
You'll be well fed at The Courtyard (courtyardbrighton.co.uk), where hearty steaks and burgers are served up in the heart of the Laines. For a quick bite, grab some authentic Japanese from Pompoko (pompoko.co.uk), a hole in the wall that satisfies busy appetites.
If you time your visit right, the real food heaven happens from May 3-5, when the Foodies Festival (foodiesfestival.com) hits nearby Hove. Tents and trucks park up by the sea and overflow with artisan food, doled up to happy patrons. Tickets are £12 (€14.50) pp.
Where to drink
There are countless great drinking spots around the city, from tiny pubs to stylish cocktail bars. When the sun is shining, punters spill out from the numerous bars on Jubilee Street to sip a pint al fresco. Or Riki Tik is a Caribbean hotspot on Bond Street, where the dancefloor stays hopping until the early hours.
For a more sophisticated scene, Merkaba is on the ground floor of MyHotel, but a million miles away from your typical hotel bar. Cocktails are expertly mixed up from an extensive menu, and enjoyed by a chic crowd.
Where to stay
As well as being home to the Merkaba bar, MyHotel Brighton (myhotels.com) is a great option if you want to be in the heart of the action. The curved and spacious rooms are bright to the point of dazzling, with a space age feel and stylish touches throughout. Each morning, you'll find local hipsters meeting up for a flat white in the coffee bar downstairs, also home to some excellent pastries. Rooms start at £70 (€84).
With so many shows happening at once, it can be hard to tell the ones worth a watch from those definitely worth skipping. The crowds can also get a bit overwhelming over the weekends.
NEED TO KNOW
* Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin, Cork and Knock to London Gatwick, which is a 30-minute train ride from Brighton.
* The Brighton Festival (brightonfestival.org) runs from May 3–25. Brighton Fringe (brightonfringe.org) runs from May 3 to June 1. More information on the city can be found at visitbrighton.com.