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BRIGHTON — Arguing over what city can rightfully bill itself as Britain’s top seaside resort seems a bit trite. It’s kind of like choosing between “Gigli” and “Ishtar” at the video store. Maybe there’s something decent on cable?

But before the low-cost airlines revealed southern Europe’s beaches to Britain’s middle class, arguments over the trappings of East Sussex versus Lancashire echoed off pub walls from London to Leeds.

That said, if you’re marooned by family obligations or a lack of finances on this often-dreary island during the fleeting summer months, a visit to the historic seaside city of Brighton is worth the fuel, if only to stroll briefly in the nostalgic footsteps of generations of British holidaymakers.

It’s roughly a three-hour drive from RAF Mildenhall to Brighton on major motorways, so it’s possible to make a day trip of it. Or, hunker down for a night of what is widely considered to be some of the best club and bar action outside of London.

Upon arriving, the first stop must be to the affectionately dubbed “World Famous Brighton Pier,” which, despite its kitschy collection of attractions, appears to have set the standard for how much stuff can be packed onto a wooden deck suspended above the ocean.

British vacationers may happen upon similar piers in Spain, New Jersey or California, but they won’t find another pier with such a singular history, charming eccentricities and enduring qualities as the Brighton Pier.

Built in 1899 to replace the original Chain Pier, the Brighton Pier today stretches 1,722 feet into the English Channel and boasts restaurants, arcades, amusement park rides and a karaoke bar.

Like any English day out, the excruciating pound/dollar exchange rate means the relatively inexpensive can quickly mount into a budget-buster. But a few pounds can go a long way on the Brighton Pier in entertaining the young and old: Think bumper cars for 2 pounds ($4) a ride.

It also provides visitors with a commanding view of the beach — rock, not sand, but still littered with denizens even early on Sunday morning — as well as the attached Victorian-era row homes that stretch with the channel into the hazy horizon.

In many ways, the bustling city fits the description of a London on the sea, with countless fish-and-chips stands, English vendors hawking fresh seafood and a mix of foreign languages floating in the air amid turn-of-the-century architecture.

A short walk landward from the pier leads to the strangely familiar city center with the typical assortment of high street retail outlets, fast- food chains and local boutiques revolving around — what else? — Churchill Square.

It may not rival the Costa Brava for sunshine or boast the Black Sea beaches’ cost efficiency, but Brighton compensates with ice cream stands that date to the U.S. Civil War still serving sundaes. And there are enough unkempt characters to keep the day interesting.

A must-see is the Royal Pavilion, the former seaside residence of George IV, which combines neo-classical, early 1800s architecture with Oriental and Indian designs to create one of the most exceptional buildings in all of Britain.

If you go

Directions: From RAF Mildenhall, take the A1101 to the A11 to the M11 south toward London. Merge onto the M25 toward Gatwick, to the M23 and finally straight onto the A23 into Brighton. What to bring: Beach towel, folding chair, loose pound coins and maybe sunscreen, if you’re really lucky.When to go: Summertime, which means soon.For more information:


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