Brighton is not the easiest of places to visit by car. Many of the hotels in the city centre do not seem to have car parks, and it is difficult to guarantee you’d get a space in the ones that do. The council has a reputation for being inimical to cars, but they can hardly be blamed for being so, seeing as the traffic can be horrendous.
There is one place, however, about a mile and a half out of the centre, which does have plentiful and indeed free parking: that’s the Marina. The signs at the multi-storey car park indicate that there’s a maximum 4 hour stay, but there doesn’t seem to any such limit in practice.
So for the early May Bank Holiday weekend, we stayed at the Malmaison. It’s a little bit of a walk from the car park (especially as the available spaces in the car park are likely to be found at the far end), so it’s a good idea to make sure the luggage you take is wheeled. Also, don’t park on the top level: there’s a regular car-boot sale on Sunday mornings. Parking on Level 6 (if you can find a space) means you don’t go up or down any levels to get to the bridge; we parked at the far end on Level 5, which was mostly empty.
A good thing about the Malmaison is that, if you have a sea-view, there’s no road between you and the sea; first thing in the morning, it’s as peaceful and picturesque as anywhere you’re likely to find in Brighton. The Marina is a fairly buzzing place in the evening, but not so much that it disturbed our sleep.
The downside of the Marina is the hideous concrete construction of the roads on the way in and out. Come to that, although a lot of Brighton is very attractive Regency architecture, and there some seriously ugly buildings, such as 1960s tower blocks. If those could be got rid of, it could be quite wonderful.
Anyway, it’s very walkable from the Marina to the City Centre along the sea front, but it’s not signed very well exactly how you get out of the Marina; one way is to follow the footpath through the middle of Asda’s car park and then go up the steps to the right at the far end (there’s also a slope for those not able to tackle the stairs), and then turn left and go under the road bridge. There appears to be another route the other side of the multi-storey car park.
There are regular buses from the Marina if you don’t fancy walking – the fare was of the order of £6 for the two of us. Alternatively, the taxi fare would be about £10. And then there’s Uber, where you get to see how much it’ll cost before you book your ride.
On the day of our arrival, we went into the city centre in the evening for a meal, to the Ginger Man. The food was outstanding – I don’t understand why they don’t have a Michelin star. It was also quite reasonably priced: £35 for two courses, and £40 for 3. They also do a tasting menu. We thought the portion sizes were ideal: not too big!
On the Sunday, we walked into the centre (which takes a bit over half an hour), went on a “flight” up the BA i360 (which we pre-booked the week before), visited the Pavilion (an absolute-must see; we got a combined ticket with the i360), and mooched around the Lanes district, which is very attractive. There was a vintage commercial vehicle event taking place, which is a apparently a regular occurrence for the Sunday of the early May Bank Holiday weekend, and that added to the interest.
In the evening we returned to the Malmaison for dinner: the food there was fine, but not remotely comparable with that at the Ginger Man. It was very nice having the dinner on the balcony, though, especially after a hot day (we were unbelievably lucky with the weather again: the hottest early May Bank Holiday weekend ever, although that only means since 1978).
Of course, the advantage of travelling by car is that you can break the journey and see interesting places. On the way down to Brighton we stopped off at Nymans, which was delightful. We got there just after 10am, when it opened, but we were far from the first in the car park! We then went on to Devil’s Dyke for a picnic lunch, which was very busy: we only just got into the car park, which isn’t free unless you’re an NT member (you have to scan your membership card at the ticket machine). You might be able to park at the pub car park for free if having lunch there, but that was popular too – there was a queue of about 10 people at the bar when I went in to investigate the refreshment opportunities.
On the Monday, we tried to visit Ditchling Beacon on our way home, but we got there too late; it was so busy they had already shut the car park at 11am. So we went on to Sheffield Park and Garden instead, which was also very busy, but they were able to use a field as an overflow car park (you had to be careful avoiding the cow-pats, though!). It really is stunning in early May, with azaleas, rhododendrons and bluebells all in bloom, so no wonder it’s so popular.
My verdict on Brighton? A great place to visit – once. I’m not sure I’d want to return in a hurry, if indeed at all, and if we did, we’d be very unlikely to get the same sort of weather!