Piers and Pavilions: things to do in Brighton with kids

Royal Pavilion Brighton

If you want to visit the English seaside you could do worse than a trip to Brighton; a bustling city with plenty to do and see.  Situated on the south coast in the county of East Sussex and officially known as Brighton and Hove, it is England’s most populous seaside city.

There’s plenty to do in Brighton with kids, even if you only have half a day, like we did.  Read on for the best things to do in Brighton with kids.

The best things to do in Brighton with kids

Brighton has a great mixture of the traditional and modern with more of a cosmopolitan feel than many towns outside of London.  Brighton has a lively arts scene and good nightlife with plenty of bars and nightclubs so you won’t be short of things to do if you plan to stay a few days.

We went for a day trip on a warm day in September, journeying by car from the West Sussex/Surrey border where we were staying with my parents.  We planned to visit the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Pier, and see if we had time for anything else.

Our walk to the seaside took us straight past Wagamama for lunch (as usual) and then to the Royal Pavilion.  We wandered into the gardens which were full of people enjoying the last blast of summer, either picnicing on the lawns or walking around.

Brighton’s Royal Pavilion – a brief history

The opulent Pavilion is not the sort of building that you’d expect to find in an English seaside town and has a long history.

Royal Pavilion outside

In 1811, King George III became too ill to continue ruling and his son, the Prince of Wales, had to take over.  Prince George had been visiting Brighton for many years before his father’s illness forced the Regency upon him.  As his lodgings didn’t have the space to entertain his important guests in what he considered a suitable fashion, in 1815 George had John Nash transform his villa into the Pavilion that can be seen today.  George had a love for art and architecture, and filled his Oriental-style palace with beautiful Chinese artefacts and spared no expense in its decoration.

After George’s death the Pavilion passed to his brother William and eventually to Queen Victoria who sold it to the townspeople of Brighton in 1850.   The townspeople looked after it, restoring it and holding many events until the outbreak of WW1.  During the War the Pavilion was used as a hospital for  Indian soldiers and then for amputees.  Returned to the people of Brighton in 1920, the Pavilion has been restored to its glory days of the Regency period of George IV.

The Entrance Hall

The green entrance hall at the Royal Pavlilion Brighton
The green entrance hall

The first room that we entered is a delicate green with ornate cornicing and the subtle Eastern influence of dragons painted on the walls and on the skylights.  So far, so pretty, especially the lamps, but the real magnificence is saved for the next rooms.

The Long Gallery

The bamboo-painted walls of the Long Gallery, Royal Pavilion, Brighton
The bamboo-painted walls of the Long Gallery

The Oriental decor really comes into its own in the Long Gallery, which is painted to resemble a bamboo grove.  The furnishings and the staircases at the end of the passageway are also carved and painted to look like bamboo.  The attention to detail here is exquisite; everything is perfectly restored.  Don’t forget to look up at the beautiful skylights.  The girl was delighted with the pink background; pink being her favourite colour.

The Banqueting Hall

The magnificent Banqueting Hall, Royal Pavilion, Brighton
The magnificent Banqueting Hall

From the hallway we entered the Banqueting Hall which took our breath away.  I think this must be one of the most spectacular rooms in the UK.  Our attention was immediately drawn upwards to the domed ceiling where the magnificent 30-foot chandelier is suspended underneath a silver dragon.  Four more dragons sit in the corners of the room, presiding over the diners, and others adorn the chandelier itself.  The walls and ceilings are painted with a variety of geometric shapes and romantic scenes of Chinese life.  My daughter had fun trying to spot and count all of the dragons, but there were too many for her.

A gilded dragon holds the chandelier in the dome of the Banqueting Hall, Royal Pavilion, Brighton
A gilded dragon holds the chandelier in the dome of the Banqueting Hall

The kitchens

The splendour of the banqueting hall came to an abrupt end as the tour took us into the servant corridors which seemed very bare in comparison.  The next room is the kitchen which is set out with food that the king and his guests would have eaten.

Kitchens in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Even the kitchens have an exotic touch!

Adding to the authentic look, I’m sure that the birds are real, stuffed animals – keep an eye out for the swan!  I loved the oriental detail on the pillars – the theme continues even in the kitchens. Apparently the Prince was proud of his kitchen and would take his guests on a tour through it.

The Music Room

The utterly sumptuous Music Room, Royal Pavilion, Brighton
The utterly sumptuous Music Room

From the kitchens the tour continued back through the Banqueting Hall and towards the Music Room  which has another fabulous domed ceiling.  This beautiful room has had an unfortunate history – after being damaged by fire in 1975 the newly restored room was again badly damaged when a stone ball from the roof crashed through the ceiling after the hurricane in 1987.

The detail in this room is again astounding.  Beautiful golden murals are painted over a red background, dragons hold up the curtain poles and the lotus-shaped lamps are stunning.  The stained glass windows around the dome threw dapples of colour onto the carpet which The Cub was fascinated by.  We had to carry her out of the Music Room – this was definitely her favourite room.

The dome of the Music Room with its feature lotus lights, Royal Pavilion, Brighton
The dome of the Music Room with its feature lotus lights


Upstairs the rooms are less spectacular but still beautiful, with faithfully reproduced wallpapers and furnishings.  The Oriental decor continues but in a more understated way.  We found a wealth of information on the Pavilion (although we couldn’t spend much time looking at it as the girl wasn’t interested) and the Tea Rooms which overlook the gardens.  You can also see where Queen Victoria stayed when she visited in 1842.

Needless to say, the husband was glad that we’d paid the £25 for entry.  The Saloon, the central reception room, was  being restored, but you should be able to see it now.

Brighton Pier

As we exited the Royal Pavilion we found ourselves pretty much in the commercial centre of Brighton and so we walked over to the seaside.  The beach at Brighton is wide and steep, and covered with pebbles rather than sand.  The pebbles are surprisingly comfy to sit on and in the height of summer the beach is packed.  Even in late September the beach was full of people and there were some brave souls in the sea.

Brighton Pier

One of Brighton’s most famous attractions is its pier which dates from 1823.  This can’t be missed so we stepped onto the boardwalk and wandered down.  There are shops, restaurants, arcades and a funfair right at the end.

view east from pier
Looking east along the beach
view west
Looking west towards the ruined pier and the i360

From the Pier you can get a lovely view along Brighton’s sea front.  You can also see the burnt remains of the West Pier which was destroyed in two separate arson attacks in 2003.  By the West Pier is Brighton’s newest attraction: the British Airways i360 observation deck.  It stands 162m tall and carries up to 200 people in its circular pod.  We didn’t try this out as it was a bit too far for our daughter to walk but it does look like a fun experience.


Our girl was too small to go on any of the rides at the end of the Pier but taller children would have a blast.  There are some white knuckle rides as well as some more gentle ones.  It didn’t look cheap though and if you plan on going on more than a couple, a wristband would be more economical.

pier life

The husband and I enjoyed the retro feel of the Pier – it looks as though life here has barely changed for decades.  All the striped deckchairs and arcades added to the very English seaside vibe.

ice cream

After our walk on the Pier we went in search of ice-cream which we found just across the road in a lovely little shop.  As you can see from the photo, we all thought it was delicious…

We then began to slowly walk through the streets back to the car.  Brighton has the usual high street shops but also has a series of winding narrow streets called the Lanes filled with independent shops.  Many of these shops are jewellers but we also passed a fun looking chocolate shop and plenty of souvenir shops.  This area is lots of fun to wander through but you could also spend quite a bit in some of those jewellery shops if you were so inclined.

We only had a very quick taste of Brighton but all of us had a great time here.  We will definitely be back to see what else Brighton has to offer.

Walking to the Lanes
Walking to the Lanes

Know before you go

Brighton is easily reached from London by train (60 minutes or so).  Trains depart from London Victoria and London Bridge stations every few minutes.  Buy tickets online or at the stations.  The train station in Brighton is centrally located. Brighton makes a great day trip from London – read this post for more London day trip ideas.   And if you’re visiting the capital with kids, then make sure you read our seven day London with kids itinerary.

If you travel by car there are several car parks centrally and all are signposted.  Perhaps pick one nearer to the centre than we did!

The Royal Pavilion website sells tickets in advance and has different pricing options for families and concessions.  Take a look at the History Pass if you think you might visit the Brighton Museum and Preston Manor.  The Pavilion is buggy accessible on the ground floor only; you can leave buggies in a dedicated buggy room and carry your child upstairs.

Brighton Pier website has information on the funfair and pricing for wristbands if you want to go on the rides.

The BA i360 website sells tickets in advance and booking is advised.  Tickets are free for children aged 3 and under but they will still need to be booked on to the system.

Other attractions for families in Brighton are the Sea Life Centre, Brighton Museum, and of course, the beach.

*A note on photography: all photos of the Royal Pavilion are official images as photography inside is not permitted.  My thanks to the Royal Pavilion for allowing me to use these photos.*


Brighton's Royal Pavilion is one of the most ornate buildings in the UK. Read about our family visit to this seaside town.

Brighton's Royal Pavilion is one of the most ornate buildings in the UK. Read about our family visit to this seaside town.

37 thoughts on “Piers and Pavilions: things to do in Brighton with kids

  1. Lisa Martin says:

    The Royal Pavilion looks absolutely amazing! You’d never guess that you would find such an ornate building at the English Seaside. The dining room alone is stunning! I’m no where near visiting England, but when I do, I will not be leaving until I go see it for myself and count all the dragons.

    • Emily Cole says:

      I don’t think the Pavilion’s as famous as it should be. Hope you get to the UK – it’s cheap at the moment too 😉

  2. Lisa (Simple Sojourner) says:

    Absolutely gorgeous, your pictures captured it so well and are really great. I would love to visit Brighton and visit the Pavilion, love the history. The Pier side of Brighton looks very similar to a few state side, how nice a walk there would be!

    • Emily Cole says:

      Thanks Lisa. I’d love to visit similar places in the States – I’ve seen photos of boardwalks there and they look like great fun for the kids.

    • Emily Cole says:

      Oh no – such a shame you didn’t like it! Out of interest what was it that you didn’t like? If you do return I hope you have a better time.

  3. Sally says:

    The pavillion is absolutely gorgeous! Both inside and out. Looks like it was a gorgeous day too. We just spent 8 weeks back in the UK visiting friends and family this summer and the weather was dire. We were in the north though lol.

    • Emily Cole says:

      We have been really lucky with weather this year in the south, we had a bit of an Indian Summer. Sorry the weather sucked for you – hope you still managed to have a good time!

  4. Llamateurs says:

    Booo, we’ve never been to Brighton even if it is not far far away from us (well, 6 hours drive I guess, but still not so bad!) Definitely need to change it. And maybe we will see dragon, too? 🙂

  5. Nerdventurists says:

    The Pavilion is so wonderfully quirky! I loved visiting there when I lived in London. I only ever went once, but it was very memorable. I’d love to go back for a much longer visit for sure.

  6. Joe says:

    Brighton is cool 🙂 It’s a bit annoying that the prices have gone up in recent years, thanks to the well-salaried Londoners increasingly going there for their weekend getaways, but it still remains a fun and scenic place. It is definitely among the best seaside places in the U.K.

    • Emily Cole says:

      I think a lot of people who work in London are also choosing to live in Brighton as London is so expensive. I can’t blame them. Unfortunately that means price increases for Brighton too…

  7. Naomi says:

    I love the nostalgic feel too! It looks so old world charm! I didn’t know it would need much preparation but I guess in high season it is the place to be!

  8. ckaway says:

    Your photos of the Pavilion are wonderful. I have been to Brighton but not visited this place. I can see that it was a mistake missing this opulent structure. For those who have a layover in London and have been to the city several times, this is a nice alternative place to visit.

    • Emily Cole says:

      I’d been to Brighton a few times before and never gone in the Pavilion either – I’d spent all my time in the shops! I’d missed out…

  9. Vyjay Rao says:

    The Royal Pavilion must dominate Brighton, given its magnificence. Your pictures of the interiors are really stunning and capture the grandeur and colour of a time gone by in all its vivid detail. I think I should visit Brighton when i do get to London.

    • Emily Cole says:

      They’ve done a great job in the restoration of the Pavilion. It’s worth going to Brighton – it’s got a different vibe to London. Very quick to get there from London too, provided that the trains are actually working…

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