The seaside city of Brighton, located between the rolling hills of Sussex, is one of the UK’s premier LGBTQ destinations. Brighton’s queer history dates all the way back to the early 19th century when soldiers were garrisoned in the city during the Napoleonic wars. By the end of the second World War, several gay pubs and clubs had emerged, and Brighton had become a hub for gay men and lesbians who were serving in the forces. Within an hour’s train ride of London, Brighton also enticed those from the capital who wanted to escape the confines of closeted lives.
The first Gay Pride parade took place in 1973, consisting of a small contingent of marchers, very much in contrast to the 200,000 revelers who converge on the city these days for one of the largest Pride festivals in the country. Since 2013, Trans Pride has also hit the streets of Brighton. The event gives trans, intersex, and gender-fluid folk the opportunity to be visible and have a party of their own. The parade makes its way along the seafront to Brunswick Square where there are stalls, speakers, and performers.
The city’s LGBTQ scene continues to thrive, but there is more to Brighton than its vibrant clubs, bars, and pubs. The free-spirited city has an impressive live music scene, an abundance of funky cafes, and oodles of cool independent stores. For traditional seaside fun and frolics, there’s the pebble beach lined with restaurants and bars and the iconic Victorian Palace Pier with an amusement arcade and funfair rides.
Brighton’s diversity is what makes it such an appealing destination for LGBTQ travelers, non-conformists, or simply anyone who has an appreciation for the quirky side of life. As much as 15 percent of Brighton’s population identifies as LGBTQ, and evidence of this can be seen throughout the city. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Brighton as an LGBTQ traveler.
Kemptown, an area just east of the Palace Pier, is the nucleus of queer life in this seaside metropolis, and you can’t walk further than a block without a reminder that you are in the gay heart of Brighton. The majority of the action takes place a block either side of St. James’s Street in Kemptown. Rainbow flags flutter from the bars, clubs, and restaurants, and it’s not uncommon to see a drag queen smoking cigarettes outside one of the many LGBTQ establishments.
Kemptown is also where the Pride party is held each year, which sees the whole area closed off to traffic for two days. Although most of the bars are in the same vicinity, making a bar crawl an easy stagger from one drinking hole to the next, there are LGBTQ venues situated throughout the city. Most of the pubs in Brighton are LGBTQ-friendly, and the general vibe is all-encompassing.
AIDS Memorial Sculpture
Situated in New Steine Gardens, Kemp Town, Brighton’s AIDS Memorial Sculpture showcases two bronze figures, one male, one non-gender. The art casts a shadow in the shape of the ribbon, designed for the support of international HIV and AIDS awareness. The memorial was unveiled by David Furnish in 2009. The garden which homes the statue is a peaceful spot to relax and, weather permitting, a perfect place for a picnic.
Although not exclusively LGBTQ, the naturist beach at Black Rock, adjacent to the marina, is the most favored beach hangout, particularly among gay men. Dukes Mound, the area behind the beach, is a popular cruising spot.
The Brighton Sauna is the largest sauna in the southeast of England, and among the facilities is a playroom, hot tub, and sling room. Events include Naked Days and Fetish Nights, and the clientele is diverse in age and body type.
Bars, clubs and restaurants
Spread over three floors, Revenge is Brighton’s longest established club and is still the city’s premier dance spot. The playlist tends to consist of gay anthems and pop tunes. Both the sound system and lighting are impressive, and there’s a roof terrace with a bird’s-eye view of the pier and seafront. Although it’s officially an LGBTQ venue, and twinkies make up the majority of the punters, the venue also tends to attract gaggles of hen parties and straight kids. Just around the corner, their R-Bar is a great place to take advantage of some extremely attractive drink deals.
Where: 32 Old Steine, Brighton, BN1 IEL
This girl bar is located on Brighton’s main shopping through-fare and is run by wife-and-wife team Jackie and Eve. It’s a cozy bar with a friendly community vibe, and due to its size, it’s one of those places where it’s easy to get talking to people and make new friends. Regular quiz nights and occasional live music events are held here, as well.
Where: 50 Norfolk Square, Brighton, BN1 2PA
One of the larger bars in Kemptown, Charles Street Tap is open from 10:00 AM to the early hours. There’s always something going on, whether it’s quiz nights, DJs, cabaret, or drag. A good value food menu is available throughout the day, and there are regular drinks deals. The bar attracts a slightly older crowd and is located on the seafront.
Where: 8 Marine Parade, Brighton, BN2 1TA
Operating since 1979, The Bulldog is a stalwart of the local scene. The bar is known for its long hours, and stragglers can often be seen loitering outside at 7:00 AM. The Bulldog serves up cheap drinks, karaoke, and drag acts, and it remains a favorite with gay men despite its basic interior and sticky floors.
Where: 31 St. James’s Street, Brighton, BN2 1RF
Hidden away on a backstreet opposite the pier, Bar Broadway is a fun night out for anyone who loves a show tune. Back-to-back videos feature songs from everything from Cabaret to Les Misérables, and there are regular cabarets. It’s the perfect bar for an old-fashioned sing-along with a bunch of friends.
Where: 10 Steine Street, Brighton, BN2 ITE
This is a friendly and traditional-style boozer with a community vibe. A beautifully lit, Moroccan-style garden has heating for chilly days and nights. The menu consists of quality pub grub — the Sunday roasts are a legendary Kemptown treat. Everyone is welcome, including dogs.
Where: 30-31 Camelford Street, Brighton, BN2 1TQ
The Marlborough is one of Brighton’s oldest LGBTQ pubs, and despite its rough-around-the-edges interior, it’s a friendly and inclusive space. Downstairs, a 60-seater theater has a somewhat alternative program of weird and wonderful events, all with a distinctly queer take.
Where: 4 Princes Street, Brighton, BN2 1RD
Brighton Pride has grown larger by the year and attracts revelers from all over the country and further afield. A flamboyant parade winds its way from the seafront to Preston Park for an all-day party on the first Saturday of August each year. In recent years, pop icons such as Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, and The Pet Shop Boys have headlined. The action then shifts to Kemptown for a massive street party that lasts for the remainder of the weekend.
In Kemptown much of the accommodation is gay-run, and pretty much everywhere is LGBTQ friendly. There is an abundance of B&Bs to choose from in the area, all within a few steps of the bars.
This contemporary B&B is right at the core of the gay village. A grade-two-listed Victorian building, the rooms are stylish and comfortable. The hosts, Richard and Simon, are hospitable and helpful. Apparently, the breakfast is outstanding — the perfect way to kickstart the day or perhaps cure that hangover.
Where: 10 Madeira Place, Brighton, BN2 1TN
Not only is Legends the largest LGBTQ hotel in Brighton, but it is also a bar and club. Located on the seafront, it has a sunny terrace that’s an ideal place to hang out and people watch or enjoy the sea views. The bar serves food, and evening entertainment includes drag acts and cabaret. A range of DJs play disco, funk, and pop at the Basement Bar. The rooms are modern, good value, and rates are according to room size.
Where: 31-34 Marine Parade, Brighton, BN2 1TR
Piers and Queers is a walking tour that traces 200 years of local LGBTQ history. The tour provides nuggets of fascinating facts about famous figures from the LGBTQ community and stories of Brighton’s dandies and dykes. It also gives an insight into the activism that has taken place in the city and a look at how Kemptown has grown to become one of the liveliest LBGTQ communities in the country.