London is an exciting metropolis, the ideal place to feel at the centre of everything, with its constant eclectic buzz. London offers anything and everything you could possibly want, from world-class museums and galleries to restaurants serving food from everywhere from India to China. But sometimes it's nice to get away from all the hustle and bustle of a city where nearly ten million people jostle for space.
Brighton is one of the best places to get away for a day or a weekend, being just an hour from London by train. It's full of charm, character- and the sea. Very popular during summer, the best time to experience Brighton's vibe is spring or autumn, when the weather can still be tolerable and you can avoid the summer crowds. Here's a top five for Brighton, from shopping to sightseeing.
For its relatively small size, Brighton has a fantastic range of shops, and it's not about all the usual stores here (although they are here too) - it's about unique and quirky boutiques, selling everything from black and white prints of Brighton's pier to retro clothing. And it's a great place to pick up some unusual Christmas gifts, such as recycled glasses made from beer bottles, or colourful jewellery.
Even if your budget isn't big, the colourful streets and lanes are perfect for whiling away an afternoon wandering and window-shopping, before stopping for a well-earned break- which brings up refreshments.
2. Eating and drinking Nestled among all these quirky shops are some equally unique and quirky cafes and restaurants, from Brighton Coffee Co, with its freshly roasted coffee the perfect pick-me-up, to the Angel Food Bakery, which has cupcakes so light and delicious it's impossible to have just one.
On the restaurant side, vegetarians are catered for well here, with two of the best vegetarian restaurants in the country almost on the same street. Try the range of breads and tahini dips at Food for Friends, or Terre a Terre's take on the traditional seaside fare of fish and chips- with beer-battered halloumi, chunky chips, vodka-spiked tomatoes and pea mint hash. This is the kind of food that's so good that it attracts non-vegetarians as well.
Brighton is also a haven for chocoholics. Montezuma, which has local origins, has mouth-wateringly innovative chocolate treats, and then there's the wonderfully-named Choccywoccydoodah, with its flamboyant cakes making an eye-catching window display.
3. Arts and culture
Komedia is Brighton's famous comedy hub, where you'll always find a good laugh. The museum and art gallery has an eclectic mix of local, national and international exhibits, and the Theatre Royal has a range of shows throughout the year, and always has a good panto on during the Christmas season (this year it's 9 to 5: The Musical, by Dolly Parton).
The yearly Brighton festival sees indoor and outdoor venues showcasing a range of artworks all over the city, with previous artistic directors including sculptor Anish Kapoor, who created a mirror sculpture on the hills above Brighton.
However, the jewel in Brighton's culture (and architecture) crown is the Pavilion, a taste of eastern Royal splendour in this English seaside town. Built by the fun-loving Prince Regent (King George IV), it's a masterpiece of oriental opulence and style, from grand chandeliers with carved snakes to the dome with its impressive golden roof.
In the summer, Brighton's seafront is packed, with some hardy souls braving the chilly water and fierce waves (and even hardier souls take a dip in winter). As well as sunbathing and the ubiquitous food kiosks, there are some interesting shops and studios showcasing the wares of local artists here that are well worth a browse.
If you're feeling more energetic, walking one way along the seafront takes you to Hove, while walking the other way takes you to the upmarket marina, which has a range of shops and restaurants. It's also the home of hundreds of boats, and if you're nautically-minded, you can have sailing lessons here.
5. The Pier
A walk on the pier is a must in Brighton. It's undeniably tacky, with its fast food kiosks and amusement arcades, but nevertheless, it has its own irresistible beauty and allure. Relive your childhood and take a ride on the helter skelter at the end of the pier, or buy a stick of Brighton rock and watch the sunset while the seagulls swoop over the sad remains of the once regal West Pier.
For even more spectacular views over the coastline, take a ride on the 'Brighton Eye' near the pier. It's smaller than London's version, but for your ticket you get three rotations of the wheel and plenty of time to take in the views over the city and its coastline.
It may be a little rough around the edges, but Brighton remains defiantly beautiful.