‘Pier’-less fun in Brighton

Brighton is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the UK because of its seaside. The Pier is its most well-known attraction, but there’s more going here. 

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The Brighton Pier on a sunny day.

There smell of doughnuts, fish & chips and hot dogs, is unavoidable. The Pier presents a feast of food and entertainment. Families walking around with kids cheering or whining, pulling their parents arm because they really want to go on the rides. The rollercoaster, the merry-go-round, the splash or the rodeo bull try to attract visitors, each with their own pounding music. It’s 20 degrees and the visitors wear vests or football shirts, shorts and sneakers. If they want to hide from the sun they go into the amusement arcades where they can gamble or play video games with each other. You hear noises of money, enthusiastic cheering and swearwords.  Welcome to Brighton Pier!

In the Brighton Dome the performances of ‘Bigmouth’ take place, it’s a play about the relationship between history and language. There are no children at the venue and people are dressed smartly, a stark contrast to the people on the Brighton Pier. There’s a cultural difference between different areas of the city. One wonders if these crowds even mix. In the centre of Brighton there are four cultural festivals going on at the same time: Brighton Festival, Brighton Fringe, The Great Escape and Open Houses.

A rollercoaster on the Brighton Pier.

A rollercoaster on the Brighton Pier.

London at sea

Brighton Fringe is a festival that offers theatre, comedy shows, music events, arts exhibitions and tours around Brighton. Alicia Turnell, who works at the Brighton Fringe box office, sells a lot of tickets to people from inside and outside the UK. Turnell says; “We attract local people but there are also people who travel from all over the country just to visit the festival. Some tourists aren’t here for the festivals but they stop by and see something that they like and book a ticket. There are posters everywhere so it’s quite difficult to miss it. We have a lot of artists visiting our festival too, because a lot of comedians or writers live here anyway. It’s a creative hub. Anything goes, it’s a bit like Brighton.” Brighton has the image of being touristic but the cultural festivals could influence that perception. Turnell explains; “I think it’s a tourist city just because it’s cultural, these two aspects interact. It has always had a big arts scene and music scene. The big theatres get productions that have been on in the West End. We’re only an hour away from London and there’s an art bonus for tourism, it has all the benefits of London but you’re by the sea.”

When you visit Brighton, The Brighton Fringe festival is hard to avoid.

The Brighton Fringe Festival is hard to avoid.

Business and leisure

Brighton Festival offers visitors a wide range of culture: comedy, music, arts, dance and theatre. The Great Escape is a huge three day music festival, Louise Thompson from the press office, explains; “The Great Escape is a festival with 350 artists and takes place in 30 venues all over Brighton. Our tickets were sold out one week before the event and we know that there is international interest for the festival. Music lovers but also people who run a music venue themselves. I can tell you that 16,000 people attend the festival over the three days, 3,000 of these are delegates from around 25 different countries. People travel for all over the world to be at The Great Escape.” Mich Decruynaere is one of them. He works at the music venue ‘De Kreun’ in Kortrijk, Belgium. “I’m here for business and leisure. De Kreun works together with The Great Escape because of a project, ‘IC Music.’ We had a partner meeting on the second day of the festival and also time to discover new bands. On the third day of the festival we had our own showcase with the Belgian band The Black heart Rebellion and Kins, a band from UK.”

Visitors are waiting for the next concert at The Great Escape Festival.

Visitors are waiting for the next concert at The Great Escape Festival.

Open Houses

The Open Houses festival is an arts festival where artists show their work in other people’s houses. It began 30 years ago and was initially a part of Brighton Festival but eventually Open Houses started their own festival. Judy Stevens is the coordinator of the Open Houses Festival and tells a bit more about the audience of the festival. “The people who visit Open Houses are between approximately 30 and 50 years old. Because we also want to attract a younger audience we decided to focus on social media and we also work with younger artists who are still at University. In general we cooperate well with Brighton Festival and Brighton Fringe. These visitors go to the festivals during the evening but pass by the Open Houses during the day,” she says.

Visitors of the festivals hanging out on the streets.

Visitors of the festivals hanging out on the streets.

A cultural cross-over

Adam Bates, who is the head of Tourist & Leasure in Brighton, explains the relationship between visitors to the Brighton Pier and those seeking a more cultural experience. “It isn’t possible to draw out a direct correlation between these two kind of visitors but the definitely some cross-over. Though they probably populate different ends of the spectrum of visitor experiences, many visitors are attracted to the mixture of high-end culture combined with traditional seaside,” he says. The traditional seaside is Brighton’s best touristic feature, it attracts a lot of people. Still the city thinks it’s good to organise the cultural festivals. Bates explains; “The festivals do a number of key things for the city, they generate visits and visitors and spread the benefits of tourism across the year and across the city reducing the seasonal impact. The festivals also raise the profile of the city internationally, and that’s also how we’ll get more international visitors. And yes, they do affect the image of the city, and that is part of the intent.”