[AD – Press]. Thank you so much for having us, Visit Brighton!
Brighton has always seemed like a magical place to me, and for the last few years it’s been right at the very top of my UK travel bucket list. The city is world-famous for being welcoming and inclusive, but as a chronically ill wheelchair user, I did wonder how accessible the unique coastal destination of Brighton would be for me.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Thanks to Visit Brighton, home of all the knowledge and resources you need for booking your own trip, my best friend Izzy and I enjoyed an itinerary that was utterly incredible. If you’re a wheelchair user who’s also dreamed of visiting the city one day, take this right here as your sign to book your own stay. You’re so welcome.
Based on our own experiences during August 2022, here are my top wheelchair-accessible recommendations and chronic illness-friendly travel tips…
Things To Do
If you’re familiar with Brighton or hoping to visit one day, the chances are you’ll have heard of The Lanes – a collection of iconic shops, bars, restaurants and cafés lining a labyrinth of streets. We had a wonderful time exploring The Lanes and the neighbouring North Laine, fully immersed in the experience of turning each corner and never knowing what the heck we’d find around the bend.
Never before have I seen such colour, art, and vibrancy at the heart of a city centre. We quite literally followed the rainbow painted on the ground in front of us, which led us to all kinds of independent shops and cute food outlets inspired by delicacies from all over the world.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we still encountered many of the issues that wheelchair users face in built-up areas – a lack of dropped kerbs, people parked over said dropped kerbs, pavement seating blocking the way from A to B… but I cannot tell you how astonished I was by how easily I could navigate the winding streets in my power-chair. There were concrete sloped ramps accompanying every significant flight of stairs, and I was over the moon to find that many of the independent outlets had level access and doorframes wide enough for my chair to fit through. This accessibility meant we could have a rummage through reworked vintage clothes at Ragyard, lust after homeware in England at Home, and enjoy delicious iced coffees outdoors at Munchies’ Craft. There’s no feeling quite like encountering better accessibility than you’ve mentally prepared yourself for, and more than that, the vibe of the whole area is just magical – a must-see for anybody visiting Brighton.
If you’re only in the city for a short time and need a sure-fire way to see as much of it as possible, may I suggest taking to the skies? The British Airways i360 was designed in memorial of Brighton’s renowned West Pier, with the aim of creating a ‘vertical pier’ of sorts. Visitors board the spacious glass viewing pod, which slowly and carefully climbs the observation tower to a maximum height of 450ft. On a clear day, the 360-degree experience means that visitors can enjoy views all across Brighton and the South Downs National Park – and sometimes even as far as the coastline of the Isle of Wight. Do I still have a slight fear of heights? Yes. Was this activity at the top of my bucket list anyway? Absolutely.
Guests are advised to arrive 20 minutes before their boarding time and invited to make the most of the lounge area – a lovely outdoor platform lined with deckchairs and comfortable seats overlooking the sea. Each area can be accessed step-free, and those using mobility aids can board the pod in the same way as non-disabled visitors. There’s a small gap between the ground on the platform and the pod, but even my unpredictable-at-best powerchair had no problem with this.
Once onboard, visitors are free to move around and take in all the views, and even at full capacity I found there was plenty of space to scoot around. There are soft seats lining the inside of the pod and a functioning bar to provide drinks, so in many ways it seemed like it would be quite a limited energy-friendly activity even for those who don’t use mobility aids. However, once at full height a crew member will share some commentary on the views using a microphone. As somebody with a chronic illness I found the volume of this quite painful on my frazzled brain, so my recommendation would be to bring some small earplugs with you for this part. Regardless, the whole experience was so unique and one I really enjoyed – don’t forget to pop into the small ground level museum and gift shop on your way out too!
Sometimes the very best experiences are the ones that don’t cost a penny, and Brighton’s seafront promenade falls firmly in that category. You can stroll around at your leisure with plenty to see, and it’s from here that you can access the iconic Brighton Palace Pier.
At over 1700ft long, Brighton Palace Pier is world-renowned for combining traditional seaside pastimes with more modern elements. With arcades to wander through, plenty of treats to purchase and devour, and a range of adrenaline-surging fairground rides, there’s something for everybody to enjoy. You can find a unisex accessible toilet on the pier, and everything except the indoor arcade was possible for me to access using my power-chair… although some of the decking made for a rather bone-shaking journey that perhaps wouldn’t be suitable for those with chronic pain. However, if you can handle it or like me (living in the cobbled streets of York) you’re more used to it, the stunning views out to sea are very much worth it.
Usually when I visit the coast as a mobility aid user, there’s only so close I can get to the beach. However, during our stroll along the promenade we discovered absolutely loads of sloped concrete ramps, meaning that wheelchair users could drop down to the lower-level pavement running alongside the pebbled beach too. Nestled under the Victorian beachfront arches you’ll find even more shops and cafés, which make a great spot to watch the various beachfront sports and activities taking place. We were also amazed when early one morning, we looked outside our seafront window and happened to see a community worker brushing pebbles off the walkway to keep them clear – something that undoubtedly enhanced my experience of navigating those paths as a wheelchair user later in the day. Everything about the seafront and promenade reinforced the growing belief in me that here in Brighton, disabled folk are no after-thought. We were in a space where disabled visitors are welcomed and accommodated, more so than many other places I’ve visited. And that felt utterly amazing.
The historic Royal Pavilion can be found just outside of The Lanes, surrounded by tranquil gardens. The grounds started out as a simple small lodging house purchased by King George IV, but his decadent lifestyle and love of grand architecture soon saw the building develop into the dazzling seaside pleasure palace of his mind’s eye. He was inspired by Indian-style exteriors and Chinese interiors, but as he never visited either place himself, the result is an interesting interpretation of these things through the Western gaze.
When I’ve visited historical buildings in the past, access has always been a gamble. Places tend to *technically* class themselves as accessible, when the reality involves a lot of difficulty and graft. The Royal Pavilion, however, was a wonderful exception. The wide walkways and smooth, sturdy ground made every room easy to navigate, meaning I could spend my energy taking in the extraordinary environment rather than worrying about keeping up. The only area that wasn’t step free was the top floor of the Pavilion, and this was instead addressed through offering a short 10-minute walkaround video of these areas playing on loop in a quiet room.
King George IV retreated to his grand palace by the sea after his physicians recommended the milder Brighton climate and salty sea water treatments for his ailing health. After seeing his lavish lodgings designed purely for comfort, including steps up to his bed and a rather majestic golden zimmer frame, I think it’s only right that every chronically ill person should demand the same. If you’re going to be long-term unwell anywhere, there are definitely worse places than the Royal Pavilion. While you’re in the area, don’t forget to take some time to chill and explore the gardens, and perhaps enjoy a visit to the nearby Brighton Museum & Art Gallery too.
I’ve always been intrigued by beach wheelchairs, so when I found out that Brighton’s Seafront Office has two all-terrain beach wheelchairs that are free to hire, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to give it a go. The wheelchairs can be booked up to a week in advance of your visit, or you can simply give the office a call on the day to check availability and book in. If you’re transferring or using other mobility aids, these can be locked up and left with staff while you’re using the beach wheelchair, but do note that there is no hoist available if you require this to transfer.
On first impression, the wheelchair we used seemed quite cool. It was a chunky old thing and quite medical looking, but it was surprisingly comfortable to sit in. I’ve realised lately that mobility aids that allow me to stretch out or slightly elevate my legs do wonders for my symptom management, and so we seemed all good to go… until we tried and failed to set off. My best friend Izzy is a pro with mobility aids and often pushes me when I’m using my transit wheelchair, but she reported that the beach wheelchair was heavy and difficult to manoeuvre… even before we got off the pavement and onto the seaside pebbles.
I always like to be transparent about my experiences, and on this occasion renting the beach wheelchair isn’t something we’d be in a hurry to do again. It was a scorchingly hot and busy day, and neither of us enjoyed it, but that’s not to say that it wouldn’t be a great option for somebody else… particularly on a cooler and quieter day on the seafront. There are many ways that Brighton can be enjoyed by wheelchair users, and if this enables somebody to get closer to the sea who wouldn’t be able to otherwise, then it’s still one hundred percent worth looking into it.
Places To Eat:
Vurger is renowned for their 100% vegan burgers, bowls, sides, and shakes. Their kitchen is gloriously peanut-free (music to my allergic ears), and though other nuts are used in the kitchen, the staff seemed knowledgeable and well-equipped to handle food allergies and dietary requirements.
I opted for the New York Melt burger and Izzy went for the Crispy Chicken, and we shared our skin-on fries and tater tot sides between us. Now, Izzy and I aren’t often defeated by food, but these delicious burgers almost destroyed us. The portion sizes were amazing value for money, and everything we tasted was out of this world. Whether you’re looking to sit down and grab an easy meal or pick up a takeaway to carry with you on your adventures, Vurger is one of the best fast-food outlets I’ve tried in years. If you don’t have dietary requirements, the shakes looked absolutely incredible too.
After spending the morning wandering through The Lanes, nothing could have made me happier than visiting a cute and contemporary café bar renowned for their all-day breakfast menu. Lost In The Lanes offers an incredible range of dishes as well as freshly baked products to take away, under the ethos that excellent food shouldn’t be reserved for evenings only. And on that front, they most definitely delivered.
Because I’m a walking stereotype I opted for Avocado on Sourdough, but this was no ordinary avo on toast kind of a situation. You could taste the quality of every ingredient, including the broad beans, seeds and radish garnished on top, and I don’t know what they do to their tomatoes back there in their open kitchen but they tasted out of this *world*. Izzy went for the vegan breakfast and again, the chefs had put their own unique twist on it – serving up locally sourced spiced squash, roasted peppers, delicious mushrooms and so much more. On the staff’s recommendation, we also ordered a side of crispy potatoes with black truffle oil that was so good it almost brought a tear of joy to Izzy’s eye, and we accompanied everything with breakfast Mimosas made of freshly squeezed orange juice. Have we found the world’s dreamiest brunch? Without a doubt.
An award-winning vegetarian and vegan restaurant, Terre a Terre is the setting where I had one of the best meals of my life. Founded by classically trained chefs, the fine-dining restaurant has been committed to ethical and sustainable practice through the entire twenty-seven years it’s been open. I was already in love when we were warmly welcomed by staff and seated in the lovely, calm environment, and when they brought out a nut allergy menu for me, I knew I’d found my happy place. Once again I could relax, knowing I was dining in a place where my allergies would be taken seriously.
I started with Hot & Herby Grilled Garlic Butter Foccacia, before moving on to a main of Rosti Revisited (made of crispy fried potato, onion, and garlic) accompanied by marinated smoked tofu. Izzy opted for Korean Fried Cauliflower (KFC, if you will) with a main of Bao Wow Glazed Stuffed Buns, filled with ginger braised halloumi and accompanied by a range of sauces. By this point we were both full up on delicious world-inspired food, but nothing in this universe could have dragged us away from that dessert menu. Izzy found her favourite Affogato (vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso and alcohol of your choosing), and I almost lost my mind when I found out I could have churros – one of my favourite foods that I’ve been searching for a vegan and nut-safe alternative for, for absolutely years. The churros were accompanied by chocolate and salted caramel dipping sauce and vodka-soaked fruit, and in that moment I swear I’ve never been happier.
Everything that we tried (including the bespoke cocktails and Brighton Gin) showed us that this is a restaurant that takes food to a whole new level. Regardless of whether you’re veggie or vegan, if you’re looking for an awe-inspiring meal, Terre a Terre is an absolute must. Quite frankly, I’d make the four-hour journey back down to Brighton simply to eat there again.
Where To Stay:
We stayed at Jury’s Inn Brighton Waterfront for three nights, and it was one of the best hotel experiences I’ve ever had. Everything we planned to do was only a short walk away – the front exit brings you out just across the road from the seafront and promenade, and the back exit leads you into the heart of the town centre just metres away from the North Laine area.
My best friend and I were lucky enough to stay in an accessible Suite, meaning we had two connecting rooms each containing a comfortable bed and seating area. There was plenty of room to manoeuvre my powerchair, and the bathroom was equipped with adjustable handrails and a wet room-style shower including grab rails and foldable shower seat.
However, the real showstopper of our suite was the view. Our large bay windows looked directly out onto the seafront, with blue sea stretching out into the distance as far as the eye could see. On a less poetic note, our view also placed us in the prime spot for being nosey and people-watching families on the beach and promenade – something we spent far more time doing than I’d care to admit. If your chronic illness means you can’t always leave your room or bed as much as you would like to, I really believe that staying in a suite with a view like this can still bring the holiday vibes even to your restful down-time.
Those booking a room at Jury’s Inn can choose to add on breakfast to their stay, and as something of a breakfast buffet connoisseur, I can tell you with full confidence that this one is worth the money. Even dealing with multiple food allergies (and with a vegetarian companion), we found plenty of choice for both of us – hot food, bread and pastries, fruit and sweet treats, and even fresh smoothies in adorable little bottles. They even had alternative milks and gluten-free bread laid out and ready to use, taking away the need to explicitly ask for them.
This was my first experience of staying in a Jury’s Inn hotel, but I now know that it won’t be my last. We had such a positive experience that I would happily book again, and if you’re planning a trip to Brighton, their Brighton Waterfront hotel offers the ideal base for you to make the most of your trip.
Our Tips & Tricks:
If we’ve convinced you to plan your own trip to Brighton (and trust me, you should), here are some chronic illness-friendly tips to keep in mind:
- Many of the seafront cafes and restaurants play fairly loud music that can be heard even by the outdoor tables. This creates a lovely holiday atmosphere, but if you have noise sensitivity, it’s worth bringing a spare pair of earplugs in your handbag.
- If you don’t use mobility aids and want to spend time on the beach, budget for extra energy expenditure – even more than you might think. Pebbles can be quite tricky to walk on, and there’s a big dip midway down the beach. If you’re going to paddle in the sea, please learn from my mistakes and make sure you can make it back up again…
- Choosing a hotel room with a stunning sea-view is hands down the best life hack I’ve discovered for making rest time a more enjoyable experience. Having to pace yourself and sometimes miss out on things is made *so* much better when you can look out of the window and enjoy a gorgeous coastal view.
Thank you so much again to Visit Brighton, for not only hosting us but providing incredibly useful online information and guidance. If you’re planning your own stay, their website is the ideal starting point!
Have you been to Brighton? Would you like to visit one day? If you have any of your own recommendations, I’d love to hear them!