Staying near Gatwick? Go active sightseeing this summer: dance and water sports events in Sussex’s alternative capital

Brighton is one of the UK’s real unique destinations. A city with a strong reputation for its liberal attitudes and openness – home to the first ever elected Green MP; widely acknowledged as the most pro gay-rights and sexually liberated city in the UK; a haven of bicycles, organic veg and the seaside.

That said, Brighton is far more than smug yummy mummies buying avocados. It is a place that houses projects, social centres and cafes committed to alternative living – such as the renowned Cowley Club, on London Road. It’s also the city to find some of the most expressive voices on queer and feminist politics in the UK.

It’s actually a city with a small city centre which mashes together the liberal middle classes, students, activists and working class locals who are often all drawn to the same, magnetic point: the Pier and the accompanying seaside.

Many visitors to the UK don’t realise that Brighton is both extremely close to London – more than that, the UK capital and this Sussex city are more or less equidistant to Gatwick Airport.  Yet visitors rarely think of turning the other way and heading out to the coast for a taste of Pier life.

As well as being a great place for culture – from poetry readings by the likes of Keston Sutherland to works by resident Brighton Dome dance company the Hofesh Shechter Company – Brighton is an excellent place to get active.

As well as hosting an increasingly over-subscribed marathon in spring, Brighton’s proximity to the sea makes it an ideal spot for getting a wetsuit on and having a paddle.  This summer there’s the chance to jump right in as part of an alternative Olympic season.

In July, Brighton hosts two of the biggest community sports events in the UK – Paddle Around the Pier (7th-8th July); which also coincides with the launch of a national Big Dance Wee. This runs from the 8th until the 15th and aims to get record numbers of Britons dancing – many events are free and there’ll be plenty of people there, so you can easily blend into the crowd with your moves…

More unique to Brighton is the aforementioned Paddle Around the Pier. This was established in 1996 by local surfer Dave Samuel and the premise is simple: bring surfers together to raise money for charity by paddling around the pier as fast as you can!

Money raised by the event goes to charities which protect the sea and support surfing communities and areas. You can do it on a sea kayak or surfboard of your choice. Previous beneficiaries include the RNLI, Surfers Against Sewage and SurfAid International.

This year is no different, as competitors from around the world will be lining up to take part. The event will be launched on the 7th July with a Brazilian Carnival at The View in Hove – with handsome rewards for the best attire. In my opinion, it’s a safer bet for a good time than trumping around London during the Olympics.

If you are travelling through Gatwick airport, why not make a day of it and visit Brighton?