The most popular of the coastal commuting towns, Brighton, only a 50-minute train ride from the capital, has been dubbed London-by-the-Sea. With its bohemian atmosphere, large student population, busy clubbing scene and pretty period seaside homes, no other commuting destination quite matches it for creative excitement.
Together with Hove, Brighton gained city status in 2001, but it was only a tiny fishing village towards the end of the 17th century when the fashion for the health-giving properties of sea bathing first drew the rich and famous to the south coast. The patronage of the Prince Regent, later George IV, who built the Royal Pavilion in elaborate wedding cake oriental style, led to a building boom that gave Brighton its magnificent terraces and squares.
Last Friday’s cinema release of a remake of Brighton Rock, the 1947 movie based on the Graham Greene novel, is a reminder of Brighton’s fall from grace into a resort cluttered with seedy seaside boarding houses.
Nonetheless, Brighton’s tourism bosses expect the new film, which has been set during the mods-and-rockers seafront battles of the Sixties, will bring an influx of tourists, encouraged by regular Brighton Rock walking tours.
Properties: There are imposing regency terraces both on the seafront and away from it; large Victorian houses in Hove; smaller ones in Preston Park; large Twenties houses in the Tongdean and Withdean areas of Brighton, and the marina has modern flats. The city of Brighton and Hove has 34 different conservation areas.
The area attracts: Emma Bailey, the manager of the Brighton branch of estate agents Winkworths, says that 80 per cent of her buyers are from London. "Brighton has a real buzz about it. It has everything that London has to offer - culture, bars, cafés, restaurants - but with the relaxed atmosphere that living by the sea brings. We get young couples, families, second-home buyers and renters. And it is a centre of gay culture, so we get a lot of same-sex couples, too. Wealthy business people aim for the more modern Hove mansions, while other buyers come for the period architecture."
Staying power: Once people make the move to Brighton they tend to stay.
Postcodes: BN1 is the central Brighton postcode, although it stretches northward as far as Falmer, Patcham and Withdean; BN2 covers the eastern part of town including Kemp Town, Brighton Marina and the pretty villages of Ovingdean and Rottingdean; but the BN3 postcode, which takes in Hove, is the most desirable and expensive.
Best streets: Tongdean Avenue and Tongdean Road in Hove and Withdean Road in Brighton are the three most expensive streets. Large Twenties houses sell for £850,000-plus. The best regency street is Montpelier Villas where houses sell for between £1million and £1.7million.
Up and coming: Emma Bailey, of Winkworth, suggests the port town of Shoreham between Brighton and Worthing is due for a reappraisal.
What’s new: Grand Ocean (0844 6626050) is a development of 280 studios, one- and two-bedroom flats in Saltdean on the eastern edge of Brighton. The development, by Explore Living, comprises the conversion of a fine art deco former hotel and four new-build blocks at the rear. Flats range from £180,000 for a studio to £546,000 for a spacious two-bedroom property.
Schools: Brighton has a number of primary schools judged "outstanding" by Ofsted. They are: St Paul’s CofE; Carlton Hill; St Luke’s; St Andrew’s; Balfour Junior; Westdene; and Woodingdean. Two comprehensive schools are judged "outstanding": Cardinal Newman RC and Dorothy Stringer. Brighton and Hove council operates a controversial admissions process for its oversubscribed secondary schools. They are placed in a large catchment area but if the school is oversubscribed, pupils are chosen by ballot rather than proximity to the school. Not all Brighton secondary schools have a sixth form, so many pupils attend further education colleges: Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College (Bhasvic) is rated "good"; Varndean College "good with outstanding features". Roedean is a top independent girls’ boarding school on a cliff overlooking the marina, although it also takes day pupils.
Shops and restaurants: Brighton is a mecca for shoppers. The Churchill Square centre has more than 80 high street names. The Lanes, the little warren of city-centre streets, is famous for its antique and jewellery shops; North Laines, the grid of streets south-east of the railway station, is home to many independent, alternative and vintage retailers. There are plenty of cafés and shops in the heart of town, along Western Road running through to Hove, and on St James’s Street which goes up the hill to Kemp Town. Worth seeking out are Farm Market, a Saturday farmers’ market set up by the owners of Farm Café; Laste, for handmade shoes; the four restaurants run by Ben McKellan: the Gingerman, the Ginger Pig, Ginger Fox and Ginger Dog. Terre à Terre is regarded as one of the UK’s best veggie restaurants.
Open spaces: Not everyone loves Brighton’s pebbly beach - the nudist section east of the town centre can catch people unawares - but nothing beats a walk along the promenade, while the South Downs are a short drive away.
Leisure and the arts: Brighton’s largest council-owned swimming pool is at the Prince Regent Leisure Centre in the city centre - it has four pools. The Brighton Festival, which is held each year in May, is the country’s largest arts festival after Edinburgh.
Travel: The train service takes about an hour to London Bridge and Victoria. The cost of an annual season ticket is £3,200 for First Capital Connect services and £3,832 for Southern.
Council: Brighton and Hove (Conservative-controlled); Band D council tax for 2010/2011 is £1,482.48.
Buying in Brighton
One-bedroom flat £164,000
Two-bedroom flat £224,000
Two-bedroom house £263,000
Three-bedroom house £351,000
Four-bedroom house £513,000
Renting in Brighton
One-bedroom flat: £650 to £1,200 a month
Two-bedroom flat: £750 to £1,500 a month
Two-bedroom house: £800 to £1,200 a month
Three-bedroom house: £1,200 to £1,800 a month
Four-bedroom house: £1,450 to £3,500 a month
Pictures by Barry Phillips