Can you really see France from Brighton? Smashing the Myth

  • By: Carlo
  • Date: June 27, 2021
  • Time to read: 6 min.

The beautiful and buzzing city of Brighton has many things to marvel the eye, One of the main things being it’s beaches and sea. But what is that you think you can see when you look out over the waters, beyond the wind farm to the horizon? Is it?

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Can you really see France from Brighton? You can not see France over the 86.4 miles of the English channel. Due to the curvature of the earth. Even from Brighton beach, the hills of the South Downs, the clifftop of Beachy Head or even from the top of the i360. You still cannot see France from Brighton. 

So why do people say they do, surely if you are standing at Brighton beach, on a sunny “crystal clear” day (one of those rare moments of the British weather) looking straight-out the horizon, that grey blur over the background has got to be the landmass of Dieppe, France? The short answer is NO, and this article will explain to you why.

It is well known that there are parts of the beautiful East Sussex region of England where French land can be seen on the other side. However, if you are in Brighton and think you see French people waving at you on the other hand, well what may “spy with your little eye” are not French people, potentially your imaginary friends. So the answer is NO, you cannot. Let’s be factual about it and start with distance.

I Can See France on Brighton Beach, Can I?

Geographically speaking if you stand at Brighton beach, Dieppe will be in front of you, but what is the actual mileage between the two places? The distance (as the crow flies) between Brighton and the centre of Dieppe is precisely 87.197 miles (140.330 km) and can the human eye see that long-distance? 

If you are standing on a flat surface (let’s say Brighton beach) with your eyes around 60inches (152 cm) off the ground, you will see just less than 3 miles (around 4.80 KM) to the horizon. 

Even though the human eye does have the ability to see as far as the Andromeda galaxy, located a whopping 2.6 million light-years away. The fact is, it just can’t see around corners, or in this case over curves. Well one specific curve, this is, of course, the curvature of the earth I’m talking about. So due to this curvature of the earth even though we can see over to Dieppe in France, we, in reality, can only see over it.

A Direct quote from Math Central helps measure the curvature of the earth thus,

Suppose that the earth is a sphere of radius 3963 miles. 

Using the theorem of Pythagoras a2 = 39632 + 12 = 15705370 

and so = 3963.000126 miles. 

Thus, your position is 

3963.000126 – 3963 = 0.000126 miles above the surface of the earth. 

0.000126 miles = 12*5280*0.000126 = 7.98 inches. 

Hence the earth’s surface curves approximately 8 inches in one mile.

Dieppe is 87.197 miles (140.330 km) from Brighton, so

87.197 x 8 = 697.576 inches

So, the height over Dieppe when viewed from Brighton is 

697.576 inches

58.13 foot

1771.84cm

17.718 Metres

19.37 Yards

The above image is a rough graphic to demonstrate the line of sight over the curvature of the earth. I am aware, and I hope you are to, that The Eiffel tower is not in Dieppe and is not under 18 meters tall. If The Eiffel tower was in Dieppe, they should theoretically see the top 306.28 meters of it.

Can I see France from up the British Airways i360? 

Brighton has many trendy coffee shops, restaurants and art galleries, as well as beach and promenade walks. But, amongst these attractions that Brighton has to offer, perhaps one of the most outstanding and most recent open is the colossal British Airways i360. Surely, this has got to be the perfect place to spot French lands.

Designed by the creators of the London Eye, the Marks Barfield Architects team, the stunning 138 meters (450ft) tall tower has a glass-viewing pod that rises up over the city up to 20 times a day. This is the ultimate place in Brighton to have a 360-degree view of the town and its majestic surroundings.

When elevated to its capacity, you, not only can see the stunning city of Brighton, but also the flowing hills of the South Downs when looking North. But when looking south, you can see the newly built 116 wind turbines, 10 miles out to sea over the horizon, and beyond the horizon? Is that a rooftop of Dieppe your seeing? No, it is not. Because you still can’t see France from Brighton.

What about the South Downs?

White cliffs, rolling hills, small charismatic villages and an outstanding scenario are what you can expect from this award-winning South Downs National Park. You also have the Seven Sisters cliffs overhanging the English Canal. Nature lovers can walk and bird watch while sportier people have great cycle routes, horse ride and even enjoy paddle boarding for those who want adventure in the water. You can do so many things in our Stunning South Downs. “But Can you see France?” again, the answer is NO.

Can I see it from the Beachy Head?

Situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in South-Eastern England, the astonishing Beach Head is a major tourist attraction. The chalk sea cliff- 531ft above sea level- is the highest in the UK. Close to Eastbourne, the South Downs National Park and Seven Sisters this place has much to see. The Lighthouse or the local pub, the Beachy Head Country Centre alongside numerous cycle and walk paths, makes this place a paradise for nature lovers.

If you love landscape and natural environments, sea wave sounds and peace of mind, there is plenty in the South East area of England. However, if you think you may reach the top of the cliff and see France, well, you will not. You will clearly see Pevensey Bay, Hastings, Newhaven and Brighton, and if you are lucky on a visible day, you may spot the Isle of Wight. However, 67.98 miles (109.40 km) separate Beachy Head from Dieppe. So again, the answer will still be NO. 

And the answer (continues to be) is…

So, despite the rare English “crystal clear” days, the beautiful white cliffs or 450feet or viewing of i360 observation pod, it still, is not possible to see France from Brighton. Perhaps if you really want to see France when you are in Brighton, you should consider crossing the Channel and going to France for a day or two, but please come back.

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How Do I get to France from Brighton?

By plane – EasyJet, Vueling and Iberia all travel from Gatwick Airport to Paris. Price ranges from £60 to £120 depending on the season and how early you get your flights)

The easiest way is to get to Gatwick from Brighton is by train (about 30 minutes) and costs you around £15 to £25 return See The Tain Line website for departure times and prices.

By Train

You may also choose to travel by train. Take the first train from Brighton to St Pancras International (See the Thames Link Railway website) and from London take the Eurostar from StPancras International to Gare du Nord, Paris. The fastest route takes you to Paris in less than 3 hours, and costs from £60 to £190 return (Euro Star)

By Ferry 

There is a ferry route from Newhaven to Dieppe that connects England with France in about four hours, operated by DFDS Seaways. You can take your car, a caravan, a motorcycle or a bicycle and the good news is that pets are also welcome! Whatever the reason you end up in Brighton if you have the time and feel adventurous book a ferryboat trip. You can check the price and details here: Direct Ferries or DFDS Seaways.

Adventure Cafe

Note: for those travelling by bicycle ferries are an excellent option. There is a useful link here for you to plan your trip at Adventure Cafe

So! Where CAN I see France from In England?

Most likely the place to see France from England is the Strait of Dover, basically, it all goes down to geography: this narrowest part of the Channel and the boundary between England and France. A direct quote from Marine Investigation mentions,

Across the Dover Strait, the shortest distance is 20.7 miles, from the South Foreland to Cap Gris Nez, a cape near to Calais in France.  Since the width of the strait is less, it is possible to see the opposite coastline of both the countries with the naked eye on a clear day.

Travelling by the Channel Tunnel will connect Dover, England with France and allow you to see French land on the other side. So you imaginary friends just turned real.

For more information, please see:

i360 British Airways

Beachy head

The South Downs

Brighton attractions

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