Would-be visitors to Brighton may be wondering if they can fly directly to Brighton and if not, where should they fly to, instead? Well, the bad news is that you probably won’t be flying directly to Brighton, but the good news is that you can fly to somewhere fairly close to Brighton without much of a problem.
Does Brighton have an airport? There is, Brighton city airport in Shoreham. But it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get a flight directly to Brighton City and you’ll probably need to fly to the London Gatwick instead if coming to the south coast of England
Let’s see why that is and start with a look at Brighton City airport:
Shoreham Airport: Britain’s Oldest Airport
The airport that is now officially called “Brighton City” was, for much of its life, called Shoreham Airport and the word Shoreham still appears in brackets in the official name of Brighton City (Shoreham) Airport.
It’s not actually within the city of Brighton but rather in the parish of Lancing nearby. It is fully licensed for both passenger aircraft and the instruction of pilots.
It was built in 1910 and not only is it the oldest airport in the United Kingdom, it’s also the oldest purpose-built commercial airport on earth. The terminal building wasn’t built until the 1930s and it is considered to be one of Britain’s most important Art Deco buildings (it holds a Grade II* listed status).
If you want to visit the airport while you’re in Brighton, you’ll find it on the A27 on the way to Worthing.
A Brief History of Brighton Airport
We won’t drown you in facts about Brighton airport but it’s nice to know a little bit about the place too so:
- The first person to fly from the airport was Harold H Piffard. He was famous for being an artist and his piece The Thin Red Line is very well known, indeed. The flight took off on May 3rd, 1910 and it crashed after flying for about half a mile at a height of no more than 40 feet.
- The aerodrome officially opened on the 20th of June 1911 quite a while after the first flight.
- The first flying lessons were given in 1913 as the flying school opened in that year.
- In World War I, the Royal Flying Corps, which was a branch of the army until 1918 when the Royal Air Force (RAF) was commissioned, used Shoreham for some flights to the continent.
- In 1937, the flying school at Shoreham won a contract to train RAF pilots which might have been portentous for what was to come 2 years later.
- In World War II the airport began the war as a civilian base but was transitioned to military use in July 1940 when 225 Squadron was based there. Many different squadrons would use the base during the war, and all were used for night flights onto the continent and later to support the D-Day invasion.
- The tarmac runway wasn’t built until 1981, up until then Shoreham had only had grass runways
- The Beagle B206 aircraft was designed at Shoreham though the Beagle company only operated from 1960 until 1969.
- The airport was sold by the city of Brighton and Hove in 2006 because of mounting debts. A property company now holds a 150-year lease on Brighton City (Shoreham) Airport.
Today, there are no commercial flights into or out of Brighton City Airport. The airport is used by light aeroplanes, flying schools and for maintenance of light aircraft and helicopters.
There was also an annual music festival, the Wild Life Festival, held at Brighton City (Shoreham) Airport since 2015 though it didn’t take place in 2018 or 2019 and there are no guarantees that it will return in the future.
RAF Shoreham Air Show
The RAF used to hold an annual show at Brighton City (Shoreham) Airport and while it wasn’t the biggest event of its kind in the United Kingdom, it was very popular. Sadly, in 2015 a Hawker Hunter fighter jet that had been part of the show crashed onto a road just outside of Brighton and 11 people died.
The RAF Shoreham Air Show has not been held since and it seems unlikely, at this moment, that it will ever return.
Facilities at Brighton City Airport
As you might have guessed by now, Brighton City (Shoreham) Airport is not the largest of places and there is only a single terminal building. It contains departure and arrival boards available to check flight details and there is a restaurant on-site too.
If you want to learn to fly, there are several flying schools in and near the airport. There are also some private flight operators nearby too.
There is a visitor centre for those curious about the history of the world’s oldest airport and you can get a guided tour of the airport from there. You will also find an excellent library and document archive on-site with regard to aviation in the UK.
5 Commercial Airports Near Brighton
That means for most visitors the nearest airports of practical value for visiting Brighton & Hove are in (or around) London. You have a number of options when it comes to flying into London and the cheapest flights may not land as close to Brighton as the more expensive options do.
London Gatwick Airport
Gatwick is one of London’s two major airports, the other is Heathrow, and it is the 9th busiest airport in Europe. It’s also the closest airport to Brighton.
You can grab a train from Gatwick, that takes only 25 minutes to get you into Brighton and it shouldn’t cost more than about £30. If you’re on a budget, then a bus can do the same job and for about £5. For those feeling flush then a taxi can be booked for about £70 one way.
It’s also possible to hire a car at the airport, as long as you have a driving license, and drive yourself.
You should be warned, however, that Gatwick is the second busiest airport in the world with only a single runway and this can mean substantial delays on flights. There is a second runway, but it can only be used when the other runway is not in use.
London City Airport
The next closest airport to Brighton is technically London City but it is a bit of a pain to get to Brighton from London City and you’re likely to have to spend more money to do so.
You may need to hop on the underground as well as a train and no matter what, the maximum fare on this route is a fairly hefty £55 for a journey of less than 2 hours!
A taxi would be impractical from London City as would a bus and while you can drive yourself, it won’t be the easiest way to get to grips with London’s roads.
London Heathrow Airport
Heathrow is a beast of an airport. It is the second busiest airport in the world by passenger volumes, the busiest airport in Europe and more than 80 million passengers a year pass through its doors.
This makes it the most popular place to land in London, but you can find yourself having to walk for, quite literally, miles to get out of the airport and queues at immigration can be brutal at times.
You can get from Heathrow to Brighton reasonably easily and the cheapest train fares start at about £25 but can reach as much as £80! A bus is a more reasonable £7 and while a taxi is probably going to be more expense than it’s worth – you can hire a car easily and drive yourself in just over an hour.
London Stansted Airport
Stansted is all about the low-cost carriers and that means if you’re looking for a bargain-basement flight this is likely to be the closest airport to Brighton for you. It has a single terminal and it’s not a quiet place as it sees over 24 million visitors a year!
The cheapest way to get from Stansted to Brighton is by bus and that will set you back about £10, you can get a train but that will be around £60 but could be quite a bit more. A taxi would be outrageously expensive but you could drive yourself in just under 2 hours door to door.
London Luton Airport
Luton is regularly voted one of the ugliest places to live in the UK. So, landing there is bound to make you feel happy about heading to Brighton, one of the UK’s most attractive cities. The only reason to fly into Luton is a ridiculously cheap flight as it is the farthest of our 5 airports from Brighton.
You can get a bus to Brighton from Luton, but it will take about 5 hours at a cost of around £15. You can take a bus into London and then a train on if you want to travel faster for a sensible price of £20-£50 depending on when you travel.
You could also take a train all the way to Brighton but it’s a bit slower and costs more. Driving takes just under 2 hours.
Does Brighton have an airport? Yes, it’s the historical airport of Brighton City (Shoreham) Airport. Sadly, most of us can’t fly into Brighton City and will need to book a flight to London and then get transport from there to Brighton.