“People love to see a landscape from above. Anyone who’s ever visited the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building or the London Eye knows that a bird’s eye view of a famous city is a sight that never leaves you.” David Marks
The Brighton skyline changed forever last week with the opening of British Airways i360, the world’s first vertical cable car. So what is this futuristic feat of architecture and engineering? An air-conditioned UFO style glass viewing pod that raises 450ft in the air to give guests a 360 degree panoramic view of Brighton, Hove and the Sussex countryside beyond, apparently an unrivalled 26-miles of scenery can be viewed on a clear day. Is this an attraction that will bring more tourists to the area or just a hideous eyesore as some local residents have claimed (iSore was one of the nicknames that made me chuckle), whatever your opinion it’s certainly got everyone talking on the Sussex coast.
The i360 opened to the public on 4th August but not without some controversy. The first flight was late ‘taking off’ due to technical issues and the evening’s planned firework celebrations were cancelled due to good old British summer time throwing a spanner in the works. Ridiculous winds and high seas prevented the boat carrying the fireworks being able to launch so the opening night ceremony had to be postponed and has been rescheduled to Saturday 13th August (click here for details). The teenager and I went up the tower on its second day of operation, as we just happened to be staying in nearby Hove, to check out what the world’s tallest moving observation tower designed by London Eye architects, Marks Barfield Architects, had to offer.
We joined the crowd of other excited guests (the pod can accommodate up to 200 people per flight) to glide high above the seaside town where the final elevated position gave us excellent views of the residential Regency squares, the iconic Lanes, the Royal Pavilion and its gardens, Hove’s colourful beach huts, Brighton’s Palace Pier and its pebbly beach, the rolling South Downs and out across the English Channel. Guests can roam freely around the pod throughout the flight taking in the different views or take a pew on the centralised leather bench seating.
While the flight itself was smooth, the teething problems continued from day one as our allotted slot was running about twenty minutes late, guide books had completely run out even if you had pre-purchased online (let’s just put this in context, guide books had run twenty-four hours after opening, someone had clearly miscalculated on a grand scale) and the ground floor restaurant and tearooms are not yet open for business (or looking anywhere remotely near opening). The online booking process was easy and informative, tickets send straight to your phone or computer which can either be printed at home or scanned at the site from your phone. The ‘waiting’ deck area is completely open to all the elements so you could find yourself getting soaked if it’s a wet day and windswept, the token number of BA emblazoned deckchairs are few and far between too. More of a UAE style soft opening scenario rather than an organised masterpiece you could say. I’m curious to know whether the hoards of local seagulls will be inquisitive enough to use the i360 as a new landing and toilet spot.
What this marvel of modern day architecture does do is offer residents and visitors a new perspective on the existing skyline. The ‘vertical pier’ is positioned directly in front of the burnt out remains of much loved Victorian West Pier that closed in 1975 and was later destroyed in 2003 after a huge fire wreaked devastation. The construction of the i360 has regenerated this area of the old promenade and will continue to provide further investment for this area going forward from a percentage of its ticket sales. Daytime flights last twenty minutes while evening flights are slightly longer in duration at thirty minutes giving guests more time to enjoy a glass of bubbly or G & T from the onboard Nyetimber Sky Bar. Like most attractions these days security is tight with uniformed BA staff carrying out airport style meticulous bag checks and body scans but the overall experience was hassle free (apart from the guidebook debacle). The pod descends into the lower ground floor so that guests disembark and exit via a gift shop which is the norm for all visitor attractions these days, pre-flight professional photos have been made in a giftbook for those looking to purchase an additional souvenir of their visit.
The Belle Vue restaurant created by MasterChef: The Professionals Winner Steven Edwards and Josh Stanzl (who were both at Taste of Abu Dhabi last year) is due to open adjacent to the gift shop, no date has been announced as yet. The brasserie style venue will offer diners signature dishes using fresh and local ingredients from Sussex. The reconstructed 1866 West Pier toll booths that flank either side of the structure are a nod to the original West Pier and its history, the Grade 1 listed derelict remains out at sea are still part of the overall backdrop of the site. One of the booths houses the ticket office and the other one will be a traditional tearoom once it’s completed. The pod and some of the beach side buildings can be also booked exclusively for private events and parties.
If you are not keen on heights you can observe this sci-fi type pod ascend and descend from below, it’s especially pretty at night when it’s lit up and last weekend the tower adopted rainbow colours to support Brighton Pride. Whether you think it’s just a blot on the landscape or a fabulous example of modern design it has thrust the UK’s favourite seaside destination into the limelight once again and has regenerated and honoured the iconic West Pier promenade, a bonus for town’s tourism and local businesses. It may not have the charm of an old-fashioned Victorian Pier with its attractions and entertainment but if you want to eat chips, fend off cheeky seagulls and play on the slot machines you can do that on the Palace Pier. Is the i360 worth bothering with? I reckon it is and I would suggest that a sunset trip would be the best option as long as it’s a clear day, with a glass of bubbly in hand of course.
British Airways i360
Location: Lower Kings Road, Brighton, BN1 2LN
Telephone: +44 (0) 3337 720 360
Opening times: Daily from 10am – 10pm weekdays and until 11pm at weekends – check website before visiting.
Tickets: Adult: £15, Child (4-15 years) £7.50, Student £12.50, Senior (60+) £12.50, Under 4 Free. 10% discount on ticket prices when booked in advance online. Priority booking also available. For all ticket information, discounts and to book online click here
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2016. All rights reserved.