Enjoy a unique view of Brighton from the BAi360 vertical cable car

BAi360 Observation Tower, BrightonI have to admit that I wasn’t overly excited at the prospect of a 360° panoramic view over Brighton seafront. Not when half the view would clearly be sea. But after standing 450ft above the promenade on a glorious blue-sky day, I’m happy to say I was wrong – coastal views don’t get any wider than this, unless you’re looking down at the world from a plane.

In the unlikely event that you haven’t already heard of it, the British Airways i360 is the world’s tallest moving observation tower. Designed by the architects of the London Eye, it’s also the world’s ‘first vertical cable car’, transporting visitors above Brighton in a glass viewing pod which glides slowly up a huge silver pole. Like the capital’s big millennium wheel, the British Airways i360 has had its fair share of controversy, mostly on the grounds of spoiling the sea front. But today, Londoners wouldn’t be without their iconic landmark, and I suspect that before long, Brighton residents will be feeling the same.

BAi360 Observation Tower, BrightonWalk along the promenade towards the i360 and if the pod is at ground level, it’s easy to see their objections. The central core rises above the burnt-out ruin of West Pier, casting a shadow on the broad lawns of Regency Square. But as the pod starts to glide up, it starts to look less of an aberration and more like a work of contemporary art. View it from seaward end of Palace Pier and it actually balances the landscape.

But what about the experience? Visitors enter the pod via a decking area that surrounds the British Airways i360 at street level. And whilst you wait in the open air, you can enjoy the unique reflection of the seafront in the shiny curved underside of the pod as it makes its up and down journey. Visitors board at deck level but disembark one floor below on the lower promenade in the shop and restaurant area.

BAi360 Observation Tower, BrightonThis is an attraction that’s open to all, the wide doors and spacious interior allowing easy access and mobility for wheelchairs. Air conditioned and heated for year-round comfort, the glass pod is 10 times the size of a London Eye capsule with room for up to 200 visitors to stand at the edge and look out. And if you don’t want to stand near the edge, there are a number of seats backing onto the central core. Want to toast the trip with a glass of fizz? Then the Nyetimber Sky Bar can oblige you with a glass of English sparkling wine. There are also plenty of friendly staff on hand to advise on the view.

BAi360 Observation Tower, BrightonOn a clear day, they say you can see for 26 miles and under cloudless autumn day, I was certainly treated to a fabulous overview. To the south, the English Channel stretched to the horizon; to the north, the stylish streets and squares of Brighton & Hove reached out to the South Downs National Park.  

A camera or smart phone is an absolute must, although the curved glass means that shadows are almost inevitable. But you’ll want to record the experience and maybe pose for a picture high above Sussex. The ‘flight’ experience lasts around 20 minutes but you need to allow time for security checks, especially at peak periods. 

Afterwards, the beach building – open to the general public – provides the essential retail and refreshment experience. If you want to take a tangible souvenir home with you, I spotted some stylish i360 china in the gift shop as well as cards, calendars and a host of other collectibles.

My party sat down to a delicious lunch in the Belle Vue restaurant with sea-level views of the Channel. On fine days, there’s also an outside terrace with a front row view on historic West Pier, apparently the most photographed structure in Sussex.  

BAi360 Observation Tower, BrightonDishes have been created by Steven Edwards, winner of MasterChef: The Professionals and his menu covers everything from burgers, salads and soups, to daily specials and scrumptious puds. Food is freshly cooked and imaginatively presented, the fish and chips, for instance, coming in a wooden tray, the scrumptious salads and risottos decorated with edible pansies.

I couldn’t help wondering how long it will take to recoup the cost of this ambitious project.   How many times, for instance, will local people ‘fly’ the tower? But that’s not my problem.   The British Airways i360 makes a great focal point for a day out or short break in Brighton and at £15 per adult, £12.50 for seniors, it won’t break the bank. There are reductions for online bookings made at least 3 days in advance (£13.50; £11.25) and gift vouchers are on sale to solve present dilemmas for the friend who really has everything. Great fun.

Full details from www.britishairwaysi360.com.

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Gillian Thornton

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