It was my 12-year-old who begged to go to the Royal Pavilion. He said it looked like it had been beamed down from another planet and he just had to see it. We were so glad he did. The Royal Pavilion is as extravagant and eccentric on the inside as it looks on the outside and we just loved it. What’s more, it is decorated with loads and loads of dragons so it’s the perfect place for a family dragon hunt.
The Royal Pavilion was built as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, in 1787. He wanted somewhere to escape from the confines of London and a discreet place to spend time with his mistress. George became Prince Regent in 1811 and continued to spend a lot of time in Brighton where he was known for his lavish entertaining and expensive tastes. The current appearance of the Pavilion with its Indian-style domes and minarets is the work of the architect, John Nash, who also designed Buckingham Palace.
As you walk into the Pavilion you are instantly struck by the bright colours on the walls and furnishings. There is nothing muted here, it’s all pinks, golds, greens, yellows and reds. Even the Entrance Hall is decorated with panels and banners of snakes and dragons. The whole theme is Oriental so while the exterior is Indian, all the interiors are influenced by the Chinese styles which were so fashionable in the Late Georgian era.
The whole effect is extravagant and exotic and we loved it. My two especially enjoyed spotting all the dragons, serpents and other fantastical creatures.
Our favourite room was the Banqueting Room which dwarves even the Ballroom at Buckingham Palace with its opulence and splendour. There are huge chandeliers and frescoes with mythological creatures (half phoenix and half peacock). There are literally dragons everywhere: gilded dragons, bronze dragons and a huge dragon holding the central chandelier.
The magnificence of the Banqueting Room reflects King George IV’s love of food. He enjoyed holding elaborate banquets, with as many as 100 dishes for a grand dinner. You can see a menu for the banquet held in honour of the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia’s visit in 1817. Some of the dishes served included thrush tart, stuffed partridges, haunch of boar and the head of a great sturgeon in Champagne. There were no less than 32 desserts, some of them elaborate centrepieces that were 1.2 metres high.
As a great lover of food, George was proud of his kitchen which was very advanced for his day. He used to love showing his visitors around the kitchen which boasted the latest steam heating technology and ventilation system. It too has an Oriental theme, with cast-iron columns ornamented with painted copper palm leaves supporting the ceiling. King George even dined here once with his servants.
Music was another of George IV’s great passions and the Music Room at the Pavilion is every bit as opulent as the Banqueting Room with its red and gold frescoes and nine lotus-shaped chandeliers.
The king often entertained his guests with concerts after dinner and the setting had to be magnificent so there are Chinese scenes depicted on the walls, carved flying dragons and serpents above the curtain drapes and a splendid gilded domed ceiling.
The next room we visited was the king’s bedroom. It had to be moved to the ground floor in his later life because he was afflicted with gout and so overweight that he could barely walk upstairs. There is a hidden door which leads up to his mistress’s bedroom and the bed is the bed that he died in, transported from Windsor Castle. It even has a tipping mechanism so that the overweight king could get out of bed more easily.
I loved the green and gold colour scheme and the adjoining library is so perfect I wanted to take it home.
Queen Victoria’s Apartments are upstairs too. You can see the hand-painted Chinese wallpaper and mahogany four-poster bed furnished with six mattresses of straw, hair and feathers. There’s even a tiny Maid’s Room.
Queen Victoria’s bedroom is more muted in style than the other rooms, in keeping with a woman who was not amused by Brighton and the Royal Pavilion. She never much liked Brighton and the extravagant Pavilion was not to her taste. She told people that “the Pavilion is a strange, odd Chinese looking place.” She eventually sold the Pavilion to the town of Brighton in 1850.
While you’re upstairs you should visit the wonderfully eccentric Tea Room. We can definitely recommend the delicious cakes and the setting is a delight.
The Royal Pavilion is right in the centre of Brighton so after your visit take the time to wander down to the beach, walk along the Pier and have fish and chips. It’s the British seaside: it’s compulsory.
The Royal Pavilion is open daily. Adults, £11.50; children, £6.20.