Looking for a super-cool retro vibe from beach destinations that are just 1.5 hours by train from London? Dotted along the coast of south-east England are three captivating beachside towns that have reinvented themselves into stylish destinations over the last few years – Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. In this coastal corner of Kent, known as the Isle of Thanet, you’ll find a buzzing contemporary arts and culture scene married with quirky attractions, elegant Regency squares combined with maritime history, all packaged together with that quintessential British seaside charm.
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This is an area of Kent that boasts a raft of gorgeous guesthouses and B&Bs, each with their own unique character, many influenced in style by the area’s rich history, and all within various price ranges. For a touch of luxury, check out Bleak House Broadstairs; not only can you visit eminent author Charles Dickens' study and the smuggling museum, you can stay in rooms such as ‘Fagin’s Superior Double’ (no pickpockets here though!) or the David Copperfield suite. Elsewhere, Broadstairs’ Yarrow Hotel is housed in a 16th-century building now designed with all the comforts of a luxury boutique hotel, while in Margate, the Reading Rooms boutique B&B is housed in a building dating back to the 1760s; its décor is contemporary yet boasts original floor-to-ceiling windows and polished antique floorboards. Margate’s pretty Sands Hotel captures those stunning sea views perfectly, easily enjoyed as you sip cocktails on its own roof terrace. Sea views are also guaranteed at charming boutique hotel Albion House Ramsgate – and it also overlooks the only Royal Harbour in England.
09:00 EMBRACE CONTEMPORARY ART
Not only are the exhibits at Turner Contemporary exceptional, this gallery is well worth visiting for the building alone. It’s an architectural highlight of the Kent coast, flooded with natural light and is a fitting tribute to Victorian artist JMW Turner, who loved Margate. Until the end of September 2018 you’ll have the chance to catch a major exhibition, Animals & Us, examining how artists’ view the relationship between humans and other animals.
11:00 EXPLORE A MYSTERIOUS UNDERGROUND ATTRACTION
Just a ten-minute stroll from the gallery is another of Margate’s works of art, but one that couldn’t be more different. The Shell Grotto is a subterranean passageway 21 metres long adorned with 4.6 million shells laid out in a myriad decorative patterns. One of the most intriguing things about it, since its discovery in 1835, is nobody knows who put it there and why. Let your imagination wonder about its mysterious history!
13:00 FEAST ON THE FINEST SEAFOOD
Seafood is as fresh as it gets in Margate – and café Hantverk & Found is all about serving the local produce. Find local delicacies such as rock oysters and Rye Bay scallops on its menu, as well as tagliatelle with sea urchin, all washed down with a glass of wine from its range of natural and organic wines.
15:00 FIND ALL THE FUN OF THE RETRO-STYLE FAIR
One of the most significant reinventions in Margate over the last few years is Dreamland amusement park, based on the idea of a traditional British seaside fair. When you’ve whooped and laughed your way through rides such as rollercoasters and swing boats, and immersed yourself in the interactive art installations, strap on some roller boots and hit the retro roller disco. Dreamland is a fun way to spend the afternoon whatever your age, while the evenings here are packed with live music and DJ sets for over 18s.
19:00 SIP STYLISH COCKTAILS
After an afternoon of fairground fun, take the short six-minute walk from Dreamland to the Clockwork Cocktail Company, for a well-deserved Perk-Up Martini or Satan’s Whiskers in this cool cocktail bar that describes itself as ‘Steampunk/neo-Victorian style’.
20:00 BUY THE INGREDIENTS FROM YOUR DINNER
Stylishly contemporary interiors greet diners at The Old Post Office restaurant, a couple of minutes’ walk from your cocktail spot, which is passionate about featuring locally grown and sourced produce on its menus. And, if you like what you ate, you can buy the produce at its delicatessen, stocked to the brim with treats from around Kent.
09:00 HEAD OUT TO SEA
A great way to brush off the cobwebs from a late night in Margate is to embark on a brisk hour’s walk to the nearby town of Broadstairs and straight to the Joss Bay Surf School. The beautiful bay – fringed by the Georgian facades of the town – is a popular Kent surf spot and the surf school also offers Stand-Up Paddleboarding.
11:00 DISCOVER DICKENSIAN CULTURE
Easily venture from sport activity to cultural activity in this town, as you head to the Dickens House Museum. Charles Dickens was a regular visitor to Broadstairs over 22 years of his life and the museum is housed in the cottage said to be the inspiration for the home of Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. View fascinating Dickensian artefacts such as his writing box, letters he penned and early editions of his novels.
13:00 INDULGE IN ICE CREAM FOR LUNCH!
Since 1932 Morellis Gelato on Broadstairs seafront has been serving customers a huge range of delicious flavours of its famous ice-cream, where fresh gelato is made in store daily. Enjoy these creamy treats among the parlour’s funky 1950s décor, which includes its original soda fountain, pink leatherette seating and juke box.
15:00 WALK ANCIENT TRAILS AND TUNNELS
Join Kent’s Viking Coastal Trail between Broadstairs and neighbouring town Ramsgate and walk along the beautiful coastline between the two towns – it’s a pleasant 40-minute walk on this part of the trail. When you arrive in Ramsgate – which made its name as a favoured seaside retreat in the 18th and 19th centuries and where much of the elegant Georgian architecture still stands – head to the Ramsgate Tunnels. Take a tour of this fascinating civilian wartime tunnel network, the largest in Britain, for a feel of what life was like for the citizens of Ramsgate during World War Two.
17:00 DRINKS IN THE MARINA
Soak up the atmosphere in Ramsgate’s picturesque marina, that borders a busy Royal Harbour, with pre-dinner drinks at one of the marina’s bars – a great spot for yacht-watching – such as Enoteca or 26 Harbour Street. Keep an eye on the time…Ramsgate boasts its own Meridian Line and is five minutes and 41 seconds ahead of GMT!
19:00 DINE WHILE OVERLOOKING HARBOUR VIEWS
Even if you’re not staying at Albion House, you can dine at its restaurant Townley’s; admire the fine views from its windows over the harbour and enjoy formal dining in its elegant Georgian dining room as you order from menus that reflect the seasons and use local produce.