Why go here?
Few places in Britain can rival Kent's impressive heritage of hospitality.
England's oldest county has been welcoming visitors for centuries – from Chaucerian pilgrims to Victorian pleasure-seekers. Today, its appeal is wider than ever. There are castles, cathedrals and medieval towns to explore, plus steam railways, smugglers' haunts and a proud maritime history. The coastal resorts offer the full spectrum of kiss-me-quick kitsch through to seaside chic (Whitstable is so posh it has its own oyster festival), while inland, the fruit orchards and oast houses create an idyllic bucolic scene.
The places to eat and drink
The Goods Shed (thegoodsshed.co.uk) in Canterbury isn't just a shop; it's also a restaurant serving seasonal dishes with ingredients plucked from the adjacent stalls. There's a similar focus on local products at The Lifeboat (thelifeboat-margate.com), a cosy Margate pub serving Kentish cheeses, seafood, and pies. Seasalter is home to The Sportsman (thesportsmansea salter.co.uk), one of Kent's best gastropubs, while nearby Whitstable is the darling of the dining scene for its fresh-off-the-boat seafood. Tuck into some of the best at award-winning Wheelers Oyster Bar (seewhitstable.com), or try The Crab and Winkle (crabandwinklerestaurant.co.uk) for its harbour views.
The inside attractions
The big news is the arrival of Turner Contemporary (turnercontemporary.org) on Margate seafront. The opening exhibition showcases works by Turner, who often visited the resort, (until 4 Sep). Also new is the Secret Wartime Tunnels exhibition at Dover Castle (english-heritage.org.uk) which explores the sanctuary deep within the white cliffs. For the kids, there's the heritage farm at Kent Life (kentlife.org.uk), near Maidstone. It provides an interactive snapshot of farming in days gone by, complete with a petting zoo and tractor rides.
The retail therapy
Put together a picnic at The Goods Shed in Canterbury (thegoodsshed .co.uk). Part farmers' market, part general store, it offers locally sourced meats, cheeses, honey and fruits alongside more unusual items such as cold-pressed Kentish cobnut oil. Cliftonville Farmers' Market (kfma.org.uk), east of Margate, is another foodie option, held on the last Sunday of every month on a cliff-top overlooking the sea. Margate Old Town (margateoldtown .co.uk) is a good bet for quirky, independent shops, selling everything from retro homewares to cupcakes and charcuterie, while Whitstable (seewhitstable.com) has a similarly charming shopping scene at one-of-a-kind stores.
The history trail
Kent has more than its fair share of castles and historic houses. Perhaps the most important landmark is Canterbury Cathedral (canterbury-cathedral.org), a major place of pilgrimage in medieval times, and now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Nearby Westgate Tower (canterburywestgatetowers.com) is a well-preserved gatehouse dating from the 1300s, with prison cells, armour, and views from the battlements. Chatham's 400 years of maritime heritage comes alive at The Historic Dockyard (thedockyard.co.uk), while older still is the Bronze Age boat at Dover Museum (dovermuseum.co.uk), the world's oldest-known sea-going vessel.
The great outdoors
See more than 50 animal species at Wildwood (wildwoodtrust .org), at Herne Common, including badgers and lynx. For nature in the raw, head to Knole House, near Seveonoaks (nationaltrust .org.uk), to spot herds of deer, or you can set sail from Ramsgate Harbour on the look-out for seals (horizonseasafaris.com). Take a walk in glorious Blean Woods (theblean.co.uk), near Canterbury, one of England's largest tracts of ancient forest, then admire the sea views from Thanet's 27-mile Viking Coastal Trail (visitthanet. co.uk/viking). Alternatively, stretch out on Kent's sandy shores – Botany Bay near Broadstairs is arguably the county's most beautiful beach.
How to get there
Southeastern (southeasternrailway.co.uk) operates frequent rail services along the Kent coast and throughout the county. Book online and save 20 per cent on off-peak fares until 31 August. National Rail Enquiries (08457 48 49 50).
Visit Kent (visitkent.co.uk).