The garden of England is on London’s doorstep. It is easily accessible to people who live in Kent and those who don’t. And there’s no shortage of family-friendly things to do on a summer’s day – and they vary from some that are absolutely free and some for which you will need a plastic card or two.
From Britain's only goat sanctuary, a submarine, a steam train and a castle, we take you through a selection of the best places to visit with the children in Kent.
Days out in Kent
Days out in Kent
1/10 Chatham Dockyard
Chatham Dockyard employed thousands of people in its heyday. Now it’s a very spacious open air maritime museum with three battle ships, a submarine a highly entertaining ropery and much more. Many visitors will also recognise part of the Call the Midwife set. It’s open from 9.00-6.00 at this time of year. A family ticket – valid for 12 months – costs £49.50 and there are various other options.
2/10 Turner Contemporary
There are few more splendid beaches in Britain in the sunshine than the big sandy bay at Margate. While you’re there, stroll round the nearby old town for a bit of picturesque nostalgia and call into the (free admission) Turner Contemporary, an art gallery opened in 2011, overlooking the beach and sea. The building and views are magnificent and there are temporary exhibitions along with an elegant café. www.turnercontemporary.org
3/10 Kent and East Sussex railway
Fancy a ride on a rural light train – with steam? Try the Kent and East Sussex railway. It’s a ten mile track. You can either start at Tenterden and travel across the county’s border into East Sussex (Bodiam Castle) or do it in the opposite direction. And obviously you can explore Tenterden (pretty Kent town) and/or Bodiam (National Trust castle) while you’re about it. www.kesr.org.uk
4/10 Gukbenkian Theatre
Gukbenkian Theatre is on the campus of University of Kent at Canterbury. It has lots of shows for children and has recently been awarded Arts Council England funding to develop itself as a specialist children’s theatre. BOing! 2014 on 30 and 31 August is its first International Children’s festival. There’s a pleasant café and space to picnic outside (with fine views of the city) on a sunny day. www.thegulbenkian.co.uk
5/10 Royal Military Canal
The 28-mile Royal Military Canal was famously built in the early 19th century to keep out Napoleon and co. It runs from near Folkestone to Hastings, bordering the Romney Marsh for much of its length. Try walking or cycling along its towpath from, say Appledore to Hythe or Hythe to Folkestone. It’s peaceful, good exercise and free www.royalmilitarycanal.com/pages/walks_1.asp
Knole, at Sevenoaks, the ancestral home of the Sackvilles is a huge, make-you-gasp place of turrets, furniture, paintings, unforgettable silver and plenty more to astonish. And there are lots of lovely deer in the 1000 acre park outside where you can picnic and stroll. A National Trust property, it’s open almost daily in summer. A family ticket is £26.00 plus £4.00 parking – but all free for National Trust members.
7/10 Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is a storytelling exhibition in the centre of Canterbury which takes the visitor through the experience of making the medieval pilgrimage from Southwark and through Kent to Canterbury – complete with sound effects and smells and all the main Chaucer stories narrated at separate bays with pretty effective models of the characters. It’s a good way of introducing Chaucer to children without their really noticing that they’re learning as well as having fun. Open daily. Family ticket £26.95 www.canterburytales.org.uk
8/10 Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats
Britain’s only sanctuary for goats is Buttercups at Boughton Monchelsea near Maidstone. It cares for over 300 rescued goats, about half fostered and half on site – large, small and every imaginable colour. In summer it’s open every Sunday and there’s a family day on the first Sunday of the month. There’s no charge but of course they need donations. Other than on Sundays, walk along the Greensand Way, which passes the sanctuary and have a chat with the goats over the fence. www.buttercups.org.uk
9/10 Dover Castle
Dover Castle has defended the English Channel for centuries. Even the Romans used the same spot for the same purpose as Churchill did in WW2. And it’s all there to find out about under English Heritage guidance. The Keep is very imaginatively laid out as if Henry II were in residence and entertaining other royalty – quite an immersive experience and nicely done. And then you can picnic with lovely Channel views. Open daily. Family ticket £45.50 http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/dover-castle/?gclid=CLP95KvWuL8CFWNz2wodhHUAWg
Druidstone at Blean near Whitstable, is a bluebell wood with farm animals including sheep, goats, donkeys and more, including a herd of beautiful white deer. There are ‘magical’ things to watch for (carvings in trees, sculptures etc) on the woodland walk, a play area and a basic café. I took a three year old recently and it was a highly successful visit – especially when she spotted the sleeping dragon in the wood. Open daily in school holidays. Family ticket £17.00. www.druidstone.net