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Margate city guide: Where to eat, drink, shop and stay in Kent’s ‘Shoreditch-on-Sea’

How to take the ultimate trip to this coastal gem

Heather Taylor
Thursday 20 June 2019 13:35 BST
Margate is Kent’s coolest seaside town
Margate is Kent’s coolest seaside town (Getty/iStock)

Once a down-at-heel seaside town, an influx of creatives flocking to Margate in recent years to escape London’s rising living costs – and breathe in a little sea air – have seen it transformed into Kent’s capital of cool. Dubbed “Shoreditch on sea”, it’s now home to modish restaurants, boutique shops and a thriving arts scene, all framed by the craggy whitewashed cliffs of the southeast coast.

There’s even the data to prove it: Southeastern Railway found that the number of Londoners journeying to Margate for a summer day out has shot up by 120 per cent over five years, with more than 250,000 rail tickets sold to and from the Thanet resort between May and September last year.

What to do

Take a walk

Margate is easy to explore on foot: stroll along the seafront, taking in the old-school charms of the sandy beach, with its arcades, candy floss stalls and fairground rides, and the cobbled streets of the Old Town, which harbour quirky shops, pubs and cafés.

Retrace Turner’s footsteps

JMW Turner was a frequent visitor to Margate, and Turner Contemporary gallery was built in his honour, on the site of the guest house he frequented, run by his beloved landlady Mrs Booth. The opening was supported by another local artist, Tracey Emin, who grew up in the Kent seaside resort: spot her neon installation on the adjacent Droit House, a former customs building that’s now home to the tourist office. Inside the gallery, expect an eclectic rolling programme of exhibitions and events, and sea views that Turner fans will recognise from the artist’s work. Open daily, 10am-6pm, free entry.

Turner Contemporary sits on the same site where Turner stayed when visiting the town
Turner Contemporary sits on the same site where Turner stayed when visiting the town (Turner Contemporary)

Feeling inspired? The Turner tour guide, available from the gallery’s website, invites readers to visit locations in Margate and beyond that have been immortalised by Turner.

Step inside a seaside grotto

The mysterious origins of Margate’s subterranean shell grotto, which was discovered in 1835 (smuggler’s cave or rich man’s passion project?) only add to its magical appeal. Wander through a winding passageway covered with an ornate mosaic of about 4.5 million shells. Open daily, 10am-5pm until 28 October, then open for winter hours, 11am-4pm, Friday to Sunday; £4 entry.

Get on your bike

The sandy beach at Margate
The sandy beach at Margate (istock)

Hire a stylish blue Pashley bike from Ride... in the train station and cycle along the Viking Coastal Trail to Botany Bay, a quiet beach flanked by chalky cliffs and seaweed-strewn rock pools. The route promises a leisurely ride along traffic-free promenades overlooking the coast. Open Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sundays 9am-4pm. Prices from £5 for one hour.

The fun of the fair

Once Margate’s star attraction, Dreamland amusement park fell into disrepair before being reopened in 2015. As well as a candy-striped helter-skelter, Ferris wheel and the original 1920s Scenic Railway roller coaster (the oldest in the UK), there’s street food stalls and a roller disco. Look out for film screenings, gigs, circus performers and pop-up crazy golf courses as part of the packed-out events calendar, too. Park open daily 10am-6pm, hours for specific attractions may vary. Admission £5, ride prices vary.

Dreamland has a packed programme of events
Dreamland has a packed programme of events (Dreamland)

Where to stay

Book ahead at The Reading Rooms, a Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse that’s home to Margate’s loveliest boutique B&B. It’s like stepping inside a Pinterest board, with three vast rooms containing roll-top baths, vintage chandeliers, huge, comfy beds and distressed paintwork. Breakfast, served at tables in your room, is a grand affair: thick slabs of sourdough toast and jam, golden-yolked eggs, and cold-pressed juices, made with local ingredients. Doubles from £160, B&B.

Turn over a new leaf: Reading Rooms is part of the new-look Margate, with its stylish bedrooms
Turn over a new leaf: Reading Rooms is part of the new-look Margate, with its stylish bedrooms

Sands hotel is a grand, light-filled building on the seafront with plush rooms, many of which boast sea views or balconies from which to watch the sunset. The cream and blue-coloured dining room is decked out with leather banquettes and French windows, while the terrace is a fitting spot for pre-dinner cocktails. Doubles from £120, B&B.

Read more of our full reviews of hotels in Margate

Where to eat

The food scene is flourishing in Margate. Choose from local seafood reimagined through a Scandi-cool lens at Hantverk & Found, or modern, pared-back small plates at Angela’s, where the menu changes based on the day’s catch.

For something more traditional, Buoy and Oyster is a family-run restaurant overlooking the beach. Expect a warm welcome, and exactly the sort of food you’ll be in the mood for after a day breathing in the salty sea air: Broadstairs crab with bread, butter and lemon-spiked mayonnaise; oysters dressed with pickled cucumber and dill; zingy seared tuna and crisp-skinned halibut in a deep, ochre-hued saffron crab bisque.

Come lunchtime, while queues still form daily outside the excellent Peter’s Fish Factory chippy, for something a little less traditional, wander down the harbour wall to Scandinavian coffee shop Mala Kaffe for open rye sandwiches, cardamom buns and great coffee. A few doors down, Cheesy Tiger (Unit seven and eight, Harbour Arm) is a fromage fiend’s dream, serving oozy toasties, raclette and truffle mac ’n’ cheese.

The Sun Deck is home to a blossoming street food community, from Creole-style sandwiches at Po’Boys, to hangover-busting breakfasts served in a vintage double-decker at The Bus Café.

And for the best ice cream in town, head to Melt Gelato to sample the ever-changing array of ices, plus milkshakes and waffles.

Where to drink

After a day by the sea, The Lifeboat is a cosy pub in which to recharge. The beers come courtesy of BrewDog, so expect the brewery’s range on tap, plus local Kentish ales and craft beer from around the world.

Bottleshop is a bar in the Old Town with a boggling selection of craft beer, cocktails with house-made syrups, and hand-mixed gin and tonic on tap. You can bring your own food, so pick up a pizza topped with local crab and British charcuterie from GB Pizza next door to eat at one of the outdoor tables overlooking the harbour.

Where to shop

Vintage junkies can seek out hidden treasures among the Old Town’s cobbled streets: browse for Sixties dresses at Madam Popoff; carefully curated utilitarian womenswear at Werkhaus; and Teddy-boy suits at Breuer and Dawson.

Northdown Road, in the suburb of Cliftonville, is home to a fleet of boutique shops. Mar Mar is a café and shop filled with succulents and design-led homewares, while Urchin Wines combines a natural wine shop and deli with a gallery space. Transmission Records sells rare vinyl, and next door, Cliffs is the epitome of Margate’s new hipster image, comprising a coffee roastery, record shop, salon, yoga studio and café.

Finally, take a bit of the sea home with you in the form of the gorgeous products at Haeckels, which sells soaps, fragrances and candles made using local sea buckthorn and bladderwrack.

Architectural highlight

David Chipperfield designed Turner Contemporary and its angular form looks impressive jutting out against the coast, contrasting with the rows of Victorian houses along the seafront: a proud emblem of the changing face of Margate.

Turner Contemporary
Turner Contemporary (Flickr/diamond geezer)

Nuts and bolts

How do I get there?

Single fares from London St Pancras on Southeastern Railway start from £13.80, and the journey time is around 90 minutes.

Public transport

Margate is small enough to explore on foot. If you want to visit the nearby seaside towns of Broadstairs and Ramsgate, The Loop is a frequent Stagecoach bus service which – unsurprisingly – travels in a loop between the three.

Best view

Amble past the Turner Contemporary and along the harbour wall to the lighthouse. In one direction, you’ll look out to the quiet sea; in the other, back to the hustle and bustle of Margate seafront, with its pastel-coloured rows of houses.

Insider tip

Brace yourself for a dip in Walpole Bay tidal pool, a short walk along the coast from Margate in Cliftonville. The Grade II-listed pool was opened in 1937, and stretches out over four acres, making it the UK’s largest seawater lido.

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