Seaside Day Trip: 17 Things To Do In Margate

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Margate was one of the earliest “seaside towns”, welcoming 19th Century day trippers from London to its sandy beach and old-fashioned harbour.

Back then attractions included the beach and one of the earliest sea baths (an enclosed area to protect swimmers), followed by, at the start of the 20th Century, the opening of one of the oldest amusement parks in Britain (renamed Dreamland in the 1920s)

Now Dreamland has been completely revamped, there is a incredible contemporary art and independent shopping scene happening and Margate still has its sandy beach.

Pioneering landscape artist, J.M.W Turner lived here and was inspired by the area’s amazing quality of light. Tracey Emin also who grew up in the town, later becoming a famous artist in her own right.

So why not take a day trip to this revitalised seaside town on the Isle of Thanet, the most easterly point of Kent. Here’s where to eat, drink, sleep and play in the area.

Margate Main Sands (c) Kirsten Beacock

Margate Main Sands (c) Kirsten Beacock

1. Start with the beach

The south east Kent coast has many beaches, but it could be argued that Margate Main Sands is one of the nicest.

The golden sands, within the harbour, are protected from some of the rougher sea elements, and when the weather is fine this is a lovely spot to spend the day,

Margate

Dreamland Heritage Brooklands Racers © Dreamland-Margate

2. Visit one of the oldest amusement parks

Dreamland Margate re-opened in 2015, after a major refurbishment, and retains the essence of the Golden Age of the day trip.

You can have a go on retro rides from every decade, and visit the the Grade II listed scenic railway, which has been lovingly restored.

There are modern adrenaline-fuelled attractions as well as traditional seaside entertainments like the Big Wheel (you can see right across the town) and the dodgems.

3. See why Turner was inspired

Day Trips

Turner Contemporary Gallery (c) Stephen White

The Turner Contemporary art gallery offers free entry and is right on the harbour at the site where Turner used to live.

From the strikingly modern exterior, to the vibrant ever changing displays inside, this is a world-class gallery featuring the best of contemporary art, as well as acknowledging historical art at the same time.

More than a hundred of Turner’s works, and some of his most famous seascapes, were dreamt up and painted on the East Kent coast – and there are examples of the great man’s work on display.

Once you’ve browsed the galleries, we recommend having a glass of wine or beer on their seafront terrace, it has one of the best views in Margate.

Turner Cafe in Margate (c) Lee Thompson

Turner Cafe in Margate (c) Lee Thompson

4. And for more artistic inspiration

The town has undergone an explosion in its art scene thanks to the Turner Contemporary and places like the Affordably Affordable Street Art Boutique, who are paving the way in showcasing original street art.

This groundbreaking gallery also manages the Margate Street Art wall and they regularly invite artists to add to it and update it.

5. Find out more about the history of Margate

It’s apt that the second oldest building in Margate town should house the Margate Museum.

The building has been a town hall, police station and magistrates’ court – and some of the original features remain (be careful you don’t get locked in the police cells).

You should also visit the Tudor House. The volunteers are happy to give you a guided tour around another of Margate’s oldest buildings.

6. Set your watch by The Clock Tower

This iconic point feature of Margate’s harbour was built in 1889 and opened officially on Queen Victoria’s 80th birthday.

In 2014 the Margate Civic Society raised £16,000 to get the Time Ball in the tower working again after 90 years of inactivity. This small, red, wood and leather ball helped passing ships set the time, as it begins to raise up the tower at 12.55pm before dropping back to the bottom at precisely 1pm.

7. Say hello to the Shell Lady

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Bronze Shell Lady (c) Kirsten Beacock

At the end of the harbour arm is the striking sculpture of “Mrs Booth”, standing 12 feet high and cast in Bronze.

The tribute to J.M.W. Turner’s landlady and lover in Margate is close to her former home (now the Turner Contemporary Gallery). You’ll find her looking out towards the very sea and sky that inspired Turner to paint some of his classic works.

8. See more shells near the seashore

Margate

The Shell Grotto – courtesy Thanet District Council

One of Margate’s enduring mysteries can be discovered at the Shell Grotto, which was discovered in 1835 and is decorated with around 4.6m shells.

Head underground to find out more about these spooky caves, which consist of 70 feet of passageways, before arriving at a chamber featuring a 2000sq ft mosaic.

While you’re walking around the grotto, see if you can figure out if it was a cult headquarters, a pagan temple or just a folly.

The original discovery took Margate residents by surprise, as it wasn’t marked on any maps, and visitors continue to be delighted by it now.

9. Play a game of minigolf

Margate

Strokes Adventure Golf

Play a reasonably-priced round at Strokes Adventure Golf, an 18 hole minigolf course overlooking Westbrook Bay and the sea.

The course is actually used by the British Minigolf Association for their prestigious British International Open, so see how you get on with the water features and natural hazards round the circuit.

It’s open in spring, summer and autumn.

Day trips

View of a Margate sunset from Strokes Adventure Golf course

10. See a show by the sea

things to do in Margate

Theatre Royal Margate (c) Nicole Black

You can see stand-up comedy, theatre productions and even pantomimes at the second oldest working theatre in the UK. The Theatre Royal Margate is now a Grade II* listed building, and you will be watching the shows on the oldest Georgian stage in the country.

The Winter Gardens, opened in 1911, has been putting on shows for over a century, except when it was used to receive troops during the evacuation of Dunkirk. Wartime entertainment included performances from forces sweetheart Vera Lynne as well as comedians Laurel and Hardy.

The Beatles did a set there in 1963, but more recently the likes of Blur, Ocean Colour Scene and Graham Norton have appeared on stage.

things to do in Margate

The Winter Gardens in Margate

You can also see comedy, poetry, burlesque and live bands at one of the smallest theatres in the world. The family-run Tom Thumb Theatre in Cliftonville was converted from a Victorican coach house in 1984 into an unusual blend of Japanese and Alpine Architecture.

11. Feel the wind in your hair on a coastal walk

Margate

Botany Bay near Margate (c) VisitEngland / Diana Jarvis

The Viking Coastal Trail passes through Margate, and while the whole trek is 27 miles, you can do little snippets of the walk along the distinctive chalk cliffs and sandy beaches that make up this corner of Kent.

If you want an art-themed walk, try the four mile Turner and Dickens Walk, where you can see the Margate sites linked to the artist JMW Turner and end up in Broadstairs, which has the Dickens House Museum

There are black and white signs along the route to guide you.

12. And you can also do it by bike

See more of the North Thanet coast by cycle, starting at the sea wall at Margate Station and then heading west along the chalk cliffs for eight miles.

The route is mainly flat and on paths, and you can also walk along here, but there is a section specially for cyclists if the tide has come in and you don’t want to get your feet wet.

You can take in marshlands, sandy coves and visit Reculver Country Park (which has a Roman Fort) en route.

There are a couple of cycle hire shops in Margate, like Bike Shed and Ken’s Bike Shop, if you don’t have your bike with you.

If you visit the town in March, you might catch the Margate Beach Cross, which sees quad and trail bikes tearing up the sand in a series of high-octane events.

13. Stroll in one of Margate’s parks

If you don’t want to head to the coast, a little further inland is a classic Victorian open space, Dane Park.

There are still plenty of 19th Century features to enjoy, including the ornamental wrought iron gates at the Park Road entrance and the memorial fountain.

You’ll find a large children’s play area here, if you want to entertain the kids away from the beach and arcades.

14. Eat fish and chips at the beach

Margate

Fish & Chips (c) Sarah Neeworth

Few things in life taste better than eating fish and chips with the salty taste of the sea air to compliment the food.

Peter’s Fish Factory is perhaps the most famous chippy, as it’s right on the harbour, opposite the beach steps. It has a little outdoor seating area, and usually has the catch of the day, if you want to try something different to cod or sole.

There are also plenty of fish stalls, like Mannings Seafood, to get some smaller snacks, like cockles and prawns.

15. Or how about a pint?

The Lifeboat does a good range of cider, as well as a Kentish menu if you are feeling peckish. It’s a traditional pub with a small outside seated area.

The Orb is a popular gastro pub, with an extensive menu, and plenty of real ales on tap.

If you want a drink on the harbour side, you can try the Lighthouse Bar. They have outdoor seating for the nicer weather and a wood burning stove inside for when its a bit colder.

They do a great Bloody Mary as well as having a large wine and bottled beer list.

Margate

Bloody Marys at the Lighthouse Bar (c) Kirsten Beacock

16. Play with some trains

The Hornby Visitor Centre has model railways and Scalextric layouts to play with, ideal if the weather isn’t great.

Along with the intereactive exhibits, there are plenty or rare items from toy manufactures Hornby, Scalextric, Airfix and Corgi to look at.

They also have a nice cafe, complete with table football game, and a shop.

17. Or finally browse the independent shopping scene

The old town has plenty of winding streets to get lost in and there are galleries, craft and vintage fashion emporiums to visit.

For gifts, you could try Crafted Naturally, who have a range of locally sourced products in a colourful setting or for antiques and other collectables, visit Paraphernalia Antiques & Vintage.

If you want to pick up a bit of reading matter on your trip, try Tiverton Books. They specialise in secondhand books and are tucked underneath the Smiths Court Hotel.

Day Trips

Margate Pier (c) Sarah Neeworth

Staying there

If our guide has inspired you, why not make your visit a longer one? We have plenty of hotels in Margate and the surrounding area, including hotels in Ramsgate .

There are also plenty of other weekend break destinations for you to discover nearby.

Getting there

You can be in Margate in less than two hours from London by train via South Eastern Trains. It’s then a short walk down to the beach, passing the arcades and Dreamland along the way.

If you are driving, it can take just over two hours (depending on traffic) straight down the M2.

What are your Margate tips?

Live in Margate or are you already a fan of this seaside town? We’d love to hear what your favourite things to do in Margate are.

Please share your recommendations by leaving a comment below.

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About Author

Kirsten is the chief blogger here at lastminute.com. A former newspaper journalist (don’t hold that against her), having taken extensive trips to China, America and Australasia, she is now pouring her passion for travel into writing blogs and features for the lastminute.com website. Arriving in London via exotic Scunthorpe, Kirsten has made it her mission to try out as many pubs and restaurants as she possibly can in the capital.

1 Comment

  1. Dear All,

    we are planning to visit MARGATE during our Motorcycle Trip in 2017.
    A couple of years ago I saw a TV report about Margate and an old fashioned
    Hotel was shown where they celebrate “D-day” in old uniforms etc. is this still
    the case and where about is this to be found? Is the old left alone Roller coaster
    still to be seen?
    with kind regards from Hannover, Germany

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