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.
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
10. See a show by the sea
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
There are also plenty of other weekend break destinations for you to discover nearby.
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.