For Londoners, a getaway to the quintessential English seaside is the ultimate summer thrill – that is when you’re on lockdown and leaving the country isn’t really an option. Fish and chips by the sea, sunbathing near brightly coloured beach sheds and devouring rock candy to the sound of children in arcades is just what the doctor ordered. Here are the highlights from our staycation in the seaside towns of Margate and Broadstairs in Kent.
A train from London Victoria to Margate is a breezy 1 hour 50 minutes, even faster when going at high speed via St Pancras. Pack the bag full of snacks and it beats flying any day. Margate has a history with Londoners, being a leading seaside resort over the centuries it has also had its highs and lows. In fact, it went from being quite dishevelled and rundown with the closure of vintage theme park Dreamland but has had its revival since it reopened and is now very popular with Londoners chasing housing prices that can actually put them on the property ladder. It’s nicknamed Shoreditch-by-the-sea, inundated by a culture-lead generation of East London hipsters who have chosen life in a quiet seaside town over the hustle of the big smoke.
But that’s not all that makes Margate an ideal destination for a short holiday. Sure, it’s got a massive main beach and a host of great seafood restaurants, but also tucked away in Old Town you’ll find an abundance of quirky antique and vintage shops and a fair share of funky bars and hipster hangouts. With the 2011 opening of the Turner Contemporary gallery – named for the painter who visited the town throughout his life, it truly is living up to its reputation as an artists hub.
Situated between Margate and Ramsgate, one could say that neighbouring Broadstairs is an even more ideal coastal town. Along with its connection to author Charles Dickens, it’s known as one of the most popular destinations to live by the seaside and I can absolutely see why. It’s family-friendly beaches such as Viking Bay and Joss Bay are a much more pleasant way to avoid the daytrippers on Margate’s main sands. Souvenir shops, ice cream parlours and shacks selling floaties, buckets and spades line the beach at Viking Bay. The Pavillion, Charles Dickens and Royal Albion (which also doubles as a lovely hotel) are great places to have a decent meal and refreshing beer overlooking the seafront, yet there are a plethora of fine places to dine. On a clear day, you can apparently see Dunkirk, France across the sea.
Where to stay in Margate:
About a 25-minute walk into Margate (or a cheap £3 taxi), the beautiful Walpole Bay Hotel in Cliftonville was originally built in 1914 and continues to be restored to its original glory, including a working 1927 Otis Trellis elevator. Walpole’s long bay is famous for its tidal pool, literally, a pool built into the sea only a stone’s throw from the hotel, where walking the concrete border during low tide is a pastime we had to partake in. The hotel is also a living museum, with artefacts and antiques throughout, it’s like stepping back into a bygone era. The beautiful veranda, covered with brightly coloured flowers is the perfect spot to enjoy afternoon tea.
We were absolutely delighted with the attentive service and our stay overall. Just a word of warning, as with most hotels in England, there is no air conditioning and a small fan did not provide much relief from the sweltering August heat.
Activities for kids in Margate:
The rides at Dreamland are currently closed due to COVID-19, but there’s the famous Grade I listed Shell Grotto and a variety of amusements such as the Flamingo Arcade, which also has Lost Island mini-golf situated underground making it a great option for a rainy day. The Shell Grotto currently has a book ahead requirement with the new COVID restrictions which meant we left it a bit too late to knab a booking. As for the Flamingo, it also shares an arcade in Broadstairs so our tickets were interchangeable between the two which helped to secure a much doted on prize for the little one. Plus, Jamie is pretty good at the claw machine so a cute teddy came home with us as well.
Where to eat in Margate:
We had the most delightful dinner at Buoy and Oyster, a sea-facing restaurant offering fresh seafood and sunsets that would make anyone take out their phone for a snap. Fresh crab, octopus, oysters, mussels, clams and it went on. They even have a pretty balanced kids menu. Book ahead and request a spot on the terrace.
Just before leaving on our final day, we stopped off at the Sun Deck, a food, music and drinks pop up on the beach just across from the station in Margate. Options ranged from a converted double-decker bus serving tea to po boys, pulled pork sandwiches and other choices of street food, with a bar serving drinks to a soundtrack of funk and soul. It’s family-friendly but also a great place to chill out, set back from the beach crowds and of course, the sunsets are meant to be pretty spectacular too. The only downside is we were directed to the public toilets shared with beachgoers which isn’t a quick or pleasant experience.
Also recommended to eat in Margate:
- Angela’s / Dory’s – fresh seafood
- L’olivo – authentic Italian pizza and pasta
- Olby’s Soul Cafe & Music Cafe – try the jalapeno poppers
- Peter’s Fish Factory – fish and chips
- And many more…
WARNING: Avoid Eddessa’s. While this Turkish restaurant was recommended by our hotel, we found the service horrendous, food extremely slow and overpriced for the portion sizes. While we are patient during these challenging times as small businesses come to terms with COVID, there are just more pleasant experiences in town for the money.
We can’t wait to come back to both Margate and Broadstairs for an adult’s holiday to explore all the funky bars and delicious restaurants that were just a tease on this trip. And yes, there are other lovely seaside towns in Kent too. I’m keen to also try bohemian Whistable, lovely Ramsgate and underrated Folkestone in the near future. Who knows, I may become a regular DFL (down-from-Londoner,) as the locals refer to us.