Loved by Turner and Tracey Emin, Margate has transformed since I first visited. So, if you are looking for somewhere to go this August bank holiday, here’s my quick guide
I grew up in Kent but we seldom made the short journey to Margate because, to be brutally honest, it was just too shabby. Having tempted first Georgian and then Victorian tourists to travel from London to promenade along its sandy beaches the resort fell out of favour in the 70s when holidaymakers were able to fly cheaply to Europe. I remember boarded up arcades and the odd desolate fish & chip shop on my childhood outings.
But, all that has changed. Lonely Planet has named Margate as one of the top places in the world to visit in 2022 and it is set for stardom as the location for the director Sam Mendes’s latest film, Empire of Light.
Margate’s regeneration started in 2011 with the opening of the Turner Contemporary art gallery. Then the old Dreamland amusement park (first built in 1920) was reopened including its wooden roller coaster, the oldest in the UK and Grade II listed.
For something completely different, book a visit to The Shell Grotto. Discovered by chance in 1835, the subterranean grotto’s curving chalk walls are studded with 4.6 million shells. No one seems to know who built it or why but its a unique way to while away an hour or so.
I don’t want to over-sell the town, to be honest the sea front is still pretty tatty, but step back into the cobbled lanes of the old town and you will find some lovely vintage shops and contemporary art galleries, such as the Pie Factory, as well as interesting restaurants and bars. And the architecture is fascinating, ranging from flint fisherman’s cottages and grand Georgian townhouses to Victorian villas.
Margate is an interesting mix of crowded bars and bespoke B&Bs, kiss-me-quick hats and art galleries. In the words of Tracey Emin “Margate’s never been easy, always hard. ‘If you want a dirty weekend, go to Margate,’ I always say. You can be as dirty as you like. Van Gogh and Turner, Ronnie Biggs and the Krays all went there. Romans, Vikings, Hell’s Angels, teds, mods, rockers and punks, they all fought there.”
I’m not advocating a dirty weekend necessarily, but for a fun couple of days with some culture thrown in I loved Margate. Sort of Shoreditch by the sea.
Eating & Sleeping
We stayed at the gorgeous Reading Rooms B&B. This Georgian property has been lovingly renovated with minimal decoration so that you can really savour the architectural detailing. Breakfast is served to your room in a wicker hamper so that you can enjoy it sitting by the floor to ceiling windows that look out over the square. (There are only two rooms available, we stayed in the Salon)
We had a lovely lunch at The George & Heart inn, and apparently they also have rooms, so you can just rock up the stairs from the cosy bar at the end of the night.
Bottega Caruso is an exceptional, family run Italian restaurant, but make sure you book in advance. Saragasso, on the harbour arm, has been getting rave reviews, I haven’t been yet, but we are planning a return trip specifically to eat there. There are some quirky bars on the harbour arm too.
There is a direct train from St Pancras to Margate which takes just over 90 minutes. Margate station is a very short walk from the beach front, so you won’t have to go far to pick up your bucket and spade.