10 great reasons to visit Maidstone
- Credit: Archant
As our county town and one of our biggest leisure and retail hubs, it attracts a lot of Christmas shoppers at this time of year. Take time to take a look at what else Maidstone has to offer
1 Shop ‘til you drop
Maidstone has always had great shopping but thanks to the Fremlin Walk shopping centre, opened in 2005, and the newly refurbished The Mall, it ranks right up there as one Kent’s top shopping meccas. Fremlin Walk boasts a main ‘anchor’ House of Fraser store, along with around 50 other shops, cafés, banks and restaurants. Zara, River Island, Topshop, H&M and HMV are some of the main attractions. Across town at The Mall there is Wilko, New Look, TJ Hughes and many more. Explore the High Street, King Street, Gabriel’s Hill and Week Street for more, and take time to visit the Royal Star Arcade and the Market Buildings off Earl Street for small, independent stores.
2 A river runs through it
Visitors to Maidstone are often in too much of a rush to notice the pretty riverside setting of our county town but locals make the most of the river. For boats owners, the towpaths along the river in the centre of town have recently been revamped and walkers and cyclists can enjoy the 10km Millennium River Park route from Teston Country Park through Maidstone to Allington Lock. The river is popular with fans of water sports, with a canoe trail and a popular rowing club. And for a more a leisurely look at the river, board the Kentish Lady cruiser for a one or three-hour trip.
3 History comes alive
A stunning blend of old and new, the main part of Maidstone Museum is an Elizabethan manor house once owned by antiquarian Thomas Charles. He died in 1855, leaving his impressive collections to Maidstone Borough Council. The council later acquired the building too and, in 1858, opened it as one of the UK’s first local authority run museums. Updated with a contemporary new wing in 2010, the museum is now one of the best in the south east, with internationally important collections of art, natural history and human history. Its star exhibits include the ancient Eqyptian mummy of Ta-Kush and a cast of the famous Iguanadon fossils discovered in Maidstone in 1834.
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4 Loveliest castle
Five miles south east of Maidstone is what has been described as ‘one of the loveliest castles in the world’. With Norman origins, Leeds Castle has been owned by many famous royals and nobles in its time – including Henry VIII, who bought it for first wife Catherine of Aragon – and in 1552 it was given to the first of many private owners. The last, Lady Baillie, lived in the castle between 1925 and 1974, painstakingly restoring it to its former glory and hosting extravagant weekend parties for the era’s rich and famous. Visitors now flock to the castle and its 500-acre estate, and at this time of year there’s a Christmas market, Christmas grotto and a winter trail.
5 Riverside palace
It’s easy to miss the historic parts of this ever-expanding town, but if you walk down to the river it’s impossible to miss the impressive Archbishop’s Palace complex. A grand palace once used as a rest stop between London and Canterbury for travelling archbishops, it was built mostly in the 14th century with 16th-century additions. It’s now the town’s register office. A little further on is the parish church of All Saints, founded in 1395 and thought to be the grandest church in Kent built in the ‘perpendicular’ style. And beyond that is the College of All Saints, an ecclesiastical college of which several ancient buildings still survive.
6 At your leisure
When it comes to leisure, Maidstone has it all. Mote Park Leisure Centre has five swimming pools, a two-storey fitness suite, an events hall and a children’s soft play area. Recently refurbished, it also offers fitness classes, swimming lessons, pool parties and an enormous pool inflatable assault course called Aqua Challenge. Meanwhile, nearby Lockmeadow has just been refurbished and is home to the town’s eight-screen Odeon cinema. It also features several restaurants – including the new Gourmet Burger Kitchen – as well as a pub, a bowling centre and an indoor trampoline park.
7 Eating out
A big town like this is unsurprisingly packed with all sorts of places to eat and drink, from the big chains like Pizza Express and Wagamama to tiny independent bars and cafés. Some to look out for include the highly rated La Villetta, MEXIco, artisan café and bakery Finch House, Café Bruges, Leah’s Bistro, Vesuvius and Frederic Café Bistro (don’t miss its wonderful wine and cheese bar next door to the main restaurant). In the surrounding villages there are gems like Fish On The Green in Bearsted, The King’s Arms in Boxley, The Curious Eatery and The Mulberry Tree, both in Boughton Monchelsea, and the new Square Fish Café in Lenham. If real ale pubs are more your thing then Maidstone just happens to boast one of the best in the country, according to CAMRA. The Flower Pot has recently been named one of the top 16 pubs in the country.
8 Get some air
The largest park in the area, at 450 acres, Mote Park is a beautiful green space close to the centre of town. Once the private grounds of Mote House, which has been converted to a luxury retirement village, the park features a 30-acre lake with excellent water sport facilities, along with streams, woodland, grassland, walking and cycle paths, a BMX track, pitch and putt golf course, a model railway, sports pitches and a good café. For children, there is a good play area already, with plans to create a further ‘adventure zone’ area.
9 Take in a show
The charming Hazlitt Theatre and Arts Centre has been in operation since 1955 and is named after the famous essayist William Hazlitt, born in Maidstone in 1778. A theatre with around 350 seats, the venue plays host to all sorts of drama, music, dance and comedy shows and, at this time of year, the annual pantomime. This year it’s Cinderella, starring Stefan Booth and Rustie Lee. The theatre is also home to Maidstone Film Society, a youth theatre group, Hazlitt Choir and a number of other local groups.
10 Down on the farm
Not to be confused with a certain magazine of a similar name, Kent Life Heritage Farm Park is a 28-acre farm attraction and heritage museum that once formed part of Allington Castle’s estate. It opened in 1985 and has been introducing families to farm animals, farm machinery and historic buildings ever since. Some buildings, including historic hoppers’ huts, farmers’ cottages, a working blacksmith’s forge and the old village hall from Ulcombe, have been moved here piece by piece from threatened sites across Kent. As well as the usual farm animals to meet, children can let of steam in the play barn and decorate pottery at the Paint-a-Pot workshop. A recent addition to the site is the excellent new Kent Owl Academy, which is well worth a visit.