10 reasons to visit Maidstone
- Credit: Archant
On the banks of the Medway and boasting great shopping, dining and cultural attractions, our county town is great to visit at any time of year
1. Ready, steady, shop
Kent’s county town is a great place for big brand shopping, thanks to a busy High Street and two main shopping centres. Recently refurbished, The Mall (previously The Chequers) has three floors of stores, including Next, Boots and a large Wilko. Or head to the open-air Fremlin Walk Shopping Centre for House of Fraser, H&M, Zara, Waterstones and many more. Explore the Royal Star Arcade and the Market Buildings for independent gems like Salamander, Maidstone Health Foods and Hop Stitch & Jumper.
2. Town museum
The original part of Maidstone Museum is a 16th-century manor house, bought by the town in 1856 after its owner, local doctor and historian Thomas Charles, bequeathed his collection of books, antiques and art to the people of Maidstone. Now with a striking modern extension, the collections include fossils, an ancient Egyptian mummy, clothing throughout the ages, local archaeological finds and fine art. In December there are Christmas craft days and markets and a fireside grotto.
3. Relaxing river
Once a busy highway for trade, the river that winds its way through Maidstone’s heart is now a place for relaxation and leisure. Walkers can take advantage of the Maidstone Millennium River Park, which runs the 10km from Allington Lock to Teston Lock. Boat lovers can enjoy a guided cruise on The Kentish Lady, or for the adventurous, use the Environment Agency’s Medway Canoe Trail, which has a section running right through Maidstone.
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4. Eating out
There’s everything from big chain restaurants to small, quirky independents in Maidstone. Just a few to try include La Villetta, Mu Mu, Frederic Café Bistro, Artemis, La Taberna, Gaab Khao, The Living Café, Finch House and Harpers Coffee and Gifts. A new café not to be missed is the charming Old Boat Café set on a canal boat at Fairmeadow. For something out of the ordinary, try Caribbean restaurant Jerk Shack.
5. Green spaces
There are several parks and recreation grounds but nothing rivals Mote Park for size or popularity. The former grounds of Moat House, the 440-acre park has a huge lake with water sports facilities, a model railway, children’s play area and café. A three-year scheme of improvements will include adding a new visitor centre and café. A little further afield, visit Cobtree Manor Park in Sandling or head to Teston Country Park for a walk along the river.
6. Leisure time
Mote Park Leisure Centre has five swimming pools, a two-storey fitness suite and a children’s soft play area, while the recently refurbished Lockmeadow is home to the town’s eight-screen Odeon cinema, along with several restaurants, a bowling centre and indoor trampoline park. Head to the Hazlitt Theatre and Corn Exchange for live music, drama, comedy and dance. This year’s pantomime is Aladdin (1-31 Dec).
7. Ancient stones
The Archbishop’s Palace on the riverbank may now be used as a register office, but it has been an integral part of Maidstone’s story since it was founded in the 14th century. Close by is the parish church of All Saints, built in 1395 and considered Kent’s finest example of a church built in the ‘perpendicular style’. Combine a love of history and Spanish food at La Taberna restaurant, set in 15th-century Corpus Christi Hall.
8. Farming heritage
Kent Life Heritage Farm Park is a 28-acre farm attraction and rural heritage museum in Sandling. Home to many farm animals, farm machinery and buildings, there’s a working forge, cottages, hoppers’ huts and the old village hall from nearby Ulcombe to explore. Children can enjoy a tractor ride and let off steam in the outdoor play area and soft play barn.
9. Loveliest castle
Famously the prettiest castle in the world, Leeds Castle is just a short drive away. Norman in origin and celebrating its 900th anniversary in 2019, it has been owned by many famous royals and nobles in its time, including Henry VIII, who bought it for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. There’s a 500-acre estate to explore and this month, popular Christmas markets, a Christmas grotto and a winter trail.
10. Goat rescue
Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats, in nearby Boughton Monchelsea, first began when Bob and Valerie Hitch offered a home to two unwanted goats in 1989. By 2003, there were so many of the animals coming from across the country that it became the only registered charity in the UK to care solely for the welfare of goats. Now home to around 150 of the playful creatures, the sanctuary is open to visitors every day between April and October, and every weekend from November to April. There are also annual open days and gift experiences, including walking with goats and keeper days.