A town guide to Margate
- Credit: Archant
Margate has one of the closest sandy beaches to London, it’s been packing in the day-trippers for centuries and now boasts added cultural regeneration
As the weather warms up and our thoughts turn to sun, sand and sea, Margate is set for another summer of love. The once-jaded holiday resort was first labelled ‘up and coming’ eight years ago, when the Turner Contemporary art gallery opened on its seafront. Now it’s fully fledged as Kent’s trendiest hotspot, with plenty of vintage seaside charm, a retro amusement park, modern art gallery and hipster eateries.
What drew Georgian and Victorian tourists to this part of the ‘Kent Riviera’ in the first place remains at its heart. The vast sandy beaches, the sparkling blue sea, the wide open skies and the stunning sunsets are still what gives Margate the wow factor.
The town’s central beach, Margate Main Sands, is Blue Flag award-winning and with its golden sand, small tidal pool and children’s rides, it is perfect for families.
To one side of the bay is the harbour arm, with its tiny independent cafés, galleries, a micropub and the Lighthouse Bar. The shell lady statue at the end of the pier is a brass sculpture of Mrs Booth, artist JMW Turner’s Margate landlady and mistress. The striking art gallery named in his honour stands nearby; on the beach in front is a lone Antony Gormley figure braced against the waves.
One of the knock-on effects that opening the gallery has had is the regeneration of the Old Town. Its tiny streets are now lined with independent shops selling vintage furniture, unique homeware and quirky fashion, and there are bars, cafés and restaurants galore.
Another piece of regeneration has taken place at nearby Dreamland, praised for its role in the successful regeneration of Margate in the recent House of Lords Select Committee report on The Future of Seaside Towns (4 April). One of the world’s oldest surviving amusement parks, it was revived after a long closure in 2015.
- 1 Win a luxury Christmas hamper worth £250 from Bakers & Larners of Holt
- 2 Christmas markets in and around the Cotswolds
- 3 WIN a stunning Jo Downs art piece worth £520
- 4 8 beautiful towns in Kent to visit over Christmas
- 5 Christmas in Hertfordshire 2021: Top festive markets
- 6 Win a £5000 staycation in Cornwall
- 7 Magical Christmas markets in Surrey 2021
- 8 12 of the best Christmas events in Surrey
- 9 Win a theatre break in Manchester to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- 10 Everything you need to know about Sarah Beeny's move to Somerset
The 12-acre seaside park has 24 vintage rides, including the famous Scenic Railway wooden rollercoaster, and is a popular social space with landscaped seating areas, performance stages, and many food and drink outlets. It also hosts high-profile music events. Look out for Finlay Quaye (10 May), Annie Mac (18 May), Mac DeMarco (29 June) and Happy Mondays (13 July). Dreamland is free to enter until 24 May.
And after years of planning and fundraising, work on the new Margate Caves visitor centre in Northdown Road has begun. A new entrance is being created into the chalk caves beneath, which will reopen to the public later this year after being threatened with redevelopment.
Building work could only take place after a detailed archaeological dig at the site, which revealed many fascinating items including an Iron Age skeleton. As well as access to the restored 18th-century caves, there will be a shop and café, an exhibition space and flexible community rooms.
If you’re interested in the caves, don’t miss the magical little Shell Grotto on Grotto Hill, thought to have been discovered in the 1830s. Nobody yet knows who built the winding, shell-encrusted passageway, which features around 4.6 million shells.
It’s open to the public daily in summer.
One of the best things about a visit to this vibrant area is that there’s so much to see and do within walking distance. Passing the Turner Contemporary towards Cliftonville, you’ll see the Margate Winter Gardens, built in 1911 and sunk into the seafront so as not to obscure the view, and the sadly closed lido complex. Even here, there are exciting plans afoot. Developers are in talks to build a hotel and apartments into the cliff face.
Further on is the tiny Tom Thumb Theatre and the charming Walpole Bay Hotel. Head down to the beach from here and you’ll discover one of the area’s other treasures. Built in 1937 and covering an area of four acres, the Walpole Bay Tidal Pool is loved by the keen local outdoor swimming community and is popular with families in the summer months.
Explore further afield for more excellent beaches, including Joss Bay and Botany Bay, and for the nearby town of Broadstairs, with its central beach and links to Dickens.
One of the best-known prizes for visual arts in the world will be hosted at the Turner Contemporary this year.
A focal point for Margate’s cultural regeneration since it opened in 2011, the gallery is set to fulfil its destiny by hosting the prize named after the artist JMW Turner – who lived and painted in the very spot where it now stands. The prize visits venues outside London every two years.
Four of the most exciting current artists are shortlisted to win the prize, based on an outstanding exhibition that has taken place in the previous year. The names of these artists were still to be announced at the time of writing, and the exhibition will take place between September 2019 and January 2020. The winner will be announced at a major awards ceremony this December. www.turnercontemporary.org
Shopping and eating
Vintage clothing and furniture are provided by Peony Vintage, Madam Popoff, Junk Deluxe, RG Scott Furniture Mart and Breuer & Dawson. Other favourites include Little Bit, Artisans & Adventurers, Lombard Street Gallery, The Old Bank Book Shop, The Light Keeper, Mor, Urchin Wines, Haeckels, WerkHaus and The Old Kent Market.
The Kentish Pantry was a runner up in the best independent food and drink retailer category of our Kent Life Food & Drink Awards 2018.
Eating out here is a pleasure too. Seek out The Old Post Office, Buoy & Oyster, The Ambrette, Mar Mar café, Angela’s seafood restaurant, GB Pizza Co, Roost (it’s won our family dining category the last two years in a row), Olivo, The Bus Café, Bottega Caruso, Bow’s Kitchen, Mulllins Brasserie, Hantverk & Found, Cliffs, Café G and Cheesy Tiger.
There are many holiday accommodation options, including The Sands Hotel, The Reading Rooms and the Walpole Bay Hotel. Indie band The Libertines are even converting a run-down hotel in Cliftonville into their own hotel/bar/recording studio called The Albion Rooms.
Postcard from Margate
We are Rae Jones and Cynthia Lawrence-John, and we are WerkHaus Margate, an independent fashion boutique, located in the heart of Margate’s Old Town.
We launched WerkHaus Margate in August 2017 as a pop-up shop, with a permanent store following soon after. Cynthia is an established fashion director, magazine editor, stylist and costume designer. Rae is an established accessories and footwear designer, with her own accessories label called Buckitt.
We stock hand selected vintage pieces alongside modern workwear and denim brands. The ethos of WerkHaus is to offer women modern clothing with utilitarian and military traits and details, which are practical, flattering and stylish. Future plans include developing our own line of WerkHaus Margate clothing and accessories and we also aim to develop creative workshops held in the store.
Some of our top things to do are: visit Margate Museum (it’s so interesting and too often overlooked), go to Tom Thumb Theatre and go to Margate Arts Club for dancing and general madness. Top places to eat and drink include Angela’s delicious fresh fish restaurant, Bottega Caruso, Curve coffee roasters, Dalby Café and Cyril’s for a takeaway sarnie. Look out for Northdown Brewery (visit their saloon on a weekend), Urchins Wine store, Modern Provider for bread and cakes, Ramsey and Williams for vintage furniture, and Breuer & Dawson for the best men’s vintage clothing. Visit www.werkhausmargate.com