A town guide to Ramsgate: What to do, see and eat
- Credit: Manu Palomeque
There’s a truly continental feel to this regal coastal town. With plenty of historic sites to explore and healthy outdoor activities to enjoy, let’s take a tour of Ramsgate
As one of the closest towns to mainland Europe, Ramsgate rapidly developed from a quiet fishing village into a busy port. During the town's heyday, in the 19th century, it was one of the most fashionable and upmarket seaside resorts in the country and still boasts fine Georgian, Regency and Victorian architecture.
It was so highly thought of, particularly by the nobility, that it became home to the only Royal Harbour in the country. Granted the unique title by George IV in 1821, it was later a favourite of Queen Victoria, who stayed in what is now the town's Albion House Hotel to recover from illness.
Many visitors head straight for the harbour and adjacent marina to gaze at the yachts, and the excellent Maritime Museum is a great place to start if you're keen to learn about the area's seafaring heritage. The busiest times of year for the harbour are undoubtedly during the Ramsgate Week sailing regatta each July, and December when the boats put on a superb display of Christmas lights.
If you're keen to get on the water yourself, there are boat tours, fishing trips, seal spotting and visits to the offshore windfarm. The nearby Goodwin Sands has recently been designated a Marine Conservation Zone, expanding Britain's so-called 'Blue Belt' of protected habitats.
Although its cross-channel ferry terminal closed in 2013, the commercial Port of Ramsgate deals with huge amounts of freight each year and there have been various attempts to reopen the port to ferry passengers. Most recently, with ferry plans falling though, a feasibility study has been commissioned to consider both that option and a suggested master plan for the regeneration of the 32-acre site.
With superb beaches and a focus on outdoor activities, it's no surprise that Ramsgate is a popular centre for surfing, cycling and sailing, and in recent years it has become a nationally important site for kitesurfing.
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Both Ramsgate Main Sands and Ramsgate Western Undercliff beaches were Seaside Award winners this year, with clean, safe water for swimming.
Due to its proximity to Europe, Ramsgate has long played an important part in defending the country. It was one of the main embarkation points for soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars and was the main harbour used by the 'Little Ships' during the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Marking its 80th anniversary this year, the Ramsgate Tunnels attraction has recently been upgraded with new experiences and a new vintage-themed café to encourage more visitors to explore the wartime shelter.
Designed to house up to 60,000 people during the air raids that plagued the southeast during the Second World War, the site recreates what wartime life underground would have been like.
A special 1940s event was held to celebrate its milestone in June, with members of the public treated to a Dad's Army style variety show outside the tunnels and anniversary tours below ground. A 'Moaning Minnie' air raid siren was even heard across the town to mark the occasion.
One of Ramsgate's most famous former residents has recently been honoured too. A bronze finish bust of Vincent Van Gogh was unveiled in Spencer Square in June by the renowned sculptor Anthony Padgett. One of seven busts he made of the artist, they have each been gifted to towns around Europe which were important to Van Gogh during his lifetime. He lived and worked in Ramsgate in 1876, spending a happy summer teaching at a boy's school in Spencer Square itself.
While exploring the town, be sure to visit the Italianate Glasshouse in King George VI Park. Now a charming tea room, the glasshouse dates back to 1832 and belonged to the now-demolished East Cliff Lodge. Filled with beautiful plants, it really is a treat for garden lovers.
Shopping and eating
Browse a few of Ramsgate's independent stores like The Saltworks, Nice Things, Vinyl Head Records, Ramsgate Thrift Store and the enormous Petticoat Lane Emporium.
The Military Road arches are home to a number of quirky small businesses, including Something Fishy art gallery, Arch 20 studio and gallery, Arch 16 vintage and retro, Ship Shape café, Archive and Coco Latino.
Eat out at places like The Falstaff, Townleys at Albion House, Royal Harbour Brasserie, Il Tricolore, CCCP, Flavours by Kumar, Shakey Shakey fish bar and The Empire Room, and there are plenty of cafés, including Corby's Tea Rooms, The Hive, Zest (see below), Eats 'n' Beats and The Home Front.
Have a drink at The Churchill Tavern, The Royal Victoria Pavilion, The Hovelling Boat Inn micropub or The Conqueror alehouse. The town even has its own grassroots independent music venue, the excellent Ramsgate Music Hall.
Postcard from Ramsgate
I'm Tyler and together with Chris, we run Zest café and cocktail bar in Ramsgate. We opened in September 2018. The concept was pretty simple: we wanted to make it fun and casual.
I've spent most of my career working in fine dining and celebrity chef restaurants and Chris managed an exclusive nightclub. Neither of us really understood why enjoying great food and drink involved 18 types of forks and a GCSE in French. We took the technical skills we learnt elsewhere and used them to design a street food-style menu with fine dining techniques, creating a place everyone can eat no matter the dietary requirements.
Our cocktails follow the same concept. High-quality spirits, fresh juices and fresh ideas. We make our own syrups, bitters and jams so we've got a lot of freedom when it comes to designing drinks. Our lemongrass martini is a good example - it would be impossible to make with commercially available ingredients.
The business community here is so welcoming, and we actually look forward to visiting the greengrocer or florist because it's like dropping by to say hello to a friend.
Ramsgate itself is gorgeous; one of our favourite things to do on a Sunday after work is thrown together an experimental cocktail, pour it in a thermos and take it with us to the beach, cliffs or park.
We've got so much natural beauty here and we try to take advantage as much as possible. I'm also a thrifting addict and the Ramsgate Thrift Store at the top of the High Street is perfect for grabbing some cool quirky pieces.
See the Facebook page here