A town guide to Sandwich, Kent
- Credit: Archant
One of the ancient Cinque Ports, this medieval gem of a town is a real treat for history lovers, with plenty of family activities nearby too. Let’s take a generous bite out of life in Sandwich
One of the best-preserved medieval towns in England, the heart of Sandwich is surrounded by the remains of an ancient wall which has both protected it from invaders and seemingly frozen it in time.
Lining the narrows streets are dozens of listed buildings, including Tudor inns and cottages, the Elizabethan Guildhall, the 14th-century Fisher Gate and the Sandwich Weavers Building. In fact, Strand Street is thought to feature the longest unbroken stretch of ancient timber-framed buildings in England.
Taking a tour is a great way to see all the town’s historical highlights. Sandwich Local History Society runs guided walking tours or you can pick up a self-guided town trail map at the visitor information point at the Guildhall Museum.
On your walk, look out for the blue plaque on the former home of political theorist Thomas Paine, who migrated to America in 1774 and not only inspired the colony’s struggle for independence but also coined the phrase ‘The United States of America.’
It’s hard to imagine this quiet little town was once a major port. Reaching the height of its power between the 11th and 13th centuries, it wasn’t until the sea started to recede and the River Stour silt up in the 16th century that its fortunes changed. It’s now a two-mile journey to the coast and the river is only deep enough for smaller pleasure craft.
If you’re keen to take to the water, however, hop aboard The Sandwich River Bus. It’s been operating here since 1999 and offers a range of trips, including a visit to the local seal colony. Or use its river bus services to explore the nearby ruins of Richborough Roman Fort.
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As you would expect, Sandwich is within easy reach of a number of lovely beaches. Sandwich Bay is a long stretch of sand and shingle, while Pegwell Bay has a sandy part that’s popular with families.
Another of the town’s claims to fame is its two first-class coastal golf courses – Royal St George’s and Prince’s. In the fifties and sixties James Bond author Ian Fleming had a house in nearby St Margaret’s Bay and was a member of Royal St George’s, using it as the setting for some of the scenes in his novel Goldfinger.
Visitor attractions are in no short supply either and include the White Mill Rural Heritage Centre, which was built in 1760 and still runs with most of its original wooden machinery, and the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Trust, one of the most important birdwatching sites in the country.
A tiny medieval town with narrow streets is probably the last place you might expect to find The Salutation Gardens but here they are, 3.7 acres of formal gardens nestled on the banks of the river. These are the grounds of the Grade I listed manor house designed by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens – now The Salutation boutique hotel – and had been neglected for decades until they were opened to paying visitors 10 years ago.
A further attraction is due to open in the town this spring and is bound to prove popular with families. The owners of Wingham Wildlife Park are set to open a second small conservation zoo for endangered animals called Sandwich Wildlife Park. The zoo will take the place of the Rare Species Conservation Centre, which closed in 2015.
And if you need more reason to visit this lovely part of Kent, there are all sorts of exciting regular events planned throughout the year. Don’t miss the food fayre held each May, the French celebration called Le Weekend in June and the excellent annual Sandwich Festival, due this year between 23 and 27 of August.
Shopping and eating
If you’re a fan of cosy, historic pubs, look no further. Just a handful of those on offer are The George & Dragon, The King’s Arms, The Crispin Inn and The Hop & Huffkin. The Bell Hotel is situated down on the quay and is a lovely spot for lunch on a sunny day and the restaurant at The Salutation boutique hotel is highly recommended.
Other great restaurants include Luigi’s Italian, Charlie’s Bistro and the charming Mermaid’s Locker ale house and restaurant. Stop in for a snack at Goats That Dance, The Beach Hut Café or Scrumalicious Cake Company, and enjoy a glass of wine in the stunning Rosa’s Vinarium (see our Postcard from Sandwich). Explore the many independent stores, gift shops, vintage and antique shops.
Sandwich has a lot going for it and property prices in the area remain reasonable compared with much of the county. You’ll pay more to live in the historic heart of the town and flats are in short supply. Expect to pay from around £250,000 for a two-bed apartment and between £280,000 and £530,000 for a three-bed house. Larger homes are available up to around £1million.
Sandwich is around two miles from the east coast of Kent, between Ramsgate and Deal. Reach it via the A256, accessed from Dover to the south, or the A257 from Canterbury to the west. There’s a station (1.5 hours into London St Pancras) and good bus and coach links.
Satnav: CT13 9AH
Postcard from Sandwich
My name is Cristiano Maiello. I was born in Naples but five years ago I decided to move to London, looking to open an Italian wine bar. I lived in London for almost three years trying to find a nice location but I never really found something that would give me the right inspiration.
I met Stephen Fairfax, who is an interior designer, and he introduced me to Kent. One lovely summer’s day, we came to Sandwich and fell in love with the place. We took the decision to come here to live.
Stephen opened an interior design shop here and we started looking for a location for the bar. One morning we saw a closed shop up for rent in King Street. It was a truly wonderful shop, part of a period building, and had been closed for about two years. We immediately fell in love with it because everything inside the shop was original and it was something very unique. In August 2016, Rosa’s Vinarium finally opened its doors.
Spending time here is a pleasurable experience, from sipping excellent wines to sampling a simple plate of Italian cold cuts and cheeses, all with a background of jazz or lounge music and lit by candles. Let’s not forget the beauty and uniqueness of the interior furnishings, much of which has remained unchanged for more than 100 years. There is always a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.
Life in Sandwich, especially for me as an Italian, is so much calmer and I have met many extremely kind and friendly people. Sandwich is a little gem in Kent.
The George and Dragon in Fisher Street is my favourite pub - an ancient building with a magical atmosphere in winter when the fireplace keeps us warm. The Hop and Huffkin in New Street is perfect if you love Kent’s local food and drink, and also if you are a lover of live music.
I can’t forget Luigi’s Neapolitan pizzeria where Luigi and Luisa make me feel like I’m at home in Naples. And if you’re a curious type you can visit some of our famous vintage and antique stores to pick up some beautiful items for the home.