Spotlight on: Whitstable

Whitstable harbour

Whitstable harbour - Credit: Archant

Whitstable has been beguiling visitors for centuries but it’s at this time of year that this dazzling little seaside town ramps up the ‘wow’ factor with its spectacular annual oyster festival

Whitstable’s friendly atmosphere, great restaurants and pubs, creative spirit and independent shops are a breath of fresh, salty sea air.

And it’s in July that the town attracts its biggest number of visitors with the ever-popular oyster festival.

Back from 23 July and 2 August this year, it promises its usual mix of ancient traditions and modern-day entertainment.

But visit Whitstable at any time of year and you’ll be impressed by justhow much is going on here.

The harbour is a great example. A busy, working harbour employing some 150 local people in fishing, shipping, wind farm maintenance and aggregates, it also has a popular fish market and restaurants serving the best of the day’s catch.

It even has its own annual celebration, with the Whitstable Harbour Open Day, happening on 15 August this year.

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A relatively recent addition to the harbour is the Whitstable Harbour Village, a community of artists, artisans and independent retailers based in old fishing huts on the quay since 2007.

Open every weekend and bank holiday, the idea is to create an alternative to out-of-town shopping malls.

Stuart Heaver, the man behind Kentish Trader, which runs the village, explains: “Eight years on, we now we have more than 30 timber fisherman’s huts which act as micro-retail units for Kent-based artists, food producers, artisans and independent retailers.

“It’s estimated that 40 new business have graduated from the village to set up galleries, shops and restaurants across Kent. It represents Whitstable in that it’s local, authentic, maritime and quirky.”

Away from the beach and harbour, the town is flourishing with trendy boutique shopping, top restaurants and quirky retailers.

Not surprisingly, the town has a big creative community too and local art is very popular. More and more shops are stocking it and galleries like The Fish-Slab (CT5 1DB) in the town’s Oxford Street are there to help up-and-coming local artists display their work.

Shopping and eating

For seafood, try the Crab And Winkle (01227 779377, CT5 1AB) and the Harbour Garden Café (01227 271199, CT5 1AB) both in the harbour itself, or the Royal Native Oyster Stores (01227 276856, CT5 1BU) and Pearson’s Arms (01227 773133, CT5 1BT). And of course no trip to Whitstable is complete without a visit to Wheeler’s Oyster Bar (01227 273311, CT5 1BQ).

Other top tips include Samphire (01227 770075, CT5 1BQ), a rustic little bistro serving delicious local food, Krishna Indian restaurant (01227 282639) and the Moroccan Alimo restaurant and bar under the arches (01227 272725, CT5 1DA).

Further afield try the East Coast Dining Room in Tankerton (01227 281180, CT52AJ) and the Michelin-starred The Sportsman in Seasalter (01227 273370, CT5 4BP).

Good pubs include The Old Neptune (01227 272262, CT5 1EJ), right down on the beach and The Ship Centurion (01227 264740, CT5 1AY).

Great places to shop include the Whitstable Harbour Village and also Harbour Street, both filled with individual boutiques, shops and art galleries.

Some of our favourites are The Cheesebox (01227 273711, CT5 1AG), French inspired interiors (CT5 1DA, 01227 634138) (Harbour Books (01227 264011, CT5 1AQ) and Pink Flamingo (01227 275182, CT5 1AF).

Whitstable Oyster Festival

23 July – 2 August

Many people know and love the Whitstable tradition of the oyster festival. It’s been running for 30 years in its current form but its origins go back as far Norman times, when local fishermen held a festival and service of thanksgiving around the feast day of St James of Compostella (25 July).

Many of the traditions – the Blessing of the Waters, the Landing of the Oysters and children building models of mud (or ‘grotters’) topped with oyster shells – date back to this celebration.

But Whitstable is the kind of town that loves to mix old traditions with new ideas. This year, the ever-popular Harbour Food Fair (25 and 26 July), the annual oyster eating challenge and various cooking demonstrations, art workshops and storytelling events will be joined by a new entertainment venue.

With a name voted for by festival goers, The Shuck will provide a new bar, restaurant and venue for music and comedy acts during the festival. Situated in a prime location, with amazing views of Whitstable’s famous sunset, the first few headline acts have been announced with more information available on the festival’s website.

Following their successful performance at last year’s event, The Cuban Brother will bring their full show to The Shuck on 24 July and again on 25 July.

Multi-instrumentalist Tim Edey will headline on 26 July, Razorlight singer Johnny Borrell and his new band Zazou will perform on 29 July, comedian Marcus Brigstocke brings his Comedy Impro All-Stars to the venue on 30 July and Hamish Stuart, formerly of The Average White Band, plays on 31 July.

And loved by millions as Dave Lister from Red Dwarf, although these days he’s better known for his Funk and Soul Show on Radio 6 Music, actor Craig Charles will bring his DJ skills to The Shuck on 1 August.

Information and tickets can be found at

Whitstable’s first Honeybee Day

4 July, Horsebridge Centre, Whitstable

Amanda Lee-Riley of the Whitstable and Herne Bay Beekeepers group tells us about the renewed interest in their unusual hobby.

“I’m one of the local beekeepers, one of a group of around 30-35 in the Whitstable, Herne Bay, Faversham area. I started around five years ago and currently have three hives, hoping soon to have five.

A few years ago, when the many new threats to bees began to be fully recognised, a lot of people wanted to help and quite a few came into beekeeping to try and do so. There are probably 25 per cent more beekeepers now than there were 15 years ago but the number fluctuates a little.

Our Honeybee Day will be on 4 July at the Horsebridge Centre in Whitstable, 11am to 3pm. The event will have displays of local honey, beeswax candles, and samples of honey cake, as well as the opportunity to see how a hive is put together and to learn about how honeybees live in one and what they need to be healthy.

We hope also to have an observation hive that will contain an active colony of honeybees - although they will, obviously, be sealed safely away from the public. The event is free. Full details of the event will be up on our website.”

Visit the group’s website at

MY TOWN: Alison Sturgess, artist

Moored In Whitstable

Tell us a little about yourself

I am an artist and illustrator. After spending 10 years working and painting in the Canary Islands I moved to Whitstable. To be honest it was my partner who introduced me to Whitstable. His family has a long history here and his Grandad spent his working life in the harbour. We both love being part of a thriving and creative community.

Tell us about your work

I am passionate about my beautiful home town. Steeped in nautical history, the traditional oyster beds and working harbour sit alongside breath-taking beaches peppered with colourful beach huts that run as far as the eye can see.

Beyond The Sea Wall is an ongoing series of water colour paintings that delve beyond the coastline and into the quirky alleys, pretty rows of seaside cottages and eclectic shops of the High Street.

The town has such a wealth of architecture and quirky charm from the iconic Wheeler’s Oyster Bar to the Tudor Tea Rooms in all its black and white glory. When walking through the town make sure you look past the shop windows and facades and you will see the true Whitstable.

Your favourite shops to visit?

Harbour Street is definitely my favourite place to enjoy the pretty little shops and boutiques that shelter beneath uneven rooftops. Gorgeous individual buildings house an array of independent shops with the most exquisitely dressed windows such as The Whiting Post (CT5 1AG) and Buttercup (CT5 1AQ) that entice you inside to an Aladdin’s cave of carefully selected gifts with that bespoke personal touch.

Favourite restaurants and pubs?

As an advocate of shopping local it would be difficult to browse the array of shops through the town without popping into The Whitstable Produce Store (CT5 1AJ), a lovely little shop and café that sells and serves great local food and drink. Freshly blended juices and smoothies add to the colourful array of goodies on sale, and are highly recommended!

We are very lucky in Whitstable as we have so many fantastic places to eat and drink, it is so difficult to choose a favourite. Many of the pubs become music venues on regular occasions, which always makes a great night out.

Where can people see your work?

My Beyond The Sea Wall collection is currently previewing at The Whitstable Shop in Harbour Street, which is run by the Whitstable Improvement Trust. Original paintings, giclee prints and art cards are available for purchase and full information about the collection can be found at

Property prices

This popular area isn’t cheap, with one-bed flats starting at around £150,000, two-bed terraces from £220,000 and three-bed semi-detached properties priced between £235,000 and £400,000. At the furthest end of the spectrum, £725,000 will buy you a five-bed home in the heart of Whitstable’s desirable conservation area.

But if you’re looking for a bit of beach life without relocating, how about a beach hut on Whitstable’s West Beach for around £18,000?

Mark Smith (01227 272155) and Miles & Barr (01227 277254) are two of several local estate agents.

Getting there

About five miles north of Canterbury, on Kent’s north coast, Whitstable is easily accessed from the A2/M2, off the M25, or from the A290 from Canterbury. There’s a station in the centre of town and trains from London take one and a half hours.

Satnav postcode: CT5 1 DB