What to do, see and eat in Whitstable
- Credit: Manu Palomeque
Famous for its sunsets, its independent retailers and its harbour, we crack open another oyster and explore everything wonderful Whitstable has to offer
Whitstable is a magical seaside town that’s history has been defined by its world-famous oysters. Thriving in the beds of the Thames Estuary just off Whitstable’s popular beach, these tasty bivalves are so good the Romans shipped them home from here in their thousands.
The local fishing industry, and particularly its oyster industry, made the town what it is today and there are signs of this heritage everywhere you look.
One of Whitstable’s biggest attractions is the harbour, which is still a working site bustling with fishing boats, where visitors can buy fresh seafood right off the boat at some of the sheds.
But there’s another element to the harbour these days, thanks to the Harbour Market Whitstable. The collection of huts and stalls offer an exciting open-air showcase for local artisans and a range of micro eateries.
And the South Quay Shed looks set for a £550,000 makeover, taking its inspiration from a trendy Shoreditch development called Boxpark. Plans have been revealed to transform the historic building into a commercial and community space that maintains its maritime heritage at the same time as housing a pop-up mall that brings together food, shopping and local art outlets. Plans also aim to include space for performances and cinema screenings.
This August sees the return of the popular Whitstable Oyster Festival, which celebrates the heritage of the area with the ‘landing of the oysters’ ceremony and a series of artistic events, family-friendly activities and plenty of food and drink. The town’s most famous foodstuff will be in high demand so for the team behind Whitstable’s oyster production it’s their most busy time of year.
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Having reached its peak in the 1860s, production drastically declined between the 1940s and 1970s due to a combination of pollution, disease and lack of investment.
However, these days the oyster business is flourishing again, with the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company supplying both wild Whitstable natives and the cultivated pacific rock oysters. The company, which originated in 1793, runs the oyster beds just offshore but also now owns the Royal Native Oyster Stores seafood restaurant, the Lobster Shack restaurant at the end East Quay, The Forge beach shack, the Hotel Continental, the self-catering fishermen’s huts and the East Quay wedding venue.
There’s a very good reason that this town appeals to weekend visitors, many of them ‘down from London’. It’s a vibrant place with a strong arts scene and an active community.
There is plenty to do for lovers of the great outdoors, with all sorts of water sports on the doorstep. And in the evening, there are great restaurants and bars to visit, with local bands playing in pubs, poetry readings in the cafés and art exhibitions galore. The Horsebridge Centre puts on plays and hosts film screenings, and literary events become the town’s focus during the WhitLit Festival – on hiatus this year, but returning next May.
Eating and shopping
The renaissance of Whitstable started with a few independent shops and cafés and has gone from strength to strength. Visitors are treated to something really unique and personal, and the town is very supportive of its local businesses.
When it comes to shopping, head to Harbour Street and explore from there. The pleasure of shopping in places like Whitstable is in browsing the unique independent stores. Look out for Harbour Books, Peekaboo Kids, Duma lighting, Valentines Vintage, The Cheese Box, Flory & Black, The Whiting Post and The Clothes Horse. And don’t miss the Whitstable Shop, run by the Whitstable Improvement Trust, or the local artists, artisans, retailers and food and drink producers at the Harbour Market.
Foodies flock from all over the world to try the famous oysters, so there are several good seafood restaurants to try out, including The Lobster Shack, Whitstable Oyster Company and Wheeler’s Oyster Bar (the oldest restaurant in Whitstable!).
Also look for Pearson’s Arms, Samphire, Birdies, The Beach Café, The Monument, Harbour Street Tapas and Farm & Harper. And nearby Seasalter boasts not one but two award-winning pub restaurants, The Sportsman and The Oyster Pearl.
Whitstable Oyster Festival
The Whitstable Oyster Festival will be running this year from Friday 27th to Monday 30th of August with strict measures in place to comply with the current government guidelines.
Last year’s event was sadly cancelled due to the pandemic, but thankfully it looks like everything should run smoothly when it comes to the end of August. The usual Oyster eating contest, mud tug and food fairs should all be present at the festival.
Whitstable Harbour Day
There are plans for Harbour Day run by the charity Whitstable Maritime and Whitstable Harbour Board to return this August after a hiatus last year due to the pandemic.
A full day’s programme of events will likely include bands, children’s entertainment and fancy dress. Marine ecology, water pollution, plastics, coastal management and oyster farming are some of the themes of the 40 stalls that will line the quays.
Ropework, creative marine art and model boat building are among the activities that will be offered, while the marine emergency services will focus on water safety. Several stalls will invite visitors to explore the town’s maritime heritage. Gordon Vincent, who is leading the planning team of volunteers, said. “Our activities are designed to celebrate Whitstable’s connections with the sea – past, present and future.”
Postcard from Whitstable
My name is Mark Jackson. I am the owner of Whit & Stubble and we handcraft beard-care products in the heart of Whitstable. The idea for Whit & Stubble started long before we lived in Whitstable. I have had facial hair in one form or another since high school, used various products, but none were really that great.
We moved to the area in 2015 and I started to research beard oils and balms, different blends and mixtures. A year later Whit & Stubble was born.
We offer five different blends of oils and a great-smelling beard balm. All of our products are handcrafted using all-natural ingredients. We believe that chemical-free products are better for your skin and beard, longer-lasting and smell great.
We also offer organic cotton T-shirts, wooden beard combs and our beard care gift sets are very popular.
I love having a business in Whitstable, a town that supports local produce, those who make and supply, and the small independent shops. Having a young family, we tend to spend a lot of time out and about – whether it’s sitting on the beach having a picnic, playing football in one of the many parks, watching the kids scoot around in the skate park or having a stroll around the harbour market.
On nights out you can’t beat a bit of live music at The Duke or grabbing a bite to eat at The Lobster Shack with the family.