Home to Turner Contemporary and the Shell Grotto, the coastal town is a creative-community favourite, with asking prices on houses rising 50 per cent faster than the rest of the country in the past five years.

Great British Life: Shell Grotto in Margate raises more questions than answers CREDIT Shell GrottoShell Grotto in Margate raises more questions than answers CREDIT Shell Grotto

History and more

Listed in the Domesday Book as lying within the hundred of Thanet and the county of Kent, Margate was later recorded as “Meregate” in 1264 and as “Margate” in 1299, but the spelling continued to vary into modern times. It is one of the earliest seaside resorts in England and Tudor House is the oldest building in Margate. Built in 1525, it bridged the gap between the medieval open-hall and early modern houses. Margate was also a first for health when The Royal Sea Bathing Hospital opened in the UK in 1791. It pioneered the use of open-air treatment for patients seeking a cure for tuberculosis… even back then the benefits of sunshine, fresh air and sea bathing were becoming apparent. The 18th century saw the popularity for holidays really take off. Donkey rides were introduced around 1890 while the deck chair, originated in 1898. If there’s a part of Margate which raises more questions than answers, it’s the subterranean Shell Grotto’s where curving chalk walls are studded with 4.6 million shells. Discovered by chance in 1835, it’s not known who built this amazing place, or why, but they create a magical mosaic of strange patterns and symbols. One fact is indisputable: it is a unique work of art which should be valued and preserved, whatever its age or origins. The sixties saw The Beatles play for six consecutive nights at the Winter Gardens in 1963 and the town has been the setting for many TV shows, as well as Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, which explored the life of renowned artist, Joseph Mallord William Turner, who regularly visited the town, included Margate’s harbour in more than 100 of his paintings, and was the inspiration for Turner Contemporary. Oscar-nominated film, Empire of Light, put Margate back in the spotlight and last year, elusive artist Banksy brought attention to the town with his mural “Valentine’s Day mascara”. Moving forward, Margate mixes old and new pretty well with cobbled streets in the old town, a choice of Victorian and Georgian homes, as well as modern properties and sea view apartments. For families, there’s a selection of primary and secondary schools, while good transport links and regeneration have helped business, too. All would have contributed to Margate taking the top spot in the Property Market-Index’s UK Property Hotspots 2023-2025 report. The average house price in Margate, according to Rightmove October 2023, was £342,026.

Great British Life: Turner Contemporary has put Margate firmly back on the map CREDIT Getty ImagesTurner Contemporary has put Margate firmly back on the map CREDIT Getty Images (Image: Getty)

Exploring the town

Just 90 minutes from London via the high-speed rail service, there’s no doubt the acclaimed Turner Contemporary (turnercontemporary.org) has put Margate back firmly on the map. It’s striking building is the backdrop for world-class art exhibitions and entry is free. Coupled with cool and quirky galleries and renowned theatres, including one of the smallest in the world, Tom Thumb Theatre, (tomthumbtheatre.co.uk) there’s also vibrant events happening all year round. It’s a special place for renowned artist, Tracey Emin (traceyeminfoundation.com) who has renovated the former Edwardian bathhouse, mortuary and children’s nursery into TKE Studios which provides artist studios, exhibition, lecture and gallery spaces. The current exhibition, featuring artists from around the world, runs until January 28. The former magistrates and police cells are home to the Margate Museum (margatemuseums.org) and presents a unique collection of Margate’s history set over two floors. Another of the town’s hidden gems is The WonderWorks (wonderworksmargate.co.uk) an immersive experience inspired by the UK’s best known hobby brands including Hornby, Scalextric, Airfix and Corgi. The stone pier, known as the Harbour Arm, is also a popular spot for a bite to eat and there’s even a crab museum (crabmuseum.org) yes, you heard right… it’s thought to be Europe’s first and only museum dedicated to the world of the decapod! Keeping with a marine theme, it would be rude not to mention the beach with its Blue Flag Award… a must for blowing away the cobwebs, even in these fresher winter months!

Great British Life: Dishes on the menu at Fort Road Hotel celebrate Kent's produce CREDIT Ed ReeveDishes on the menu at Fort Road Hotel celebrate Kent's produce CREDIT Ed Reeve

Eating and drinking

From seafood heaven at Buoy and Oyster (buoyandoyster.com) to Peter’s Fish Factory (facebook.com/petersfishfactorymargate) which this year celebrates 40 years of serving fish and chips, there’s food and drink for all in Margate. Grab a coffee from Forts Café (@fortscoffee) or for artisan bakes head to Oast (oastmargate.co.uk) with its selection of sourdoughs, yeasted loaves and sweet buns. Make your next stop The Bus Café (thebuscafe.co.uk) where a converted 1980 Bristol VR double decker is a fun way to enjoy an award-winning breakfast while taking in seafront views. Crumpet sliders, sourdough sarnies, as well as veggie and vegan options are available. For the piste de la resistance, three Margate restaurants are listed in the Michelin Guide…Angela’s (angelasofmargate.com) for its seafood, Italian restaurant Botttega Caruso (bottegacaruso.com) and Bib Gourmand holder, Sargasso (sargasso.bar) for its modern British cuisine. Also take note of The Good Beer Guide 2024 where a trio of locals feature in the guide compiled by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale). There’s the Mechanical Elephant (jdwetherspoon.com) named after the popular attraction which gave hundreds of children rides on the promenade and micropub, The Two Halves (@thetwohalves) which prides itself on having no screens but makes for the perfect conversation destination. Finally, there’s Fez (@fezmargate), with its selection of ales and ciders.

Great British Life: Selina Margate Credit: Selina MargateSelina Margate Credit: Selina Margate


Fort Road Hotel (fortroadhotel.com) offers an experience rooted in design, art, architecture and food, while newly opened boutique guesthouse Margate House Hotel (margatehouse.co.uk) has warm and welcoming interiors. But our new favourite haunt? Selina Margate (selina.com/uk/margate/) Our editor Katy Pearson spent the night and says: 'This Scandi style spot, sat on this retro town's sweeping seafront, fuses contemporary chic with cosy comfort. It replaced the old Smith’s Court Hotel, last year (which had been owned by the same family for 40 years) and is a fresh, unfussy (and well needed!) addition to the town. For those on a budget there are dormitories downstairs, each sleeping six people, while the bedrooms upstairs are smart and simple, but oozing that hygge vibe - along with great sea views. A seasonal hotel, it will be closed until March 2024, however the co-working space, complete with high-speed WiFi, and inspiring design, remains open. Daily hotdesk spots are available from £5, while the monthly plan starts at £60. I may well see you there soon...'

Great British Life: Margate's Old Town delights with wonderful buildings and cobbled streets CREDIT Getty ImagesMargate's Old Town delights with wonderful buildings and cobbled streets CREDIT Getty Images


So, where to start? Margate has the high street staples, of course, but independents thrive here, too. A perfect example is at The Centre (thecentremargate.com), just off the High Street. The colourful spot is home to Cacticus (@cacticusmargate) with its beautiful selection of Cacti and succulents, Sunwax Records (@sunwaxrecordsmargate) showcasing lovingly selected originals, edits and re-issues, and also Pie In The Sky Vintage Emporium (pieintheskyvintageemporium.com) where vintage, retro and handmade clothing are available. Another emporium, this time with a nod to antique and unusual furniture, is Scotts Margate (scottsmargate.co.uk) where you will find a plethora of every bygone you could imagine. The cobbled streets of the old town are home to a number of independents. Clothing shops include Albion Stores (albionstores.co.uk) which is noted as a “place to hang out” while discovering new brands. Men and women will find a welcome and relaxed vibe with many UK designers, as well as up and coming artists. Sticking with style and Kate and George…by the sea, (kateandgeorge.website) is a go-to for women’s and children’s clothing as well as accessories and a selection of homeware. It is constantly aware of the need to source eco-friendly and ecologically sustainable products. It’s a similar story at Margaux (margauxhome.co.uk) a unique edit of European womenswear and accessories and which offers many sustainable brands using recycled fabrics, organic cotton and specially developed fabrics to help save the environment. Scissortail Home (scissortail.co.uk) is a new luxury boutique providing unique and beautiful homeware and accessories.

Great British Life: Eddie Kemsley, CEO Dreamland Margate CREDIT Dreamland MargateEddie Kemsley, CEO Dreamland Margate CREDIT Dreamland Margate

Case study

Eddie Kemsley is the CEO of Dreamland Margate, (dreamland.co.uk) the iconic entertainment venue and amusement park which for more than 100 years has been at the heart of the thriving entertainment industry with its vintage style rides and amazing lineup of gigs, featuring a diverse mix of artists and musical legends. Dreamland has something to enjoy for just about everyone.

“I love Margate, it has a unique atmosphere and energy that comes with being a seaside town with so much to offer. Local pubs sit side by side with the Turner Contemporary. Traditional fish and chip shops next to some of the south coast’s most innovative and interesting restaurants. From the minute you step off the train and catch a glimpse of the beach and sea beyond, the sense of a town with lots going on hits you.

“Every month there is a new addition to the busy and eclectic cultural scene, whether a new hotel, new bar, new shop or gallery space. Tracey Emin’s artist studios has given the town another amazing space for creative people to practise their work. All this energy and excitement has caught the attention of some other famous people. We were thrilled to play host to Sir Sam Mendes and his team, as they filmed Empire of Light. We also had a starring role in the Sky series, Dreamland starring Lily Allen, an episode of Eastenders and appearances in many music videos - The Libertines, ‘Run Run Run’ being the latest to shine a spotlight on the town.

“What Margate does best is entertain and whether that’s on the beach with a bucket and spade or rocking out to your favourite band, soaking up the festival vibes, or just sitting back and enjoying a sundowner with the amazing view out to sea, there is so much to love about the place.”