Explore wonderful Folkestone, Kent

Folkestone harbour at sunset with the tide out.

Folkestone harbour at sunset, with the tide out - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Offering something just a bit different, it’s time to enjoy a walk on the beach, followed by lunch in this unique, art-loving town.

Hot on the heels of some of Kent’s coastal success stories, Folkestone has been reborn. After centuries as a quiet fishing community, it boomed as a tourist resort in the 19th century, only to suffer the decline that befell most of our seaside towns in the 1970s. But thoughtful investment and funding in recent years has helped breathe new life into the area, making it one of Kent’s most vibrant and interesting places to visit.
Folkestone’s Creative Foundation, an independent arts charity dedicated to its regeneration, has worked tirelessly to make it a great place to live and work. And, in a huge turn-around, it’s attracting tourists and day-trippers once again. Its greatest achievement has been helping to revitalise the Old Town area, where the network of tiny old shops – increasingly vacant over the last few decades – have become affordable options for small creative businesses. Development has seen new opportunities to enjoy sport and leisure, too. Coming soon to Totine St, for instance is F51, the world's first multi-storey skate park. And down at the waterside, Folkestone Harbour Arm has gone from being an unloved eyesore to being ‘the place to be’ – in the warmer months at least. 

Richard Woods, Holiday Home, 2017,

Creative Folkestone commissioned this work by Richard Woods, Holiday Home as part of Folkestone Artworks - Credit: Thierry Bal

There’s a lot of change in the area, with housing developments and new buildings popping up all over, but it remains a charming, nostalgic place. The beaches can get packed in the summer and the famous clifftop walk, the Leas Promenade, is just as enjoyable as it would have been a hundred years ago or more. From here you can see France on a clear day and listen to bands play on the bandstand as they would have done during its Victorian heyday.

Things to do
Visit the Harbour Arm

Sunrise over the harbour and Harbour Arm pier in Folkestone.

Enjoy a sundowner on Harbour Arm pier - the lighthouse is now a champagne bar - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Until a few years ago, this pier-like structure protecting the harbour was a disused passenger ferry embarkation point. Reimagined in 2014, the dilapidated stores and ticket offices became pop-up bars and eateries for the summer season. Work has progressed since then to recreate the old harbour train station where First World War troops were transported down to their ships. Now there’s a market area too, regular events and a community of innovative businesses offering all sorts of food and drink. 

Shop the Creative Quarter
Known as the Creative Quarter, the Old Town area is a warren of narrow streets lined with every kind of small, independent business. Along the steep, cobblestoned Old High Street, Tontine Street and Rendezvous Street, you’ll find a collection of cafés, restaurants, fashion stores, gifts shops, art studios and more. Browse places like children’s boutique Moo like a Monkey, Kitty McCall textiles, Paradiso vintage cinema memorabilia shop and vintage design store Rennies Seaside Modern.  

Walk the coast
The Dover-Folkestone Heritage Coast is well worth exploring at any time of year. Head off for a walk at The Warren, one of the country’s most important nature reserves, and you’ll find yourself in a secret, rugged landscape with incredible views of the famous White Cliffs. Or go in the other direction towards beautiful Sandgate. You can start at Sunny Sands, Folkestone’s sandy patch of beach, and pass the harbour, the colourful beach huts and contemporary artworks along the pebble beach. Or gain a different perspective by taking to the Lower Leas Coastal Park, set diagonally on the sloped paths leading down to the beach.

Follow the arts trail

Picture of the snow covered beach in Folkestone England, looking out towards France over the English

There's something to see and do in Folkestone whatever the time of year - seek unusual shelter in the Jelly Mould Pavilion, by Lubaina Hiimid - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

‘Folkestone is an art school’ declares a large piece of public art in the town. And in many ways, it’s true. Ever since the Creative Foundation created its flagship project – the Folkestone Triennial – in 2008, the festival has brought new art into the streets and open spaces every three years. Original pieces from previous festivals are on permanent display all over town – a legacy to be enjoyed by visitors at any time of year. Follow a trail from  Creative Folkestone’s website and you’ll be treated to views of pieces by some of the world’s top artists. Some of the highlights include a cast iron Antony Gormley figure standing underneath the main deck of the Harbour Arm, Richard Wood’s ‘Holiday Home’ structures and a series of bronzes by Tracey Emin.    

Where to eat and drink

Looking down The Old Street Folkestone on a Winters night

Warmth and colour in the Old Town - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There’s no doubting this town has upped its game when it comes to eating out. With stylish new bars, cafés, restaurants and pop-ups, there are dozens of options – particularly if you’re looking for somewhere independent and unique. 
The big name around here is Rocksalt, with its impressive terrace overhanging the water. It’s spawned a number of siblings in the town, including The Smokehouse, The Radnor Arms, Little Rock and beach bar The Pilot. Other popular choices include Aspendos Turkish restaurant, Marleys, El Cortador tapas, Annapurna Nepalese restaurant, Steep Street Coffee House and Pickup Pintxos. Plant-based restaurant Dr Legumes, based in a converted shipping container in the harbour car park, is a Community Interest Company, serving great food in a stylish setting. And another highlight has to be the Leas Lift Café, which opened at the end of 2020. At the base of the Victorian water-powered funicular railway, which is currently going through plans for renovation, you can enjoy a cream tea in its vintage interior. In the warmer months, the harbour arm is the place for cocktails, craft beer and even champagne – thanks to the champagne bar in the beautiful little lighthouse at the end. Elsewhere, you’ll find traditional pubs, trendy bars and micro pubs like the The Firkin Alehouse, The Bouverie Tap and Home Taproom. And if arts and entertainment are your thing, you can’t go wrong in this lively town. Discover what’s on at the Quarterhouse and the Leas Cliff Pavilion.

The Life Cafe Folkestone

Enjoy restorative tea and cake at the Lift Cafe - Credit: Visit Kent

Living here
Folkestone became a real option for commuters when the high-speed line arrived more than a decade ago. Aiding with the connection between London and the continent via the Channel Tunnel, the javelin trains carry passengers from Folkestone to London St Pancras in less than an hour. The town has good schools, a relaxed seaside atmosphere and great places to eat out, so it’s little wonder it’s recently been ‘discovered’ by young families moving out of London. The property prices, while far from cheap, are pretty reasonable for Kent, with one-bed flats starting at £120,000. Three-bedroom houses are currently on the market from anywhere between £260,000 and £525,000.