Eight years ago, the then-forgotten town of Margate wouldn’t have even made a blip on travellers’ radars. Today, this seaside resort couldn’t be further from its days of dereliction. A massive regeneration project started in 2011 has planted this colourful, unhurried spot firmly back on the map as a must-visit destination for art, independent shopping and local gastronomy – all within easy reach of London.
Freshly-caught seafood and other sensational feasts
There are few experiences quite so satisfying as eating freshly-caught seafood in view of the sea, especially if it’s budget-friendly – and beachside shack Mannings Seafood doles out whatever can be caught that day, from periwinkles to langoustines – we recommend shucking back six briny oysters and half a bottle of champagne. A more upscale seafood experience can be tasted at Hantverk & Found, a café, restaurant, live music space and art gallery which manages to do each part equally well. Seasonally changing menus feature dishes like seared scallops with winter truffle, washed down nicely with organic wines and local ales. Lastly, at The Ambrette, Mumbai-born Chef Dev Biswal fuses the flavours and techniques of Indian cooking with modern English twists, resulting in two AA Rosettes and a worthy nod from the Michelin Guide – splurge on the 10-course tasting menu here if you’re feeling particularly hungry.
Cotton candy-infused fun at Dreamland Margate
With an illustrious history that dates back to 1880, Dreamland Margate (though it wasn’t called that then) takes the best of classic funfair kitsch and has given it a thoroughly photogenic makeover. Think candy-coloured kiosks, a neon-lit roller disco rink, and artisanal cotton candy alongside vintage rides. You could easily while away a whimsical day here, straight into the evening when you can often find concerts and gigs going on ‘til the wee hours, alongside a plethora of food kiosks selling fish and chips, burgers, pizzas and the most colourful ice creams (make a beeline for Ziggy’s Rooftop Bar + BBQ, a Caribbean-Jamaican terrace offering great sunset views and rum cocktails to the sounds of hip hop and reggae).
Retail therapy in the Old Town and beyond
If you go on a mini-break and don’t come back with an armful of souvenirs sourced from charming local shops, did you even go at all? There’s no shortage of such independent retailers to peruse in the Old Town, where racks of vintage threads and antique finds tumble out onto the cobbled streets, waiting to be picked by an expert eye. Some of our favourites are Peony Vintage, which has a lovingly curated selection of vintage frocks and handmade accessories behind a Barbie-pink façade, and Margate Retro Fort Road Yard, an old warehouse-turned-antique emporium bursting with mid-century furniture, chintzy neon signs, and unique homewares. A short walk away, explore the fun jungle-like interiors of Mar Mar, where potted plants, stationery and more lovely gifts await, or seek out many a trinket with which to adorn your home at Junk Deluxe.
Statement-making modern art at the Turner Contemporary
An ode to Romantic painter J. M. W. Turner, who once lived in a boarding house where this art gallery now stands, the Turner Contemporary can be credited with ushering in Margate’s artistic renaissance. Housed in a sleek white cube of a building with large glass galleries that reflect the sparkling sea at its feet, the contemporary art space and creative centre was christened by Tracy Emin in 2011 and has welcomed equally prolific artists ever since. Grab lunch at the café downstairs, where you can eat with a view of the sea for a perfect afternoon’s activity (the seasonal cuisine here is a delight, and the Fish Supper Fridays are not to be missed).
Subterranean wonders at the Shell Grotto
Nestled under a residential garden a short moment’s walk from the Old Town, Margate’s Shell Grotto deserves a Wonder of the World status – descend a steep set of winding stairs and you’ll end up in a cavernous network of chambers, the walls of which are completely paved with over four million shells, swirling in intricate patterns. Nobody knows who is responsible for this marvel – some say it was an ancient pagan temple, while others will tell you it was the work of a Victorian eccentric with a tad too much time on their hands. All we know is that it’s been baffling visitors for almost 200 years, and owes its refreshed appearance to an arduous conservation programme undertaken in 2007.