By Katie Wilson
Margate is England’s original seaside town. Visitors have flocked here since the 1730s for its sandy beaches, out of this world sunsets and unique tourist attractions.
Fast forward to the present day and Margate is having a resurgence. The town is full of independent shops – it’s rare to see a chain here – and there has been a flurry of new bar, restaurant and hotel openings in the past year.
It’s also gaining a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll reputation, which makes for some very glamorous people watching. Head to Bar Nothing or the newly opened Love Cafe on a Friday or Saturday night to see this at its finest.
The Libertines have set up their HQ here, The Albion Rooms; a hotel, bar, restaurant and recording studio. And co-frontman Carl Barat is helping put Margate on the map as a music destination.
As well as Love Cafe, which he opened with celebrity chef Gizzi Erskine, his longtime girlfriend Edie Langley and band manager Ronnie Traynor, he is launching a new live music venue called Justine’s in the basement next door.
He and pal Ronnie also plan to host a new UK music festival – The Margate Maelstrom – showcasing established acts and rising stars from the worlds of music, art and comedy, which will debut on the weekend of June 4 and 5, 2022.
Carl said: ‘The Margate Maelstrom is my love letter to the seaside town that stole my heart when I first came here 20 years ago.’
Here’s what else we discovered when we spent a weekend in Margate…
Where to stay in Margate
Margate is full of great places to stay, including luxury B&Bs, cool hotels, and an array of Airbnbs.
For the shortest walk from the station stay in Margate Old Town. The George & Heart pub with rooms and BeetBeds, which is vegan friendly, are favourites. The Well offers sea views from a dreamy roll top bath tub. While Georgian townhouse The Reading Rooms is worth splashing out on for a special occasion.
Libertines’ hotel, The Albion Rooms, is a little further round on Eastern Esplanade in cool Cliftonville, so we’d recommend getting a cab if you’re staying there.
We stayed at one of Margate’s newest and chicest hotels, Margate Rooms. Situated on Dalby Square, once the grandest square in town, it used to be home to dozens of hotels. When international travel became more accessible, one by one the hotels gradually shut up shop.
Now Margate Rooms’ owner Will Jenkins is helping breathe new life back into the area as the square undergoes a major facelift.
Margate Rooms has seven boutique bedrooms, which range from Standard to Deluxe with Sea Views, plus a Family Suite which can sleep four. All have private bathrooms with walk-in showers.
There are plans to add three more bedrooms, including dog friendly options, plus a large communal kitchen and drawing room. There will also be a garden for guests to use from summer 2022. All the renovations are being done with local workers, as Will says it is ‘important to give something back to the area’.
It’s a smart hotel, so check-ins are online. Download the app before you arrive and you’ll receive a special code to access your room key. Make sure you keep your battery charged while you’re out and about as your key is on your phone. There is no hotel reception to speak of, but there is a number to call in case of emergencies.
Our Deluxe room had a very comfy super king-size bed, dreamy blue velvet headboard, vintage furniture, trailing plants, big mirrors which were perfect for getting ready, and there was plenty of space to hang clothes.
We loved the Haeckels toiletries in the bathroom, a natural skincare brand synonymous with Margate. Each bedroom at Margate Rooms also features work from a local artist. Scan the in-room QR codes to find out more about them. Ours was British wallpaper designer Tracey Kendall and had three of her famous feather prints on the walls. There was even a huge TV with Netflix in case you fancy chilling and watching a film. Overall, it had everything we needed for a stylish weekend stay.
Rates start from £88 a night
Where to eat and drink in Margate
Margate is fast becoming a foodie hotspot. Seafood restaurant Angela’s was awarded the town’s first Michelin star in 2020. Since then a number of new cafes and restaurants have popped up which are well worth visiting.
New openings include Sargasso on the Harbour Arm from the team behind east London’s Brawn restaurant. A few doors down Barletta, a pop up at the Turner Contemporary gallery, has taken up permanent residence there. While in the Old Town make a beeline for New Street Bistro for epic Sunday roasts.
WILDES in Margate’s Old Town is a beautiful bistro which is a great for brunch in the day and cocktails at night. Order a Hendrick’s Pomelo served with peach caviar on top. We can reveal the team are opening a second restaurant next door called Hemingway’s in Spring. Food will be modern British, local, and include lots of veggie and vegan options.
Stingray on Northdown Parade is a new bottle shop bar serving craft beer, natural wine and cocktails, which is conveniently next to another favourite, The Taproom Cliftonville. Both have tables outside and are worth mooching up Northdown Road for.
But the most talked about new opening in Margate has to be Love Cafe, just a few minutes from the train situation. You can’t miss it, it’s so pink!
The neon ‘Love’ sign near the DJ booth and ‘Love is the drug’ lettering on the bathroom floor make it an Instagrammer’s dream, but it’s a spot for dog walkers grabbing a coffee too. We ate the most amazing Cheese and Kimchi sandwich here. Visit at sunset and enjoy happy hour drinks from 5-7pm with those magical Margate views.
Faith In Strangers and Little Swift serve the most delicious cocktails and both enjoy sea views. Bar Nothing on Cliff Terrace is hipster AF. While Mariarchi is a new tequila & mezcal bar in the town centre where you can book a private agave room for tastings.
Unique to Margate is The Little Prince in The Old Kent Market, which claims to be the UK’s smallest pub. Other pubs worth a visit include the Rose in June near the Winter Gardens, family-run micropub Harbour Arms on Margate’s Harbour Arm ‘pier’. Popping in for a drink at Margate institution The Fez on the High Street is a must.
Forts and The Bus Cafe are where to head for breakfast. Join the queue at Peter’s Fish Factory for the best fish and chips in town. Scissortails is great for coffee, as is Cliffs – an independent cafe and record shop. Don’t forget to look upstairs!
Things to do in Margate
In addition to being England’s first seaside resort, Margate is home to some unique tourist attractions.
Dreamland is the oldest-surviving amusement park in Britain. They still have vintage rides and a roller disco. These days it plays host to the biggest gigs and music festivals in the area.
Shell Grotto is a subterranean wonder which has been intriguing tourists since it was discovered in 1835. This one-of-a-kind work of art features 4.6 million shells arranged in intricate patterns on the walls. Debate on its purpose still rages, but its uniqueness was enough to get it Grade I listed status.
The Margate Caves were originally dug as a chalk mine in the 18th century and later became a Victorian tourist attraction. After years of being closed, they recently reopened to the public following a campaign by locals.
One of the world’s smallest theatres, Tom Thumb, is in Margate. Head here for intimate gigs, comedy, burlesque and indie films. Plus there is a cool bar and restaurant with pop up food residencies.
Wild swimmers will love Walpole Tidal Pool, the largest in the UK. While you’re up that way, pop into Walpole Bay Hotel and feel like you’ve stepped back into time. There is a Living Museum full of vintage artefacts, a 1920s ballroom and a ‘Napery’ – a series of artworks made entirely on linen napkins. Local artist Tracey Emin features.
Emin’s work can also be seen alongside greats such as JMW Turner at the Turner Contemporary gallery on the Harbour Arm – the perfect spot to watch the special Margate sunsets Turner fell in love with.
When it comes to beaches, all are sandy. Margate main Sands and Botany Bay are our personal favourites. Follow the Thanet Coastal Path to walk across the cliffs from Margate to Broadstairs and Ramsgate.
Other Margate landmarks include the old Lido (which is now filled in but was recently used as a filming location for the new series of Killing Eve), The Shell Lady at the end of the Harbour Arms, and the Antony Gormley ‘Another Time’ statue which can only be seen at low tide.
If you’re in town to shop, there are a wealth of independent stores. We love Madam Popoff Vintage in the Old Town. For designer brands and rare records head to Albion Stores. While the lovely staff at The Margate Bookshop reserved a book without us even having to ask when we came back for it the next day.
How to get to Margate
Margate is on the south eastern tip of Kent, next to Broadstairs and Ramsgate. It enjoys a warmer climate than most parts of the UK so hopefully the sun will be shining when you visit, even in the colder months.
It is easily accessible by car with the M20 and M2 motorways providing easy routes from London.
National Express run coaches to Margate from London Victoria, which take approximately two hours.
But the quickest – and greenest – way to get to Margate is by train. Routes go from London Victoria, London Waterloo East and London Charing Cross, which take from 1 hour 50 minutes to 2 hours.
There is also a high speed train that runs from London St Pancras International, passing through Stratford International station if you live in east London, which takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.
If you are travelling from abroad, the nearest airports are Heathrow, Gatwick or London City Airport. Rent a car or get to Margate from London using one of the options above.
*Be aware most places in Margate are only open Thursday-Sunday so check before visiting
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