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 like the shell grotto.
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 hotel, bar and restaurant openings since lockdown. Margate can even lay claim to a Michelin Star, and we’re sure it won’t be their last.
It’s also gaining a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll reputation, which makes for some very glamorous people watching. Head to Bar Nothing on a Friday or Saturday night to see this at its finest.
The band The Libertines have set up their HQ here. Not just a recording studio, The Albion Rooms is also a hotel, bar and restaurant. And frontman Carl Barat and partner Edie Langley have just opened new music venue and nightclub Justine’s in the area.
If you haven’t been to Margate, here are all the many reasons you should visit what we think is easily England’s coolest seaside town.
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Where to stay in Margate
Margate is full of great places to stay, from Airbnbs to luxury guesthouses and pubs with rooms, but one thing it has been lacking, until now, is great hotels. That’s why we were very excited to see some high-end hotel openings that will really rejuvenate the area as a weekend destination, whatever the time of year.
Fort Road Hotel, which has 14 rooms including some with sea views and a rooftop suite, is enviably located on the seafront opposite the Turner Contemporary gallery. Prices start from £140 a night. They also have a great restaurant and bar open to non-guests worth checking out, plus a rooftop terrace.
For the ultimate in Margate luxury, GuestHouse hotels have just opened No.42 Margate on the site of the former Sands Hotel. The location, directly overlooking Margate Main Sands, couldn’t get better if it tried.
The Boutique Handbook team visited on opening weekend (July 2023) and we can safely say it’s the best new hotel in Margate. While it’s not the cheapest – rooms start from £155 a night to upwards of £400 – you get what you pay for. Some rooms have balconies and sea views, the Pearly Cow restaurant and Field Trip café have just opened downstairs and there is a rooftop terrace perfect for watching those magical Margate sunsets. Both are open to non-guests. Spa treatments are also available.
Another new opening to get excited about is Margate House. This beautifully restored guesthouse on Dalby Square might be small in size with just nine bedrooms, but it’s full of character. We love it’s playful, but stylish Bohemian-inspired interiors. There is no restaurant (yet), but guests can enjoy the complimentary minibar and communal Drawing Room. Croissants and fresh juice are delivered to rooms in the mornings. Prices start from a very reasonable £115 a night.
Hospitality brand Selina, which has hotels across the globe, has also just opened a new establishment in Margate. Aimed at design-savvy Millennials and Gen Z travellers, it is the sixth Selina hotel in the UK after London, Brighton, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. As well as chic but affordable rooms, there is a co-working space, restaurant, bar and terrace, plus the Selina Arts Supperclub. Wellness activities such as beach yoga and pilates are also available.
For the shortest walk from the train station stay in Margate Old Town. The George & Heart pub with rooms and vegan-friendly The Beetroot are favourites. The Well offers sea views from a dreamy roll top bath tub. Georgian townhouse The Reading Rooms, a luxury boutique B&B, is worth splashing out on for a special occasion.
Libertines’ hotel and HQ, 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 as it’s about a 20-minute walk.
Where to eat and drink in Margate
Margate is fast becoming a foodie hotspot. Seafood restaurant Angela’s was awarded the town’s first Green Michelin star in 2020 for it’s sustainable approach to food and its plastic-free supply chain. It’s more casual little sister Dory’s is also worth checking out for small plates (both are reasonably priced in our opinion). Since then a number of new cafes, bars and restaurants have popped up which are well worth visiting.
Sargasso on the Harbour Arm is from the team behind east London’s Brawn restaurant. While you’re there be sure to pop into family-run micro-pub Harbour Arms for a pint or two. Tiny taco restaurant DIVE next door is also making waves amongst tourists and locals alike.
In Margate Old Town make a beeline for WILDES, a beautiful bistro with outdoor seating great for brunch in the day and cocktails at night. Order a Hendrick’s Pomelo served with peach caviar on top. The team have just opened a second restaurant and wine bar next door called Duke’s.
Nearby, The Pickled Fox is a new bar and restaurant with outside seating serving Neopolitan-style pizzas, as well as gluten-free and beers. Or grab an ice cream with real-fruit from new ice cream shop Follow The Swirl.
PICNIC on Northdown Parade is a deli, off licence and 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.
Another new opening worth checking out in that area is Sète, a wine bar from the same people behind former pop up Barletta. They recently added a restaurant and garden seating. For brunch, check out The Good Egg which has just opened in the area.
Faith In Strangers (check out their DJ nights) and Little Swift serve the most delicious cocktails and both enjoy sea views. The newest cocktail bar and restaurant in town is Daisy, which was originally a pop up on the harbour. The name means Margarita in Spanish and we’re already fans. Mariarchi is a tequila & mezcal bar in the town centre where you can book a private agave room for tastings.
For sunset raving head to The Sun Deck on Royal Crescent Promenade. This place is the business, but note it’s only open until 9pm Thursday to Sunday. Carry on the party at Bar Nothing on Cliff Terrace. It’s hipster AF and you can rave until 2am at weekends. CAMP is a new queer bar and community space on Northdown Road. Here you’ll find everything, from drag shows and comedy shows to pub quizzes and book clubs.
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, hidden up a secret alley near the Winter Gardens. While 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. New York-style bagel shop Sub Rosa has just opened in the Old Town (note it closes at 3pm). Join the queue at Peter’s Fish Factory for the best fish and chips in town. Scissortail 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.
Find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about crabs at the unique and award-winning Crab Museum, the only museum of its kind in Europe.
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. Look out for Emin’s pink neon sign which says ‘I never stopped loving you’ above the doors of the Visitor Information Centre.
See more art at the Turner Contemporary gallery on the Harbour Arm, named after great Romantic painter J.M.W Turner, who fell in love with the magical sunsets in Margate and once remarked: ‘The skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe’. Watch one yourself anywhere along the seafront.
When it comes to beaches, all are sandy. Margate Main Sands and Botany Bay are our personal favourites and both have Blue Flag status for their cleanliness and water quality. Follow the Thanet Coastal Path, also known as the Viking Coastal Trail, to walk across the cliffs from Margate to Broadstairs and Ramsgate.
Other Margate landmarks include the old Lido, now filled in but recently used as a filming location for the final series of Killing Eve. The Shell Lady (who was Turner’s landlady then lover, Mrs Booth) at the end of the Harbour Arm and the Antony Gormley ‘Another Time’ statue, which can only be seen at low tide, are also worth getting a photo of.
If you’re in town to shop, there are a wealth of independent stores. We love Madam Popoff Vintage and Positive Retail in the Old Town. You can also buy online. For designer brands and rare records head to Albion Stores. For award-winning skincare and fragrances made from local seaweed head to Haeckels. They are such nice folk, they set up a free-to-use community sauna on the seafront, but donations to keep it running are greatly appreciated. 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.
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 90 minutes.
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. 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 some places in Margate are only open Thursday-Sunday, so check before visiting
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