Decades of decline are being reversed, as this seaside icon becomes a British hotspot once again, says Bronwyn Griffiths
Crowded beaches, vintage bikinis, dripping ice creams: the postcards of Margate in its heyday show a destination thriving in the dreamy haze of summer. Generations of Londoners returned year after year to its sandy shores for summer holidays until the advent of package deals in the 1960s and ’70s saw the crowds begin to thin. Nearly half a century of neglect followed, as the once-vibrant resort became a sleepy symbol of how UK tourism had changed.
These days, Margate is a magnet for Londoners unable to get on the housing ladder, who’ve found they can snap up a home in the seaside town for a fraction of the price. It doesn’t yet rival Brighton as a holiday destination, but since the introduction of high-speed trains from King’s Cross in 2009, visitors are once again flocking to Margate for weekends of sunshine and sand. Here’s a guide to a great weekend in Margate:
Morning: Start the day with a coffee at the Turner Contemporary cafe, whose glass front affords beautiful views across the town and Margate Bay. The gallery is located on the site where English landscape painter Turner stayed in the 19th century, and visitors can peruse regularly changing exhibitions, which include both contemporary and historical art. The Shell Grotto is a local curiosity: discovered in 1835, it’s an underground tunnel covered in shell mosaics. No one knows who built it or why, making it a rather spooky experience.
Afternoon: Vintage amusement park Dreamland has occupied a prominent position on Margate’s seafront for over a century and its relaunch in 2015 has made it one of the main attractions for visitors once more. Grab a burger and fries for lunch at the Roller Diner before exploring the many rides, including the Big Wheel, dodgems and Jumping Tower. Entry to the park is free and rides start from just £1. There’s also a roller rink plus regular events, including vintage markets and themed weekends, so visitors can spend a whole afternoon here letting their inner child run free.
Evening: Experience the thriving micropub scene by stopping at the Two Halves on Margate’s seafront before dinner. The cash-only pub is a converted shop front that serves real ale and cider. Down the road, GB Pizza is a must for dinner; its thin, crispy pizzas especially good when paired with wine poured straight from the barrel. Margate Arts Club is a great new addition to the town, with locals Luke and Amy curating a programme of live music at their Cliftonville residence every Saturday night. The nearby Walpole Bay Hotel is the perfect place to stay for a vintage seaside experience.
Morning: Start the day with a hearty breakfast at Fort’s Cafe before exploring the shops around Margate: nearby Plinth sells contemporary gifts and homewares, Transmission stocks new and used vinyl, while King St is filled with a treasure trove of great vintage stores.
Afternoon: On a clear day, the beach is the ideal place to spend a Sunday afternoon. Take a walk or cycle along the seafront, heading east from Margate’s main beach to see the beauty of Walpole and Palm Bays. A little further along, the secluded charms of Botany Bay are best for the warmer months, with golden sands and white cliffs that almost rival those in Dover.
Evening: Finish the day with a pint at another micropub, the Harbour Arms. Occupying a fisherman’s hut on the stone pier, it has outdoor tables where visitors can witness some spectacular sunset views. Follow this with a Thai dinner at Bow’s Kitchen, above the Wig and Pen pub in Margate’s Old Town. The beautiful wood-panelled restaurant does an excellent green curry and is very popular with the locals.