Among Kent’s quaint seaside villages, the town of Margate hits the sights and senses like a veritable metropolis.
On the one hand, Margate supplies all the traditional seaside favourites: rides, arcades and (great) fish and chips set around a great sweep of yellow sand.
Yet, far from being a stuck-in-the-past nostalgia-fest, Margate has become a magnet for artists and creatives, successfully overhauling its former tired facade and blossoming into a welcoming, artistic town, full of things to see and do.
The beach: Margate Main Sands
If there is one aspect of Margate you simply cannot miss, it is Margate Main Sands beach.
It was a beloved subject of painter JMW Turner (1775-1851), who came here often and famously stated that “the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe.”
Margate Main Sands is family friendly, with loads of facilities both on the beach and nearby, and it won a Blue Flag Award and Seaside Award in 2019.
If it is too busy for your liking, there are plenty more beaches nearby, including the stunning Botany Bay, an 8-minute drive east from Margate.
Don’t miss a walk out along the harbour arm to see the unusual shell lady statue.
And at the western end of the sands is Dreamland, a crumbling old fairground venue that has been revived into a thriving retro theme park.
It features a wooden rollercoaster, dodgems, a roller disco and a big wheel offering wonderful views of the sea and surrounding countryside.
Margate art & culture
Tuner’s relationship to the town was cemented by the opening of the world-class art gallery, the Turner Contemporary.
It is perched on the seafront alongside the harbour arm – you cannot miss the hulking, grey building.
Even if you are not an art aficionado, it is free to enter so go in for the wonderful sea views, as well as a great cafe and shop.
Margate’s other famous art connection is that Young British Artist alumni Tracey Emin grew up here.
You can see one of her neon pieces, “I Never Stopped Loving You”, splayed on the front of the tourist office next to the Turner gallery.
There is tons more for art fans, with loads of small galleries and popups dotted around town, including the innovative Pie Factory, which keeps its fingers on the pulse of the local scene.
Music and theatre in Margate
On top of all the art, Margate has a buzzing theatre and music scene.
The grand old Theatre Royal and the Winter Gardens venue both offer a mix of touring productions, big-name bands, classical concerts, and comedy.
Meanwhile, the quirky Tom Thumb Theatre claims to be one of the smallest in the world, and hosts small gigs and productions, including avant garde performance art, drag and burlesque.
The town also hosts several annual events, including many diverse music festivals: whether you are into folk, jazz, funk and soul, 60s Mod life or ska and reggae, it is likely Margate will have something for you.
Margate Old Town
A stone’s throw from the beach is a warren of quaint streets dating back to the town’s Georgian heyday: Margate Old Town.
Be sure to factor in time to wander round the fabulous mixture of vintage shops, trendy restaurants, beautiful boutiques and cute cafes.
You’ll find the Margate Museum and Tudor House nestled in Old Town, too.
Two attractions in one, the little museum tells the story of the town, including some of its most notable residents, while a few streets away, the 16th century Tudor House is a wonderfully preserved piece of Margate’s past.
Quirky local sights in Margate
While Margate has managed to update its image, there is (luckily) still a lot of quirk and kitsch around for those who seek it.
One of the town’s favourite tourist attractions is the ornate underground Shell Grotto, which was discovered in 1835, although its origins remain a mystery.
A newly opened attraction in 2019 and already a favourite family activity, the Margate Caves has opened up an old underground chalk mine to the public.
For any fans of toys, be sure to head south out of town to check out the Hornby Visitor Centre, which is packed with old and new model vehicles, including the Scalextric, Airfix and Corgi ranges.
Cliftonville & Broadstairs
If you have come for a few days, why not visit Margate’s neighbours?
Cliftonville is in fact an extension of Margate that sprawls east towards Botany Bay via the buzzy Northdown Road.
Full of fun shops, stylish salons, world food, popup galleries and hip coffee bars (as well as true relics of “old” Margate), strolling the length of it is a great way to spend an afternoon getting to know more of the town.
From the eastern end of Cliftonville, it is an 8-minute drive (45-minute walk) to the next Thanet village of note, Broadstairs, which is known for being Charles Dickens’ favourite holiday destination.
Holiday cottages in Margate
Get in touch with Keepers Cottages if you are interested in looking for holiday cottages in Margate, on the Kent coast.