A peninsula fringed by chalk cliffs, the Isle of Thanet is so-called because a waterway once separated it from the English mainland. Its harbour towns Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate each have their own distinctive character. With a mix of 18th and 19th century architecture and traditional seaside charm, they’ve inspired countless writers and artists. Broadstairs was a favourite getaway of Charles Dickens; T.S. Eliot penned part of his regarded long poem The Waste Land while convalescing in Margate, and landscape painter J. M. W. Turner claimed, “the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe.”
The towns became popular resorts during Victorian times, but Margate and Ramsgate in particular saw a decline in the mid- to late-20th century. Having grown up in Margate, contemporary British artist Tracey Emin is a famous name associated with its current culture-led resurrection – a revival of fortune spearheaded by the opening in 2011 of landmark art gallery Turner Contemporary, helping the area to once again attract arty, creative types from London and beyond. With the newly re-opened Dreamland, Margate’s nostalgic theme park, plus stylish new boutique accommodation, visitors can enjoy quirky seaside attractions, inspiring vintage shopping, and numerous independent bars, pubs and eateries.www.visitthanet.co.uk www.visitkent.co.uk.
10.00 See world class art by the sea
Designed by award-winning architect Sir David Chipperfield, Turner Contemporary opened in 2011. Its namesake, 19th-century landscape painter J. M. W. Turner, was a frequent visitor to the area: to paint, but also to see his mistress who owned a guesthouse on Margate’s picturesque Harbour Arm. This landmark gallery in fact stands on the actual spot where the guesthouse used to be, its vast windows framing the same sea views that inspired Turner. Displaying world-class art from the past and present, there’s also an excellent café and gift shop. Admission is free. www.turnercontemporary.org.
12.15 Ponder a subterranean Margate mystery
Margate’s greatest mystery was accidentally unearthed in 1835 during the digging of a duck pond. Little is known of the origins of the Shell Grotto, a series of underground tunnels with walls adorned by a mosaic of millions of shells, but it’s the subject of much speculation. Whether it once was an ancient temple, a smugglers tunnel, or home to a secret sect, it has intrigued visitors since opening to the public in 1838.www.shellgrotto.co.uk.
13.30 Grab a slice of pizza
The brainchild of an award-winning chef and a former food writer, GB Pizza Co originally operated out of a 1974 VW Campervan, providing gourmet pizzas at music festivals and farmers markets. Having spent summer 2012 serving pizza al fresco on Margate’s Harbour Arm, they decided to open their first permanent restaurant here: a place to further develop their concept for a Great British pizza, generously topped with local produce such as Kentish ham, Portobello mushrooms and English blue cheese. Their Margate-rita is a tasty local twist on the classic. www.greatbritishpizza.com.
Or sample their latest venture, rotisserie chicken hotspot, Roost. roostmargate.com.
14.30 Go retro in Margate Old Town
The retro stores of Margate Old Town attract keen-eyed shoppers seeking vintage fashion, mid-century treasures, and collectibles by iconic British manufacturers like Poole Pottery, Hornsea and Midwinter. Recommendations include Junk Deluxe, Paraphernalia, Madam Popoff Vintage and Bruer & Dawson to name just a few.
16.30 Feel the thrill of nostalgia on Britain’s oldest roller coaster
With it’s unique collection of rides, sideshows and fairground games from 1910 to the present day, Dreamland Margate takes visitors on a magical journey around-and-around popular British culture. Established in 1920, at it’s peak Dreamland was one of Britain’s best-loved visitor attractions – but by 2003 it was facing demolition. Restored and re-opened in the summer of 2015, this retro pleasure park revives the classic British seaside experience with attractions and amusements including the fully re-built Grade II listed Scenic Railway, Britain’s oldest rollercoaster.
18.30 Cool cocktail hour
19.30 Enjoy exotic Indian fusion food
Receipient of Margate’s first ever Michelin recommendation in 2010, Ambrette is an acclaimed modern restaurant whose menu is influenced by regional Indian cooking. The chef Dev Biswal incorporates other global cuisines such as French and South East Asian, and utilises local foraged produce including seaweed and game, to create exotic and inventive flavours. Be sure to save room for dessert, such as chocolate samosas with passion fruit and guava parfait and warm cardamom sauce.
21.00 Get real at Margate’s micro pubs
Fans of atmospheric pubs serving real ale are in for a treat in Margate. Recommendations include The Lifeboat, a rustic ale and cider house in Margate Old Town with regular live music, jazz and poetry evenings. They also serve simple pub food – specials on the menu include local Ramsgate sausage’n’mash and Kent cheeses with Margate allotment salad. Or there’s The Harbour Arms, a former fisherman’s hut on Margate’s Harbour Arm that’s now a micro pub.
09.30 Check out the chalk stacks
Around the coast from Broadstairs to Margate. Remember to pause at Botany Bay to see the famous chalk stacks. This idyllic bay is also a great spot for fossil hunting and rock-pool exploring.
11.00 Explore Charles Dickens’ beloved Broadstairs
The narrow streets, flint-faced cottages and charming harbour of old Broadstairs have changed little since Charles Dickens was a regular visitor almost 180 years ago. The renowned author spent many summers here, leasing the imposing Fort House from 1837 – 1859. Dickens wrote several famous novels here, including David Copperfield. Following his death in 1870, Fort House was renamed Bleak House after another of his famous novels Acknowledging that this house was built for the local fort captain during the Napoleonic wars, there’s also a Smuggling Museum with seafaring artefacts in it’s cellar.
12.30 Another chapter of Charles Dickens’ Broadstairs
For more literary nostalgia, visit the Dickens House Museum, housed in a cottage that provided Charles Dickens with inspiration for David Copperfield.
13.30 Traditional roast or fresh local lobster
An independent, family-run restaurant with a Michelin recommendation, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, Wyatt and Jones, enjoys an enviable position overlooking Viking Bay. The menu ranges from fisherman’s kipper breakfast with mustard butter, to traditional roasts on Sunday. When lobster is in season, it’s caught just half a mile away and delivered fresh from the boat.
1430 Go for retro gelato
After emigrating from Italy, Guiseppe Morelli began making and selling ice-cream in Britain in 1907. In 1932 his son opened the first Morellis Gelato ice cream parlour here in Broadstairs. an iconic candy-coloured ice cream palace that retains it’s pink leatherette booths, juke box and soda fountain. There are now Morellis as far afield as Dubai, Manila, Monte Carlo and Dallas – but none have the nostalgic ambience of the original.
1500 Drop anchor in Britain’s only Royal Harbour
Continue south along the coast to Ramsgate, whose waterfront is anchored by the Royal Harbour Marina. Britain’s only Royal Harbour, this historic and picturesque spot has moorings for 700 yachts.
1600 Experience life underground
Beneath the streets of Ramsgate, is a network of tunnels, built at the beginning of World War II to provide shelter for 60, 000 people. During the war they became home to over 1,000 permanent residents. In May 2014, 75 years after being formally opened for the first time, the Ramsgate Tunnels reopened again – this time as a unique visitor attraction, with hour-long guided tours.
1830 Enjoy a fish supper
There are numberous restaurants surrounding Ramsgate harbour – but you may simply wish to enjoy traditional English fish’n’chips by the sea.
2000 Say ‘Cheers’ to Ramsgate’s shabby chic queen
Like Margate, Ramsgate has an increasingly creative scene – and several hip hangouts of it’s own. One shabby-chic suggestion is the Queen Charlotte Ramsgate, a charming Boho-bar with DJ’s spinning soul, ska and reggae, plus regular live jazz and blues.