Saturday, May 25, 2024

Inside Britain’s trendiest seaside town – how Margate became UK’s coolest resort

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Credit: The Sun

HOLIDAYMAKERS have been heading to Margate’s golden beaches since the 1730s and after a lull in popularity at the end of last century, it’s back on the map with staycationers.

In recent years, Margate and its trendy suburb of Cliftonville have been labelled “the eighth coolest neighbourhood in the world,” “Shoreditch-On-Sea” and the third coolest place to live in Britain.

In recent years, Margate and its trendy suburb of Cliftonville have become one coolest places to visit and live in the country

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In recent years, Margate and its trendy suburb of Cliftonville have become one coolest places to visit and live in the countryCredit: Alamy
The town's quirky old town is full of independent shops and restaurants

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The town’s quirky old town is full of independent shops and restaurantsCredit: Alamy
Clockwise from top left: coffee shop owner Simon Hutchison, bar owner Paul Stephens, shop owner Madeleine James, Seafood restaurant owners Nadine and Simon Morriss, and theme park CEO Eddie Kemsley have shared their Margate tips.

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Clockwise from top left: coffee shop owner Simon Hutchison, bar owner Paul Stephens, shop owner Madeleine James, Seafood restaurant owners Nadine and Simon Morriss, and theme park CEO Eddie Kemsley have shared their Margate tips.

The new batch of Margate fans are still drawn to its stunning coast, retro Dreamland theme park and top-notch fish and chip shops, but also by its abundance of independent shops and restaurants. 

If you’re tempted to see what the fuss is about, we spoke to Margate locals as part of our new Best Of British travel series, to find out what makes the town so achingly cool.

Seafood restaurant owner Nadine Morriss, coffee shop owner Simon Hutchison, Dreamland CEO Eddie Kemsley, bar owner Paul Stephens and shop owner Madeleine James have shared the best places to eat, drink and escape the crowds.

If you had a friend visit from abroad, what would you tell them to visit?

Simon Hutchison: Visit Turner Contemporary, and go see a gig at Dreamland, they usually have a big lineup – Limp Bizkit is playing this year and we’re going to have a stand there. Go see a gig at Where Else? A grassroots music venue in The Centre.

It’s a smaller venue, but international and local bands play there. For an activity, go to Lost Island Adventure Golf in Flamingo Arcade. 

Read More On Seaside Towns

Nadine Morriss: The Sun Deck, a street food cafe and bar on the Promenade, for a sunset boogie from April to September. And Strokes Adventure Golf by the Sea in Westbrook is a lovely mini golf course on the seafront.

Eddie Kemsley: Haeckel’s treatment rooms for a seaweed bath, the Sea Scrub Sauna on Margate Main Sands and a walk around town to spot all of the Rise Up Murals – 17 murals dotted around the brown highlighting ocean conservation and biodiversity. 

Madeleine James: The tidal pool for a swim – it’s grade II listed and believed to be the largest in the UK, check out Walpole Bay Hotel – a step back in time to a bygone era, enjoy drinks on the terrace or order their famous afternoon tea. 

Budget attractions worth visiting 

Simon Hutchison: I recommend the walk from Margate towards Broadstairs as there’s some lovely coastline along there. About halfway is Botany Bay and there’s a nice family pub there. 

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Nadine Morriss: The kid’s arts and crafts room at Turner Contemporary (it’s free). 

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Madeleine James: The arcades at the front and Dreamland are classic attractions, budget-wise. For free, follow the Viking Coastal Trail and walk to Broadstairs. 

The Sea Scrub Sauna on the beach is a must-visit, according to our panel of Margate locals

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The Sea Scrub Sauna on the beach is a must-visit, according to our panel of Margate localsCredit: Darren Fletcher
Relax in the sauna with great views of the Margate coastline

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Relax in the sauna with great views of the Margate coastlineCredit: Darren Fletcher
Lost Island Adventure Golf in Flamingo Arcade is great for a rainy day

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Lost Island Adventure Golf in Flamingo Arcade is great for a rainy dayCredit: Darren Fletcher

Best/hidden beaches

Simon Hutchison: The beach in Westbrook Bay, to the east of the town centre, tends to have fewer tourists because it’s the less developed part of Margate. 

Nadine Morriss: There’s a small patch of sand on the other side of the Harbour Arm in front of Turner Contemporary – that’s where we take the kids for our beach fix on really busy days. Then Walpole Bay after 4pm for sunset swimming and crabbing. Dog-friendly, 15 minutes from town, and home to the wonderful Haeckels community sauna. 

Paul Stephens: Joss Bay, past Botany Bay on the way to Broadstairs. 

Favourite place to get ice cream 

Simon Hutchison: For ice cream, there’s a new one in town, Follow the Swirl in the Old Town, which sells real fruit ice cream, sundaes and slushies. The ice cream is made in front of you, using fresh fruit from Kent and ice cream.

Nadine Morriss: If you are visiting with kids I highly recommend a visit up to Sweet Carolines in Cliftonville. It’s a fun ice cream parlour next door to Bugsy’s Bowling and across the road to an outdoor play area. Great community project with a social space and food bank too. 

Paul Stephens: Lulu’s in The Old Kent Market makes delicious Italian gelato on-site. 

Margate Off Licence, in Cliftonville, is a beautiful cocktail bar/off-licence

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Margate Off Licence, in Cliftonville, is a beautiful cocktail bar/off-licence

Favourite place for cocktails 

Little Swift on the Promenade does frozen cocktails that you can enjoy while watching the sunset

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Little Swift on the Promenade does frozen cocktails that you can enjoy while watching the sunset

Simon Hutchison: To get a good view of the sunset, there’s Daisy, a neighbourhood cocktail bar on the seafront in Cliftonville. My favourite cocktail I’ve had from there is a marmalade old-fashioned. 

Also, Margate Off Licence, in Cliftonville, has the best barman/landlord there, It’s a beautiful cocktail bar/off-licence with monthly acoustic nights.

Nadine Morriss: The Glass Jar in Margate Old Town has direct sea views, DJs at the weekend and great owners who love the town. It’s been open for 10 years and still going strong. 

Eddie Kemsley: Grab a frozen cocktail from Little Swift on the seafront and enjoy it while sitting on the beach steps. My absolute favourite cocktail of theirs is The Margate Vice (frozen margarita and Kentish cherry Amaretto sour). 

Paul Stephens: Duke’s Bar and Bistro in Margate’s Old Town has a lovely old-fashioned interior and very friendly staff. It’s both cosy and fun, so great for groups and date nights. 

Best local pub 

Simon Hutchison: The Rose in June, a 19th-century pub is an out-of-the-way, local pub that’s a couple of streets back from the promenade and a two-minute walk from the famous Margate Winter Gardens concert hall.

Nadine Morriss: The George & Heart, a Grade II listed former coaching inn in the Old Town dates back to the 1700s and now has a boutique hotel on the top floor, has a group of incredible people doing great things and it’s a really fun place to be.

Favourite brunch/breakfast spot

Nadine Morriss: Not quite Margate but worth the drive, Felicity’s cafe at Quex Park in Birchington-On-Sea is a great outdoor space for kids to run around and they have roaming peacocks, as well as a proper breakfast from the local farm shop.

Eddie Kemsley: There is only one contender for this, Forts Cafe. I’ve never had a menu item I didn’t like. 

Madeleine James: The Good Egg on Northdown Road has amazing breakfasts, shakshuka, hash, and babka, and it’s just a great neighbourhood place. 

Favourite restaurant

Nadine Morriss: Giorgio’s Italian is a Margate institution on the Marine Garden, just off Margate Beach, that’s been going strong for over 30 years and is as popular today as it was when it opened in 1990, with a great range of pizzas including the quirky Peking Duck with smoked cheese.

Eddie Kemsley: Angela’s seafood restaurant – set just off the esplanade – is this understated little bistro with a fiercely local, eco-friendly ethos. It sells everything from Dover sole to Mussels, based on what came in on the boats that morning.

Paul Stephens: Buoy and Oyster restaurant and seafood bar – the food never disappoints. Situated on the seafront, it has a balcony facing the sea you can enjoy the food. 

The George & Heart, a Grade II listed former coaching inn in the Old Town that dates back to the 1700s, was tipped as one of the best local pubs

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The George & Heart, a Grade II listed former coaching inn in the Old Town that dates back to the 1700s, was tipped as one of the best local pubs
Palms Pizzeria in The Centre serves massive pizza slices for £4 and beer by the can

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Palms Pizzeria in The Centre serves massive pizza slices for £4 and beer by the canCredit: Darren Fletcher

Favourite place for a cheap eat

Simon Hutchison: For a cheap bite to eat I’d head to Palms Pizzeria, a New York-style pizzeria in The Centre that serves massive pizza slices for £4 and beer by the can.

Nadine Morriss: Cafe G in Old Town is probably the busiest and most popular place in town year-round, family-owned by Daniel for over 20 years. They sell baguettes, jacket potatoes and paninis for £4.50. He opens every day except Christmas Day, loves the town and everyone in it, and hosts many charity nights and fundraisers. There’s a reason he is packed most days.

Paul Stephens: The Old Kent Market has a great selection of independent food companies. There is something for everyone from pizza to Greek food and bagels, and it’s also home to the UK’s smallest pub, The Little Prince. 

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Nadine Morriss, 34, founded the seafood restaurant Buoy and Oyster in 2015 with her husband. She’s offering Sun readers 10% off their total food bill in Buoy and Oyster, Monday to Friday (excluding school holidays i.e. Easter, bank holidays or Summer holidays), valid until July 1. Just say SunReader in your booking notes. 

Simon Hutchison, 36, is co-founder of Big Shot Diner. He’s offering a free pickle to readers eating at Big Shot Diner in May if they say the code phrase: “I like eating pickles in the sun.”

Eddie Kemsley, 45, is CEO of Dreamland, one of Margate’s most popular visitor attractions.

Paul Stephens, co-owns The Pickled Fox with Nicola Pelham. They’re offering a 10% discount to customers who come in with the article throughout May.

Madeleine James, 60, is owner of Margaux Home, a boutique shop in the Old Town selling homeware, skincare, clothing and accessories. She’s offering a 10% discount throughout May to customers who show this article.

Favourite pizza place

Eddie Kemsley: It’s a full 20 inches from Palms Pizzeria for me. All of their regulars are fab but I’m nearly always tempted by one of their wicked specials, which include the ‘David Speck-ham with artichokes and Speck ham, and the white base pizza with marinated courgettes, pesto and lemon ricotta. 

Madeleine James: Palms Pizzeria is a great place to order a slice or whole pizza, takeaway or eat in. 

Favourite bakery 

Nadine Morriss: Modern Provider in The Centre – the owner Ben used to work for Burberry, then moved down to Margate and opened a tiny shop that opened on Saturdays only. Three premises later (expanding each time) he is open seven days a week, runs a bustling café, hosts community nights and runs a commercial bakery supplying bread and sourdough for many of the top restaurants across Thanet.

Eddie Kemsley: Oast neighbourhood bakery in Cliftonville. The baked goods are the best but try a flapjack! They also do a great veg bag collection scheme with The Windmill Community Gardens. 

Paul Stephens: Modern Provider – owned by Ben who bakes everything on-site. You must try their cruffin, just one of their great cakes on offer.

Favourite fish ‘n’ chips

Simon Hutchison: Peter’s Fish Factory is my go-to, or if you have dietary requirements head to Beach Buoys. 

Nadine Morriss: Beach Buoys by Buoy and Oyster. We opened during lockdown when the restaurant was forced to close and haven’t looked back since. We specialise in seafood items like crab-loaded fries, and panko prawns with a gluten-free and vegan menu available.

Madeleine James: Peter’s on the seafront is the best and family-owned since 1984, but expect long queues. 

Cliftonville, a short walk from the town centre, is now home to many of Margate's best shops, restaurants and cafes,

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Cliftonville, a short walk from the town centre, is now home to many of Margate’s best shops, restaurants and cafes,Credit: Alamy
Our locals recommended checking the listings to see if any bands are playing Dreamland theme park during your visit

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Our locals recommended checking the listings to see if any bands are playing Dreamland theme park during your visit

Best hidden gems to visit in Margate 

Simon Hutchison: Tom Thumb Theatre. A family-run venue on the seafront in Cliftonville that shows everything from comedy and DJs to burlesque and spoken word. It’s out the way, and there’s a bar up there – it’s very fun upstairs. 

Nadine Morriss: If you’re feeling energetic, wake up early and you just cannot beat a long coastal walk around to Broadstairs to enjoy a brunch or lunch at The Hut, a beach cafe at Stone Bay Beach. It’s really important that you check the tide timetable online before setting off, as it’s only possible to walk on the beach itself on a falling or low tide.

Eddie Kemsley: At the end of the day, Ales Of The Unexpected –  a micropub on Canterbury Road that provides a respite from the crowds during the summer season, without compromising on atmosphere.

Paul Stephens: Lilie’s, a tapas restaurant and cocktail bar on Cliff Terrace, a short walk from the Old Town. The owner/chef Jooles serves up a fabulous selection of delicious tapas from £4 and great cocktails.

Stay in Margate from £45 a night

Favourite shops

Simon Hutchison: Margaux Home is a lovely boutique homeware shop and Les Animaux is a clothing shop that does very cool handmade jumpsuits. They’re both in the Old Town. 

Nadine Morriss: Skate Pharm on Marine Drive has some great Margate-branded clothing and merchandise. 

Eddie Kemsley: No visit is complete unless you’ve gone to RG Scotts Furniture Mart, an antique emporium and architectural salvage yard in Cliftonville. It’s a never-ending treasure trove, I don’t think I’ve ever left empty-handed. 

Madeleine James: Madam Popoff Vintage on King Street for an amazing selection of great vintage. Positive Retail in the Old Town for pre-loved designer gear. Reo Jewels in Cliftonville – I’m a big fan and my ring collection is mostly from here.

Then there’s Aarven on King Street for ethical homewares and jewellery, and the Old Town Market on the weekends. And my fellow shopkeepers in Hawley Street. 

Favourite walk

Nadine Morriss: The coastal walk to Stone Bay is an easy walk that takes roughly three hours, with great views and is largely traffic-free. Or set off past The Sundeck cafe on the Promenade through Minnis Bay in Birchington, stopping for a coffee in Millie’s Beach Bar or The St Mildred’s Bay. 

Eddie Kemsley: The Viking Coastal Trail is a fantastic 32-mile circular route, covering Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. It takes you along both clifftops and beaches.

Madeleine James: On a rare day off I like to start at Minnis Bay and walk back along the coast back down to Margate. It’s nearly six miles long and takes around two hours. Always a great walk. 

Favourite park 

Nadine Morriss: The Sunken Garden in Westbrook for a picnic. They’re in clifftop grassland, with coastal shrubs that are maintained by a group of volunteer gardeners.

Eddie Kemsley: Hartsdown – the home of Margate Town FC, just a ten-minute walk from the Promenade. It also has a leisure centre.

Madeleine James: Dane Park in Cliftonville, especially when the cherry trees are in blossom. 

The coastal walk from Margate to Stone Bay (pictured), is an easy walk that takes roughly three hours, with great views and is largely traffic-free

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The coastal walk from Margate to Stone Bay (pictured), is an easy walk that takes roughly three hours, with great views and is largely traffic-freeCredit: Alamy

Favourite viewpoint 

Eddie Kemsley: I regularly sit and enjoy looking out to sea from the Old Lido Sands sign. The area is always quiet and a good spot for local dog walkers and lovers of graffiti, which is regularly topped up. 

Madeleine James: The Kings Steps at sunset, or a view from the rooftop bar at Guesthouse Hotel – they provide binoculars too. 

Best place to take kids 

Simon Hutchison: I recommend Dreamland for kids and the arcades. Margate Leisure Centre is for children a bit older but you can do axe throwing and Klak Boule Bar – also known as petanque – which is fun. 

Nadine Morriss: The beach of course. But if it’s raining, you cannot go wrong with Bugsy’s Bowling

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