The major towns in the Thanet District, forming part of this Kent coastal drive, are Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate. Sometimes called ‘the Garden of England’ because of the abundance of fruit and hop gardens, it has more favourable weather than the rest of the country, making it ideal for a road trip. This two-day itinerary takes in the best seaside towns in Kent and are candidates for the best seaside towns in the UK.
Travel Essentials – best seaside towns in Kent
Directions | Duration | Distance | Difficulty
Start point: Ramsgate.
Finish point: Whitstable.
Map: Ramsgate to Whitstable.
Parking: Expensive around the harbours – free parking is further away.
Duration: 2 days (including an overnight stay).
Distance: 30.2 miles (48.60km).
Notes: Exploring the best seaside towns in Kent across two days.
- Ramsgate is the only Royal Harbour in the UK.
- Vincent van Gogh worked as an assistant teacher at a school in Ramsgate.
- Former UK Prime Minister, Edward Heath was born in Broadstairs.
- Broadstairs was Charles Dickens‘ favourite holiday spot.
- Margate’s Winter Gardens have drawn big-name acts, from the Beatles to the Kaiser Chiefs.
- Karl Marx, buried in Highgate Cemetery, was a regular visitor to Margate.
Day 1 – The best seaside towns in Kent
Day 2 – The best seaside towns in Kent
- Herne Bay
Parking is available on East Cliff, near Wellington Crescent. There are views across the harbour, Ramsgate bandstand, Ramsgate Main Sands beach and the Royal Victoria Pavilion. From Wellington Crescent, use the Kent steps to descend towards the Harbour Parade.
Opposite the parade on the quayside, inside the Grade II-listed Clock House building, is the Ramsgate Maritime Museum showing artefacts of Kent’s maritime history. There is plenty crammed into the five galleries over two floors.
To the left of the Maritime Museum, on the other side of the East Pier, is the Royal Victoria Pavilion, initially a theatre with a first-floor promenade and viewing platform, now the world’s largest JD Wetherspoons.
Further along the seafront, past the Ramsgate Bandstand, are the Ramsgate Tunnels, an underground network of purpose-built air-raid tunnels stretching back about one mile into the rock that sheltered 60,000 people during WWII. Moreover, the 1.8m (6 ft) wide 2.1m (7ft) high tunnels offered protection against 1000 pound bombs.
Heading into the town centre is an abundance of shops selling seaside goods, plenty of small cafés, plus vintage goods. Without a doubt, these contribute to the town’s flagging economy.
Next to St. Georges church is the Micro Museum, housing a personal collection spanning 45 years of computing and video-gaming memorabilia. Included as part of the admission price is a couple of hours of retro game-playing. Check opening times before visiting.
Some exciting walks exist, such as the Vincent van Gogh trail. There are two routes, at 2.57 km (1.6 mile) and 9.81 km (6.1 miles). Surprisingly, Van Gogh worked as an assistant teacher at a local boy’s school in 1876. On writing to his brother in September of that year, he said,
I love Paris and London even though I’m a child of the pine-woods and of that beach in Ramsgate.
A few miles north of Ramsgate is the up-and-coming town of Broadstairs, enjoying a renaissance as staycations become more popular in the UK during the lockdown. As a result this small, compact town offers trendy restaurants, quaint cafés and ice cream parlours.
Parking is available on the Western Esplanade but arrive early to secure a spot. It joins Dumpton Gap beach and the popular Viking Bay. This horseshoe-shaped bay has a clifftop promenade with a surf school, beach huts and other water-based activities.
Facing Victoria Gardens and behind Viking Bay is Morelli’s Gelato, selling ice cream since the early 1900s. They started trading from a bicycle before eventually selling at the Harrods food hall.
In the centre of town is a Taiwanese tea shop, Beme Tea, selling speciality teas, such as bubble high mountain pouching milk tea and other unusual beverages.
Walking along Harbour Street is The Palace Cinema. This 111-seat, single-screen cinema brings a personal feel to watching a film run by a local family. Undeniably a throwback to a bygone cinema era, it came 36th in the list of best cinemas in the UK and Ireland as compiled by TimeOut magazine.
Next to York Gate, a Grade II-listed pointed arch built for a portcullis in 1540, is Flotsam and Jetsam, the best place for frites and seafood, and their sauces are also excellent. Evidently, queues form quickly in the narrow street.
The town was Charles Dickens’ favourite holiday spot, hence the Dickens House Museum. He spent one month every summer in the town from 1839 to 1851. Read about his London residence in our Bloomsbury Walk.
Perhaps the chicest of the major towns, Margate has sandy beaches, fish n’ chips, seafood stalls and plenty of amusement arcades. Relaxing on Margate’s golden sandy beach, Margate Main Sands is a must in nice weather, with the option to take a dip in the large tidal pool.
The promenade known as The Parade is one of the highlights, at the end of which is The Old Kent Market, formerly a cinema. It contains independent eateries and a bar on the ground floor where queues form quickly, particularly at weekends.
Along the seafront is the striking, internationally-renowned Turner Contemporary art gallery. Spread over two floors, it is smaller than it looks from the outside. Regardless, with free entry, and a decent gift shop, it is worth visiting.
Try The Margate Coffee Shed on The Parade for lunch and a light snack, serving perhaps the best coffee in Margate. Its location overlooking The Parade makes it a perfect people-watching spot in any event.
Walking through the regenerated old town leads to The Tudor House in King Street, from 1525 and one of the oldest in Kent. Two storeys, two chimneys and glazed windows indicate it belonged to a wealthy person.
Nearby is the Theatre Royal, a Grade II-listed building from 1787 with an impressive characterful interior including the stalls, the circle, the gallery and a small, two-person, Royal box. With a capacity of nearly 500, it offers comedy, music, theatre, youth and family shows.
The next stop is the Margate Caves. They display coloured drawings and murals, some 50 feet below the surface as part of a chalk mine. Here, Francis Foster, the owner, entertained Margate’s wealthy population and acted as a wine cellar with an ice well. Above the caves are the informative visitor centre and an excellent vegan cafeteria.
One of the town’s highlights is the Shell Grotto. This Grade I-listed rather unique attraction, discovered in 1838, consists of 4.6 million shells. To this day, it remains a private collection.
At 104 feet long, the origins and purpose of the grotto remain mysterious, although theories indicate a sacred space dedicated to symbolism, aided by the alter chamber.
Day 2 – The best seaside towns in Kent
Exploring the North Kent coastal towns of Reculver – Herne Bay – Whitstable.
Reculver Towers and Roman Fort
The 12th-century twin towers of the monastic church at Reculver at Herne Bay, part of the English Heritage, are visible from several miles away, acting as navigation markers for ships. The site has eroded, but two towers and the remains of an early Roman fort are visible.
Perhaps one of the more underrated towns, often overshadowed by Whitstable, is worth visiting. Between the high street and the promenade, there are plenty of cafés, places to eat and independent shops.
Walking along Beltinge Bay, pass the Kings Hall, a seafront Edwardian arts venue, and the statue of Barnes Wallis, the English bomb inventor, before reaching Herne Bay Clock Tower. This 25 metre, Grade II-listed tower, built in 1837, is one of the earliest free-standing towers in the UK.
The next stop is Herne Bay Pier, with a mix of retail huts, carnival games, entertainment and arts with crafts. The original 1,154-metre pier was the second-longest in the UK and stands like an abandoned oil rig in the sea. Formerly a steam ferry terminal and at one time had a tram running the entire length. In 1978, a massive storm caused extensive damage, forcing the central portion to collapse.
Overlooking the pier is Waltrop Gardens, a sunken Victorian garden that is a place to relax by the sea surrounded by flowers. There is a portland stone memorial in the centre of the garden.
On the coast, just before reaching Whitstable, is Tankerton Beach. This shingle beach, with its row of beach-coloured huts and steep paths, makes a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the sea views.
Walking along the beach, past The Beacon House, a venue popular for weddings, one enters Whitstable Bay. In the shipyard, on the East Quay is The Lobster Shack, an excellent place for local shellfish in an elevated, harbourside restaurant. With lots of outdoor seating, this place gets busy, so book ahead.
Tucked away off the seafront is Whitstable Castle and Gardens. This glorious castle with vibrant flowers and octagonal towers is a pleasant place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the town. This café is ideal for afternoon tea. And as a bonus, entry is free.
This trip exploring the best seaside towns in Kent can be completed over a weekend or as single-day trips. There is something for everyone, from sitting on the beach to more energetic activities such as surfing and canoeing. The Viking Coastal Trail, a 32 mile (51.49km) cycle ride around Thanet, is an option for those who prefer two wheels. Besides, there are plenty of walking trails, allowing more ample time to take in the sights.
With this in mind, the best part about this trip is the proximity of the seaside towns, so it becomes easy to travel between them. Food, particularly seafood, is excellent in the area. In terms of accommodation, with favourable weather in this part of the UK, camping is an option, with several ideal sites for tents and motorhomes.
Cabin Bags Only rating: 8.5/10
Read about our other days out.