Sunning itself on the North Kent shoreline, Thanet has attracted visitors for centuries. Margate became the first British seaside resort in 1736 and pioneered the world’s first donkey rides around 1780.
Whilst grand Georgian and Victorian houses and hotels were built, Ramsgate in particular, enjoyed the royal patronage of Kings and Queens, even charging the elegant middle-classes a toll to walk along its promenade. When the crowds departed for overseas package holiday and yesteryear’s grandeur faded, Thanet turned to culture and history to reinvent itself. Though, of course, the beaches and sunshine remain.
1. Visit the Turner Contemporary
Since 2011 the white irregular geometrical shapes of The Turner Contemporary, Margate has welcomed a succession of exhibitions.
Recently, the Turner Contemporary has housed an Open Exhibition, featuring 450 exhibits curated by local organisations. This exhibition continues until 20th February 2022. One permanent exhibit is Anthony Gormley’s sculptured man. At low tide visitors can walk out on the beach to take selfies by him. At high tide he is submerged beneath the waves.
2. The Viking Way
A 32-mile cycle trail takes in Thanet’s historic coast where Saxons, Saints and Vikings have landed. Exploring charming inland villages too. Walkers can chop the trail into manageable portions, such as the four miles between Dickens’ House and the Turner Contemporary. At Botany Bay, The Stack is the local take on Dover’s white cliffs.
Though walkers will be doing well if they accidentally claim to have found 61 kegs of spirits on the beach as the infamous Broadstairs Smuggler, Joss Snelling, once told Revenue officers.
3. Broadstairs and Dickens
Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor to Broadstairs for over two decades. He described Broadstairs as “one of the freshest and freest little places in the world”.
Whilst on holiday in Italy in 1844, he was unimpressed and longed for a Broadstairs’ fine sunset. Today, the Dickens Museum celebrates the Victorian writer’s association with Broadstairs where he frequently wrote at Fort House, which was later renamed Bleak House in his honour. The town has hosted Dickens’ festivals since 1937.
If you are reading this article anywhere other than on A Luxury Travel Blog, then the chances are that this content has been stolen without permission.
Please make a note of the web address above and contact A Luxury Travel Blog to advise them of this issue.
Thank you for your help in combatting content theft.
4. Fly a Spitfire
At the Spitfire and Hurricane Museum, aspiring air aces can try their hand at acquiring the flying skills to fly a Spitfire. Learn the skills that served “the few” so well in those epic aerial dogfights over the south of England during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Contained within a cutdown fuselage, the simulator’s controls are linked to exterior viewing screens.
The simulator is part of an exhibition that looks back on the Battle of the Britain and the Second World War with some exhibits, such as German medals given for motherhood, also showing a German perspective. Look out for a damaged Thermos flask which saved an airman from potentially fatal shrapnel wounds.
5. Enjoy the seafood
The Thanet towns have always had a reputation for fish and seafood. Cockles and whelks from seaside stalls and perfect fish ‘n chips from Peter’s Fish Factory.
Now Thanet is becoming a foodie destination too. Bouillabaisse, crab dumplings, monkfish curries, oysters, tapas plates and squid tempura are appearing on the menus. Alongside the dishes, English wines from Kent and neighbouring Sussex are providing fine accompaniments.
6. Morelli’s 1950s ice-cream parlour, Broadstairs
Every morning since 1907 Morelli has made fresh ice-cream, bringing their gelato recipe from Southern Italy. Originally, selling scoops from their bicycle and wagon. Mario Morelli opened Morelli’s ice cream parlour in Broadstairs in 1932.
Currently, the parlour keeps its iconic 1950s flying canopy, original Lloyd Loom chairs and pink leatherette parlour seating. Regulars say the Italian coffee is just as good as the gelato.
7. The Shell Grotto, Margate
Since its discovery in 1835, the Shell Grotto has been Margaret’s great subterranean mystery. Visitors descend into a cavern of more than 4.6 million shells from cockles, mussels, limpets, oysters and scallops.
Some consider the 300 square feet of shell displays to be a Georgian folly but it was far from any significant estates. Others argue that it could be Roman, though scientific analysis of its mortar has not produced any conclusive evidence.
8. Margate’s Old Town
Tracey Emin, Margate’s foremost artist ,has returned to her hometown and other artists have followed her. Art lovers walk around Margate’s Old Town calling into the galleries.
Amongst these narrow streets a cluster of shops selling vintage clothing is thriving. It’s a place for finding vintage comics, vinyl records and antiques.
9. Thanet’s blue plaques
Thanet has had more than its fair share of historic figures. At Ramsgate you can walk a blue plaque trail. Surprisingly, the Nayland Rock shelter overlooking Margate beach played a part in producing one of English Literature’s greatest modern poems. Whilst convalescing from nervous exhaustion in October and November 1921, T. S. Eliot wrote his famous lines for The Waste Land “On Margate Sands / I can connect / Nothing with nothing.”
In its heyday, Dreamland drew thousands of holidaymakers from London and beyond. This was a fantasyland of candy floss, ghost trains, fairground stalls and rollercoasters. After a multi-million-pound refurbishment, Dreamland’s neon signs shine brightly again contributing to Margate’s regeneration.
Disclosure: Our visit was sponsored by Visit Thanet.