Best short breaks near London: Margate
Leave the city for the seaside. Margate mini breaks offer culture, charm and the coolest theme park we've seen.
There's always been something arty about Margate. Tracey Emin was born there, and declares her love in a trademark neon glow in the town, and before that Turner used to come to paint there, seeking out what he called 'the loveliest skies in all of Europe'.
Now, more than ever is the time to make the journey: this British summer belongs to Margate. Our insider’s guide to Margate will give you the very best of our tried and tested tips so that you can enjoy a day trip or long weekend at the seaside.
Things to do in Margate
Circles and the Somme, exhibitions at Turner Contemporary
First stop is the Turner Contemporary, just 10-minutes' stroll from the station. Contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare's work, exploring WW1-related themes of conflict, empire and migration, and 'Seeing Round Corners', an exhibition "exploring the centrality of the circle in art" are currently on display.
The former was curated as part of the 14-18 NOW programme of World War 1 Centenary Art commissions, and includes work by the MBE artist that interpret the alliances formed during The Great War, combining signature bright fabrics and seesaws with the bleak subject matter.
Meanwhile, a breadth of works spanning millennia show the relationships forged between culture and curves in their many guises. The exhibition presents a rare opportunity to see the creations of Leonardo di Vinci, Wolfgang Tillmans, Alison Turnbull and Barbara Hepworth (among many others), side by side.
Beyond the artwork itself, the gallery, designed by David Chipperfield is the perfect place to watch the sky change. It offers sea views from different angles. Step outside and observe its changing exterior blend into and stand out from the sky in tune with the light. The Turner Contemporary café is a great spot for people and sky watching.
Practical: Entry to the gallery is free, opening hours from 10am-6pm. Closed on Mondays.Click here for more information.
Visit Dreamland, Margate
The rejuvenated Dreamland is the epicentre of Margate’s revival. Britain’s oldest surviving amusement park re-opened last year after 12 years of dust gathering on its famed, grade II listed wooden rollercoaster.
With 17 rides dating from the 1920s to present day, it’s perfect for a family day out. Margate’s latest attraction plays host to lovingly restored galloping horses which date back to 1922, dizzying rollercoasters and a traditional Ferris wheel providing you with views for miles around. Plus, there’s an indoor roller disco, under the canopy of the original ceiling for those seeking a thoroughly retro experience.
Old fairground artifacts have been restored and ‘upcycled’. The original wooden roller coaster still features; the parts are used for furniture. The spinning teacups are painted by a Wedgwood illustrator, charting the evolution of the youth culture that populated Margate in its hey day. Look closely for the teddyboy, mod, rocker, hippie and punk. It’s witty, charming, trendy and so worth the trip.
Practical: Entry to Dreamland Margate is free, with a Pay To Ride system in place. A Ride Unlimited Day Wristband costs £8.00 if you're under 1.25m tall, or £12 if you're taller. Single annual membership wristband costs £45, with a family of four membership costing £110 for the year. Wristband tickets are available here.
Out and about: favourite Margate shops and restaurants
Explore Margate Old Town
Walk around the Old Town for quintessential shops and treats. It’s well signposted and 3 minutes' walk from the Turner Contemporary. For the best retro wear in the South East, there’s Breuer and Dawson, stockists of 50s cashmere, classic Levi’s and retro brogues. If you’re in pursuit of new tealeaves then the tantalizingly named, Lady Tesla’s Loose Leaves and Mud will provide you with new and inventive flavours. Beyond this there are a wealth of independent shops to get lost in and cafes nearby to seek retreat.
Sample organic cosmetics at Haeckels, Margate
Haeckels is a natural fragrance and skincare brand that makes use of hand harvested seaweed from Margate’s coast to create candles, skin care, beard oil and perfume. Their clifftop lab is a joy to visit, filled with handmade amber bottles, enchanting scents and intriguing wooden cabinets. They hold one of only two licences in England to harvest seaweed, as such their products are completely unique. If you want to capture your trip to Margate by smell they can craft fragrances in accordance to GPS coordinates to create an aromatic snapshot. Now stocked in Selfridges, this Margate brand is one to watch.
Michelin Starred: The Ambrette
The talk of the town because of its Michelin star, the Ambrette is the winner of numerous accolades, including ‘the best restaurant in Kent’. Mixing local and exotic ingredients with regional Indian cooking techniques. It’s adventurous, minimalist and quirky. Enjoy freshly caught fish steamed in banana leaves and served with mung lentil kedgeree, kale, pickled fennel and sauce of South India spices and coconut. Follow up with chocolate samosas served with passion fruit and guava parfait and warm cardamom sauce. You won’t be disappointed.
Traditional fare: Pete’s Fish Factory
Traditional lip smacking fish and chips are a must and this is the best fish and chips in Margate. Right on the seafront (2 minutes' walk from Turner Contemporary), our recommendation is to take away and sit on the glorious steps that pave the way to the sea.
Where to stay: Boutique Margate Hotels
The Reading Rooms, Margate
If you’re seeking somewhere quiet and luxurious to spend the night, the Reading Rooms is the perfect place. Named with Margate’s 18th Century library and spa culture in mind, there is no better retreat. Booking into one of their 3 rooms is advised well in advance. Each encompasses an entire floor of the house with windows overlooking a Georgian square.
Roll top baths, crisp white bed linen, plush white towels and a handcarved superking size bed. What’s more, you’ll be woken to breakfast served in your room (at a time that suits), on a table by the window with the morning papers. There is no breakfast menu as such, you can request whatever you like and it will be sourced and made especially for you.
Practical: more information and booking
read our mini break round up