We took an impromptu trip down to Margate on a sunny September day. Margate has reinvented itself from run-down traditional seaside town to an artistic hub. A world-class art gallery, cool cafés and retro shops now complement the sandy beach.
I love the walk along the Viking Coastal Trail from Margate to Broadstairs. It takes a couple of hours and passes by dramatic cliffs and seascapes.
You can also visit the weird and wonderful Shell Grotto with its underground shell-lined passages. The grotto was discovered in 1835 by some builders who sent a boy down a hole on a rope to investigate a lost shovel. Instead, they found several caves with over 4 million seashells laid out in mysterious, intricate patterns. No one knows why it is there; visit and invent your own theory…
The regeneration of Margate continues with the revival of Dreamland. Unfortunately the park is only open at the weekend, so we could not pay a visit. But it sounds great, with historic rides, classic side shows and places to eat. The Octopus’s Garden, an indoor play area for under 8s, is open every day though. There’s a circus tent, beach huts, a grassy hill to roll down, a potting shed for arts and crafts, along with climbing frames, cargo nets and sand pits to keep the little ones entertained.
The Turner Contemporary art gallery brings together historical and modern works. Admission is free and it is normally open Tuesday to Sunday. But check the website before you go – at the time of our visit the galleries were shut for 2 weeks while new exhibitions were installed. Exhibitions often include pieces by JMW Turner, who was inspired by Margate’s stunning seascapes, and local artist Tracey Emin. And importantly for us with toddlers, decent baby-change facilities. In summer/autumn 2017 one of Antony Gormley’s one hundred Another Time solid cast-iron figures is on display outside the gallery. The sculpture becomes visible about 3 hours before low tide. I was excited to see another of his sculptures as they had previously been scattered around the Arlberg mountains in Austria as part of his Horizon Field installation. It was fun to spot them as you skiied around between 2010 and 2012.
Margate’s Old Town and Harbour Arm have also been revived in recent years. Here you can find chic restaurants, chilled-out cafes, candyfloss stands, fish and chip shops, seafood stalls – something to suit every taste. We tried the pizza at GB Pizza Co. It was pretty hip with neon lights and upcycled furniture, but perfectly toddler-friendly. The pizzas were lovely – thin and cripsy, with toppings sourced from local suppliers. And although not on the menu, they will do a little pizza for your toddler.
Down to Margate: Getting there
We hopped on the train from St Pancras but you can also catch them from Victoria (the latter is cheaper but takes longer). This makes it an easy trip to head down to Margate from London and only takes around an hour and a half. Worth the journey for a bit of proper bucket and spade action.