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10 good reasons to visit Maidstone

PUBLISHED: 09:59 29 November 2016 | UPDATED: 14:31 05 December 2016

A boat trip on The Kentish Lady is a great way to get a different perspective on our county town and the River Medway

A boat trip on The Kentish Lady is a great way to get a different perspective on our county town and the River Medway

Archant

A haven for shoppers, with great places to eat, a charming riverside setting and something to keep all the family entertained, you may want to take another look at Maidstone. Words by: Caroline Read. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque

The Lockmeadow Millenium Bridge opened in 1999, offering a quick route between town and entertainment centreThe Lockmeadow Millenium Bridge opened in 1999, offering a quick route between town and entertainment centre

1. Non-stop shops

Maidstone is one of our main shopping hubs and although the High Street has had a facelift recently it’s still pedestrianised Femlin Walk shopping centre that packs the most big-name brands. With a multi-storey carpark, huge House of Fraser and dozens of stores including Zara, H&M, Shuh and Waterstones, it’s a neat, modern open-air space. But the town is now spoiled for choice thanks to the refurbishment of The Mall. Previously The Chequers Centre, its new owners have invested heavily in transforming it into a vibrant shopping experience. Among the shops here you can find TJ Hughes, Next, Wilko and Boots. And don’t forget the little independents too. Explore the area around the Corn Exchange and the Royal Star Arcade for some hidden gems.

2. Riverside setting

Maidstone Museum has something for all the family, from dinosaurs to Egyptian mummies and a superb art collectionMaidstone Museum has something for all the family, from dinosaurs to Egyptian mummies and a superb art collection

You can’t miss the River Medway flowing through the centre of Maidstone but have you ever stopped to enjoy it? For walkers, there’s the Maidstone Millennium River Park which runs for 10km to the pretty Malta Inn and Allington Lock in one direction and through East Farleigh to Teston Picnic Country Park in the other. For boat lovers, there’s the Kentish Lady which offers pleasure cruises from beneath the Archbishop’s Palace, and Maidstone also has a very active rowing club and popular canoe trail.

3. Cherished museums

Maidstone Museum has been a much-loved part of the town centre since 1858 and, although there have been a few modern tweaks to the place, it still has many of its original exhibits on display. With collections of ancient artefacts found locally, a superb art collection, an Egyptian mummy dating back 2,700 years and an ever-popular dinosaur gallery, it’s got plenty to interest all ages. Not far from it is another of Maidstone’s historic attractions, the Tyrwhitt Drake Museum of Carriages. Housed in a 14th-century stable block across from the Archbishop’s Palace, this is thought to be the best collection of horse-drawn vehicles in Europe. Information about both attractions can be found at www.museum.maidstone.gov.uk

Make sure you've booked your tickets for this year's panto at the Hazlitt Theatre - that perennial favourite Sleeping BeautyMake sure you've booked your tickets for this year's panto at the Hazlitt Theatre - that perennial favourite Sleeping Beauty

4. Places to eat

In a big town like this it’s not surprising there are plenty of places to eat and drink. Many of the large chains can be found in Maidstone and Prezzo, Wagamama and Pizza Express are among the most popular. There’s also a Bill’s, a Buenos Aires Nights Steakhouse and the very entertaining Mu Mu restaurant. We recommend Fish on the Green at nearby Bearsted and Frederic Café Bistro. Maidstone even has a choice of cafés specialising in desserts; treat your sweet tooth at Creams or D’Lishious. For something really different, especially if motorbikes are your thing, give the highly-rated Reca Community Biker Café in St Peter’s Street a try.

Royal Star Arcade is the place to head for quirky independent shops and Christmas gifts with a differenceRoyal Star Arcade is the place to head for quirky independent shops and Christmas gifts with a difference

5. Perfect park

The town’s main green space is the 440-acre Mote Park. Complete with a good café, children’s play area, pitch and putt course, model railway and a 30-acre lake offering all kinds of water sports, there is plenty to do here. It’s big enough to offer proper walks and secluded spots for picnics as well. The estate once belonged to Mote House, a Grade II* listed building built in the reign of King George III which still looms over the park – although it’s now converted into a development of highly desirable retirement properties.

6. Central theatre

The Mall shopping centre, previously The Chequers, has had a refurbishment and is adding to the town's retail offerThe Mall shopping centre, previously The Chequers, has had a refurbishment and is adding to the town's retail offer

The town’s Hazlitt Theatre is popular year-round with an eclectic mix of family entertainment, dance, comedy, drama and music. But it’s in the run up to Christmas that it packs in the audiences day after day for its annual pantomime. This year the venue’s own production team, who successfully staged Peter Pan last year, are taking on the classic Sleeping Beauty. Visit www.parkwoodtheatres.co.uk for tickets.

7. Historic palace

The ancient Archbishop’s Palace in the centre of town is just that; a grand palace once used as a rest stop between London and Canterbury by travelling archbishops. Built mostly in the 14th century with 16th-century additions, it has a long and varied history. Local legend suggests it was here that John Ball, the ‘mad priest of Kent’, was incarcerated for sedition. He was sprung from jail in 1381 during the Peasant’s Revolt. These days it is managed by Kent County Council and used as the town’s register office.

8. Family fun

Set on the far side of the river is Lockmeadow. The home of the town’s eight-screen Odeon cinema, this family friendly entertainment centre also features several restaurants, a pub and a bowling centre. A new addition to the centre is Gravity, an exciting indoor trampoline park which is a big hit with families and also offers bouncy fitness classes for adults. Visit www.lockmeadowentertainment.co.uk

9. Super swimming

If it’s more leisure activities you’re looking for then Mote Park Leisure Centre has all you could ask for. One of the best in the county, it not only offers five swimming pools and fun flumes but also a two-storey fitness suite, an events hall and a children’s soft play area. It was refurbished last year and the upgrade to the gym includes new, state-of-the-art cardio and strength equipment. There are lots of fitness classes, swimming lessons, pool parties and an enormous pool inflatable assault course called Aqua Challenge. Visit www.maidstoneleisure.com

10. Romantic castle

Just five miles south east of Maidstone is one of the loveliest castles in the world. With Norman origins, Leeds Castle was bought by Edward I and his queen in 1278 and it’s them we have to thank for the beautiful lake which still surrounds the castle. Later it was transformed again by Henry VIII for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and in 1552 it was given to the first of many private owners. The last, Lady Baillie, treated it to a full restoration and used it to host extravagant weekend parties for the rich and famous. Bequeathed upon her death in 1974 to a charitable trust, Leeds Castle is now one of the most visited historic buildings in England. Visit www.leeds-castle.com

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