A town guide to Folkestone
PUBLISHED: 10:36 04 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:36 04 June 2018
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Buzzing with creativity and undergoing exciting regeneration, a visit to this seaside town is a must this summer
If it’s been a few years since you last visited Folkestone, you’re in for a treat. Regeneration has had a big impact on the seaside town and the creative buzz about the place is practically tangible.
Unique, friendly and proud of its heritage, this town has it all, plus one of the best stretches of coast in the country and a high-speed rail link to London.
Despite becoming a ‘limb’ of the Cinque Ports during the 15th century, life in Folkestone was quiet until the construction of the harbour at the beginning of the 19th century catapulted it from sleepy fishing village to busy port almost overnight.
During the next two centuries it was one of the nation’s most important shipping and ferry ports and became one of the south-east’s best-loved seaside holiday destinations. Tourists flocked to enjoy the sandy beaches and the area thrived.
However, like so many of our coastal towns, Folkestone fell out of favour with holidaymakers and the opening of the Channel Tunnel hit the ferry business hard.
Regenerating the area has been a labour of love for those behind it and the results speak for themselves. The refurbished Folkestone Harbour Arm is a delight, with quirky food stalls, bars, live entertainment throughout the summer and a fantastic atmosphere, especially on warm evenings.
The old part of the town is now home to the Creative Quarter, and there’s nothing better than a stroll through the narrow streets, discovering the sheer range of independent businesses based there.
With everything from record shops and hairdressers to literary cafés and art galleries, the joy of browsing in real shops rather than online is alive and well here.
This year’s Open Quarter festival (15-24 June) invites you to take a leisurely stroll through this urban village of designers, makers, technophiles and artists.
Later this summer, the SALT Festival celebrates the sea and the environment (6-9 September) in locations throughout the Creative Quarter, Harbour and Folkestone Quarterhouse. Through talks and discussions, workshops, installations and exhibitions, SALT considers what the future of the region might hold.
There are still plenty of regeneration projects ongoing, and this year will see the finer details ironed out in plans to create a massive seafront development to include 1,000 new homes.
There are also controversial plans to build a new ‘garden town’ called Otterpool Park between Folkestone Racecourse and neighbouring Hythe. The proposed development, which will offer 12,000 homes, hopes to take shape in phases over the next 30 years.
Other developments include the Turner Free School, set to open in September, a new indoor skateboard centre and a housing development on the former Shorncliffe Garrison site.
There is also hope for the popular Leas Lift, the historic funicular which was closed last year after concerns about the mounting costs of repairs. Sadly, however, it won’t reopen in time for this summer as originally planned.
The beautiful sea views are an inspiration and as with many of our coastal towns, Folkestone attracts artists of all sorts. The Creative Foundation created the Folkestone Triennial, which sees art installations go up all over the town every three years.
The 2017 event featured Richard Woods’ ‘Holiday Home’ sequence; small, multi-coloured bungalows dotted around various locations, including one floating in the harbour. The foundation is also responsible for the popular Folkestone Book Festival (16 to 25 November 2018).
Walkers can go right along the beach from Folkestone through Sandgate to Hythe or head in the other direction, past the aptly named Sunny Sands beach and towards East Cliff and Warren Country Park. Or visit the Lower Leas Coastal Park for great views and a bit of adventure in the children’s play area. Serious walkers can explore the trails and viewpoints of the Folkestone Downs too.
Harbour Arm: new season
This year saw the reopening of the seasonal stalls on the Harbour Arm in March and there’s a lot planned for the summer months, with plenty of live music, food, drink and entertainment.
After its multi-million pound overhaul in 2015, the pleasure pier has quickly become one of the top visitor attractions. New this year is the now fully refurbished harbour railway station which once brought soldiers right down to the waterside to be shipped off to the front line. It now provides another walkway to the Harbour Arm.
Some of the outlets calling the Harbour Arm home are: Follies, That Burger, The Big Greek Bus (literally a double-decker bus serving Greek food), Mole Café, Docker Brewery & Bakehouse and the incredible Lighthouse Champagne Bar, based in the old lighthouse at the very end of the arm.
Promenade along The Harbour Arms from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, while the food and drink offering is open every weekend during the season, high days and holidays, visit www.folkestoneharbourarm.co.uk.
Eating and shopping
For lovers of quirky stores and one-off boutiques, the Creative Quarter has dozens of places to browse and buy – and all just a stone’s throw from the sea.
Gift shops and vintage stores like The Great British Shop and Rennies Seaside Modern sit alongside unique clothing stores like Atelier Feralchild and art galleries such as Sentient and Whelkboy.
Further into the town are more treasures, including gift emporium Moda and Courting Lily Vintage, as well as the big-brand shops on the high street and in Bouverie Place shopping centre.
Eating out is a pleasure here, with dozens of exciting places to try out. For a real showstopper, try a meal at Rocksalt, overlooking the harbour, or a traditional afternoon tea at The Grand.
Others well worth seeking out include The Smokehouse, Blooms at the 1/4, El Cortador, Earls, Big Boys Fine Burger Co, Lubens, The Pullman, Anna’s café and Steep Street coffee house. And don’t forget all the great food and drink offerings on the Harbour Arm.
Newly opened this May is The Radnor Arms, Old Bouverie, taking over the pub previously known as The Frenchman. Part of the Ramblinns independent inn collection, it will showcase the work of local artits and play host to musicians as well as showcasing the region’s finest fresh food and local ales.
It’s not yet as popular as Margate, but Folkestone has certainly been noticed by those priced out of London. Expect to buy a one-bedroom flat for anywhere upward of £75,000 and a two-bed property for upward of £100,000. Three-bed homes are priced between £170,000 and £650,000. Larger properties are available right up to £1.5m.
Postcard from Folkestone
I’m Mark Swain and my wife Lorna and I run The Troubadour of Kent, a micropub based in a former newsagents.
We serve real ale straight from the cask, plus local cider and good-quality wine.
Customers yearn for the old days when a pub was a place to meet and chat over a drink. Micropubs are responding to the demand and reinvigorating local high streets – that’s why so many are springing up all over Kent.
Located in Folkestone’s Creative Quarter, we have a small stage where we put on live acoustic music, poetry and storytelling.
Folkestone has a lot of good musicians and poets so the scene is thriving. We encourage people to just call in and ask to perform, in the tradition of the medieval troubadours, which produces some great impromptu results.
Folkestone is a really friendly town.
I’ve lived all over Britain and around the world and I am regularly uplifted by the friendliness of its quirky and creative people. I lived here when I was a child and always felt it had something special.
I love the coastal park and walking along the promenade to Sandgate and Hythe in the morning sun.
I love the views from The Leas and from the hills surrounding the town. My wife and I also love the fact that we can be in London by high-speed train in under an hour or nip over to Paris for breakfast by Eurostar. It all adds up to a great quality of life.
When it comes to eating out, The Pullman and Lubens both have excellent food at reasonable prices. And due to the history of the Gurkhas being based in Folkestone, there are some great Nepalese restaurants too.
Noy’s Noodles produces fabulous fresh Thai takeaway food cooked in front of you. The Lime Bar is a great little café/bar that puts on good music, as is The Chambers.
I love the atmosphere in both Elato Chocolate Café and Steep Street Café. The Space Bar has a great vibe. There are so many good places to go in Folkestone and more are opening all the time. To find out more about us, visit our Facebook page.