A town guide to Margate
PUBLISHED: 12:40 08 May 2017 | UPDATED: 12:40 08 May 2017
It's a British seaside icon, famed for its sandy beaches and its retro amusements. Now, after decades of neglect, Margate has quite suddenly become one of the most fashionable places outside London. Forget 'up and coming'; Margate's renaissance is now
By now Margate’s secret is truly out of the bag. Not so long ago it was emblematic of the sad decline of the British seaside resort, but now a phoenix has risen from the ashes and brought with it more vintage chic than you could throw a stick of rock at. The past few decade have seen it go from one extreme to the other – first as the iconic home of Kiss Me Quick hats and donkey rides on the beach, then as a run-down symbol of the end of an era and finally as a booming property hotspot with former Londoners falling over themselves to bag affordable homes by the sea.
An area which was so off many tourists radar for so long because of its unloved seafront, tired old arcade and closed-down shops, Margate is now often referred to as ‘Shoreditch-on-Sea’ and it is regularly named one of the UK’s best seaside towns.
Three main factors have been key to Margate’s renaissance. Firstly, in 2011, the Turner Contemporary opened on the seafront – the exact spot where Turner himself had lived. The location of the gallery was a coup for the area and brought much-needed attention to Margate’s better qualities.
At the same time, the local council was helping to regenerate the historic Old Town quarter, encouraging independent businesses to open in the many vacant shops. And finally, in 2015, after a decade of campaigning, Margate’s famous old theme park, Dreamland, reopened for business.
The area has so much going on that it’s a struggle to keep up with latest developments. Among the places well worth visiting are the Harbour Arm, with its quirky little cafés and businesses, the Tom Thumb Theatre in neighbouring Cliftonville, Margate Museum, the Old Kent Market (featuring The Little Prince, a pub so small it can only fit six people) and the Old Town, with its narrow streets brimming with retro stores, art galleries and vibrant creative businesses.
The holiday accommodation on offer has changed in recent years too. Stepping away from the traditional bed and breakfasts, Margate can now offer opulence thanks to the Sands Hotel and The Reading Rooms and some really quirky and unique self-catering properties (visit www.airbnb.co.uk for a great selection), as well as old favourites like the magnificent Walpole Bay Hotel.
No visit to Margate would be complete without some time spent on the pristine Margate Sands or a walk – either down the coast, past Cliftonville and towards Botany Bay and Broadstairs, or up the coast past Mildred’s Bay and Westgate towards Birchington.
Many of the surrounding bays are ideal for swimming in the summer, with seven Blue Flag beaches in Thanet. There’s also the tidal pool at Walpole Bay in Cliftonville. Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year and Grade II listed, it’s a four-acre concrete swimming pool built to allow swimmers access to the sea at low tide. It has an active community of local wild swimmers (see our Postcard from Margate) and visitors are welcome to swim there – although they should be aware it’s pretty basic and set at the bottom of a cliff.
Eating and shopping
In places like Margate and Cliftonville, where new and exciting shops, cafés and restaurants are popping up almost on a weekly basis, there is so much to explore. With an emphasis on independent, vintage, trendy homeware and lifestyle stores, some of our favourite places to browse include The Light Keeper, Etc, Mor, Papillon Interiors, Haeckels, Fox & Spindle, Plinth, Margate Retro and Madam Popoff Vintage.
Places to eat include the superb Ambrette, GB Pizza, The Bus Café (in an actual double decker), BeBeached, Cheesy Tiger, Roost, Hantverk & Found, Forts café, Woody’s and The Melting Pot fondue restaurant - to namecheck just a few.
Having reopened to great excitement in 2015, Margate’s retro fairground attraction quickly showed signs of money troubles. Operator Sands Heritage Limited fell into administration last May but the park continued to trade as usual, thanks to an agreement with its creditors.
Now a £15m injection of funds from offshore company Arrowgrass means it has been overhauled, paying for new rides, the restoration of existing attractions and major upgrades to its events spaces. The plan going forward will be to sell the lease for the park.
Completely re-landscaped earlier this year, the re-envisioning of the park sits restored historic rides alongside an array of culturally enriching attractions and art installations - including an interactive marble run and a mirrored spinning top.
The ride line-up also now welcomes the Brooklands Speedway, Wedgwood Tea Cups and The Crazy Mouse. A new garden boardwalk gives visitors the opportunity to admire the antique menageries from the 1800s, capturing the unique history of the site, which once housed a zoo.
Jennie Double, commercial director at Dreamland Margate, says: “By combining contemporary food and culture with authentic vintage rides and the uniquely British heritage that only we can offer, we believe we’ve captured something truly special with this newly imagined incarnation of Dreamland.”
Key to the new-look park is expanding its use as an events venue. This month (28 and 29 May) sees the popular Hackney Wonderland festival move from its usual London home to Dreamland for Margate Wonderland.
Acts are set to include The Kills, Carl Barat & the Jackals and Broken Hands. A one-day Demon Dayz Festival (10 June) will see the return of Damon Albarn’s band Gorillaz and the following month successful Tunbridge Wells-based punk duo Slaves are set to play a special gig (22 July). Dreamland’s Halloween-themed fright festival Screamland returns in October (13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28).
Visit www.dreamland.co.uk for tickets and further details.
Prices in Margate have risen considerably in the last few years but it’s still easy to find a bargain here, especially if you’re comparing it to London prices. Expect to pay anything from £80,000 for a one-bedroom flat and between £100,000 and £300,000 for a two-bedroom property. A three-bed semi-detached could be anything from £200,000 to £350,000. At the top of the market are several large detached properties up to £800,000.
Thought to have been excavated in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Cliftonville’s cave system was forgotten for years before a local man rediscovered them at the end of the 1700s and commissioned an artist to paint some of the walls with colourful murals - which remain in good condition today.
In 1958 the owner of the famous Chislehurst Caves bought the site, which had been derelict since a bombing in 1941, and reopened the caves as a visitor attraction. It remained open, under several different owners, until 2004.
Concerns were raised seven years ago when the local council filed for planning permission to build housing over the site but the community rallied against it. A campaign group was formed with the intention of getting the caves made safe and restored as a historic tourist attraction.
The project is now in the final stages of planning thanks to Lottery funding. A Big Lottery grant of £422,000 has been added to funds already raised and the Margate Caves Community Education Trust has got planning permission for a state-of-the-art visitor and community venue to be built above ground, designed by Tunbridge Wells architects Kaner Olette.
A final push has been made recently with an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the remainder of the money needed to get the work started. Visit www.margatecaves.co.uk for more information.
Margate is accessed by car via the M20 and M2 and has a station with trains running to London Victoria via Chatham, or to London St Pancras via Ramsgate, as well as to Canterbury and Ashford International.
Sat nav: CT9 1HG
Postcard from Margate
I moved to Margate in 2003 for the classic reasons - the space and to be by the sea. In 2004 I qualified as an art teacher and I now work at the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury as a senior lecturer in 3d Design.
I am also a qualified complementary therapist running my practice from my treatment room in Cliftonville. I offer my clients a range of treatments such as reflexology, body massage, Indian head massage, aromatherapy, Jikiden Reiki.
In recent years there has been a surge of change in the area, pretty dramatic when you consider what it was like 10 years ago. The Harbour Arm was a row of fishermen’s lockups and the Turner Contemporary was a car park.
Now there are young people coming here to make a new life outside the city. Margate is providing a place to make their creative business dreams happen, to make art, make plays, make music, make fashion and make babies! I love experiencing Margate’s transformation. To be here right now is really exciting.
Top of my list of favourite places is the Walpole Bay Tidal Pool. I’m down there for a swim most summer mornings or evenings for a cheeky sunrise or sunset dip. There are weekly social swims in the summer - it’s free, spectacular and 80 years old this year too.
A few other special favourites are the Shell Grotto for its beauty and mystery, The Tom Thumb Theatre for a show, Northdown Park or Garden Gate with the kids, the Northdown Road with its quirky variety of shops and businesses, Resort Studios to see an exhibition, Clayspace to do some clay work, The Old Town for a mooch. And of course the Turner Contemporary for international art!
In Cliftonville I like to pop into The Grain Grocer, Lovelys Art Gallery, Cliffs, RG Scotts Furniture Mart, Batchelors. In Margate’s Old Town: The Greedy Cow, The Bus Café, BeBeached, Mor, The Shop, The Margate Gallery, The OASIS charity shop. I could go on and on.