Town guide to Margate

PUBLISHED: 10:23 21 July 2020

Margate Main Sands, where social distancing is being carefully observed (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Margate Main Sands, where social distancing is being carefully observed (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Margate is Thanet’s trendiest seaside town so we selected some things to do, see and eat when visiting

History

Almost out on the tip of the Isle of Thanet, there wasn’t much to Margate until the 18th century. A small fishing town, originally called ‘Meregate’, it was little more than a Norman church set on a hill and a cluster of cottages built around a harbour.

All that changed in the 1730s when the fashion for sea bathing and a new obsession with the seaside turned it into a popular holiday resort virtually overnight. With thousands of visitors sailing along the coast from London, and later carried by steam vessels and train, the Thanet coast became known as the Kent Riviera and Margate was the place to be seen for nearly 250 years.

The harbour arm, dating from 1810, encloses the small harbour and the shacks along it have been converted into quirky little shops and eateries. Close by is where Margate’s most famous fan, the artist JMW Turner, lived with his landlady and companion Mrs Booth. Today a statue on the head of the harbour arm remembers her.

Nearby, the old Sea Bathing Hospital is an impressive building where patients would come to convalesce in the healthy sea air and dip in the waters. Now mainly flats, its grandeur is a testament to the high regard the town was held in. And all around Margate there are architectural gems; Cecil Square was the first Georgian terrace to have been built in a seaside resort.

Margate’s heyday lasted right through to the 1960s, but it saw a steep decline in the 1970s. Cheap air travel made British seaside resorts almost instantly unfashionable and as tourism dropped, the local economy suffered.

That was until an unexpected boost in the form of the Turner Contemporary Gallery. Chosen as the site of the art gallery due to the town’s links with Turner himself, the opening of the gallery in 2011 kicked off an incredible resurgence of interest in Margate, and a major regeneration project.

An uncharacteristically empty forecourt outside the Turner Contemporary (photo: Manu Palomeque)An uncharacteristically empty forecourt outside the Turner Contemporary (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Best bits

The town is best known for its central sandy beach, Margate Main Sands. Within a few steps of the beach is everything from the harbour arm and the Turner Contemporary to the Old Town’s shops and restaurants.

Walk along the beach in front of the gallery and you’ll spot the lone Antony Gormley statue standing in the waves.

If you keep going you’ll eventually come to the Walpole Bay Tidal Pool – perfect for taking a dip in the summer months.

Further in that direction is the stunning Botany Bay, Joss Bay and the charming town of Broadstairs, while the other direction out of Margate leads along the coast to St Mildred’s Bay and Westgate Bay.

Margate’s mysterious Shell Grotto on Grotto Hill is undoubtedly one of its highlights. Discovered in the 1830s, it’s thought to be a folly built in the 1700s and its underground passageways are lined with millions of seashells.

The pretty Old Town is best known for its vintage shops, and after lockdown it will be even more important than ever that we support these local businesses. The same goes for the arts. When it comes to entertainment and culture, there is usually a great deal to do in Margate, but the pandemic will have taken its toll on this too.

Developments

This July, Margate’s vintage amusement park was all set to celebrate its 100th birthday, but sadly the pandemic has put Dreamland’s plans on hold. In May the park’s management announced that no matter how long lockdown lasted, they would not be opening for their summer season. Having reopened after a £25m restoration in 2017, it comes as a blow for the attraction. After a successful 2019, it had planned to expand events and festivals, and was recently granted planning approval for a 124-bed hotel on Marine Terrace.

Meanwhile, after years of planning and fundraising, the Margate Caves attraction opened last August. Another reinvented attraction from years ago, the site had been closed and was under threat of redevelopment until permission was granted for a new visitor centre opening in the 18th-century chalk caves below.

There are several housing developments in the offing around Margate too, and a decision on the fate of the former Manston Airport site still rumbles on.

Property prices

There’s no way of knowing what will happen to the property market, but Margate’s affordability and popularity has made it one of Kent’s hotspots over the past few years. One-bedroom flats start from just £80,000, with two-bed properties priced anywhere between £95,000 and £450,000. Three-bed houses are between £190,000 and £550,000, and the market goes right up to £1.25m.

Getting there

You can travel by train from Margate to London in around 90 minutes, and it’s easily accessed by road via the A299 Thanet Way and M2.

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