A town guide to Whitstable
PUBLISHED: 16:12 10 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:12 10 July 2017
It's an easy place to fall in love with, so take some time out this summer to experience the many wonders of Whitstable
There are few towns that so easily capture the hearts of visitors. Beautiful and beguiling, Whitstable’s stunning pebble beaches, relaxed pace of life, great shopping and unique, creative atmosphere make it a place worth falling in love with.
Discovered some years ago by the ‘Down from London’ set, Whitstable continues to attract families priced out of the London housing market and those seeking second homes for weekend getaways.
This, combined with a reputation for being a bit ‘posher’ than some of its neighbours, has kept the town’s property market soaring for years. In fact, house prices have risen by an astounding 70 per cent in the last 10 years, the third highest price rise in the country.
But for those of us who grew up in Kent, Whitstable was a favourite long before the Londoners moved in. It’s always been a popular choice for family day trips to the seaside, and a well-deserved reputation for seafood has also long attracted foodies. The prices may have gone up and there may be more high-end shops and trendy eateries than 25 years ago, but the character of the place is as charming as ever.
Just spend half an hour sitting beside the busy working harbour and you’ll see life as it has been here for hundreds of years.
It is little wonder this seaside gem attracts creative people. The incredible sunsets, the fresh sea air and the supportive local arts community mean that it is home to artists, photographers, musicians, poets and authors.
Any given weekend there is a list of events going on, with local bands playing the pubs, poetry readings in the cafés and art exhibitions. Visit the Horsebridge Centre for film screenings, plays, exhibitions and classes, and if you’d like to explore the area’s literary side, visit in May for the annual WhitLit festival.
Eating and shopping
For such a small town, there is so much packed into Whitstable. Harbour Street is a good starting point but explore further as many of the town’s hidden gems are away from the main shopping area.
Potter around the independent shops and boutiques to your heart’s content, but don’t miss some of our favourites: Rock Bottom Records, Peekaboo Kids, The Clothes Horse, Duma lighting, Valentines Vintage and Harbour Books (see our postcard from Whitstable).
And Whitstable Harbour Village, based in huts at the far end of the harbour, is a wonderful place to browse, with a bustling community of local artists, artisans, retailers and food and drink producers.
Seafood fans will be in heaven, with a number of great local fish restaurants and seafood bars offering fresh treats. Famous for its oysters, it’s almost a crime not to try some of the native shellfish grown in beds just off the main beach. But there’s something for everyone.
Some of the best places to eat around the town are The Whitstable Oyster Company, The Pearson’s Arms, Wheeler’s Oyster Bar, Samphire, Birdies, The Beach Café, The Oxford and Alimo.
Another suggestion is a visit to Whitstable Castle where you enjoy the public gardens and have a snack in either the orangery tea room or the tea gardens across the road, with a lovely view over the beach. And nearby Seasalter boasts not one but two highly respected pub restaurants, The Sportsman and The Oyster Pearl.
What’s on in Whitstable?
Mandy Smith and her brother Tim have recently launched a website publicising Whitstable’s many exciting events and small businesses. Born in Whitstable but having only moved back to live in the town three years ago, she wanted to celebrate the area’s unique independence and creativity.
“My Grandad spent most of his working life in the harbour,” she says. “He worked in the oyster sheds when he was a teenager, as a trawler man for many years and he ran a shellfish stall outside the Duke of Cumberland. He could still be seen working in the harbour when he was in his 80s.
“My brother and I spent many a school holiday staying with our grandparents, so over that time I have seen Whitstable change greatly. When telling people I was going to Whitstable, over the years their response has gone from ‘where?’ to ‘oh, how lovely.’ How things change!”
The duo first launched What’s On Whitstable (WOW) as a Facebook page in 2014. With nothing else like it locally, the page’s popularity quickly grew and, along with WOW’s Twitter and Instagram accounts, has continued to grow ever since.
“We had talked about creating the WOW website for two years. Tim is a web developer for small businesses, so along with my marketing and PR expertise, we have created a great website to support the town and all that it offers.”
So as an expert on local events, what is Mandy looking forward to in Whitstable over the summer?
“The Oyster Festival tends to see the start of a great series of events and activities throughout the summer. One of my favourite events is Harbour Day which this is year on 5 August. This year the event is being organised for the first time by Whitstable Maritime and it coincides with the Smack and Barge Race, which is always a fabulous sight to see.”
Whitstable Oyster Festival: 22-24 July
This month it’s all about oysters. July usually sees thousands of visitors flock to the world-famous annual Whitstable Oyster Festival but, after more than 30 years, the news that this year’s event was under threat came as a shock late last year.
After concerns were raised by residents about issues including noise, anti-social behaviour and litter, the organisers have agreed to rein in the festivities and this year will see the launch of a new scaled-back version.
The event will run for three days rather than its usual 10 and will be considerably smaller than the 2016 festival, with everything finishing by 9pm each evening. Events that have been cut include the parade, the outdoor film screenings, the firework finale and The Shuck – a venue which hosted music and comedy nights throughout the festival.
Instead it will focus on its traditional roots, opening with the ‘Landing of the Oysters’ and a procession along Tankerton Slopes ending in the famous oyster-eating competition.
Other events over the three days will include crabbing, a treasure hunt, a tug of war and the Whitstabubble Beach Party, and the festival will close with the lighting of the ‘Grotters’ – stacks of oyster shells built around candles on the beach.
There will also be a selection of new events so check the website for details, www.whitstableoysterfestival.co.uk
Prices in Whitstable have shot up over the past decade. Expect to pay upwards of £150,000 for a one-bed flat and between £220,000 and £400,000 for a two-bed terraced house. Three-bed semis are on the market for between £290,000 and £500,000. Larger properties are priced right up to £1.9m.
On the coast, between Seasalter and Tankerton, Whitstable is only a short drive from Canterbury. It’s accessible from the A2/M2, off the M20. The town centre station has regular trains to London, which take around an hour and 20 minutes.
Sat nav: CT5 1DB
Postcard from Whitstable
My name is Keith Dickson, I am the owner of Harbour Books in Whitstable. The shop was set up in the mid-nineties in a time before Amazon and big discounting by chain stores - a much easier time to be a bookseller!
Having started small, the shop gradually expanded to fill two floors of the building. We now sell a mixture of full price and discounted books, as well as cards, toys, gifts and stationery.
Competing with online retailers is not really an option, so you have to give people something they can’t find on the internet. A good knowledge of our customers and the kinds of books they will appreciate so they can find something every time they walk in the shop is essential.
We also want the shop to be somewhere children can feel comfortable spending time so we have recently created a seating area and doubled the size of our children’s section. We hope this will help children to see bookshops as a fun place to be and will encourage them to go into bookshops as they get older.
We have been in the town since before it became fashionable and so have seen the way the High Street and Harbour Street have changed and developed. Obviously with tourism come the problems of parking and crowds in the summer but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
We now have a wonderful blend of the old and the new; there are butchers and greengrocers but also galleries, clothes shops, fantastic restaurants and two rather marvellous bookshops!
While I welcome the tourism and the visitors, I love the town most when it is quiet. I love walking down the street just as the shop keepers are arriving and preparing for the day.
I love the beach in the early morning and I love scuttling away into the peace of the backstreets away from the hustle and bustle of the main roads.
Search ‘Harbour Books’ on Facebook and follow @harbourbooks on Twitter