Things to do in Herne Bay, Kent: A town guide
PUBLISHED: 16:05 17 June 2019
Sandwiched between two of Kent’s trendiest towns, this peaceful little seaside resort has been overlooked for years. It’s time for Herne Bay to take centre stage
Traditional seaside towns like Herne Bay have gone through a lot over the last century, going from the height of fashion to down in the dumps. With the government's Future of the Seaside Town report published earlier this year, it became clear that similar resorts across the country require urgent action to bring back tourists and become desirable places to live again.
Luckily, the 'Kentish Riviera' is ahead of the curve. Taking up the challenge laid down by its neighbouring towns of Whitstable and Margate - both hugely successful in terms of reinvention and regeneration - little Herne Bay is on the up.
Already identified as the county's next property hotspot, it's attracting new residents with its affordable homes, good schools and easy commute, and attracting visitors with its pretty beach, nostalgic charm and unique shops and restaurants.
With much of the town dating from the Victorian era, when trips to the seaside were all the rage, it's full of attractive period architecture, and still has its pier, promenade, bandstand, colourful vintage beach huts and seafront gardens.
Launched in 2015, Herne Bay's Coastal Park stretches five miles from Hampton to Reculver, protecting the coastline for generations to come. As far as landmarks go, Herne Bay's iconic clock tower on the seafront is 75ft tall and is thought to be the world's oldest freestanding clock tower.
The pier, meanwhile, has been through many guises since the original timber version was built. These days it is drawing in visitors with its rows of retail huts and quirky food and drink outlets.
There are carnival games, a Helter Skelter and carousel and plenty of fishing and crabbing still goes on. Plans have also been revealed to extend the pier by adding a new walkway and platform. If it goes ahead it will be the first stage in the long-term plan to attach the pier to its original head, which has sat far offshore, cut off and abandoned since storms in the 1970s.
Other attractions along Herne Bay's front include the Central Bandstand, which hosts regular events, and the sunken Waltrop Gardens, built to celebrate the twinning of the town with Waltrop and kept in pristine condition. Not forgetting the amusements, arcades and mini golf that have kept families entertained for decades.
Also along the seafront, look out for the memorial statue to record-breaking pilot Amy Johnson, whose plane crashed into the sea off Herne Bay in 1941. If the weather is calm and you feel like a walk, the offshore breakwater known as Neptune's Arm has a long walkway right out to sea.
Shopping and eating
Shop at Heavenly Home gift shop, Beer Brothers, La De Da clothing boutique, La Luna, Busy B's, record shop Bside the Cside and many more. Don't miss art galleries Beach Creative, Bay Art Gallery and One New Street, and the multitude of little retail units along the pier. There's a Produce & Craft Market every second Sunday at Wimereux Square.
There are plenty of interesting places to eat and drink. Try out contemporary Indian restaurants Shad and Maharaja, Oyster & Chop House, Toast café at Beach Creative, A Casa Mia, Bay Leaf coffee house, A La Turka, The Vintage Empire wartime tearoom, The Wallflower Café (see our postcard from Herne Bay below), The Wine Bar, Makcari's ice cream and coffee parlour, Very Vintage, The Green Door deli, The Hampton Inn, Salt & Light and micropubs Parkerville, Firkin Frog and The Bouncing Barrel. And there are several good food and drink outlets at the Herne Bay Pier Village.
Herne Bay's The Four Fathoms was pub of the year in our Kent Life Food & Drink Awards 2018, and in nearby Reculver, HatHats Coffee Company was a finalist in the independent café of the year category.
Things to do
Cultural trail: There's a fascinating cultural trail to explore, pointing out the historic Ship Inn, the statue of Sir Barnes Neville Wallis, who famously tested his bouncing bombs in the sea just off Herne Bay, the Waltrop Gardens' Victorian fountain and much more.
Seaside Museum: One of Herne Bay's most popular attractions, the Seaside Museum was established in 1932 and takes visitors back in time to the resort's heyday. Exhibits include Punch and Judy puppets, seashore finds and artefacts from the Roman fort at Reculver.
Wildwood Trust: Wildwood animal park in nearby Herne Common is home to more than 200 species that are or were at one time native to the British Isles, including wolves, lynx and two rescued European brown bears.
Reculver Towers: The striking twin towers on the cliff edge at Reculver are all that remains of a 12th-century church, built close to the ruins of an ancient Roman fort. It's free to visit, with a visitor centre in the neighbouring Reculver Country Park.
Art & entertainment: The town boasts its own community theatre, the 72-seater Herne Bay Little Theatre, as well as the independent Kavanagh Cinema, which screens both the latest releases and old classics. Meanwhile, Beach Creative, the town's community arts centre, features three galleries with exhibitions, workshops and studio space.
The month-long summer spectacular Bayfest will take place from 27th July to 31st August. Festival highlights include a fireworks display, a classic car show, the Herne Bay rowing regatta and a sandcastle-building competition.
Postcard from Herne Bay
My name is Becky Howlett and I'm the owner of The Wallflower Cafè, an independent vegan cafè in the heart of Herne Bay. You can find us tucked at the back of a little shopping mall on the High Street.
The Wallflower is in its 10th year and has seen many changes, the biggest being our move to go totally plant based in 2016. Our focus is on fresh, healthy, locally sourced food, all home made by us with a lot of love. Most of our food is gluten free and our menu changes frequently according to seasonality and what is inspiring us at the time. Veganism is on the rise and is only set to get bigger in 2019. More people are becoming aware of the environmental impacts of consuming meat, fish and dairy, and the cruelty involved in animal agriculture and are adopting a vegan lifestyle as a result.
Herne Bay is a beautiful seaside town with good links to London and a strong community feel. A lot of independent businesses have opened up in recent years which has had such a positive impact on the town. We are all very supportive of each other, which is brilliant.
I love Alamode for vintage clothing, La Luna for beautiful gifts, crystals and natural healing and Very Vintage for great coffee and a laid-back vibe.