12 of Kent’s Best Beaches to Visit in Summer

We’re tracing the coast around the Kentish Riviera – through Whitstable, Margate and Broadstairs – to Dungeness, picking out Kent’s Blue Flag beaches and lesser-visited bays. Plan a day trip or make a staycation of it; we’ve spotlighted some great places to stay en route.

Whether you've got your eyes on the rising mercury or want to stretch your legs on a bracing coastal stroll, the Kentish Riviera has a beach for you - small wonder we've named it one of our 21 UK destinations to visit in 2021. The tide here laps against bucket-and-spade towns, crumbling chalk cliffs, wild shingle shores and coastal enclaves riding the waves of cultural reinvention.

From the Isle of Sheppey, we're tracing the coast around Thanet - through Whitstable, Margate and Broadstairs - to Dungeness, picking out Kent's Blue Flag beaches and lesser-visited bays en route.

Plan a day trip or make a staycation of it, walking, cycling or road-tripping along the shore - various routes including the Viking Coastal Trail and newly finished England Coast Path join the dots. Plus, we've spotlighted some of the area's boutique hotels and self-catering stays along the way.

Blue Flag beaches and lesser-visited bays: visit the best of the Kent coast

Botany Bay

Broadstairs

The poster child of the Kent coast. Botany Bay takes its name from the area's 19th-century smugglers who were deported to Australia. Today, however, you'll be more likely to knock elbows with photographers, who get snap-happy around the dramatic chalk stacks, between which you'll find smaller coves, rock pools and (if you're lucky) a fossil or two. Much like Dorset's natural beauty spots of Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, Botany Bay draws crowds as the mercury rises. Avoid them by walking 10 minutes east to Kingsgate Bay, where Thanet's best sea caves are carved into the cliffs. Beware: it's possible to get cut off by the incoming tide.

Stay: Lourdes Cottage

Joss Bay

Broadstairs

Surfers: take note. This 200m-long bay is pretty swell, with sand bars and chalk reefs. Joss Bay Surf School has been here since the late 90s, offering board and wetsuit hire along with lessons in surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. Out of the waves, the soft sands are wide, even when the tide is in. They're backed by steep chalk cliffs and the North Foreland Golf Club. Much like neighbouring Botany Bay, this cove was once smugglers' stomping ground - it's named after Joss Snelling, head of the Callis Court Gang, which imported contraband to Kent in the late 1800s.

Stay: Seven Bays Cottage

Herne Bay

Herne

Often overlooked by daytrippers beelining for Whitstable or Margate, Herne Bay is a nostalgic stretch of coast - all creased-silk sea and bright beach huts backed by Georgian townhouses. Beyond them: rolling hillocks and a scattering of sharks teeth between the pebbles. Fuel up with a slice of Naples from A Casa Mia before stopping by The Seaside Museum, treasure hunting through the car-boot sales at Whitstable Bends or following the Oyster Bay Trail east, setting your sights on the medieval Reculver Towers that pierce the horizon.

Stay: The Lighthouse

Hythe Beach

Hythe

Between Folkestone and Dymchurch, Hythe is more akin to a quaint rural village than bucket-and-spade town. Its beach? More than 3km of sloping pebble backed by a wide promenade perfect for cycling or walking. Rise early and head to The Lazy Food Company, which stocks fresh-from-the-sea fish and other Kentish produce mere footsteps from bobbing boats. Kippers and coffee taste better watching fishermen cast out and octogenarians take their morning dip. From here, a steam railway links up with St Mary's Bay, Romney Sands and Dungeness.

Stay: Cabu by the Sea

Sunny Sands

Folkestone

Folkestone may be enjoying a cultural renaissance, but there's plenty of that salty sea-dog charm left on its shores. Dip in and out of its distinct beaches. Sunny Sands is prime sandcastle-making territory, but can get busy in warmer climes - instead, take a walk on the wild side in East Cliff and Warren Country Park, where 200 years of landslides have created an ideal habitat for seaside flora and birds. Knock elbows with the cool crowd between the restored Harbour Arm's street-food stalls, drive-in cinema and smattering of installations that belong to the UK's largest exhibition of outdoor urban art. Pro tip: follow a discreet staircase below the arm to find one of Antony Gormley's Another Time figures gazing across the Channel to France.

Stay: Rocksalt

Shellness

Isle of Sheppey

Look beyond Sheppey's prisons and caravan parks to explore the tufted marshland of Elmley National Nature Reserve, fossil-rich beaches and skies as wide and as clear as the cycle routes are quiet. Twitchers are in their element here. Hugging the northeast coast, Minster Leas' shingle gives way to sand at low tide and is popular with families, dog walkers and fitness buffs who make use of the outdoor gym. But if you really want to go back to basics, head to the dune-backed Shellness, where a sign reads: "Beyond this notice clothing need not be worn for bathing, sunbathing or general recreation." We never liked tan lines anyway…

Stay: Kingshill Farmhouse, Elmley Nature Reserve

Main Sands

Margate

Where kitsch meets cool. Crowned by "the loveliest skies in all of Europe" (according to J. M. W. Turner), Margate's Main Sands can get shoulder-to-shoulder when the weather's fair and city daytrippers wash up between Dreamland amusement park, vintage shops and vamped-up street food stalls around The Sun Deck (though we're partial to a cup of cockles from Manning's Seafood). Walk east to visit Turner Contemporary, Haeckels and the Walpole Bay - the UK's largest saltwater lido and a more peaceful alternative to the tidal pool of the Main Sands. Quieter still is the cliff-backed promenade, rock pools and no-fuss cafés of St Mildred's Bay, a 40-minute coastal walk west.

Stay: The Albion Rooms

Tankerton

Whitstable

Nothing blows out the cobwebs like a bracing beach stroll. Whitstable West Beach is all well and good for jaunty huts, oyster shacks and sunset pints at the clapboard "Neppy", but it's neighbouring Tankerton that really amps up the coastal drama. "The Street", a 750m-long natural spit, emerges a low tide - walk out with the estuary waters lapping either side. That said, it's equally as tempting to take the hour's walk east from Whitstable, past gnarled groynes and old boats, to Seasalter, where you'll be rewarded with lunch at Michelin-starred The Sportsman - so long as you book far ahead.

Stay: Tides Cottage

Deal Castle Beach

Deal

Bohemian Deal is a magnet for "down from Londoners". But between its artisan delis, galleries and indie boutiques, it's a town saturated in seaside heritage. Julius Caesar landed here in 55BCE, Henry VIII built artillery castles and a once-thriving smuggling trade inspired Daniel Defoe to write of Deal's "barbarous hated name". The 19th-century pier was torpedoed in the Second World War; today's brutalist structure was reopened by Prince Phillip in 1957. Fuel up in the architecturally inspired Deal Pier Kitchen before tracing the 10km promenade from Walmer to Sandwich Bay - bikes can be rented from Hut 55. When the sun shines, swimming is pleasant anywhere along the shingle - though more serious types will be happier around Kingsdown Beach and Sandwich Bay.

Stay: The Rose

Dungeness

Romney Marsh

There's an almost post-apocalyptic feel to Britain's only desert. Threaded by boardwalks, Dungeness's vast expanse of shingle is decorated with more than 600 rare plant species, the rusting ribcages of old boats strung with fishing nets and railway carriages repurposed as homes - all overlooked by two lighthouses and nuclear power station. Bleakly beautiful. Nose around the garden of the late filmmaker Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage before lunching on local-lobster tacos from the nearby Snack Shack. From here, we recommend hopping on the steam-powered Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway to explore farther along the Kent Coast.

Stay: Shingle House

St Margaret’s Bay

Dover

From the rural village of St Margaret's at Cliffe, it's a pleasant wander down to this pebbled bay, a place as famous for its proximity to France - Channel swimmers depart here - as its connection with James Bond. Author Ian Flemming wrote many of the novels in an art-deco house previously owned by playwright Noël Coward. Nearby, The Coastguard boasts its status as being the closest pub to the continent. Needless to say, the views have a license to thrill - especially in the morning, when the white cliffs mark the first place that the sun touches mainland Britain each morning.

Stay: This sea-view apartment with a private sauna

Minnis Bay

Birchington

There's a bucolic vibe at this Blue Flag beach, more digital detox than beaches-and-cream. Locals head here for paddleboarding, kayaking, windsurfing and other such watersports, as well as gathering around the Victorian tidal pool. Look out for crabs. Minnis Bay is easily reachable from Margate via bus - snag a seat on the open deck in summer - or take a 30-minute bike ride along the Viking Coastal Trail. Sunset here is beautiful; pitch up in a glamping pod at nearby Hawk Place Campsite for a front-row seat.

Stay: Edgecliff Boutique B&B

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