Since the Turner Contemporary opened here in 2011, the seaside town of Margate has undergone a renegade renaissance fuelled by craft beer, art, vintage shops and seafood caught on the Kent coast. But does it deserve the moniker “Shoreditch-on-Sea”? Try our recommendations to find out.

We closed our eyes and turned our faces towards the sun, the scent of sunscreen and salt wafting through the air. We could have been anywhere in the world. A remote Greek island, somewhere on the West Coast or perhaps a sleepy Italian fishing village. Just as our imaginations began to take over, we heard: “Shall we go inside for a cuppa, Angela?” We turned around to see a stout old woman in a string vest beckoning her friend. Angela, it seemed, had been enjoying the sunshine a little too much and her arms, chest and face had turned a worrying shade of magenta. They packed up their stripy umbrella and plucked two British flags from the sand, waddling up towards a white hut selling fish and chips, pizza and kebabs. We were not in Greece, California or Italy. We were in Margate in Kent, on one of the hottest days of the year.

While Margate may have a little way to go before it becomes ‘the new Brighton‘, it’s hard to ignore its growing appeal. Londoners have been flocking to this town of late, lured by low house prices and short commute from the capital. They have brought with them speciality coffee, craft beer and ‘locavore’ (eating locally sourced produce) dining. In the folds of the old town there is a wealth of curiosity shops, Scandi-style homeware stores and vibrant little cafes flanked by old, peeling pubs. With the Turner Contemporary gallery at its heart, Margate’s art scene is flourishing (Tracey Emin grew up here) with independent galleries hosting a year-round calendar of exhibitions. Seafood is everywhere, from pastel-coloured oyster bars to hip restaurants serving local catches with natural wine. But the old Margate of scruffy caffs, boarded-up shop fronts and empty, flashing games arcades lives on. It is the England of photographer Martin Parr’s vision – one of dripping ice cream, dodgy tattoos, sagging sun chairs, battered cod and fading amusement rides. The sweeping beach is overlooked by concrete tower blocks and ferris wheels. And the sunsets, which JMW Turner called the most beautiful in world, throw dusky pink light over the jetty and turn the sea dark blue. With more outsiders than ever jumping at the chance to live here, Margate continues to change and grow. But its old, gritty spirit is made of tougher stuff. With the two sides of this seaside town at play, there has never been a better time to visit.

TO STAY

The Reading Rooms

With its stripped, flaky walls, creaky floorboards, jewelled chandeliers and heavy wooden doors, this boutique B&B offers a chance to experience the grandeur of Margate’s golden era. Set inside a Georgian townhouse overlooking the leafy Hawley Square, each bedroom occupies an entire floor. The bathrooms have walk-in showers and deep roll-top baths, while breakfast is a gloriously indulgent affair, with everything from salmon and cream cheese to porridge with fresh compote, brought to your room on a tray. Combine this with silky sheets, plush bathrobes and the sound of seagulls and you can understand how we ended up staying in  the room all morning.

The bedroom at the top of the house looks out over Margate’s skyline, with the sea poking out behind the terracotta chimneys, church steeples and tall rustling trees. It is located just a few minutes from the maze of the old town and the beach and is run by ex-East Londoners Louise and Liam.

Sands Hotel

When financier Nick Conington bought a derelict shoreside property at auction in 2011, he became a pioneer of Margate’s renaissance. Plans for flats had been on the cards, but he found out that the place had been the Terrace Hotel in the late 19th century and decided to bring it back to life. Light-flooded rooms along with the opening of the modern-European Bay Restaurant and art-deco ice-cream parlour Melt draw visitors in search of contemporary luxury – the vibe here is more superyacht than Margate’s typical artsy flair. Head to the fifth-floor terrace and you’ll see why Turner was smitten with Margate’s skies.

 

Airbnbs

While we love Margate’s rough-edged, salty charm, it doesn’t always make for the chicest experience when it comes to bedding down. Where some of the city’s hotels veer towards the more panned-out side of tired, many of its Airbnbs are anything but. Opt for mid-century style The Trinity in Margate Old Town or this cabin-esque retreat in the quieter Westbrook area. Spread over three floors opposite the Turner Contemporary, Fort Hill is great for those travelling in a group, but for a stay you’ll not forget in a hurry, check in to Penny Rope, a prison-themed bedchamber in the cellar of a Georgian townhouse. Nicer than it sounds.

 

Walpole Bay Hotel

In all its fading glory, this grande-dame hotel makes for an, erm, offbeat stay. Rising from the Cliftonville cliffs, Walpole Bay hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1914, and it’s for this reason that you’ll either despise it or fall head over heels for all its quirks – fans include Tracy Emin and Ray Winston as well as East London types with a penchant for all things vintage. Muse over owner Jane Bishop’s curious collection of framed napkins and wedding dresses before fuelling up with a Walpole cream tea for a lazy afternoon walk – step out of the front door and you’re right on the Viking Coastal Trail. 

 

The Pig at Bridge Place

You’ll have to drive 30 minutes to the Nailbourne Valley to reach this Grade II-listed manor, so staying here makes more sense for those using Margate as a pit-stop on a Kentish road trip or bon vivants who crave a Garden-of-England reprieve from Margate’s renegade disposition. That’s not to say The Pig is dull, however. This place served as Kent’s foremost rock ‘n’ roll venue in the 60s and 70s – Pink Floyd and The Kinks played here – and today this vibe manifests in a mismatched aesthetic that extends into covert corners. Pig out in the restaurant, where home-grown fare will have you snorting with pleasure. 

 

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