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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.

TO EAT + DRINK

Manning's Seafood

Is there anything more quintessentially British than batting away the seagulls as you eat a cup of cockles with a toothpick? Manning’s takes this good old seaside tradition to new heights, selling freshly caught seafood from a small white hut opposite the harbour. Along with all of the classics – whelks, crayfish, prawns and the dreaded jellied eel, Manning’s also serves hot, garlicky green-lip mussels, squid, fishcakes and plump oysters with lemon and tabasco, served with cold glasses of prosecco.

  • The Parade
    Margate
    CT9 1RU

Roost

Perched (thank you) on the edge of the former lido (now nothing more than a basin of concrete) overlooking the sprawling sea, Roost offers dramatic views alongside good old fashioned comfort food. This simple, modern space – all wooden floors and long sharing tables – offers succulent, locally-sourced rotisserie chicken in quarters, halves and wholes. Sides include Asian slaw, seaweed salt and pepper squid and mac ‘n’ cheese with a crispy sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top, while two wooden barrels of “help yourself” house wine will keep you well and truly quenched.

Fort's

This local hotspot revives an old seaside cafe, while retaining its no-frills charm. Out on the chequered front deck, which overlooks the sea, multi-coloured ribbons flutter in the doorway. Behind it, battered novels are hung up with bulldog clips on a seaweed green wall, while young creatives sit at linoleum tables sipping bloody marys and playing board games, nibbling on eggs benedict, ‘proper’ Welsh rarebit, smoked mackerel with bubble and squeak or avocado with smoked almonds on toast.

Xiringuito

This ‘moveable restaurant’ designed by architect Asif Khan and constructed with scaffolding poles into a giant minimalist tipi, is the brainchild of best friends Jackson Berg and Conor Sheehan. Berg’s culinary CV includes St John Bread & Wine and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. The name for the restaurant is taken from the Catalan word for the seasonal bars that open up in the summer. Its versatile structure means it too will be migrating from place to place with the seasons. For now, it is nestled on the seafront in Margate, beside the newly renovated Dreamland amusement park. An inventive menu showcases all that is great about British produce, including seasonal fruit and veg, locally sourced meats, wines from independent suppliers, local ice creams and fish plucked straight from the North Sea.

Mala Kaffe

There is one thing that no gentrifying town can be without these days – a Scandi coffee shop. The creators of Mala have happily obliged, bringing a taste of Swedish ‘fika’ culture to Margate’s harbour. Looking out over the bobbing boats and the beach beyond, this hole-in-the-wall coffee shop has a scattering of tables and chairs outside. The interior includes a tiny kitchen, coffee machine, chalk-board menus and plenty of greenery. As well as speciality coffee, there is a wholesome menu featuring things like a Copenhagen brunch board, open sandwiches filled with herring and pickles, gravlax and granola.

  • Unit 3 Harbour Arm
    Margate
    CT9 1JD

Hantverk & Found

Blending local art and local catches, this gallery and ‘seafood café’ offers the freshest fish imaginable in the knotted lanes of the old town. Along with interesting natural wines, the menu changes every day, scribbled on a chalk board at the entrance to the small kitchen. There are dishes like pan-roasted hake with chorizo and mussels, scallops with seaweed butter and rock oysters. Locals and visitors alike go mad for this place, so booking for dinner is definitely a good move.

The Grain Grocer

This spanking new cafe stands slap bang in the middle of Northdown Road, a formerly rundown area of Margate which is now home to an increasing number of bars, cafes and antique shops. Floor to ceiling windows wrap around a bright, rustic dining room, which is stocked with the kind of books that tell you that bread will gouge out your eyes and pasta will run off with your husband. The creators started off selling whole foods at Crystal Palace Farmer’s Market and this first permanent space still offers preserves, nut mixes, flours, oils and grains for visitors to take home. The menu includes wholesome breakfast and lunch dishes, Monmouth organic coffee, loose-leaf teas and filling smoothies.

The Ambrette

In this cottage-y little space in the old town, head chef Dev Biswal reinvents the average Anglo-Indian menu with influences from France and south-east Asia. Guests are treated to spicy cocktails and tangy amuse bouches before launching into a tasting menu of innovative dishes like soft-shell crab with foraged rock samphire, locally caught fish with mung lentil kedgeree and pickled fennel, wood pigeon with cloves and a platter of dark chocolate desserts with nectarine ice cream.

The Lifeboat

It’s hard to miss this beloved pub on summer evenings, when live music drifts out onto the street and locals fill the benches outside sipping craft beer. This place is a bit of an institution, with many of its original features still intact – brick walls, beer barrels and wood finishes. Yet its specialty brews, young staff and location in the heart of the old town draw in a wonderfully diverse mix of people.

  • (+44) 07837 024 259
  • 1 Market St
    Margate
    CT9 1EU

TO SHOP

ETC

If there was ever any doubt of Margate’s rising cool, ETC’s selection of potted cactuses, palm leaves, hanging plants, bamboo furniture and pre-distressed notebooks prove that there are plenty of hipsters in town in need of such essentials.

Haeckels

This luxurious local company has found a way to tackle Margate’s problem of surplus seaweed – by creating fine, natural skincare products with it. Haeckels’ wares are sold across the country but this exquisite flagship store showcases their dedication to local, ‘beach-harvested’ ingredients. Oils, lotions and scrubs are displayed in brown glass bottles on illuminated wooden cabinets, while their fragrances are lined up beneath glass cloches. Visitors can also while away a few hours in the treatment room at the back.

TO DO

Dreamland

This former pleasure park was saved from destruction by local campaigns – a first in British history. It is the oldest surviving amusement park in Britain and while most of its original features have been reworked, its golden-age charm still remains. Inside the art deco building there are vintage arcade games, a 1950s-style diner, cinema and a roller disco. Outside, brand new candy-coloured rides, kissing booths and ice cream stalls create a postcard-perfect image of the English seaside, while a rolling programme of live music promises to restore Dreamland to its former glory days.

Turner Contemporary

Margate provided decades of artistic inspiration to the great landscape artist J.M.W. Turner throughout his career and a statue immortalising his former lodger, Mrs Booth, stands proudly in the harbour. In 2011, the Turner Contemporary was opened, placing Margate firmly on the map as a serious art destination. The clean, modern lines of this ship-like structure have given the landscape a new edge and its exhibitions hail international and British artists alike. This summer, Seeing Round Corners explores the use of the circle in art, with works from Leonardo Da Vinci, Barbara Hepworth, Paul Klee, Marina Abramovic and Turner himself on display.

The Reading Rooms

Manning's Seafood

Roost

Fort’s

Mala Kaffe

Hantverk & Found

The Grain Grocer

The Lifeboat

ETC

Haeckels

Dreamland

Turner Contemporary

The Ambrette

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