One of the great English seaside towns of the 19th century, Ramsgate has in recent years become as well known for its vintage boutiques, artisan coffee shops and craft breweries as its bucket and spades and “kiss me quick” hats. Perched round the bays at the far end of the Thanet peninsula in the county of Kent, the town’s reinvention has been driven by the young London émigrés drawn here by the comparatively cheap property prices and fast train lines back to the capital.
The town’s focal point is its bustling harbour – England’s only Royal Harbour, granted by George IV in 1821, no less – which borders a yacht-packed marina, awash with history and overflowing with charm, all set against the backdrop of low chalk cliffs that span the entire peninsula. Around the harbour you’ll also find Ramsgate’s largest concentration of cafes, bars and restaurants, delivering a striking and modern contrast with the sights and sounds of a working harbour.
But Ramsgate’s aquatic appeal extends far beyond the harbour. Visitors can hop on a boat trip to spot seals basking on the Goodwin Sands, embark on a fully guided fishing excursion, or head along the Thanet coastline up to Foreness Point to see the famous North Foreland lighthouse, Bleak House and smugglers coves.
Back on firm land, Ramsgate also forms part of the Viking Coastal Trail, a circular 25-mile route that takes you along some of Kent’s most beautiful coastline and interesting seaside towns. Popular with cyclists and hikers, the route traverses the stunning shoreline, before heading inland through the surrounding villages with their tranquil lanes and – most importantly – numerous inviting pubs beckoning you in for a much-needed pit stop.
For culture, Ramsgate is home to an impressive selection of museums, and among the most unusual is The Micro Museum. Here, visitors are invited to relive their childhood by exploring a unique collection of vintage personal computers, calculators, games consoles and microelectronics, all of which are the result of 40 years of dedicated collecting by the museum’s owners, Mike and Carol Deer. Exhibits date from the early 20th century to the start of the 21st century, providing a fascinating snapshot of one of the most rapid periods of technological evolution in human history.
The St Augustine and National Pugin Centre, meanwhile, is one of Ramsgate’s true visual masterpieces. One of the lesser known architectural gems created by Augustus Pugin, best known for designing most of the Houses of Parliament, St Augustine was his favourite building where he was able to give full rein to his imagination as the paymaster as well as the architect of the building. Indeed, he would describe it as “my ideal church”. Inside visitors will find a new reliquary containing a relic of St Augustine who brought Christianity to England in the 6th century, and also relics of St Gregory, who sent him to England from Rome, and St Lawrence, archbishop of Canterbury in succession to Augustine. The Visitor Centre tells the stories of Augustine and Pugin through attractive display boards. There are audio guides for hire, interactive tablets and changing exhibitions about Pugin’s life and work. Admission is free.
Other notable cultural landmarks include the Maritime Museum, situated in the Clock House on the quayside at Ramsgate Harbour and home to a rich assortment of artefacts celebrating the town’s heritage of fishing and shipbuilding, as well as its own Meridian Line. Meanwhile history buffs can enjoy an evocative tour of the Ramsgate Tunnels, a subterranean labyrinth of wartime tunnels used to shelter 60,000 people during World War II air raids.
Ramsgate’s calendar is bursting with vibrant events. The annual Bucket and Spade Run is a historic classic car drive along the Royal Esplanade featuring vehicles dating from 1920 to the present day. Ramsgate Week sees the town’s Royal Temple Yacht Club host an annual regatta, with a huge number of yachts taking part in a busy programme of friendly – but always competitive – ocean racing. A recent addition has been Battles for Victory, a living history event created to honour the end of the Great War, featuring a parade of military vehicles, a vintage funfair and re-enacted campsites, along with a real ale bar, barbecue and refreshments.
A burgeoning craft beer scene is adding to the rapid gentrification of Ramsgate. The owners of acclaimed South London micropub Late Knights opened their second bar outside London here in 2017, while Ramsgate Brewery have brought hipster hops to the seaside with their fresh, local ale, sold in both casks and bottles to licensed outlets across Kent.
There are a wide number of accommodation options to be found in and around Ramsgate, with the most desirable scattered along the seafront offering sweeping ocean and harbour views. Among the very best is the boutique Royal Harbour Hotel, spread across three 18th century Georgian town houses in Ramsgate’s historic garden crescent. Just a short walk from the beach, the hotel combines a superb location with traditional comfort and warmth along with some exceptional amenities, most notably the highly acclaimed Empire Room restaurant. For an alternative dining option, make the quick walk down to the quayside and you’ll discover Little Ships Restaurant & Café overlooking the marina, owned by the same team behind the hotel.
Another popular upscale option is The Falstaff, which was recently refurbished and converted into a boutique hotel, restaurant and café with a bar and terrace. Featuring just eight individually designed ensuite bedrooms, the hotel oozes intimacy and has its own distinctive character and charm, enhanced by the ornately decorated room at the rear of the building believed to have been used to host war council meetings at the height of the Napoleonic wars. The beach is just a few minutes’ away on foot, and Granville Theatre is also within easy walking distance.
If it’s a self-catering option you’re after, just a few miles north of Ramsgate in the neighbouring seaside town of Margate is one of Kent’s finest holiday homes. Nestled in a quiet courtyard in the heart of Margate’s Old Town, close to vintage shops, cafes and galleries, and a stone’s throw from the seafront, the two-bedroom Old Barrel Store is simply a delight. From its beams scavenged from old ship to its myriad of locally sourced antique fixtures and fittings, the home positively oozes charm, while useful amenities including a travelcot and highchair, beach equipment, and books and DVDs, ensure guests have everything they need for a relaxing stay. There’s a grassed area, a BBQ and outdoor furniture to while away those balmy summer evenings, plus off-road parking for maximum convenience.
Eat and Drink
It seems like a new restaurant or café opens up in Ramsgate every day, offering evidence of the town’s growing popularity. For gourmet French cuisine, head to the promenade-side Bon Appetit where on warmer nights you can dine on an outdoor patio with sea views. The impressive menu offers an ever-changing selection of authentic French dishes made with fresh local produce.
Another eatery with a French flavour is the Royal Harbour Brasserie, boasting an unrivalled position on Ramsgate’s harbour arm. Here the relaxed style of the original Parisienne brasseries is expertly recreated while the focus of the menu is delicious locally caught seafood served in French style. Or for something altogether more casual, set back a couple of miles from the seafront is the Newington Fish Bar, which has been serving top quality battered fish for almost four decades, earning several awards along the way.
Drinking venues in Ramsgate are plentiful , with numerous pubs and bars perched along the seafront behind the harbour. But perhaps the town’s most unusual setting for a watering hole is the former Royal Victorian Pavillion, which last year became home to Britain’s largest Wetherspoons pub. The grade II listed building is a striking example of seaside architecture, and the lavish interior is no less impressive, said to have been inspired by the Little Theatre at Versailles – but with added beer pumps.
In recent years Ramsgate has become home to a fantastic vintage and retro community that has added character to the town’s previously dilapidated retail landscape. Now for every identikit chain store there’s a quaint, independently run boutique offering everything from clothes and accessories to rugs, art and antiques. One of the most diverse assortment of wares can be found at Petticoat Lane Emporium, where for seven days a week hundreds of stalls pitch up to showcase their eclectic goods in front of a busy crowd of shoppers. Antiques, vintage, retro, upcycled and craft items are all well represented while a vintage tea room offers respite from the all the bustle and bartering. Parents can keep their toddlers entertained at a fun-packed activities table.
If you’re looking for a bit of fashion and lifestyle inspiration, The Saltworks is the place to visit. Tucked away in Charlotte Court off York Street, this hidden treasure has been created within a fully restored and converted Old Police Station – Ramsgate’s first dating from 1836. The boutique is best known for its perfumes, all designed by them and made from perfume ingredients from Grasse in France. But there’s also a wide assortment of clothes, accessories and foods here too. Consistently voted Ramsgate’s best shop so worth seeking out.
Opened in 2014, Island Vintage has quickly grown to become a veritable musical mecca for dedicated vinyl collectors in Ramsgate, whether it’s obscure records or time-honoured classics they’re seeking. Perpetually busy with regular customers and curious visitors alike, not to mention friends and family of the store’s friendly owner, Gary, and his son Howard who co-runs the business, it is nothing less than a Ramsgate institution and passers-by will often hear music being pumped out into the street. As well as vintage vinyl, the store also houses Hi-Fi, CDs and cassettes, offering a nostalgic trip down memory lane for all who enter.
Run by business partners Lizzie Fright & Peter Barnett, McGillan & Woodell is a wonderful independent gift shop and art gallery endearingly named after their respective mothers’ maiden names. Situated on Queen Street in the town centre, set just back from the Royal Harbour, the store sells creative cards for every occasion, as well as a wide range of prints, jewellery, linens, glass and ceramics. They also offer a framing service and regularly hire out the gallery for local artists keen to showcase their work in the store’s intimate exhibition space. Opening times are 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday.