Labelled by some as the Kent Riviera, Margate has experienced something of a resurgence over the past half-decade or so. The vibrant seaside town, which makes up part of the Isle of Thanet, is now home to an eclectic mix of long-term locals, young artists, retirees and Londoners looking to escape the rat race.
Its growing popularity means the list of unusual attractions and place of interest in Margate is growing all the time. There’s something for every taste, whether you’re heading down with the family or looking to take in some of the town’s rich and rather mysterious history. If you’re planning a sandy beach getaway and need some inspiration, check out our selection of unique things to do in Margate.
Enjoy the ride of your life
Dreamland amusement park has long been Margate’s most iconic attraction and after enjoying a top to toe regeneration, it’s looking better than ever. The extensive mix of retro rides make for a truly unique experience. However, the icing on the cake is Dreamland’s scenic railway. The vintage ride, which is made almost exclusively from wood, is the UK’s oldest roller-coaster. After being severely damaged by fire on three separate occasions, the historic ride has now been fully refurbished thanks to generous donors. It’s not all about the rides, though. There are also a number of high profile live music events happening throughout the year.
LOCATION Marine Terrace HOURS Mon-Sun 9am–6pm
Make time for tea
The totally bonkers Mad Hatter Tea Rooms is the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon tea in a brilliantly quirky setting. The over the top Victoriana décor is a real blast from the past and with a room dedicated entirely to Queen Vic herself, this truly is a unique place to enjoy a sweet treat. The parlour serves individual cakes and drinks, or you can opt for a cream tea, which is fully customisable to your liking. Prosecco and beer are also on offer and furry friends are welcome to join you for tea when taken in the garden. After a recent revamp, the Mad Hatter now also serves up a number of delectable vegan desserts too.
LOCATION Lombard Street HOURS Thurs-Sat 9.30am-4pm Sun-Mon 10am–4pm Closed Tues-Weds
All aboard the Margate bus
One of Margate’s most unusual little attractions is, surprisingly, a big red bus. At the Bus Café, you can enjoy a light bite in a real-life renovated bus. Situated just a few minutes’ walk from Margate train station, it’s an unconventionally hip brunch spot. Go for the unique dining experience and stay for the impressive sea views.
LOCATION Royal Crescent Promenade HOURS Thurs–Mon 10am–3pm
Get lost in golf
You’ll find Lost Island Adventure Golf tucked away underneath one of Margate’s most well-known arcades – The Flamingo. The unusual location means it’s easy to miss if you’re not in the know, so head to the back of the arcade and you’ll find the reception. Once down there, you’ll be transported to an underground island adorned with Tiki heads and jungle plants. The low lighting and topsy turvy course make for a uniquely fun afternoon activity. Afterwards, why not break out those pennies and enjoy some of the classic arcade games on offer upstairs?
LOCATION Marine Gardens HOURS Mon–Thurs 10am–8pm Fri–Sun 10am–9pm
Shop ‘til you drop
Arguably the coolest part of Margate, the Old Town is home to a number of unique retro shops, galleries, pubs and cafés. Its charming cobbled streets reflect a Margate of days gone by, as do the vintage stores that line them. Here you’ll find high-end vintage from every era at shops like Madam Popoff and Handsome Freaks. Alternatively, shoppers can pay homage to Margate’s Mod and Skinhead heritage at retro store Rat Race. The Old town is also packed full of micropubs, second hand antique stores and traditional eateries – so there’s something for every old school enthusiast.
Discover an underground mystery
The Shell Grotto is a truly one-of-a-kind Margate gem. The walls of this intriguing subterranean passageway are covered with unknown symbols, mosaiced in millions of shells. Local legend suggests it was discovered in 1835 by the son of a farmer named James Newlove. His son, Joshua, saw the passages after being lowered into a hole in the ground, which appeared while they were digging a duck pond. The origins and age of the grotto are unknown, but many speculate that the cave-like structure may have been used in pagan rituals, or even by cults. Due to the lack of written documentation about the grotto, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know its true origins, but nonetheless it’s a pretty impressive thing to experience when in Margate.
LOCATION Grotto Hill DATES Summer opening from 5 April 10am–5pm daily; Winter opening from 28 Oct 11am-4pm Fri–Sun
Marvel at art
Thought to be the catalyst in Margate’s recent regeneration, the Turner Contemporary Gallery houses some of Kent’s – and the country’s – most unique modern artists. It’s named after artist JMW Turner, who had a long association with the town, living at the exact site where the gallery is now situated during the 19th century. Despite the heritage behind the gallery, the shape and design of the building itself makes it truly unique. Facing out onto the Margate seafront, the gallery is flooded with natural light, offering a truly calming experience as soon as you set foot inside. After you’ve admired the art on offer, be sure to stick around on the top floor to enjoy the beautiful, wall to wall sea views.
LOCATION Rendezvous HOURS Tues-Sun 10am–5pm
Explore the indoor market
A relatively new addition to Margate’s thriving retail scene is the Old Kent Market. This little indoor establishment was once a retro cinema which had since fallen into disrepair. After being lovingly restored to its former glory, this bustling mini-market is now home to a number of bars, pop-up restaurants and shops, showcasing some of Margate’s finest local produce. Whether you’re in the mood for Caribbean treats, classic Italian flavours, freshly baked bread or just some souvenirs from your seaside holiday, this market offers a true slice of Margate.
LOCATION Fort Hill HOURS Mon 9am–6pm Tues–Sun 8am–6pm
Meet the eccentric locals
If you’re looking for a fun-packed, authentic night out, then a visit to Fez micropub is a must. The walls of Fez are covered from top to bottom in eclectic memorabilia and they keep the retro vibe going with classic vinyl music all night long. There’s something for everyone at Fez, but the bar specialises in gins, real ales and ciders. Get there early if you want a seat – this little place fills up fast.
LOCATION High Street HOURS Mon-sat 12pm–11.30pm Sun 12pm–10pm
Enjoy a night steeped in history
Built in the 1760s, the Reading Rooms are a set of three boutique guestrooms in a Grade II Listed Georgian town-house. Each room covers an entire floor, offering a truly luxurious slice of Margate’s history. A renovation by new owners in 2007 restored many of the original Georgian features that now make the Reading Rooms so unique. Despite being situated close to one of the busiest parts of Margate, it’s hard to believe you’re in a bustling, modern town once inside.
LOCATION Hawley Square
See Margate from up high
Ziggy’s rooftop bar is the perfect way to get a panoramic view of Margate’s seafront from up high. With a great view of the iconic dreamland logo too, it’s the perfect spot for selfies. The Caribbean and Jamaican-themed bar is run completely from the rooftop and offers a number of summery cocktails and light bites. Despite its vibrant décor, the way into Ziggy’s can be hard to spot if you’re not a local. You’ll find the entrance on Hall by the Sea road, to the rear of Cinque Ports.
LOCATION Marine Terrace HOURS Open for summer from 25 May, hours TBC
Take a dip at dawn
At the bottom of the cliffs between Cliftonville and Palm bay, you’ll find the four-acre Walpole Bay Pool. This unusual outdoor tidal pool is over 80 years old and the largest of its kind in the UK. It’s incredibly popular with locals and is a great way to enjoy a sea swim and the views in a safe, enclosed area. The underground fresh water springs keep the pool clean, but as it’s a sea pool, you should expect a bit of seaweed. Walpole regulars suggest walking a little further out for perfectly clear patches of glorious sea water. Note that there is a complete dog ban Between 1 May – 30 September.
LOCATION Access via Fifth Avenue