The SL Pocket Guide to Margate

Great restaurants, world-beating sunsets and a new hip hotel – there’s lots going on in Margate right now. Plus, it’s only 90 minutes from London on the train. Here’s how to spend a weekend in Kent’s coolest seaside town.
By Tobias Gourlay /
The Reading Rooms

WHERE TO STAY

Conceived by a founder of the Frieze art fairs, Fort Road is a design-led 14-roomer that opened this week in a landmark building on the seafront. Some rooms have sea views, but all have access to the guest-only roof terrace which might already be the best place in town to watch those famous Margate sunsets. Downstairs, the kitchen team using local produce in its recipes, taking inspiration from pioneering female food writers like Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson – we like the sound of the clay baked sea trout with bay leaves, or the lemon and parsley risotto and dandelion salad. 

The Reading Rooms puts a modern spin on the traditional seaside B&B. In a listed Georgian townhouse, it has just two guest rooms – each one spreading across an entire floor. The first-floor Salon has taken over the house’s original grand reception room and still has its floor-to-ceiling windows with foldout wooden shutters, while exposed wooden beams make a statement in the top-floor Attic Room. Breakfast is served at dining tables within each space – at any time of your choosing – and both rooms have walk-in showers and roll-top baths.

Carl Barat from The Libertines is now a hotelier and the hand of Pete Doherty’s old friend is all over the darkly coloured Albion Rooms. As well as seven bedrooms named after literary figures including Emily Dickinson and William Blake, the property houses a coffee shop, a couple of bars and even a recording studio.

In the middle of Margate’s Old Town, the George & Heart is a listed coaching inn with a rich history and half a dozen individually designed rooms on its top floor. All six get you into Reggie’s bar, the Zen Den treatment room and a quiet courtyard. Down below, there’s a cosy pub turning out local wine and good cocktails.

Waverley House makes a multilevel statement on the seafront. The team behind the much-loved New Street Bistro now offers all-day dining in its first-floor restaurant – or out on the terrace – while the floors above have been given over to three one-bed apartments, including an open-plan loft space.

Staying on the seafront, The Well is a two-bed Airbnb dedicated to wellness. On the top floors of an old townhouse, it’s a place to unwind in claw-foot baths (Haeckels products throughout) then tap into the honesty cocktail bar. It’s pet friendly and has even got its own sea-view yoga space.

Angela’s is best known as a seafood restaurant that recently won a Green Michelin Star. But tucked away upstairs are three sustainably created en-suite rooms with harbour views. There’s a two-night minimum policy, but on arrival you’ll get freshly baked soda bread and other treats – plus guaranteed reservations at Angela’s and its small-plates sister establishment Dory’s.

The Well

WHAT TO EAT & DRINK

Margate has been inspiring creativity ever since JMW Turner first glimpsed one of its sunsets well over 200 years ago. Today, it’s not just artists who find inspiration on the Kent coast – talented chefs are being drawn here too.

Gizzi Erskine is a recent arrival. Her Love Café – set up with Carl Barat again – reimagines an old-school seaside caff for the 21st century. Head in for toasties and ice-cream sundaes amid neon lights and vintage furniture. For new-school breakfast items like sourdough, avocado, pastries or flat whites, there’s Forts, Scissortail, Curve Roasters, Cliffs or – new on the Harbour Arm – Staple.

Jackson Berg and Natalia Ribbe have been in Margate a little longer. They first opened Café Barletta as a pop-up within Dreamland amusement park, but recently went permanent at the town’s other great attraction – the Turner Contemporary. Here, Barletta is a full-service restaurant offering modern seasonal dishes and a Mediterranean-focused wine list. This summer, the duo plan to open Sète, initially as a wine bar serving small plates like potted smoked prawn and brown crab butter. Come autumn, a restaurant with open kitchen will arrive out back.

Next to the Turner, the Harbour Arm is a sun-trapping mini hub of cafés, eateries and a tiny, family run micropub. Dive is the place for outdoor tacos, but the main destination here is Sargasso. Run by the guys behind Brawn in east London, its menus have an Italian influence (parmesan fritters, aubergine caponata, hand dived scallop and gremolata) and the team have an Italian level of commitment to quality ingredients. Tiny Bottega Caruso is Margate’s other Italian worth knowing about. This family run deli turns out fresh pasta and next-level southern Italian classics like octopus, green bean and potato salad with Sicilian summer dressing.

For NEW-SCHOOL BREAKFAST ITEMS like sourdough, avocado, pastries or flat whites, there’s FORTS, SCISSORTAIL, CURVE ROASTERS, CLIFFS or – new on the Harbour Arm – STAPLE.
Sargasso

Close to the train station, the Bus Café does a great line in hangover-fighting street food, as do the Sun Deck’s various other vendors. For healthy bento boxes, there’s Mori Mori, which lets its hair down later on with bao buns, homemade gyoza and an izakaya-style evening menu.

You can’t go to the seaside without having some fish and chips. Peter’s Fish Factory on The Parade is the long-established local favourite, but it’s got competition these days. Seafood restaurant Buoy & Oyster has opened Beach Buoys right on the front. Alongside the cod and chips, it’s got proper vegan and GF options, as well as outstanding lobster and crayfish sub rolls with yuzu mayo and dill. For pizza, try Ralph’s for veggie sourdoughs, or the GB Pizza Co which is rightly proud of its British charcuterie toppings and thin, crispy bases.

Margate’s bar scene is as lively as you’d hope. Daisy started as a pop-up on the Harbour Arm and has just gone brick in the hipster-central Cliftonville area – head over for tomato cosmos, popcorn old fashioneds or a signature Brandy Daisy sour. Bang in the centre of town, Mariachi is another newcomer, majoring in tequila and mezcal cocktails.

Whether you want craft beer or natural wine, deli-bar Little Swift is a fine spot for sundowners. Xylo is a seafront taproom making its own hazy pales and crisp lagers. Cliftonville’s Stingray is a bottle shop that morphs into a buzzy bar with outdoor space as the sun goes down. For more serious nights out, you’ll find DJs at Bar Nothing and Faith In Strangers.

Faith In Strangers

WHAT TO DO

The Turner Contemporary is widely heralded for kick-starting the town’s renaissance when it opened back in 2011. With big windows, rotating exhibitions and free entry, it’s still a Margate must-visit today. At low tides, look out for a semi-submerged Antony Gormley sculpture on the foreshore outside.

If you arrive by train, you won’t miss Dreamland. This updated 50s amusement park is another icon of modern Margate. Alongside the rides and roller discos, there are art installations and eye-catching events – DJ Yoda’s doing a Stranger Things AV party on Sunday 28th August, Chase & Status play in September and Public Service Broadcasting in October.

Up on Grotto Hill in Cliftonville, the origins of the Shell Grotto are unknown – which is what makes this ornately decorated underground passageway even more intriguing. Staying subterranean, Margate Caves were once an atmospheric old chalk mine that reopened a couple of years ago.

Turner Contemporary
Buoy & Oyster
If you arrive by train, YOU WON'T MISS DREAMLAND. This updated 50s amusement park is another ICON OF MODERN MARGATE.

To see more of the Kent coast, it’s an easy hour’s walk to beautiful, sandy Botany Bay where you can swim in the sea amid giant chalk stacks. The route is part of the longer Viking Coastal Trail which is best conquered in a weekend by bike – rent a British-made Pashley in town from The Bike Shed.

If you’re staying in town to explore, Margate has some unique independent shops. Albion Stores is loaded with indie labels including Scandi brands like Stella Nova and Second Female. You might have seen Haeckels on Broadway Market in London. The skincare brand uses seaweed hand-picked in Margate – book into the original Haeckels House on Cliff Terrace for treatments. Mar Mar is the place for houseplants and homewares. WerkHaus does modern, utilitarian womenswear alongside some curated vintage. All-out vintage destinations include Peony, Breuer & Dawson and Madam Popoff for fashion, and Paraphernalia for interiors.

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