Saturday, July 6, 2013

London weekend trip to Margate for sand, sun and sea

Margate stone

A spot of sunshine over the weekend had Londoners out in droves to the parks in the city. For some, it's a good time to head to the beaches instead. Brighton, an hour by rail from London, is the obvious choice with its long stretch of sandy beach. The coastal city, known for its night spots, can be quite busy during the summer month.

However, if you would like a change in scenery, I would suggest going to Margate instead. The south coast sea port known for its fresh fish is also a popular tourist destination for over 250 years and was a very fashionable place for Londoners to take a break and embrace some sea air in the Victorian times.

Margate shops

The town of Margate has been used for many Television productions, such as 'Only Fools and Horses' and The Apprentice. Margate features in songs and poems written by a variety of people including Graham Swift's novel Last Orders, T.S Eliot's poem – The Waste Land Part III – The Fire Sermon.

Margate Dreamland
The now defunct Dreamland amusement centre

These days, despite having a feeling that its best days are behind it, the town of approximately 50,000 still retain many listed buildings with a fine golden sand beach with low water levels served by a lovely town that has something to offer for all ages.


What to do in Margate

Margate beach is filled with clean fine sand stretches over a frontal of 200m by 50m inland during high tide and easily doubles that when low tide. With deckchairs rental, snack bar, children trampoline stand as well as a small fairground with kid rides, you can easily spend the whole day there if not for other more interesting places to explore in the town.

Margate sandy beach

In the height of summer, there are people arriving there at around 6am (it can be pretty bright by then) when it is still not too hot. The place fills up real fast when it hits noontime. But because of its depth, the beach doesn't really feel packed.

Margate Turner Contemporary Museum

Turner Contemporary Museum (Kent CT9 1HG), opened in 2011, is designed by award winning David Chipperfield Architects. The elegant building houses exhibitions of art, learning projects as well as hosting regular events. Interestingly, the room with the best sea view is currently set aside for children activities. The cafe on its ground floor, which is quite popular with visitors, serves a mean smoked salmon salad.

If you have enough of sea breeze, head inland to Shell Grotto (Kent CT9 2BU). For a small fee, explore the underground passageway cavern with walls filled with shells - some 4.6 million of them. Even though most are now covered with grime, the mosaic display is still an awe inspiring sight. There are some disputes about what the Shell Grotto actually is. Be it a smuggler's den or a rich man's folly, it remains a mystery to this day since its discovery in 1835.

If you have a car handy, take a 10min drive to St Peter's Footpath. Just opposite Draper's Mill Primary School (CT9 2SP) lies a four storey tall restored smock Mill. Built in 1845 by John Holman, a millwright, Draper's Mill was working right up till 1830. These days, it is more of a local landmark providing photo ops for tourists.


When is the best time to go Margate

The temperature from March to May hovers between 9C - 15C in the day and 2C - 7C at night. The weather can be unpredictable with strong sea breezes and rain, interspersed with some sunny periods.

Margate Clock Tower
Margate Clock Tower

The best time to drop by this lovely seaside town would have to be between June and August. With warmer temperatures up to an average of 21 deg C. Many events, attractions and entertainment venues offering a full summer programme. Plus weather can be perfect for the beach and outdoor activities. There even a Boat parade annually in August. See list of upcoming activities.

Margate sandcastle competition
Sandcastle competition on Margate beach

Like most other places, Margate can be a bit quieter with children back at school between September to November. The temperature dips to around 10C-18C. Forget about December to February when it is 6C in the day, not to mention chilly winds.


Where to eat in Margate

Margate is home to a huge variety of cuisines including brasseries, pub grub, Indian, Thai, modern European and Chinese Cosy cafes and more formal dining can be found nearer to the old town waterfront.

Margate Peters Factory fish and chips
Peters Factory

A huge serving of fish and chips is a must at any seaside town and Margate is no exception. Peter's Factory (CT9 1EZ) along The Parade, which faces the beach is by far the most popular takeaway. There is no shortage of seats though - a terrace facing the coast lies mere metres across the road. The portions are generous at £4 for a small cod & fish and £7.20 for a jumbo size. While the chips can be a tad soggy, the fish is possibly the freshest in the area. Expect to queue during lunchtimes.

Cafe de China (CT9 1UN) opposite the Margate Clock Tower is a full fledged Chinese restaurant that offers an ala carte buffet at £14.50 per person. It was packed when we were there at dinner time. If you fancy a takeaway to dine beside the beach, Cafe de China does a mean egg fried rice (£3).

The Margate Hoy (CT9 1HD) is located just opposite Turner Contemporary Museum offers an excellent view of the Margate beach. Perfect on a clear day. The restaurant pub offers seafood, steak and Sunday roasts complete with a kids' menu.

Margate Pier
Margate Pier

If you are strolling along Margate Pier and feeling peckish, stop by BeBeached (CT9 1AP). The cafe  restaurant is among the top 10 best restaurants in Kent and prides itself for serving fresh seasonal local produce. They are pet friendly to boot.


Where to stay in Margate

Margate signboard

Hussar Inn is a family run 6 room hotel that is 5 minutes' drive to centre of Margate and 10 minutes' drive to Broadstairs. Warm service is a given here.

Westbrook Lodge Guest House faces the sea and is steps away from the beachfront. Offering 24hr reception, there are also tennis courts available free of charge to guests.

Premier Inn (Margate) is located at the prime location, just next to the train station. Shielded from the train tracks by thick shrubs, it offers guests the comfort that the Premier Inn chain is known for. Breakfasts is served in the restaurant within the same compound. A two minute walk to the beach.

Glenwood Hotel is to the east of the old town and a short walk to the vintage shops at King's Street.


How to get to Margate

Getting to Margate is the simple part. High speed Javelin trains depart from St Pancras International (at King's Cross) hourly to Margate. The journey takes around 1.5hr. Alternatively, you can get a train from Victoria Station to Margate under 2hrs. Refer to TheTrainLine for train schedule.


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