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Great Weekends By Train: Margate

Posted by Emma Field at 10:39 on Tuesday 18 December 2012

In the second of our series of posts about easy weekend breaks from London, VisitEngland's Katie Rowe visits Margate, Kent, which has made it onto Rough Guide's hot list for 2013.

I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve dashed to Kent on day trips in search of the sea, crumbling castles and pretty village greens, yet I’d never made it to Margate. After hearing about the up-and-coming shopping and art scene in the Old Town, I jumped on a train from King’s Cross St Pancras and arrived 90 minutes later to see what all the fuss was about.

Margate at Christmas. Photo: © Visit Britain/Britain on ViewMargate at Christmas. Photo: © Visit Britain/Britain on ViewSaturday
A grand Georgian townhouse was to be my home for the weekend and that was more than fine by me. After walking into my room encompassing the entire first floor – it was once the grand reception room – I wished I was staying at The Reading Rooms for more than just two nights. With huge handsome windows looking onto a tree-lined square, decorative fireplace and high ceilings adorned with an antique chandelier, all I needed was a fan and bonnet to complete my step back in time to the Georgian period, but I preferred to keep the under-floor heating, flat screen TV and Wi-Fi; after all, this is a luxury five-star boutique B&B.

A room at The Reading Rooms, Margate. Photo: Thanet TourismA room at The Reading Rooms, Margate. Photo: Thanet TourismI’m a sucker for detail and I found plenty of that in the boutiques nesting in the Victorian and Georgian buildings of Margate Old Town, just a five minute walk away from where I was staying. Young designers, vintage enthusiasts, art lovers, cupcake makers and those who’ve escaped the big smoke to be their own boss have all set up shop here.

First on my list was Helter Skelter, a boutique that perfectly captures 1960s mod cool with rails of retro fashions and kitsch furniture depicting dead icons. Next on my list was Blackbird. I’d read great things about this shop, studio and workshop combined and I wasn’t disappointed as I picked up cute stationery, homeware and handmade gifts by the dozen. In need of a tea break, I stopped by The Cupcake Café where I sunk my teeth into a Bakewell-flavoured cupcake smothered in silky icing, and then it was onto Ahoy Margate, a treasure trove spilling over with arty t-shirts and 1950s-style handbags. Johann Earl, owner of Ahoy Margate has previously worked with Urban Outfitters and her vintage-inspired designs currently feature on ASOS.com. 

Once I’d finished browsing the art galleries, including Outside the Square – Kent’s biggest commercial art gallery – selling the likes of Christian Furr and Ed Chapman, I popped into The Ambrette for an exotic evening feast. Hailed as one of the finest restaurants in Kent, Chef Dev Biswal has put a refreshing spin on Indian cuisine, replacing the korma with Kentish Pheasant and onion bhajis with freshly-caught Rye Bay scallops.

The Ambrette is one of the finest restaurants in Margate. Photo: Thanet TourismThe Ambrette is one of the finest restaurants in Margate. Photo: Thanet TourismSunday
After an early morning stroll along the sandy beach and throwing a few pounds away in a failed attempt to snap up a Care Bear at the arcades, I headed to the Turner Contemporary, slap-bang on Margate’s seafront. With over 300,000 visitors in its first seven months, the gallery has added a new perspective to Rodin’s The Kiss sculpture and has a revolving collection of JMW Turner’s works sitting alongside contemporary exhibitions. 

One of Margate's hidden gems: Shell Grotto is just a 10-minute walk from the seafront. Photo: Katie Rowe.One of Margate's hidden gems: Shell Grotto is just a 10-minute walk from the seafront. Photo: Katie Rowe.Once I got my fill of modern art and bought a few more goodies in the gift shop, it was on to the Shell Grotto, another of Margate’s many hidden gems. This underground collection of winding passages ornately decorated with millions of shells is still shrouded in mystery to this day. But personally I like to think it’s a Georgian folly built for kiss chase and the like. The Shell Grotto, the last stop on my weekend getaway, is just a 10 minute walk from the seafront. That’s the great thing about Margate; everything in the local area can be reached on foot. And if you fancy exploring the rest of Thanet, Margate’s seaside sisters, Broadstairs and Ramsgate, are just a 30-minute bike ride away.  

For a full list of shops, cafes and galleries in the Old Town: www.margateoldtown.co.uk and for lots of ideas on what to see and do in the wider area: Visit Kent.

Return train ticket from London to Margate from £10:

Katie stayed at The Reading Rooms, Margate 

 >> Find more weekend break ideas in England.

Cupcake Cafe in the Old Town, Margate. Photo: Thanet TourismCupcake Cafe in the Old Town, Margate. Photo: Thanet Tourism

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