As well as writing about travel on this very website, I’m the travel editor of a print magazine published in Thanet, a part of England that’s close to my heart.
I often find myself bragging about what I consider to be the best corner of my own country to the people I meet when travelling overseas, and I bang on about Thanet to fellow Brits as well.
So when I realised that I’d never actually blogged about the Isle of Thanet, the East Kent enclave that’s home to Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs – and some of the UK’s best beaches – I decided it was high time I shared my love for the area with readers.
Here are just a handful of my favourite things to do in Thanet…
Even though I travel the world to uncover all kinds of different destinations, there is nowhere I feel quite as relaxed as I do in East Kent.
There are various aspects of Kent that those of us who know it take for granted; epic Turner skies, a constant reassuring proximity of the ocean, a quirky and laid back feel, a unique connection to Britain’s wartime history and tasty local treats like seafood, lamb and apple juice straight from the orchards – these are just some of the highlights.
So, I put together a guide to what makes Thanet itself a must-visit destination for travellers.
Here I give you 10 reasons to put Broadstairs on your Bucket List, learn why Ramsgate rocks and tell you that you really must see Margate.
My 10 Favourite Things To Do In Thanet
1. Bathe At The Best Beaches in England
Admit it, you probably don’t think of beaches and bays when you consider a holiday in the UK, but in East Kent the seaside vibes are the area’s biggest selling point.
Thanet has a protected coastline, 15 sandy beaches and bays and more Blue Flag beaches than anywhere else in England.
The towns are also responsible for inventing the original Victorian bathing machine which famously allowed forays into the sea without undue exhibitionism, allowing the Great British seaside to enjoy its ensuing heyday.
Arty and alternative Dungeness and picturesque Botany Bay are often the singled out stretches of shore (they made it into Time Out’s guide to Britain’s best beaches) but there really is something for every kind of beach lover here.
The new twist on original seaside-style fun in reimagined and regenerated Margate is perfect for hipsters and riding the waves at Joss Bay – the closest surfing spot to London – will keep watersports enthusiasts happy.
More info at visitthanet.co.uk/beaches-bays
2. Explore The Longest Stretch Of Chalk Cliffs in the Country
Many of the best beaches in Thanet are blessed with iconic chalk cliffs which are well-known all over the world, but many people still don’t realise the white cliffs actually extend way past Dover.
As well as boasting the longest run of chalk cliffs in England, Botany Bay’s expanse of beach is one of England’s best.
There’s a chalk reef revealed only when the tide recedes, and of course this stretch of coast is synonymous with 18th century smuggling legends, so you lucky visitors can spot caves carved into the chalk by the sea – and by unscrupulous smugglers.
More info at visitthanet.co.uk/ourcoast
3. Descend Into The UK’s Longest Underground Tunnel Network
Ramsgate Tunnels offers one of the most atmospheric things to do in Thanet, and the opportunity to get under the skin of Britain’s WWII history, quite literally.
So don a hard hat and brandish a torch and explore the 5km network of underground wartime tunnels.
The history of this subterranean city is a story of community and camaraderie. With incredible perseverance and farsightedness Ramsgate’s Mayor pressed on with tunneling plans against advice; and when 500 bombs were dropped on the town countless lives were saved, making this a truly inspiring slice of history.
Some tunnel statistics are especially memorable – there are 12 public entrances, 24 metres of soft chalk rock was tunnelled out each day, and up to 6,000 bombed out people ate their dinner down here.
More info at ramsgatetunnels.org
4. Sail Away From The UK’s Only Royal Harbour
East Kent has England’s only Royal Port – the Royal status was bestowed on the town of Ramsgate by a grateful George IV in 1821 when he sailed for Hanover having been impressed by the town’s hospitality. And if it’s good enough for the King…
A classic day out in Thanet involves a walk around Ramsgate harbour, ice cream in hand from legendary local parlour Sorbetto, before enjoying spectacular views and maybe some seafood from the Royal Brasserie at harbour arm, then taking a boat trip for wildlife viewing or even fishing.
5. See Shells – But Not On The Seashore – With A Visit To The Legendary Shell Grotto
In a total departure from the sunny summer pursuits above ground, holidaymakers can descend into the mysterious Margate Shell Grotto – an underground temple decorated with a staggering 4.8 million shells. The mystery is that nobody knows who put them here, when or why.
All that’s known for sure is that this 104ft set of passages and chambers is adorned with patterns and pictures made from shells of all shapes and sizes which was first discovered in 1835, and even the circumstances surrounding the discovery are up for discussion.
This is one thing to do in Thanet for travellers with an appetite for the kitsch and quirky. And for art enthusiasts the gift shop above ground is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir.
More info at shellgrotto.co.uk
6. Cycle With The Vikings – Pedal The Isle of Thanet Coastal Trail
Cycling holidays are a great way to explore Thanet; this flat stretch of land is a cyclist’s paradise.
You can clock up the kilometres practically painlessly, and choose between pedalling along the seafront promenade or heading inland for country lanes and pub lunches.
From Minnis Bay to Ramsgate you can cover most of the Thanet coast – spotting colourful beach huts along the way – in just over an hour but it’s more fun to make a day of it, stopping for snacks and pictures along the way.
More info at vikingcoastaltrail.co.uk
7. Shop For Vintage Souvenirs
Antique hunters, retro shoppers and history buffs all over the world listen up: there is literally nowhere quite like Thanet to indulge in a good thrift store-style rummage.
There’s a quirky, oddball and mind-boggling array of previous century items on sale in Thanet and compared to the mall culture which represents shopping in so many other nations, treasure troves like Ramsgate’s Petticoat Lane Emporium are to be prized.
More info at petticoatemporium.com
8. Eat All The English Seaside Treats
Being on holiday by the seaside in England has certain benefits; we all know that the weather can’t be guaranteed, but what can be counted on is the availability of ice creams, afternoon teas, fish & chips and fresh seafood.
Canons or Manning’s are Ramsgate and Margate’s authentic family-run seafood stalls selling uniquely English snacks like cockles and whelks, but if you’d like something more stodgy it has to be fish & chips. There’s also a pizzeria here that’s been described as the best in the country – and the thin crispy pizzas are made all the better by an accompanying sea view.
To be honest many of my favourite things to do in Thanet involve food, but it’s ok because we all know that when you’re by the seaside, calories don’t count.
9. Be The Architect Of Your Own Dreams
When you’re in the UK you will of course find historical buildings and beautiful brickwork everywhere, but the architecture game is especially strong round these parts.
From Victorian beach lifts to blue plaques celebrating famous authors, the fun of exploring the regency architecture of Ramsgate and Margate is in discovering all these small details, making Thanet an architect, creative, photographer or explorer’s dream.
10. Have An Art Attack
‘The skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe’ wrote JMW Turner, and as soon as you come to this very special part of Kent, you’ll see for yourself that the light and vastness of the skies has a unique painterly quality which explains why the town where one of Britain’s greatest artists first spied the sea continued to inspire him for life.
You can be inspired by far more than just Turner’s art at the award winning Turner Contemporary gallery itself, and the surrounding town has more than its fair share of galleries to discover.
More info at turnercontemporary.org
Savoirthere was a guest of Visit Thanet on this trip to the area, staying at Albion House Ramsgate, but has also visited on countless occasions on holiday in the past.
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