48 hours in Margate

250 years ago, Margate was THE holiday destination for Londoners escaping the smog. They came by boat, bus or train for Margate’s sandy beaches, health-boosting sea bathing and fun! Fast forward to the present day and DFLs (people Down-From-London) are still attracted to the town’s traditional seaside activities, with many settling here. But there is more to Margate than arcades, ice creams and sandcastles. Here’s an itinerary for 48 hours in Margate that doesn’t include any sand-based activities at all.

The Pearl – Don’t miss the Shell Grotto and Margate Caves, both unique attractions off the seafront.

The Grit – Although Margate is on the up, it still has a lot of disadvantaged areas. Try to shop and eat locally to support the local economy.

Day 1 – Explore Margate’s Old Town

The Old Town is located between King Street and Market Street. Here you’ll find colourful cafes, antique homeware and vintage fashion shops galore, and some nifty little museums.

Visit Margate’s mini museums

Just off Margate’s Old Town Square, you’ll find the Margate Museum set in the old magistrate’s court. Run by knowledgeable volunteers who bring the exhibition to life, the museum charts the town’s history with a treasure trove of memorabilia – from Cecil the prehistoric skeleton to the 1961 Miss Margate competition posters, Victorian beach entertainment like Punch & Judy to Margate during the World Wars. Ride a donkey, have your height measured and stand in court as you travel back in time.

The pearl: You can buy a ticket that gives you entry to the Museum and the 16th century Tudor House nearby. Check ahead for opening times as they are mostly open on weekends. 

The pearl: The CRab museum has a small bar selling drinks and toilets with a bonus Carb museum!

Another bijou museum that’s worth a quick look is the free Crab Museum. Witty illustrations and enlightening exhibitions explain the importance of these decapod crustaceans in the fight against climate change. 

Challenge your perception at the Turner Contemporary

You can’t miss the white Turner Contemporary building at the end of the harbour arm. Innovative landscape painter J.M.W. Turner visited Margate frequently during his lifetime and created over 100 paintings of Margate harbour, capturing the sunsets and the storms in a more abstract way than anyone had before. Today the free gallery showcases contemporary art alongside Turner’s work, challenging visitors and their perception of the town.

The pearl: Look out to sea from the gallery’s top floor for artist Anthony Gormley’s sculpture Another Time.

Shop in the Old Town’s ethical, independent and vintage boutiques 

Sometimes referred to as ‘Shoreditch-by-the-sea’, Margate can feel very hipstery. But aside from trendy cafes (which are excellent…see Where to eat and drink below), this means Margate’s Old Town is teeming with independent shops and secondhand treasure troves.

For clothes, delve into Madame Popoff Vintage or pink-fronted Peonie Vintage for womenswear, for 90s vibes head to Handsome Freaks or get new colourful threads at Margaux.

For homeware, Paraphernalia is brimming with antique cabinets and shutters. Or pick up ethical handwoven baskets, lampshades and rugs or colourful pet accessories from Artists and Adventurers. Or grab an ice cream with a vintage poster or chairs at Ramsay and Williams. For bespoke upcycled cabinets and rugs head to Burley and Field.

For gifts, pick up luxury matchboxes, soaps and hardware from The Light Keeper (and light fittings obvs). Or jewellery made by a local and inspired by the sea at Bounty. Or the colourful Little Bit for dopamine-inducing gifts like rainbow umbrellas and smiley faces on everything.

Day 2 – Embrace all the attractions

Margate’s long history as a seaside leisure resort means it has lots of quirky heritage attractions, and some new ones that continue its legacy as a destination for fun.

Solve the mystery of the Shell Grotto

The pearl: The Shell Grotto shop has an excellent selection of sea-themed gifts.

In 1835, an underground grotto was discovered in Margate, covered from floor to ceiling in 4.6 million shells. The Shell Grotto attracted visitors from around the globe, hoping to figure out who created this masterpiece and why! The grotto is actually a couple of passageways and a room, adorned in shell mosaics. Magical and mysterious.

Scream if you want to go faster at Dreamland

The grit: Dreamland and seafront arcade games mostly offer plastic prizes. Ask if they have something plastic free.

Margate’s Dreamland has been dedicated to attractions and leisure since 1870. Restaurants, dance halls, a zoo, a cinema, a ballroom, a Grade II* listed scenic railway, music gigs by The Who and The Rolling Stones, and thrill-rides have all been part of Dreamland’s history. But in 2003, after years of decline, the site was sold to build offices and shops. However, local people campaigned hard to restore the heritage theme park and it reopened in 2015. Today, Dreamland has vintage rides, a rollerskating rink and hosts a huge array of live events.

Marvel at the Margate Caves

The pearl: Ask the knowledgeable guides for some stories about the caves and its paintings.

It’s worth walking away from the sea to reach this unique sight. Mined in the 1700s for chalk, the caves were then forgotten when the mine was sealed up. Eventually they were rediscovered and opened up as a visitor attraction in 1863 but fell into disrepair by 2004.

In 2011, local people raised funds and campaigned to reopen the caves. It took many years to restore them, and build a new community cafe, shop, exhibition and interpretation centre. The Margate Caves finally reopened to the public in 2019, and the volunteer-run hub hosts regular events for families, scout groups, schools and residents bringing the caves’ history, geology and ecology to life.

The grit: The caves are quite cool so bring a jumper.

Use your wits at Ctrl+Alt+Esc

Another fun and alternative activity is to do one of Ctrl+Alt+Esc ‘s escape rooms. They have two locations in Margate. Run and designed by locals, the games change regularly and are rich in detail. We tried the Quick-E-Mart supermarket sweep style game and were impressed by the amount of objects we could interact with and enjoyed the puzzles.

If you have more time…

Find out more visitthanet.co.uk/see-and-do/margate/

Leave a Reply