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The 16 best things to do in Kent

From enchanting caves to the best oysters on earth (in our opinion), here's your complete guide to the Kent county

Joe Minihane
Written by
Danielle Goldstein
&
Joe Minihane
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Glorious, wonderful Kent. The home of some of the nation’s best seaside towns, from Whitstable and Margate to Deal and Canterbury. There is no better destination to fill your boots with oysters, fish and chips and all that seafront good stuff (after all, that’s what it’s famous for) and the best part is there is always more of Kent to see. 

But it’s not just food you should check it out for. Kent is home to some fantastic art galleries, huge beaches and the world’s oldest rollercoaster, so there’s plenty to keep you going in between meals. Kent is a big place, and it’s tricky to know where to begin. To offer a helping hand, we’ve scoured the county far and wide, to bring you the ultimate hit list. Festivals. Castles. The White Cliffs of Dover. We’ve got it all. Here are our best things to do in Kent all year, every year.  

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Best things to do in Kent

1. Shell Grotto

What is it? A strange, enchanting underground cave in Margate, which was first discovered in 1835 while someone was digging for a pond. 

Why go? Well actually, that’s all anyone knows about the Shell Grotto’s history. No one knows why it exists or who built it, but that’s all part of the magic. Kids and adults alike will all love this fabulous grotto, full of millions of strange shells coating the walls, and lots of little nooks and crannies to discover. Our top tip? One of the best views is actually in the café upstairs, where you’ll find a T-Rex head made completely of shells. 

2. Whitstable Oyster Festival

What is it? A weekend (usually in July) celebrating the fishing, eating and history of oysters in Whitstable.

Why go? The Kent coastline is renowned for its salty sea molluscs – especially in Whitstable, where their native oysters (ostrea edulis) have been collected and enjoyed since the Romans were laying down roots. Whitstable Oyster Festival is the best way to truly immerse yourself in the cuisine. During the fest, you can see the ‘landing of the oysters’, when they’re all collected in the morning, follow a parade, battle it out in an oyster-eating competition and help build traditional mounds known as ‘grotters’ out of shells. Book a meal at The Whitstable Oyster Company – it’s one of the longest-running (since the 1400s, believe it or not) organisations in Europe.

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3. The White Cliffs of Dover

What is it? An iconic part of the Kent – and the entire country’s – coastline.

Why go? Visit for a brisk walk along the cliffs and see if you can glimpse the Exmoor ponies employed to keep the grass in check. While you’re there, you can also learn about the scientific discoveries made at the Victorian lighthouse, or don a hard hat and delve into the disused WWII tunnels within the cliffs. Plus, near Dover Castle you can stand in the exact spot that the first aircraft to fly over the channel landed. It’s marked by a concrete memorial in the shape of a plane. Stirring stuff.

4. Margate Dreamland

What is it? An amusement park that dates back to the 1870s.

Why go? As the London overspill fast migrates to Margate, cool events keep popping up – and one of the best places to find said cool events is Dreamland. This seafront venue offers vintage theme park rides, a roller disco, a dedicated play area for under-eights and a variety of bites and beverages. You’ll also find regular events here, from massive gigs and club nights to flea markets, circus shows and much more. Don’t forget to ride the ‘Scenic Railway’, a wooden rollercoaster that’s also the oldest in the UK.

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5. The Kentish Hare

What is it? A Bidborough pub with a great range of vegetarian dishes (although they also host weekly steak nights).

Why go? It’s likely that on a visit to The Kentish Hare you’ll find orange and roast beetroot salad or five-spice tofu noodles or miso roast aubergine and not a stuffed portobello mushroom or bean burger in sight. For the carnies, steak night is Tuesday to Thursday and includes a 16oz steak and carafe of wine for two for £39.95. Plus it’s from the Tanner brothers – a duo you may well have seen banging pans on the telly.

6. Smuggler’s Records

What is it? A brilliant indie record store and bar.

Why go? Deal is an underrated destination and in Smuggler’s Records it has one of the best record shops not just in Kent, but the whole UK. Its selection is well curated, with great staff on hand to make recommendations and turn you onto artists you’ve never heard of. One for the heads.

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7. Chartwell House

What is it? The impressive stately home of Winston Churchill and his family from 1922. It looks much as he left it.

Why go? Photographs, books and other personal effects are on view, as is a large collection of Churchill’s paintings. The expansive grounds are dog- and family-friendly, with lakes, woodland trails, a kitchen garden and a little brick playhouse built for Churchill’s daughter Mary. When the National Trust took over Chartwell, Churchill’s family requested that a ‘marmalade cat with white socks and bib’ always remain in residence at the house.

8. The Fordwich Arms

What is it? An old riverside pub that’s been given a makeover by a top chef.

Why go? Britain’s smallest town is making a big splash in the food world thanks to Dan Smith. The Norfolk-born chef has given the Fordwich Arms a new lease of life, offering up local delicacies such as Stour Valley pheasant dumplings, Kentish Ranger chicken and Chart Farm venison alongside unbearably quaint views of the River Stour. For a pleasant pre-meal walk, take the public footpath up to Reed Pond and back. This is an hour’s round-trip and, as the pub allows dogs, perfect for Fido too. 

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9. Port Lympne

What is it? The Aspinall Foundation’s 600-acre wild animal park, home to more than 700 incredible animals. 

Why go? Black rhinos, Western Lowland gorillas, giraffes, tigers, lions, leopards, bears – all the crowd-pleasers are here. And you can really get up close and personal, with safari experiences and the chance to ‘go behind the scenes’ alongside the usual wandering opportunities. Plus, conservation is key here too, which means you’ll be doing your bit to help more than 90 different species – many of which are endangered.

10. Royal Victoria Pavilion

What is it? The biggest pub in Britain.

Why go? Restored by Wetherspoons, this vast boozer was once a concert hall and assembly rooms, before closing in 2008 having been a casino. It’s a truly amazing spot, with a vast balcony looking out over Ramsgate’s beach and harbour.

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11. Stark

What is it? A much-loved spot that serves up some of Kent’s best food.

Why go? While much of Broadstairs ambles along at the leisurely pace of most seaside towns, one couple are lighting a fire under its food scene. In the past, visitors to Stark paid £55 for a six-course tasting menu and awaited a delicious evening. However, in 2022 it’s made a change and will also be serving tapas at its location at 15 Oscar Road, with help from Dos, its sister site just down the road. Walk-ins are accepted, but booking is advised.

What is it? Ancient mines that were originally dug to provide chalk for building and guns.

Why go? At just half an hour from London Bridge by train, and a five-minute stroll from the station, Chislehurst Caves make for a convenient Kent outing. During World War I they stored ammunition, while World War II saw them used as a bomb shelter. Over the past century they’ve also played host to gigs, a church and a spot of mushroom growing. To get a look-in you’ll have to join a tour, which runs once an hour, and you’ll get an oil lamp to help you navigate the dark. Depending on the day you go, you may also get a show from members of the Labyrinthe LARPing Club, who regularly use the caves for their plays.

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13. The Poet

What is it? An olde worlde-looking pub with exceptional food, not far from Tunbridge Wells.

Why go? The low ceilings, wooden beams and mismatched chairs give this charming place a comfortable, welcoming vibe and the palate pleasers are some of the best in the area. On tap they’ve got Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter, Kozel and Spirit of Kent pale ale, plus the cocktail experimentation is a winner here. Most, though, head for the high-quality food, comprising beautifully presented modern-European dishes that take influences from all over the world. Every August, The Poet hosts a gin festival, with over 30 types to try, plus a barbecue and live music. 

14. Turner Contemporary

What is it? Margate’s contemporary art gallery on the seafront.

Why go? For a free bit of culture in Kent, you can’t beat the Turner Contemporary. Located in the same spot as the boarding house in which Turner used to stay when visiting Margate, the gallery offers the same views of the ocean that Turner would have once seen and painted. Inside, you’ll find a rotating cast of modern exhibitions, which in the past has included work by Grayson Perry and Carlos Amorales. At the end of Harbour Arm, which stretches out in front of the gallery, you’ll find a shell sculpture of Turner’s old landlady, Mrs Booth.

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15. Fish on the Green

What is it? A two-AA Rosette Bearsted restaurant serving both classic and contemporary dishes, with seafood fresh from the trawlers.

Why go? At an hour’s train ride from Victoria station, Bearsted isn’t the closest place to get to in Kent, but it’s worth it. About five minutes from the station you’ll see a country pub called Oak On The Green, and beside that its superb seafood sister. And despite the name, on any given night there will be at least two non-fish options and one vegetarian. Mind you, do save room for an innovative dessert: although the menu changes regularly, it has previously included peanut butter parfait and buttermilk panna cotta with rhubarb and lime shortbread crumbs. 

16. Blean Woods Nature Reserve

What is it? A nature reserve near Canterbury.

Why go? Canterbury has so much going for it, but just outside Kent’s main city is this wonderful nature reserve, run by the RSPB, which is a haven for rare birds. Bring your bike and explore the trails which wind through the gorgeous woodland.

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