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Ten unexpected pleasures to seek out in the south east this weekend

By Time Out in association with Southeastern

Ditch the laundry and find new pleasures on an easy trip out of town, to south-east London or beyond to Kent and East Sussex. Here’s our pick of weird and wonderful things to do, all within easy reach of London by train with Southeastern.

Go explore, then share your own south east hidden gems (#SEhiddengems) with us and enter our brilliant photo competition to win a luxury mini-break for two. But hurry – the competition closes Thursday June 30.

Buying the lower jaw of a deer for £5

Don’t ask why, ask why not! At Junk Deluxe in Margate, browsing isn’t just a pleasure, it’s a journey into the random. Pick up genuine classics of twentieth-century furniture design, or just something quirky for the bathroom, to confuse guests at your next party.

Get there by train: Margate

Getting your Poirot on

It’s always fun to while away an afternoon speeding through countryside on a steam train, but the Spa Valley Railway in deepest Kent offers a more daring thrill – a murder mystery evening in which you have to uncover the foul villain from among the other passengers. Ripping stuff.

Get there by train: Tunbridge Wells

Michelin-starred food on the marshes

Those who already know the Sportsman pub usually go into a semi-trance at the mention of its name. This surprisingly informal inn, tucked away on the estuary at Seasalter, might appear at first to be just another pit stop for pub grub on a day’s hike from Whitstable. Actually, it’s held a Michelin star since 2008 for its stunningly good British menu of dishes made with locally sourced fish, meat and game and homegrown veg.

Get there by train: Faversham or Whitstable


Playing shell fairies

Other coastal retreats boast of little houses decorated with seashells, but the Shell Grotto in Margate is truly baffling. Discovered in 1835, its scale and the extent of its intricate adornments are a wonder, yet no-one knows who built it or why they did it. Venture inside – it’s magical.

Get there by train: Margate

Oysters and ale for Sunday breakfast

You don’t have to book a fancy restaurant to enjoy Whitstable oysters. Head down to the north Kent coast for a lazy weekend and take a five-minute stroll along the sea wall towards the harbour and you’ll find The Forge (a converted fisherman’s hut) serving native oysters, doughnuts and decent brews from a hatch by the pathway. 

Get there by train: Whitstable

Seeing a micro-art exhibition

Just as Tate Modern gets bigger, the Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery downsizes. Its latest exhibition, ‘Tall Tales, Tiny Tavern’, is an installation created by a writer and artist, using only the museum’s vast collection of doll’s house furniture. 

Get there by train: Tunbridge Wells

Talking to the trees

Oare Gunpowder Works is a nature reserve just outside Faversham. Take a woodland walk and you’ll come across old factory buildings, but watch out too, for strange sculptures, including lovingly carved faces in the trunks of trees. There’s nowhere quite like it. 

Get there by train: Faversham


Rockpooling among the chalk stacks

Botany Bay near Broadstairs is so named because smugglers who used to store booty along this coast ended up being deported to Australia, but on a sunny day you could easily feel like you’re on the other side of the world, when you’re actually less than two hours from London. 

Get there by train: Broadstairs

Doing Debenhams with a sea view

We’re not short of good shopping in London, but Oxford Street lacks the location. In Hastings, the town stretches right down to the seafront, so you can stock up on your bedding and watch the waves at the same time. Then wander up into the Old Town for a culture fix and indie boutiques.

Get there by train: Hastings

Lunch like it’s 1799

The Pantiles is the pretty, paved old quarter of Tunbridge Wells, complete with a Georgian colonnade. And unlike the colonnades of Covent Garden, at the weekend the Pantiles bustles but it’s never a scrum. Browse the shops and market stalls, then perch yourself at a table outside the Tunbridge Wells Hotel and dine to the sounds of live music from the nearby bandstand. 

Get there by train: Tunbridge Wells

Time Out, in association with Southeastern, are celebrating the best places, spaces and experiences within easy reach of London by train. Go to our hub page now to find more great things to do and to share your own favourite #SEhiddengems. Upload a picture and you could WIN a luxury mini-break for two at Port Lympne wildlife reserve and £500 to spend on your own next adventure in Kent, PLUS a chance to see your snaps in our forthcoming Time Out guide to enjoying the south east this summer. 

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