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A crocodile and a viking head drawn on the chalk walls of Margate caves
Photograph: Margate Caves

These super-weird painted caves just reopened to visitors in England

Originally dug as a chalk mine three centuries ago, the Margate Caves have a very varied and colourful history

By Rosie Hewitson
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The British seaside town of Margate is filled with iconic attractions. There’s Dreamland and the Turner Gallery. There’s Tracey Emin’s neon sign and the café where Pete Doherty ate that massive fry-up. And then there are the Margate Caves. These weird and wonderful underground tunnels might actually be more iconically ‘Margate’ than all that other stuff. 

Originally dug out as a 43ft-deep chalk mine, the chambers have had various different functions throughout their peculiar 300-year history. And they are now decorated with rather surreal wall paintings and graffiti.

A wall painting depicting three members of the Thanet Hunt chasing a fox on the chalk walls of Margate Caves
Photograph: Margate Caves

The caves have been owned over the years by a science-loving schoolmistress, a nineteenth-century gentleman with a fondness for entertaining and a reverend whose vicarage was built above them. And they’ve been used as a wine cellar, a wartime air-raid shelter and possibly even by smugglers as a secret hideaway.

Having bought the caves at auction, industrious postman John Norwood first opened them as a visitor attraction in 1863, marketing the location as a rediscovered ancient site he called ‘The Vortigern Caves’. 

Wall painting of a bright green crocodile opening its mouth on a chalk wall of Margate Caves
Photograph: Margate Caves

And after locals fought to save and restore the caves, Margate’s weirdest and coolest attraction reopened in August 2019. It welcomed 5,000 visitors in the first fortnight alone and also hosted a bunch of community events, from scout meetings to toddler movement classes and even a silent disco.

Now, following a year of pandemic-enforced closures, the caves have once again opened their doors (or tunnels) to tourists. Book online to pay a visit to this very unusual place and learn more about the colourful history of this much-loved seaside town. A much better use for your spare coins than the Dreamland claw machines, if you ask us.

Already done Margate? Check out these other great UK seaside towns instead.

Plus: Cornwall is getting an epic new 150-mile cycle route.

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