A weekend guide to Margate | Fort Road Hotel
Fort Road Hotel in Margate. Photo by Ed Reeve

A guide to Margate: the best shops, restaurants and things to do

Words by Ollie Horne
Words by Ben Olsen
Last updated: April 10, 2024

This Kentish seaside town has a host of discerning shops, wine bars, seafood and art galleries. Here are the best things to do in Margate for a weekend away – including where to swim, of course

Margate represents a unique chapter in the story of Britain’s seaside resorts. The saga starts the same: its burgeoning popularity as a Victorian holiday destination was followed in the mid-20th century by a steady decline after cheap flights made international holidays more popular. The arrival of the angular Turner Contemporary gallery in 2011, however, marked a turning point for the town: since its arrival, other galleries have followed, as have a new wave of restaurants, wine bars and design shops. Perhaps its most famous resident, artist Tracey Emin returned to the Kent coast from London in 2016 and, in 2023, opened her long-awaited foundation, studio space and exhibition centre TKE Studios, which supports local artists with quality studio space.

Margate has become two towns: one of regeneration and relocated Londoners who’ve snatched up cheaper homes and brought their creative businesses with them (the Shoreditch-on-Sea side). Then, there is the grittier punk picture of local boozers, fading Georgian-era grandeur and grey tower blocks. (Walking along a sea-facing road to Cliftonville on a recent visit, the smart townhouses gave way to some dumped household waste on the street; an abandoned toilet with the lid open had the words ‘F**K THE CISTERN” scrawled on it.)

There are few places in the UK that combine lovely swimming and coastal walks with brilliant art, elegant food and discerning wine lists, with gritty street scenes thrown in for good measure. And it’s all accessible via a 90-minute train from London. For the best swimming, eating, drinking and things to do in Margate, look no further than here.

The best hotels in Margate

A weekend guide to Margate | A bedroom at Fort Road Hotel, with bespoke teak wardrobe
A bedroom at Fort Road Hotel, with bespoke teak wardrobe. Photo by Ed Reeve

For a long while, Margate suffered from a shortage of high-quality hotels – something that’s been addressed with the arrival of the Fort Road Hotel, which opened in August 2022 after a three-year renovation. The four-storey, 14-room hotel sits directly opposite the Turner Contemporary and has far reaching views over the coast. The hotel was originally the Fort Castle Public House, which opened in 1820, and is possibly the last surviving in the area that the artist JMW Turner would have recognised. He visited Margate regularly over 15 years, painting the seaside town’s expansive skies. He stayed with Sophia Booth, who lived opposite the hotel; he was a known drinker, so almost certainly popped over for a few over the years. Turner Contemporary, named in his honour, is now on the location of that home.

The fortunes of the hotel mirror that of the town: a 19th-century heyday, 20th-century decline, and 21st-century rejuvenation. It was purchased at auction in 2018 and opened by the co-founder of Frieze art fair Matthew Slotover, as well as artist Tom Gidley, and developer Gabriel Chipperfield. As such, art takes centre stage here. There’s a Tracey Emin etching in the restaurant and a neon work in the bar, and oil paintings, gouaches, watercolours, prints and ceramics by local artists are dotted throughout the hotel, as well as a site-specific mural by Sophie von Hellermann.

A weekend guide to Margate | The restaurant at Fort Road HotelA weekend guide to Margate | A green banquet sofa in the restaurant at Fort Road Hotel
The restaurant at Fort Road Hotel. Photos by Ed Reeve

Upstairs, the 14 rooms have built-in teak wardrobes, mid-century chairs and mirrors, and bathroom products from local skincare brand Haeckels, featuring Margate seaweed and other botanicals. They are full of delightful details, including smooth oak radiator handles, a Hay kettle, terrazzo cork coasters, Louis Poulsen PH5 pendant lights, and deep window seats in bay windows, facing the sea and the Turner.

On the ground floor sits the hotel’s restaurant, Colina. Here, in a cosy, pistachio-hued space, with walls lined with art, chef Luis Freitas puts local produce to good use in his Mediterranean-inspired all-day dining, which spans from shakshuka breakfasts to lunches of piri-piri mussels and blackened hispi cabbage to showstopper specials including grilled sea bream or salt-marsh lamb. Make sure to grab a cocktail in the underground bar, a double-height, exposed brick space with a green tiled bar, cosy sofas and plugged-in cultural events from DJ sets to book clubs.

The best galleries in Margate

A weekend guide to Margate | The David Chipperfield designed facade of Turner Contemporary
Left: Antony Gormley's sculpture Another Time (2017); Right: Turner Contemporary

Head across the road straight to Turner Contemporary. There are free exhibits, workshops and educational programmes across its two floors, with views of the coast and Antony Gormley’s enigmatic sculpture Another Time (2017) – a rusted cast iron sculpture of a human figure, facing out to sea, intermittently obscured and exposed by the tide. The gallery’s architecture is worth marvelling at, designed by David Chipperfield, while the newly launched Louie-On-Sea, which serves up high-grade pastries and focaccia sandwiches by day, aperitivi drinks and nibbles and occasional supper clubs.

A ten-minute walk inland brings you to TKE Studios, Tracey Emin’s new foundation, which includes an exhibition space. Emin paid for the purchase and renovation of the building herself – a former Edwardian bathhouse, mortuary and children’s nursery. She bought it in 2021 and refurbished it for two years before its opening in 2023.

A weekend guide to Margate | The mysterious Shell Grotto
Inside the mysterious Shell Grotto

Nearby is Margate’s most eccentric and mysterious site: a series of underground tunnels and chambers decorated with over 4.6 million shells. The shell grotto was discovered by accident and to complete surprise in 1835, and no one knows its origins with certainty. Some argue it was a Regency folly, others a secret shrine built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century, or even the Phoenicians in the 1st century BCE. Regardless, it remains an enchanting and confounding destination.

It would be remiss not to pack your swimming gear. Head to Margate Main Sands for a stroll and a swim in Walpole Bay Tidal Pool, a Grade-II listed pool which first opened in 1937, and the largest of its kind in the UK. After your swim, you can warm up in Haeckels’ free community sauna next to the pool.

For a sense of seaside nostalgia, check out Margate’s 1920s fairground Dreamland, which was renovated and reopened in 2015. It’s also Grade-II listed and is free to enter, with rides operated on a pay as you go basis. They also host an eclectic schedule of outdoor gigs, too – this summer sees heritage acts such as Suede, Nile Rodgers and De La Soul appear on a typically eclectic schedule that also includes contemporary big-hitters such as Idles, Giggs and Jess Glynne.


A weekend guide to Margate | Margate Main SandsA weekend guide to Margate | Haeckels's community sauna on Margate Main Sands
Left: Haeckels' community sauna near Walpole Bay Tidal Pool: Right: Margate Main Sands
A weekend guide to Margate | Walpole Bay Tidal Pool on Margate Main Sands
Walpole Bay Tidal Pool on Margate Main Sands

The best restaurants in Margate

A wave of top London chefs have moved and set up shop in Margate in recent years, so there’s a lot of good food to be had. From the team behind Brawn on Columbia Road (one of Hackney’s best) comes Sargasso, a small wine bar and restaurant nestled against the sea wall of Margate’s harbour arm. The wine here takes centre stage and perfectly complements the small plates of seafood (much of which is landed by local fisherman, Kevin) as well as the unobstructed views of the sea. It also hosts occasional live music on Sundays. Check the weather forecast too – storms can force this exposed location to close for the day.

A weekend guide to Margate | The bar seating at wine and seafood bar DorysA weekend guide to Margate | Hake and tomatoes served at seafood restaurant Angela's
Left: Hake tomatoes served at Angela's: Right: The bar seating at sister wine and seafood bar Dorys

For smart seafood, head to Angela’s in the Old Town, which has been described as the St John (one of the best restaurants in London) of the sea. Round the corner is their second venture, Dory’s, which is more of a casual bar set up, with a focus on raw, pickled, cured and baked seafood and vegetable dishes. Another firm favourite is a slow-food Italian restaurant Bottega Caruso, whose owners Harry and Simona import goods from the latter’s family farm in Campania to supplement a cucina povera-shaped menu whose standouts include braised beans, polpette di pane, house-cured charcuterie and steaming bowls of freshly made pasta.

The best bars in Margate

A weekend guide to Margate | The neighbourhood pub Rose in June
Neighbourhood pub Rose In June

For a small neighbourhood pub with good pints and food to boot, Rose in June has you covered. Head up a residential side street a short walk up the hill from Fort Crescent to find it. There’s a small suntrap terrace, too, protected from sea breezes. Keep heading in that direction for spritzes and craft beers at the cosy Margate Off Licence or late-night dancing at the brilliantly eclectic Bar Nothing.

These have been joined by two sophisticated recent arrivals. Natural wine bar Sète – inspired by the town in southern France of the same name – serves up a palate-expanding selection of biodynamic bottles and Mediterranean small plates. Low-lit and laidback, it more than justifies the hike up Northdown Road from Margate’s Old Town. At the other end of town, overlooking Margate’s Main Sands, the Shakespeare is a stylish, pared-back boozer bringing together mid-century modern with a rotating roster of beers and cask ales. Plus, if you need something to complement what’s in your glass, deliveries by local by-the-slice specialists Palms Pizzeria can be dialled in.


A weekend guide to Margate | Margate wine bar Sete Northdown Road
Sète wine bar, Margate

The best shops in Margate

Margate’s Old Town comprises a warren of narrow streets and antique furniture shops, vintage clothes shops (Handsome Freaks is particularly good), and many other curiosities, including a first-class micro-museum dedicated to crabs. One of the highlights here is Margate Gift Shop, which isn’t quite what its name suggests. Instead, it’s an independent streetwear and clothes shop with a tight curation of contemporary brands, and often hosts Stussy Archive sales.

A ten-minute walk along Cliff Terrace from Turner Contemporary brings you to the original Haeckels store. The natural skincare brand continues to experiment and formulate new products inspired by the sea in its nearby HQ. Here, on the ground floor is an immersive space to explore their wares between ferns growing in misted beds, while, upstairs, treatment rooms are jewel-toned and boast spectacular views over the coast – creating a memorable setting for revitalising massages, facials and seaweed wraps.


A weekend guide to Margate | The jewel-toned interior of Haeckels House
Upstairs in Haeckels House

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