I’ve seen Margate described as Shoreditch on Sea in more than one publication. And yes, there’s lots of arty business to see and a lot of cool places to eat but it’s also ramshackle in the way that English Seaside towns are and has a real vintage charm about it.
The train from London Victoria to Margate takes roughly an hour and forty minutes plus any extra time it takes you to get to Victoria/get train snacks/toy bribes etc. We missed our connecting train from Croydon and had to run to platform One where we discovered that the entire disabled section was already full of buggies. We did not have time to get toy bribes from WH Smith and we did not have seats for part of the journey and a very squirmy toddler. Do not be like us. Leave plenty of time. People who go on 11 hour flights with toddlers are actual super heroes and should be worshipped as such. I can not do more than 3 hours on a train with Max. Obviously if you have a car, drive there. Much nicer. You can also do this as a day trip but I couldn’t face that much travelling with Max all in one day.
Where to stay
We opted for a quaint little eco friendly airbnb cabin in someone’s back yard right at the top of the hill because it was relatively cheap and it had a cot.
I fully admit that I’m one of those champagne taste on a beer budget kind of people. I love a fancy hotel. Love them. My greatest fantasy is to come into a vast sum of money and live out my old age in the Suites at The Savoy. This probably isn’t going to happen, in the same way that right now if I want to go on holiday with my family a suite even in a hotel in Margate isn’t going to happen. Seriously, what do you do when you share a room with a little person who has to go to bed at half 7 if you don’t have two rooms? Sit quietly in the dark?
I digress. The cabin was cute and as long as it didn’t rain we figured we could sit outside in the garden and drink wine while Max slept all for £100 a night. The Airbnb hosts kindly gave us a fan for the cabin because it was mid heatwave and we were all dying. We shared the outdoor shower, kitchen and compost loo with a group of twenty somethings who went clubbing and came home in the early hours very quietly. It was not at all unpleasant but it was a little further from the action than we’d banked on and the compost loo had a lot of rules.
If I had been smart, planned the trip months in advance, had more cash to splash and not brought Max then we could have stayed at Angela’s Guest Suites (which is adults only) or there’s also the Premier Inn and an array of other Airbnb’s.
Where to eat
My top tip for visiting restaurants in Margate is to book ahead. We missed out on eating at several places on my list for lunch (Angela’s and Hantverk & Found) because they were fully booked. In the end, we ate at The Kentish Pantry who do walk ins and have a sort of supper club vibe, got a takeaway fish and chips and battered sav, got breakfast at The Bus Cafe who also do walk ins and these incredible breakfast mounds out of a big red bus (& are absolute diamonds) and managed to secure a last minute booking at The Cheesy Tiger which I highly recommend for location and excellent dishes which contain cheese for lunch before heading back to London. Margate on the whole is a very family friendly place. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many breastfeeding mums out and about anywhere else but nowhere we ate had highchairs, kids menus or baby change. Max either chilled in his stroller or on our laps.
What to do
The main purpose of the trip, other than to attempt a small family break which I was sort of afraid of and had never attempted before, was to visit Dreamland. The fully refurbished vintage fairground and associated Octopuses Garden soft play. Don’t try and take luggage to Dreamland. They will not let you in even though it says on their website that there are lockers and then you will cry and it will not be pretty.
We’d already checked out of the airbnb and had all our stuff with us (including Max’s sleepyhead). The train station doesn’t have left luggage. We didn’t know what to do. When I don’t know what to do I get brunch, so we went to The Bus Cafe and did just that. Then we explained our predicament to the lovely staff there and they agreed to keep our luggage behind the bus. We gave them a bottle of wine for their trouble.
We finally made into Dreamland and it was is very much worth the trip. There’s a roller disco and lots of rides and pin ball machines and a house of mirrors and even some streetfood traders. Kids will love it but so will you. The excellent Octopuses Garden soft play which is inside the park but a separate (£5) entrance fee so you can just visit one or the other if you prefer, is possibly the best and definetly cutest we’ve ever been to.
The other big attraction is The Turner Contemporary which is fully buggy accessible, has great views, a fab gift shop and is a little bit like a mini version of the Tate Modern.
We didn’t make it to The Shell Grotto on this visit but I am reliably informed it is worth a visit. I was especially intrigued by the arcades with Only Fools and Horses soft toys in their grabber games but sadly I am yet to acquire Del Boy plushie. There’s also, you know, like the sandy beach as well.