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Discover the best Kent seaside towns that are easy to visit as a day trip by train from London.
Kent’s coastal towns have been beloved of Londoners escaping the Big Smoke for at least 250 years, drawn to their clean air and sandy beaches.
This cliff-lined coastline in south-east England, stretching from the Isle of Sheppey and Whitstable in the north to the wetlands of Romney Marsh in the south, offers 200km of golden sand. Perfect for a UK staycation, weekend break or a day trip from London.
Whether you are yearning to eat local ice cream on a sandy beach, seeking cutting-edge art and culture, want to walk part of the Saxon Shore Way or to sample the freshest seafood, here are the best Kent seaside towns. Better still, all of these coastal towns are an easy day trip by train from London.
Map of Kent coastal towns
To help you navigate the Kent coastline, here is a map that signposts these coastal towns in Kent, from Whitstable in the north to Folkstone in the south.
It is also possible to walk between many of these towns; for example, I highly recommend walking between Margate and Ramsgate, or between Dover and Deal. Many of these towns are on the Saxon Shore Way, a 153-mile long-distance path from Gravesend to Hastings.
Best Kent seaside towns to visit as day trips from London
Known for its trendy vibe, fresh seafood and vibrant cultural scene, Whitstable has increased in popularity with Londoners in recent years, making it feel a little like London-On-Sea on a busy summer weekend.
Whitstable is all about seafood, particularly oysters. The town’s working harbour, dotted with fishing boats and wooden fishing huts, means oysters are plentiful and inexpensive, celebrated every July at the Oyster Festival.
When you have feasted on shellfish, browse Whitstable’s art galleries and independent shops that line its narrow lanes or take a stroll along its pebble shore, lined with colourful beach huts.
Four miles east of Whitstable is the Victorian seaside town of Herne Bay, home to some of most psychedelic beach huts in Kent.
Start your day by visiting Herne Bay’s Seaside Museum. Borne out of a passion of a local amateur archaeologist, this small museum provides a fascinating sight into the history of the area.
Next, take a walk or bike ride to the local landmark of Reculver Towers, the towers of a 12th-century monastic church, and the Roman fort. Alternatively, take a shorter walk to the end of Neptune’s Arm, the former sea defence jutting out from Herne Bay beach,
Why not end your day in Herne Bay by riding the helter-skelter at the end of the town’s pier? Just make sure that you have your fish and chips after the ride.
Continuing east along the Kent coast, we reach the traditional bucket-and-spade resort of Margate.
Back in the day, Margate didn’t have a great reputation. This once-booming Kent seaside resort – I remember day trips to Margate from London as a kid in the late 1960s – was hammered by the recession of the 1970s and fell into decline.
However, with the arrival of high-end art venues and the multi-million-pound revival of Dreamland, the town’s iconic amusement park, Margate’s fortunes have reversed, so much so that it has earned the moniker of Shoreditch-by-Sea.
But, for me, Margate’s sandy beaches, are its main draw. What I also like about Margate is that, for all its recent hipness, hasn’t lost its bucket-and-spade appeal.
Yes. You can browse its vintage shops and check out the latest cutting edge exhibitions in the Turner Contemporary. But you can still go home with a stick of rock in your bag.
Neighbouring Broadstairs is an often overlooked delight, offering scenery, culture and history and one small but perfectly formed package.
Horseshoe-shaped Viking Bay, Broadstairs’ sheltered sandy beach, is one of the best in the south-east. There are also plenty of candy-coloured Instaworthy beach huts towards which to point your camera lens.
Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor to Broadstairs – Rochester, another of his Kent residences is also worth a visit – and there are plenty of connections to the author.
The Dickens House Museum, for example, which celebrates his links to town and was once home to the woman who inspired the character of Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. Or Bleak House, a bed and breakfast named after one of Dickens’ most popular novels.
Broadstairs also hosts the annual Dickens Festival each June.
Are you looking for somewhere to park your yacht? Underrated Ramsgate, on the other side of Broadstairs to Margate, is home to one of the largest marinas on the south coast and is the only designated Royal Harbour in the UK.
Like its neighbours, it also boasts a fine sandy beach, a pier and no shortage of cafes and restaurants.
Architecture buffs won’t go home disappointed.
The Grange, the home built and lived in by Augustus Pugin, the architect responsible for ‘Big Ben’ and the interior of the Houses of Parliament, is in town. Pugin was buried next door at another one of his creations, St Augustine’s where you’ll also find the shrine of St Augustine of England.
For something a little different, take a guided tour of Ramsgate Tunnels, a subterranean network that was home to 1,000 people during World War II. Or learn more about the town’s maritime heritage, visit Ramsgate Maritime Museum.
Whilst Sandwich Bay will never win any ‘Best Beach’ award, the medieval town of Sandwich, just under three miles to the east, is a worthy addition to this list of best Kent seaside town.
Once a thriving port, Sandwich has played host to some illustrious visitors, including King Charles II and Queen Elizabeth I. Step back in time by wandering its streets lined with half-timbered houses, stopping at the Sandwich Guildhall, the ancient Churches of St. Mary’s, St. Clements, St. Bartholomew’s, St. Peters and the United Reformed Church
To get the best out of your day in Sandwich, download the Historic Town Trail leaflet and map discover the history behind the town. Or for a more relaxed day out, take a boat trip along the River Stour to visit Richborough Roman Fort.
So what’s the deal with Deal? Whilst thinking of Deal as Whitstable without the crowds is doing this buzzy Kent seaside town a disservice, it’s a fair summary.
Combine a pretty pebble beach with handsome Georgian houses and a thriving food and cultural scene, and you have the measure of the place. However, Deal hasn’t sold its soul to hipster heaven and retains that traditional English seaside feel, with its amusement arcades and fish ‘n chip shops, albeit in a restrained fashion.
Learn more about Deal’s rich maritime history by paying a visit to the Deal Maritime & Local History Museum or Walmer Castle, which dates from Tudor times.
I’ll be honest. The port town of Dover is not the most attractive seaside town in Kent. However, it has a rich history and offers some of the best walking in southeast England.
Taking pride of place atop those iconic white cliffs is Dover Castle, complete with medieval tunnels and an underground hospital. Dating from the 12th Century, it has played a key defensive role for over 800 years.
Have you seen the movie Dunkirk? It was from Dover Castle that the evacuation of Dunkirk was planned.
Or if Roman history is more your thing, visit the Roman Painted House, five rooms of a Roman hotel dating from 200AD and featuring large areas of murals.
However, for me, the biggest attraction of Dover is the opportunity to take a walk along the top of those white cliffs, with views across the English Channel to France.
Head out past the port to pick up the cliffside coastal path that winds its way to the South Foreland Lighthouse, the first to use an electrically powered signal, in the village of St Margaret’s Bay.
Or if you really want to stretch your legs and breathe in lungfuls of sea air, the cliffside walk will take you all the way to Deal. Two Kent seaside towns in one day can’t be bad.
Poor old Folkestone is often overlooked in favour of its Kentish seaside neighbours but ignore it at your peril.
Whilst it may not have the visual charm of some of its Kentish neighbours, it does have authenticity in spades. You won’t see the gentrification or second-home-for-Londoners vibe of Whitstable or Margate here. Instead, this is very much a local’s town.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Folkstone doesn’t have a cultural heart. Far from it.
Folkstone Artworks is the largest urban outdoor collection of contemporary art in the UK. The town’s burgeoning art scene is also evident in its Creative Quarter, home to galleries, artists’ studios and performance spaces.
Take a stroll along The Leas, the town’s clifftop promenade overlooking the sandy beach which was landscaped in Victorian times, at the height of Folkstone’s popularity.
Transport fans will love the Leas Lift, a funicular railway connecting the seafront to The Leas promenade.
Alternatively, walk along Folkstone Harbour Arm, a former railway track jutting out into the sea, that has been brought back to life as a public space with plenty of restaurants and bars.
History buffs won’t go home feeling short-changed. A few miles from Folkestone is the Kent Battle of Britain Museum, housing the best collection of Battle of Britain memorabilia in the UK, including dozens of aircraft.
Finally, transport geeks are in for a very special treat. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RH&DR) is a light railway connecting nearby Hythe and Dungeness. But these are no ordinary trains, using miniature steam trains from the 1920s and 1930s to haul vintage coaches from the same era.
General tips for train travel to Kent seaside towns from London
- As many Londoners do not own a car (including myself), expect services to be much busier at the weekend, especially to popular destinations like Whitstable and Margate. To avoid the crowds, if possible try to visit on a weekday.
- However, rail improvement works tend to take place on a weekend, particularly on Sundays. Therefore check for travel disruptions before you set out. Trust me, a rail replacement bus is not a joy.
- Rail travel in England can be expensive but buying your ticket in advance will often save you money. For example, if I wanted to travel to Dover tomorrow, a return ticket for the faster service would cost me in almost £35. However, the same ticket booked for two weeks time is only £12.
- Consider booking two one-way tickets instead of a return ticket as this can sometimes be cheaper.
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