Sea and be seen: the insider's guide to Margate

Guardian Web |

Jimi Famurewa meets Margate’s most in-the-know locals and sizes up Kent’s Copenhagen-like capital of cool, where you can go to a major art gallery, swim in a scenic tidal pool, dine on Nordic cuisine and shop for designer homeware – without the flight

Setting my bag down in the sunlit interior of my Margate Airbnb, I fully understand why this seaside town’s population is increasingly made up of city-dwelling visitors who never ended up going home. The sea is just a 10-minute walk from this Grade II-listed garden flat, and its perfect location on the edge of both hip Cliftonville and the seafront bustle of Old Town, has a bewitching effect. The apartment’s white quartz kitchen counter glimmers in the sun, plants sprout from painted vases, and a desert-themed wall hanging amplifies the calming Joshua Tree aesthetic of creams and greys. This tranquil base feels essential in the midst of Margate’s fizzing creative energy.

  • Margate beach. Lead image: Margate seafront, with Turner Contemporary in the background. All photographs: Phill Taylor

In lieu of a permanent move, more and more weekend visitors are taking advantage of Margate’s recent influx of acclaimed new restaurants, chic cafes, superior homeware stores, on-trend boutiques and more. In fact, with its fixie bikes, cobbled streets, Noma-ish foraged cuisine and design-first ethos, it almost feels like a pocket of Copenhagen that just happens to be a 90-minute train ride from London.

  • Jimi in his Margate Airbnb, a Grade-II listed garden flat, a 10 minute walk to the seafront; Fez bar; Dreamland

Throw in the refurbished 1920s theme park Dreamland and it all adds up to an irresistible artist’s enclave for a weekend city. Armed with effusive recommendations from my Airbnb host Clare – a trend-forecaster and trainee florist ­– I set about experiencing the best of the Kentish coast’s new capital of cool. Here’s my guide to getting the best out of a trip to this unique seaside town.

  • Jimi’s Margate Airbnb

Follow the foodie trail
The seafront chippies are still drawing crowds (and dive-bombing seagulls) but in recent years, Margate’s culinary scene has evolved. Open since 2015, Hantverk & Found is a seafood cafe and gallery that exemplifies that uptick in quality, whether you’re after a big last-night-of-the-trip dinner or a casual lunch slurping local rock oysters spiked with yuzu (a citrus fruit) in the suntrap garden. The food is unfussy and brightly flavoured – think clams in a spicy Korean broth and bream with a heady brown shrimp butter. The dinky emerald-tiled room adds a lively, squashed-in thrum to proceedings.

  • The Bus Cafe; Cliffs record shop and cafe

For a legendary cheese toastie, and great rooftop views for sunset, head to Cheesy Tiger on the jutting Harbour Arm, my Airbnb host advises. There’s also friendly little Fez bar, a quirky, eclectic boozer close by. Or for an array of beachfront eating and drinking options, then the The Bus Cafe – with its crammed and zingy salad wraps – and the adjacent Sun Deck, are the places to head to. “There’s a really good juice bar, Po’ Boy that does great Creole-style food, and a cool tiki bar,” says Ed Warren, local and co-founder of Cliffs record shop and cafe.

  • Cliffs record shop and cafe

Sound out local music
There aren’t many cafes where you can watch an experimental radio show broadcasting to the world and have a flat white made by a double Mercury Music prize-winning nominee. A labour of love for musician Obara Ejimiwe (aka Ghostpoet) and his creative director wife Kate, Radio Margate is a hybrid coffee shop, late-night venue and internet radio station launched in 2017 following their move from London. This sea-view space – all calming jazz and tasteful mid-century furniture – is, according to the Ejimiwes, a direct result of Margate’s contagious creative energy. “It’s totally infectious and there’s more room here to develop strong, independent ideas,” Obara says.

  • Walpole Bay tidal pool; Radio Margate

Housed in a lovingly restored former 1920s tearoom in Cliftonville, Cliffs is a record shop that also encompasses a fitness studio, coffee roastery, hair salon, gig venue and an exceptional cafe (try the harissa oil and avocado toast). “I just wanted to sell Motown records but we got caught up in it all, like a lot of people here do,” says owner Ed Warren, explaining how he and his interior designer partner Kier Muddiman found themselves presiding over this artfully-distressed cultural fiefdom. “All these interesting little places in Margate are from the heart, basically.”

  • Haeckels skincare

Hit refresh
Walpole Bay tidal pool is a must for lovers of outdoor swimming. It is the UK’s largest saltwater bathing pool, covering 4 acres (1.6 hectares), and was built in 1937. A group of locals swear by a regular swim in this beautiful coastal location, which fills up at high tide each day. “The first time I jumped in I squealed with excitement as the cold water engulfed me,” says Kathryn Ferguson, Margate resident and director of Taking the Waters, a short film about the pool. “But it felt exhilarating and from that moment I was totally hooked. A full moon swim is something I’d recommend everyone to try once.”

  • Victorian shelter on Marine Drive opposite Margate Sands; Haeckels skincare; Walpole Bay tidal pool; Haeckels skincare

Sticking with the theme of wellness, it’s worth stopping by natural fragrance and skincare company Haeckels to pick up a few restorative products to take home. One of the town’s most famous success stories, it was founded by Dom Bridges, a former film director who turned a hobby making soap from foraged Margate seaweed into a brand stocked in Harvey Nichols. Still, little can prepare you for the surprise of its flagship laboratory, shop and sea-based thalassotherapy spa, high up on a blustery Cliftonville parade. “It’s an example of the fact that each business has an amazing story of its own,” says Shelly Keeys, owner of shrewdly curated local fashion store Ruskin.

  • Walled garden of Jimi’s Margate Airbnb

Shop independent art and design
Those that know their parlour palms from their succulents will feel at home in the jungle interior of Mar Mar, a cafe, gift shop and houseplant emporium on Northdown Road. Bolstering the town’s roster of design boutiques (homewares store Môr is worth a look too), it grew from Central St Martins graduate Boe Holder’s bold, Memphis Group-influenced creations. “She used to do pot painting and sell these great plant pots online,” says Margate-based photographer Harriet Bentley. “Now they’re selling plants, coffee, magazines and other great little things. It’s so cool.”

  • Fez bar; Radio Margate; the iconic sign from the Cliftonville Lido, built in the 1920’s and in use until 1978, when a winter storm caused damage that has never been repaire; Radio Margate

Other interiors shops worth seeking out include: Clayspace Studios, a social enterprise and ceramics store; Danish Collectables for curated Scandinavian vintage pieces; Papillon Interiors for vibrant indoor and outdoor furniture; and Imagineican Store, a tiny design and lifestyle studio. If you hire a bike during your trip, Westgate-on-sea is about a 15-minute cycle from Margate’s seafront, and is home to Eighty Two Westgate.

  • The Bus Cafe

Of course, one of the biggest draws in town for art is the Turner Contemporary, which opened in 2011 and sowed the first seeds for the current regenerative flowering. Smaller venues, such as Pie Factory in the Old Town, also a studio complex and, yes, former pie shop, are increasingly offering a platform to Margate’s thriving ecosystem of emerging visual artists and Turner-exhibited stars of tomorrow. “There’s such a strong creative network here,” notes Dan Chilcott, co-founder of nearby Resort Studios, who put together a June show at the Pie Factory. “As an artist, it’s right where you want to be.”

Jimi Famurewa is a London-based freelance writer and editor. Recent projects include an essay in the debut issue of literary magazine The Good Journal.

For a cool design pad in the UK’s trendiest seaside town, search Airbnb homes in Margate

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