A look at what Margate really has to offer
I was born in Margate as at the time my parents were living in nearby Broadstairs. Although we moved away while I was still a baby, we returned for many family holidays during the 1970’s and I always get a great sense of nostalgia whenever I return, as the place hasn’t changed a bit! I think I can safely say that I now know every inch of Broadstairs but my knowledge of Margate is far more limited. To be honest, I’ve always thought of it as more “kiss me quick” hats and noisy arcades rather than the quaint coastal town which is its neighbour. However, on a recent expedition down there, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it has far more to offer than I realised.
Now don’t get me wrong, if you want a boisterous day out then there is one to be had. Thrill seekers don’t need to venture far from the station before they come to Dreamland, a retro seaside theme park. We were invited to come and see what Dreamland had to offer on the day it celebrated its first birthday since its relaunch.
Don’t be put off by the somewhat scruffy signage from the street (for some reason its refurb didn’t get that far). Once you turn the corner and enter Dreamland you are immersed into the hubbub of a modern entertainment centre. Amongst an abundance of neon lighting, you will find a roller-disco, a bar, restaurant and rows of original pinball machines and retro arcade games.
Then once you step outside there are an array of rides including all your childhood favourites. There is an old fashioned but beautifully restored Merry-Go-Round, Chair-O-Planes (a Victorian looking chair swing which was my personal favourite), a Haunted House, Helter Skelter, Waltzer and Rollercoaster to name but a few. There’s even a big wheel, where you get a bird’s eye view over the whole of Margate.
Rather than trying to compete with the better-known theme parks offering high-tech rides, Dreamland offers more of a traditional British funfair with an abundance of good old-fashioned fun.
What struck me was how happy everyone seemed to be and I didn’t spot any tantrums from either toddlers or teenagers! There was a very relaxed, happy atmosphere and I think this is largely due to the staff. Many of them were dressed up in 1950’s costumes (I think this is a nod to the era in which Dreamland was first established) and the ladies looked especially fine in their beautiful 1950’s frocks! I don’t know whether they were in training for going on to become red coats but they certainly got stuck in with the customers! Whilst queuing for our rides we saw an impromptu hokey cokey being danced with a group of small children (who were loving it) and also a life-sized banana running in and out of the crowds as it was being chased by a man in a gorilla suit. This had everyone in fits of giggles.
In amongst the rides, there are stalls where you can “hook a duck” or have your fortune told and there is also an impressive food court. A DJ is also blasting out a selection of old and new tracks to keep everyone happy.
Entrance to Dreamland is free and you can either pay per ride or buy a wristband for unlimited use of all the rides.
After what was probably one ride too many on the Chair-O-Plane, we decided to move on and see what else Margate had to offer.
The Old Town is now building itself quite a reputation for vintage shopping. Nestled behind the main thoroughfare, there are a couple of streets with many quirky shops. You may not necessarily know what they are all selling but the windows are certainly worth taking a peek at!
You can easily lose yourself (and lighten your wallet) in some lovely clothing shops, selling a mixture of second-hand vintage clothing or brand new replicas. There’s everything from 1950’s Circle dresses to a shop selling mod and skinhead fashions (as last seen in the 1980’s)! In amongst these shops, there are some gorgeous little tea rooms and wine bars.
Margate also has a golden sandy beach which runs the length of the coast through Broadstairs and into Ramsgate. If you fancy some exercise, there are some lovely coastal walks to be had.
There are also some very nice eateries. We chose BeBeached, a lovely little café situated on Margate harbour. You can spot BeBeached from quite a distance by the hot pink parasols and deckchairs outside. The interior is equally pretty in pink and bedecked in pink bunting, matching pink chairs and even pink flowers! I would describe it as shabby chic at its best.
The owner, Jean, has concentrated her menu on locally sourced, fresh produce and everything is cooked to order. Unusually, the menu mainly consists of vegetarian dishes as apparently Jean wanted this to be a vegetarian café. However, there wasn’t quite the market for this so she introduced a couple of meat and fish dishes. This pleased my husband who tucked into the meatloaf with a coating of blue cheese. I was tempted by the halloumi kebab, served with hummus and pita bread. We could choose between chips or salad on the side but having just finished a long coastal walk, it had to be the chips! These came triple cooked, crispy and well worth the indulgence. In fact, everything we had was delicious and very well cooked.
We weren’t going to have dessert but when presented with a selection of delicious sounding homemade cakes, we couldn’t resist. My husband went for the parsnip, ginger and pear cake which was an interesting variation on the more traditional carrot cake. It was full of spice and zingy flavours. I opted for a vegan, gluten-free date and chocolate torte. Apparently, this is a very time-consuming recipe because there are so many different elements to it. But it’s worth the effort and with the richness of the dates it tasted as if it was alcoholic as well!
There isn’t a big alcoholic drinks menu but I did have a glass of exceptionally good local wine from the Kent vineyard Biddenden. I’m a big fan of British wines and it’s great to see them featuring more and more on menus these days, especially when they can be locally sourced.
As we were dining, we were awarded a picture postcard view of the harbour. With the tide well and truly out, the little boats were fittingly ”beached” on the sand. I noticed that an artist had set up his easel on the sand and was painting them. It was a very peaceful sight.
So it was with our tummies full of good food and our lungs full of sea air that we boarded the train back to London. With South Eastern now operating high-speed routes from St Pancras and Stratford, you can travel to/from the Kent coast in up to 90 minutes. This makes Margate (and the surrounding coastal towns) very accessible for a day out by the seaside.
Dreamland Margate: Marine Terrace, Margate, Kent CT9 1XJ
BeBeached Café: Margate Harbour Arm, Margate, Kent CT9 1AL