From its rich history and rugged coastline to fast-evolving cultural and culinary scenes, here's our guide to what to do, where to stay and what to eat in Kent.
Shaped by incursions by continental neighbours — from Romans and Jutes to Vikings and Normans — royal residencies, literary connections and a thriving maritime history, Kent’s fascinating past plays out across its rolling hills, charismatic harbour towns and chocolate-box villages.
From the medieval woodland of the High Weald to the chalk cliffs of Folkestone and Dover (below), Kent’s verdant swathes of vineyards, orchards and beautifully manicured public gardens make it easy to see why Henry VIII nicknamed the county the ‘Garden of England’.
Its proximity to London has always nurtured a back-and-forth exchange of people and ideas. As more and more creative minds swap the capital for coast and country, an arts-led revival of Kent’s seaside resorts and the emergence of a thrillingly inventive food and wine scene built upon local produce provide further reason to venture to the UK’s south eastern extent.
Here are the county’s unmissable highlights.
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What to do
With so much of the county skirted by the sea, it’s little surprise that Kent’s coastline offers plenty for sun worshippers. The 25-mile Viking Trail transects some of the county’s best beaches, stretching from the Roman ruins at Reculver past the sandy shores of Westbook, Margate, Botany Bay and Broadstairs to Pegwell Bay.
To the south, the beautiful St Margaret’s Bay, so close to France that phone signal switches between countries, is backed by chalk cliffs while the vast shingle expanse of Dungeness is a wild haven for birders and artists in search of seclusion.
As enthusiasm for English wine rises in line with quality — and investment — Kent finds itself at its centre of a buoyant industry. Chalky terroir and a climate similar to that of Champagne 40 years ago is helping local vineyards produce spectacular sparkling wines and still whites that hold their own on
the international stage. Sample some of the best at Gusbourne near Ashford and Chapel Down near Tenterden.
Castles and gardens
The county’s proximity to Europe has created a concentration of sturdy defences from would-be intruders, with many of its 30 castles built in the years after the Norman Conquest. Leeds Castle — which served six of England’s medieval queens — and Hever Castle are two of the most striking examples.
While a castle in name only, Sissinghurst Castle Garden is also a must-visit following Vita Sackville-West’s midcentury transformation of this run-down estate into one of the UK’s standout horticultural showcases.
Art by the sea
A frequent retreat for 19th-century painter JMW Turner, who was inspired by the town’s technicolour sunsets, Margate’s revival owes much to his namesake Turner Contemporary, which — opened in 2011 — is now part of a buoyant community of artists and galleries, galvanised by a post-pandemic influx of London émigrés.
It’s a similar story in Folkestone, whose Triennial — the next one falling in 2024 — sees the town’s public spaces come alive with alfresco installations.
A pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages, the UK’s oldest cathedral deservedly remains the city’s major draw, part of a trio of Unesco World Heritage Sites that also include the nearby St Martin’s Church and St Augustine’s Abbey. Elsewhere, the warren of cobbled streets and Tudor landmarks within its Roman-built city walls are a charming amalgam of boutiques, bars and cafes.
Where to stay
From its wellington-lined lobby and wood-panelled nooks to the 29 chic guestrooms, this Grade II-listed country pile is as charismatic as it is cosy. The kitchen garden feeds into a farm-to-table ethos that stretches from the hen’s eggs bubbling at breakfast to the fennel tops used on the cocktail menu, and its Potting Shed treatment rooms offer a chance to wind down after a day hiking the trails that lead into the surrounding countryside.
From £200 a night — thepighotel.com
The glorious revival of a dilapidated former guest house has given Margate a statement hotel that embodies the town’s creative renaissance. Its 14 rooms feature mid-century accents and striking sea views, while works by local artists line the walls. Former River Cottage chef Daisy Cecil serves locavore fare in the restaurant and the subterranean bar hosts cultural events such as book launches and artist Q&As.
Well placed for exploring the North Downs and some of Kent’s best vineyards, this Jacobean manor house on the southern edge of Ashford has been given a stylish restoration, reopening last year as a seven-room guesthouse. Its restaurant serves dishes shaped by seasonal Kentish produce, while a series of wine dinners and seasonal workshops champions local talent.
With its artful aesthetic overseen by a former design editor, this storied pub on Deal’s high street has become one of Kent’s most idiosyncratic retreats. Eight individually decorated rooms mix and match antique wallpapers, vintage furnishings and vibrant pops of colour, while decorated Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes has added finesse to the downstairs restaurant.
Just 40 miles from London, this vast nature reserve feels a world away from the city. Its 3,300 acres of saltmarsh and mudflats on the Isle of Sheppey’s southern shore make Elmley a haven for scores of migratory birds. The farmhouse at its centre offers a charming spot for overnight stays, with a scattering of beautifully appointed shepherds’ huts providing guests with an even closer connection to nature.
Where to eat
Since taking over in 1999, chef Stephen Harris has transformed what he once called a ‘grotty pub by the sea’ into one of Kent’s most impressive restaurants, which has held a Michelin star since 2008.
Accomplished tasting menus plate up the best of the surrounding area, with frequent star dishes including slip sole with seaweed butter and seared lamb raised on the neighbouring salt marsh.
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With concise chalkboard menus dependent on local dayboat catches, this sophisticated spot in Margate’s Old Town specialises in sustainably caught fish cooked over charcoal, helping it land a Michelin Green star a few years ago. Often booked up months in advance, its owners also oversee the equally impressive — and no-reservation — Dory’s around the corner, which champions raw, pickled and cured techniques.
This 17th-century farmhouse has emerged as one of the region’s hottest restaurants with rooms after being lovingly restored by chef Oli Brown and his partner Ruth Leigh. Pairing local produce with Italian technique, Oli’s hyper-seasonal cooking — often including grilled meats and fresh pasta — is served in an alfresco pergola where vines twist through the beams.
Five smart rooms offer a place to stay for those who decide they don’t want to leave.
After swapping London’s highly rated Clove Club for this ivy-clad pub in the pretty town of Fordwich, chef Daniel Smith seems to be adapting well to rural life. Picking up a Michelin star shortly after opening in 2017, his new project is defined by its refined take on modern British cuisine. Open fireplaces make the dining room a cosy haven in cooler weather, while the terrace overlooking the River Stour comes alive in summer.
Seafood doesn’t get fresher than the straightforward dishes served at this weatherboarded restaurant and fishmongers on the Dungeness peninsula. Depending on what its two resident fishing boats land that morning, expect to find lobster and crab rolls, and a choice of grilled fish and fried potatoes — best topped with a daub of homemade tartare sauce.