Grand piers were once obligatory seaside attractions. But Margate—124 km east of London—went further to entertain its Victorian visitors. Steps from the beach, its Hall by the Sea pleasure gardens delivered roundabout rides, circus performers and a menagerie of exotic animals, including lions and elephants. It was sold in 1919 and reimagined as a fairground-style park named Dreamland.
The attraction faded over time, closing in 2005, only to reopen a decade later after a sparkling transformation. Glorying in British seaside nostalgia—you can still see the old menagerie cages—the recreated park offers sideshows, ice-cream and street food stands, and dozens of restored rides from different decades. There’s a 1930s motorcycle carousel, ’70s dodgem cars and the Scenic Railway, an undulating, heritage-protected wooden roller coaster that’s been looping here since the ’20s.
The restored attraction isn’t stuck in the past, says Rebecca Ellis, Dreamland’s senior creative producer. “We’ve also got live music, pop-up entertainment and interactive art installations—it’s all the fun of a festival with unexpected twists.”
It’s not the only reason to visit Margate. Turner Contemporary—a landmark gallery near the spot where watercolourist J.M.W. Turner once lived—opened to great acclaim in 2011. It’s just steps from several clamorous slot machine arcades, and also next to the town’s much-loved beach. “If you haven’t stepped on the sand, you haven’t been to Margate,” says Ellis of the golden crescent often seen as the town’s top draw.
Also facing the beach is The Two Halves, a busy bar opened by Shaun Smethers in 2015. It’s a leading light in the County of Kent’s micropub scene: an array of diminutive watering holes dedicated to great beer and a friendly welcome. “We have real ale from here and across the UK, but our lineup changes weekly—up to nine casks and 15 ciders on summer days,” he says.
Savvy sippers should aim for an early evening visit. “We have the best sunsets in the world right outside our door,” says Smethers, adding he’s never thought of living anywhere else but Margate. “It’s always been a friendly place with a great beach—and besides, my great-great-grandfather had the first bathing hut here!”
[This story appears in the July 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]