Make for Margate, the creative corner of Kent where change is the new constant

Discover Margate, the UK seafront town, whose spruced-up image is being driven by smart hotels, cultural attractions, and inviting dining spots, as recommended by travel journalist and regular visitor Josephine Price

Margate's coastline featuring Turner Contemporary
The Turner Contemporary on Margate’s seafront
(Image credit: Benjamin Beker)

Margate – the final town on the Isle of Thanet peninsula in south-east England – has always known how to show its guests a good time, but a radical transformation over the past few years has seen it grow up. The commitment to the good time, however, stands strong, says travel writer and editor Josephine Price, who visits regularly and has documented its changes and highlights over the past years.  

Turner Contemporary exterior view

Turner Contemporary

(Image credit: Benjamin Beker)

JMW Turner painted the Margate coastline more than 100 times in his lifetime and that sea view still impresses as soon as you step off the train in 2023 (the fast train from London Stratford International takes just one hour and 25 minutes). Few UK train stations present you with a sweeping sandy bay the moment you leave the station. Past the bay, you’ll see the David Chipperfield Architects-designed Turner Contemporary, which was set up in 2011 and marked Turner’s return to Margate and Margate’s return, of sorts. 

The town has firmed-up its reputation as an all-round destination in the past year or so, with smart new openings and places to stay. Shellfish stands, fish and chip shops, amusement arcades and the Dreamland park keep it tethered to its traditional seaside past and the wave of restaurants, galleries and hotels see it stretching into a bright and well-designed future. 

Make for Margate

Fort Road Hotel 

Fort Road Hotel King suite

Fort Road Hotel King suite

(Image credit: Courtesy Fort Road Hotel)

There’s art everywhere in the design-led Fort Road Hotel, opened in 2022. It comes as no surprise when you hear that the hotel is a collaboration between Frieze co-founder Matthew Slotover, artist Tom Gidley and developer Gabriel Chipperfield. Margate was firmly on the map for weekend escapes but it didn’t have many smart accommodation options before Fort Road landed. This cliff-hugging hotel perched above the Turner with sea views, a rooftop terrace, a basement bar and well-appointed rooms makes the destination all the more interesting. 

18 Fort Road, Margate CT9 1HF,


Quench Gallery, Margate

‘Vile Diva - Ted Rogers’, installation view, Quench, until 27 August

(Image credit: Ollie Harrop. Courtesy Quench)

Quench gallery was opened in 2021 by artists Lindsey Mendick (showing at Edinburgh Art Festival 2023) and Guy Oliver (who will be showing at Quench with Finbar Ward from 6 October to 18 November 2023). The aim was to give artists an exhibition space that would run as a not-for-profit gallery concentrating on paying artists properly. It’s a bright spot where exhibitions centre around thought-provoking concepts and rituals. You’ll find the gallery tucked off the ever-developing and exciting Northdown Road in the Cliftonville neighbourhood. 

On a bigger scale, the Turner Contemporary (pictured top) is a must-visit when in town. Perched on the site of JMW Turner’s former boarding house, the gallery opened in 2011 and cemented the destination with the creative community. 2023 shows include Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes, one of the world’s leading abstract artists, who is putting on her first UK solo exhibition in over two decades (until 10 September). When visiting make sure to leave time – and space – for the pastries at Staple Stores. They’re enormous and unforgettable. Also check out the Turner Contemporary shop, which had a minimalist refit in 2022.

Cliftonville Ave, Cliftonville, Margate CT9 2QU,


Food at Sargasso

(Image credit: Courtesy Sargasso)

The owners of the endlessly popular Brawn on east London’s Columbia Road opened Sargasso in 2021 to a hearty welcome. The small plates with a fixation of provenance, produce and big flavours made it an immediate hit. This restaurant holds a beautiful small spot on the harbour arm and the kitchen is inspired by food from the European coasts. Dishes are simple and seafood and vegetables take centre stage on the ever-changing seasonal menu. Interiors are pared back and views are either into the kitchen or out to sea. 

Stone Pier, Margate CT9 1AP,


Haeckels Margate Store

The lounge at Hæckels House spa

(Image credit: Courtesy Haeckels)

Capturing the essence of its Margate HQ’s location, Hæckels is a brand borne out of, and zooming in on, the sea. It launched in 2012, settling into the shop-cum-laboratory on Cliff Terrace in 2013 (and winning a Wallpaper* Design Award in 2020). In 2022, Hæckels House opened, a spa space where the brand utilises its signature creations in peaceful treatments. The townhouse itself is a tranquil haven overlooking the sea, inspired by thalassotherapy using natural products like handpicked seaweed to create their signature products. The ground floor shop sells the products in an industrial-style layout alongside a small in-house vertical farming system.  

18 Cliff Terrace, Cliftonville, Margate CT9 1RU,


Sete bar Margate interiors

(Image credit: Joe Lang)

Bringing the energy of a Parisian neighbourhood wine bar and a grown-up atmosphere to the Northdown Road, Sète is a wine bar that knows what it’s doing. Smart and petite with a dark exterior and a welcoming interior with prints by local photographer Auntie Prints, it’s a place to let the lazy afternoons run into the evening and beyond. Sète is the settled, permanent space by local duo, Natalia Ribbe and Jackson Berg, who have hopped across town in recent years with their restaurant concept, Barletta. Last seen in the Turner Contemporary, the ambitious pair were looking for somewhere to call home and this 2022 opening speaks of their experience in and love for the world of wine. Tables and chairs spill out onto the pavement as they would on European streets and the wine list focuses on mainland Europe and England.  

238 Northdown Rd, Cliftonville, Margate CT9 2QD,

Albion Stores 

Albion Stores in Margate

Albion Stores in Margate

(Image credit: Courtesy Albion Stores)

Clothes, music, art and lifestyle accompaniments are displayed with flair and flourish at this design-led store in Margate’s Old Town. Tucked off the main street dividing the likes of the Fort Road Hotel from the Turner and the sea beyond, it’s the smart exterior and neon signage that may lead you in but the cobalt blue ceiling, original wooden floorboards and glass cabinets of trinkets, delicious scents and colourful clothing that’ll hold you hostage. 

Art for sale by local artists such as Margo McDaid adorns the walls and elegant sea-inspired trinket dishes sit alongside scents by Maya Njie and clothes with a focus on British designers and sustainability. 

27 Fort Rd, Margate CT9 1HF,

Margate Pride 

Margate Pride crowd

Margate Pride celebrations

(Image credit: Dan Pick)

This one-day Pride extravaganza erupts across the town each August (plan now for 2024). Margate has an inclusive and loud queer scene that transcends traditional venues to permeate through the neighbourhoods with interesting events. The Pride celebrations start out at the Oval bandstand, take over the seafront with a colourful parade and end at Dreamland for live performances. After parties at the fun-loving Margate Arts Club or all-new Camp bar on the Northdown Road will keep the party going when the sun goes down.

Josephine Price is a freelance travel writer, editor and chef, and the former digital editor for National Geographic Traveller (UK) and Food.