Folkestone: Kent’s creative seaside resort that’s stealing a march on Margate with resurgent glamour

Folkestone: Kent’s creative seaside resort that’s stealing a march on Margate with resurgent glamour

Situated on the southern edge of the North Downs, Folkestone was a fashionable seaside resort in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The town’s appeal dampened later in the 20th century, particularly following the arrival of the Channel Tunnel, which led to the closure of the once-glamorous international rail port. But now it is attracting new generations of visitors, and residents, with the help of a thriving arts scene.

The seafront has been revitalised and there is a Creative Quarter packed with independent shops, restaurants and bars. Events take place year-round, including theatre, film, comedy and music at the Quarterhouse performing arts venue. For more see visitfolkestoneandhythe.co.uk and visitkent.co.uk.

How to get there and around

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Enjoy some September sun in Folkestone (Photo: Visit Kent)

Folkestone Central and Folkestone West railway stations are both served by Southeastern trains. It is a 10-minute, well-signposted walk from Folkestone Central to the centre of town, and a further 10 minutes to the seafront.

Where to stay

Enjoy expansive sea views at The View Hotel, where the modern bedrooms and restaurant still retain the feel of Folkestone’s Victorian heyday. Accessible parking is available and dogs are welcome at an additional cost. Doubles from £99.

Just around the corner from The View, Wycliffe Guest House is a family-run B&B overlooking the Holy Trinity Church. It has off-road parking and are dogs welcome. Doubles from £95.

Day One

Up with the sun

Get your morning off to an invigorating start by joining the Folkestone Sea Swimmers. They meet at 9.30am on Saturdays.

If you prefer the warm and dry, Folkestone’s Old High Street – known as Steep Street – is home to Steep Street Coffee. This cosy, book-lined café offers up a tempting selection of cakes, such as vegan caramel biscoff sponge and pumpkin spiced latte.

Souvenir hunting

The Old High Street is also the centre of the town’s Creative Quarter, a colourful collection of independent shops, places to eat and galleries in which exhibition spaces double up as studios.

Spend some time looking at painted seascapes in Shane Record’s studio gallery, or poring over Paradiso’s vintage film memorabilia. The Folkestone Bookshop, on Tontine Street, sells new, second-hand and “surprise books”, which are wrapped in brown paper. Spend some time in its reading room where tea and coffee are served.

Folkestone Kent Credit Visit Kent Image via holly.loftus@visitkent.co.uk
Go shopping in the boutiques of the Creative Quarter (Photo: Visit Kent)

Don’t miss

Lined with Victorian villas, the cliff-top promenade known as The Leas looks across a wide sky towards French soil, which is visible on clear days.

Wandering along the esplanade, with its bandstand and Edwardian hotels The Metropole and The Grand, you might almost expect to spot crinolined ladies taking the air, such is the feeling of stepping back in time.

You can walk all the way along to the village of Sandgate, which was once home to the writer HG Wells. Here, Sandgate Castle, an artillery fort that was originally built for Henry VIII, still stands. Your return route can follow the paths through the wooded Lower Leas Coastal Park.

Time for a sundowner

Folkestone Harbour Arm Kent Cerdit Folkestone Harbour Arm Image via holly.loftus@visitkent.co.uk
Folkestone Harbour Arm (Photo: Matt Rowe)

Head to the end of the Harbour Arm for sweeping sea views outside the Lighthouse Champagne Bar & Tasting Rooms. Order a glass of wine and a crêpe à la française. Alternatively, nab a seat inside the dinky Dog & Otter pub, or sink a pint at the oldest drinking hole in Folkestone, The British Lion, which has low-slung ceilings and snug rooms.

Dinner reservation

Enjoy fresh, locally sourced fish and seafood at the friendly Little Rock restaurant – sister of high-end Rocksalt. Found in a converted shipping container, it is located right on the beach. Don’t miss its marinated Kentish strawberries. You might finish the evening with a watermelon margarita or mint julep served on a deck chair outside the neighbouring Pilot Beach Bar.

Day Two

Hit the beach

Folkestone Kent Credit Visit Kent Image via holly.loftus@visitkent.co.uk
Abbot’s Cliff sound mirror can be seen on the North Downs Way east of Folkestone (Photo: Visit Kent)

Try the soft shore of Sunny Sands, or wander along the boardwalk at the pebbly Folkestone Beach. Look out for the Jelly Mould Pavilion (an artwork by Lubaina Himid) and Casa Anacaona (a colourful social space designed by Sol Calero). Older children will enjoy the 12-hole Putters! Adventure Golf Course.

For a quieter spot, visit the pebble beaches at the East Cliff and Warren Country Park, which is walkable from Sunny Sands. The park offers hiking trails, some of which were once trodden by smugglers as they brought their bounty ashore.

Lunch break

Folkestone Kent Credit Visit Kent Image via holly.loftus@visitkent.co.uk
Head to the popular, family-runChummys (Photo: Visit Kent)

Folkestone’s harbour was previously a port that welcomed millions of passengers travelling to and from France. The area was regenerated in 2014. The Way Out/Sortie signs at the preserved railway station create a feeling of suspension between the UK and the Continent, reminders of the centuries of history that have passed across the Channel.

Today, the openings along the former station allow access to Goods Yard, an outdoor food court where vendors serve dishes from the UK, France, Greece, Thailand and Mexico, among others.

Or, for fish and chips, head to the popular, family-run Chummys, which has been around since the late 50s (open 10am-4pm).

Time to relax

Take a seat on the benches above the Warren Country Park, gazing out over the Channel and the hustle and bustle of the Harbour Arm. Here, you can also play tennis or bowls, or practise your golf on the clifftop putting green (open Easter-30 September, 9.30am-7pm).

A final treat

Stop by Dessert Folkes on the Harbour Arm (open 11am–6pm) for an ice cream. It serves a wide selection of options for humans, and dogs. Cake is also on the menu. Or head to Herbert’s kiosk (open 9am-7pm Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm Sun) for a homemade ice cream or lolly.

Three things you might not know about Folkestone…

1) Former guests of Grand Hotel included Agatha Christie (she wrote Murder on the Orient Express in its rooms) and King Edward VII, alongside his mistress Alice Keppel.
2) During the World Wars, the town received thousands of refugees, with around 15,000 Belgian civilians settling in Folkestone after 1918.
3) One of the namesakes of the Anglican church is St Eanswythe, an Anglo-Saxon princess born in the 7th century to Eadbald King of Kent and Emma, daughter of the King of the Franks. It is believed that Eanswythe founded a nunnery and her relics are buried in the grounds of the church.