The ultimate guide to visiting Kent
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Known as the “Garden of England”, a phrase first coined by Henry VIII, Kent is one of the greenest counties in England. But it’s not just gardens that Kent is famous for. There are also beaches, cliffs, castles and even an aviation museum or two. Kent could also be described as the beer garden of England as it produces the world-famous Kent hops and even renowned sparkling wines.
Reachable by train or car from London in about an hour, Kent is an easy day trip destination or weekend staycation destination. Kent’s rolling green hills and beautiful scenery blend in with the many historic buildings, too.
Depending on where you live or where you were born in Kent, people have traditionally been given one of two distinct labels. You are either a Kentish Man/Kentish Maid or alternatively a Man or Maid of Kent. Whatever you are, here is our guide to the best of the county.
The gardens at Chartwell
Kent is awash with history. Chartwell was Winston Churchill’s home for over 40 years and is now preserved as a historic property by the National Trust. Churchill once said, “A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted”. The inside of Chartwell is closed for now but there is a lot to see and do outdoors from The Golden Rose Avenue in the walled garden, extensive woodlands through to a picnic by the lake.
You’ll need to book your tickets by 3 p.m. the day before your visit. Tickets are £10 per person. The gardens at Chartwell are open from 10 a.m. to 5 30 p.m.
Book tickets here
Nearest stations: Edenbridge, Oxted or Sevenoaks.
Chapel Down vineyard tour
Established in 2001, Chapel Down is based in Tenterden and is England’s leading winemaker. Experiences range from guided tours, wine tastings and masterclasses. Guided tours go ahead in all weathers and are only £20. This includes a visit to the Chapel Down vineyards and winery, followed by a tutored tasting of sparkling and still wines. Each tour takes around two hours and you can book online — weekend tours only at the moment.
Book tickets here
Nearest station: Headcorn.
The Kent coast is dotted with picture-perfect towns like Margate (check out the Shell Grotto in Margate with 70 feet of winding passages decorated with 4.6 million shells) and Deal, but Whitstable is really pretty with its pastel-painted beach huts and blooming art scene. Explore Whitstable’s artsy side with a wander round its galleries. Whitstable’s Harbour Street is a must-visit for every day-tripper, followed by the Harbour Market to pick up curious knick-knacks. Whitstable Oyster Festival is a fun time to visit (usually around July), which involves three days of all things oysters, music and games.
Nearest station: Whitstable.
White Cliffs of Dover
Nature-lovers should head to Dover to check out the famous white cliffs along the coast, which are even more impressive when viewed from the water. This most overwhelmingly beautiful coastline is an icon for Britain and was Europe’s busiest international ferry port in 2018.
A walk toward the South Foreland Lighthouse will offer a great view of the cliffs and you will also see the chalk grassland — so look out for two herds of resilient Exmoor ponies whose mission is to graze away to keep the coarse grasses, bushes and trees at bay so that the chalk grassland of the cliffs can thrive.
Nearest station: Dover Priory.
After the White Cliffs of Dover, visit Dover Castle. This impressive fortress has historic highlights like secret wartime tunnels and medieval artefacts. After that, whizz up the M20 to Leeds Castle (not in Leeds), which is picturesquely placed in the middle of a lake surrounded on all sides by forests and parklands.
Dover Castle tickets are £17 per adult.
Leeds Castle tickets are £25.50 per adult.
Nearest stations: Dover Priory for Dover Castle and Bearsted for Leeds Castle.
Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum
The currently disused airstrip known as Manston International Airport (close to Ramsgate and Margate) is set to become a fully operational airport by 2023. For now, AvGeeks can visit a few aviation museums including the Kent Battle of Britain Museum but our favourite is the Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum based at the historic RAF airfield at Manston in east Kent. On display are a collection of historic artefacts from the Second World War including a Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI(LF) TB752 and Hawker Hurricane IIc LF751. They also have a cool simulator, with a life-size cockpit, maybe the closest you will come to flying this legendary aircraft.
Entry to the museum is free. A 30-minute simulator flight costs £30 though remember to check the website for opening hours.
Stroll around the streets mentioned by Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales and discover beautiful cafés and green spaces. The massive cathedral is home to the Archbishop of Canterbury and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This cathedral is not only the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, it is one of the oldest in England with a millennium of history. The gothic towers and beautiful stained-glass windows remain as impressive today as they were a thousand years ago.
Tickets are £10 per adult.
Restaurant top picks
The Coastguard, St Margarets Bay — Meander 10 miles up the Kentish coast from the gorgeous cliffs to the village of St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe to Britain’s nearest pub to France where you will find a proper Kentish experience with local fish, Sunday roasts and Kentish cheese.
The West House, Biddenden — One of just three restaurants in Kent with a Michelin star, The West House is set in a 16th-century weaver’s cottage on Biddenden High Street. Passionate Graham Garrett is the chef/owner and offers a set multi-course menu showcasing the very best of Kentish produce. It also has comfy rooms, which start at £340 per night.
Where to stay
Leeds Castle, Maidstone — Yes, you can sleep in the grounds of Leeds Castle with a number of options including holiday cottages, glamping and the newly opened 16th century Maiden’s Tower, which offers five stunning bedrooms with breathtaking views, all decorated in period style with a contemporary twist. Rooms in Maiden’s Tower Rooms are from £260 per night.
The Hive, near Tunbridge Wells — This stylish eco-friendly one-bedroom house has a gorgeous indoor swimming pool along with a log burner stylish kitchen, exposed beams and a well-stocked honesty bar. The owner is a third-generation beekeeper, so by staying in The Hive you are supporting beekeeping, too. From £1,090 for a seven-night stay.
The garden of England is very much still thriving and within its sea-lined borders you’ll find a landscape of gentle hills, gardens aplenty, grape-laden vineyards and much more. Whether you are visiting for the day or the weekend, you will always find something to do whether you want the historic city vibes of Canterbury or the sea air of Margate, Kent has it all.
Featured photo by CBCK-Christine/Getty Images
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