Awarded Top 10 region to travel to in 2022About Best In Travel 2022
Kent isn’t described as the garden of England for nothing. Within its sea-lined borders you’ll find a fragrant landscape of gentle hills, fertile farmland, cultivated country estates and fruit-laden orchards. It could also be described as the beer garden of England as it produces the world-renowned Kent hops and some of the country’s finest ales and wines from its numerous vineyards. At its heart is spellbinding Canterbury, crowned by its enthralling cathedral. You’ll also find beautiful coastal stretches dotted with beach towns and villages, from old-school Broadstairs to gentrified Whitstable and the aesthetically challenged port town of Dover.
Kent: Voted Top 10 Region as Best in Travel 2022
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Kent.
A rich repository of more than 1400 years of Christian history, Canterbury Cathedral is the Church of England’s mother ship, and a truly extraordinary place with an absorbing history. This Gothic cathedral, the highlight of the city’s World Heritage Sites, is southeast England’s top tourist attraction as well as a place of worship. It is also the site of English history’s most famous murder: Archbishop Thomas Becket was killed here in 1170. The cathedral is an overwhelming edifice crammed with enthralling stories, arresting architecture and a very real and enduring sense of spirituality – although visitors can’t help but pick up on the ominous undertones of violence and bloodshed that whisper from its walls. History St Augustine, a missionary sent from Rome, built the first cathedral here sometime after his arrival in England in 597CE. He became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and formed a household here. A major fire damaged the building around 1070, leading to the cathedral being completely rebuilt by the Normans. Later, a community of Benedictine monks lived at the cathedral until Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. Even after 800 years, it's the story of Archbishop Thomas Becket that continues to draw many pilgrims to Canterbury Cathedral. The martyrdom of Thomas Becket Not one to shy away from cronyism, in 1162 King Henry II appointed his good friend Thomas Becket to the highest clerical office in the land, figuring it would be easier to force the increasingly vocal religious lobby to fall into line if he was pals with the archbishop. Unfortunately for Henry, he underestimated how seriously Thomas would take the job, and the archbishop soon began to disagree with almost everything the king said or did. By 1170, Henry had become exasperated with his former favorite and suggested to four of his knights that Thomas was too much to bear. Becket was murdered on December 29. Becket’s martyrdom – and canonization in double-quick time (1173) – catapulted Canterbury Cathedral to the top of the league of northern European pilgrimage sites. Mindful of the growing criticism of his role in Becket’s murder, Henry arrived in Canterbury in 1174 for a dramatic mea culpa and, after allowing himself to be whipped and scolded, was granted absolution. Canterbury Cathedral today This ancient structure is packed with monuments commemorating the nation’s battles. Also here are the grave and heraldic tunic of one of the nation’s most famous warmongers, Edward the Black Prince (1330–76). The spot in the northwest transept where Becket met his grisly end is marked by a flickering candle and a striking modern altar. The doorway to the crypt is beside the altar. This cavernous space is the cathedral’s highlight, the only survivor from another devastating fire in 1174, which destroyed the rest of the building. Look for the amazingly well-preserved carvings among the forest of pillars. The wealth of detail in the cathedral is immense and unrelenting, so allow at least two hours to do it justice. Tickets Entry to the cathedral is timed and tickets must be pre-booked online. Guided tours run with limited availability; call on the day (01227 762862) or ask at the desk on arrival.
Leeds Castle, an immense moated pile just east of Maidstone, is often considered the world’s most romantic castle. It's certainly one of the most visited in Britain. History The formidable, hefty structure balancing on two islands is known as something of a "ladies castle". This stems from the fact that in its more than 900 years of history, it has been home to a who's who of medieval queens, most famously Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The castle was transformed from fortress to lavish palace over the centuries, and its last owner, the high-society hostess Lady Baillie, used it as a princely family home and party pad to entertain the likes of Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks and John F Kennedy. Things to do The castle’s vast estate offers enough attractions of its own to justify a day trip. As part of your ticket you can explore the castle, take peaceful walks around the immaculate gardens and enjoy falconry demonstrations. You’ll also find possibly the world’s sole dog-collar museum, a huge fortress-style kids’ playground and a hedge maze, overseen by a grassy bank from where fellow travelers can shout encouragement or misdirections. The more adventurous may want to pay more to take a segway tour, play miniature golf, or even complete a Treetop Challenge on the high ropes at Go Ape. Leeds Castle also hosts many events in its grounds, from classical concerts and open-air cinema screenings to huge fireworks displays. Tickets and other practicalities Tickets for a set entry time must be pre-booked online, and can be used for repeat visits for 12 months. There's free parking at the castle. Trains run from London Victoria to Bearsted, where you can take a special shuttle coach to the castle. Since Lady Baillie’s death in 1974, a private trust has managed the property. This means that some parts of the castle are periodically closed for private events.
Why you should go The Chartwell Estate was home of Sir Winston Churchill from 1924 until his death in 1965. It offers a breathtakingly intimate insight into the life of England's famous cigar-chomping bombast. This 19th-century house and its rambling grounds have been preserved much as Winnie left them, full of books, pictures, maps and personal mementos. Churchill was also a prolific painter and his now extremely valuable daubings are scattered throughout the house and fill the garden studio. Follow walking trails that take you through the lovely gardens, into the surrounding woodland, and to the Canadian Camp lined with hammocks. There are various children's play areas too – kids can pull themselves up through a bomb crater on a series of ropes, enjoy swings and seesaws in the Quarry, and clamber over an elaborate freestanding treehouse at the top of the woods. Tickets and other practicalities Tickets to the house and grounds, or just the grounds, can be bought online in advance. Entry is free for National Trust members. Chartwell is 6 miles west of Sevenoaks. Transport options are limited without a car. Take a taxi from the nearest train station Edenbridge (4 miles), accessible from London Victoria.
Turner Contemporary is a blockbuster art gallery, bolted together on the site of the seafront guesthouse where master painter JMW Turner used to stay. This is one of East Kent’s top attractions, and a driver for regeneration of the local town. Within the strikingly featureless shell the only thing distracting the eye, apart from the artwork on display, is the sea view from the floor-to-ceiling windows. These allow you to appreciate the very thing Turner loved so much about Margate – the sea, sky and refracted light of the north Kent coast. The gallery attracts top-notch contemporary installations by high-calibre artists such as Tracey Emin (who grew up in Margate), Alex Katz, and Antony Gormley. The cafe and gift shop When you’re finished with the art, culinary creations await in the cafe, which serves local produce. The gift shop, which stocks creations by local artists, is also excellent. Tickets and other practicalities It's free to enter the exhibitions at Turner Contemporary, but you must book a slot online in advance. Donations are welcome.
Down House, on the edge of the quaint Kent village of Downe, was Charles Darwin's home from 1842 until his death in 1882. It was here that he developed his theory of evolution by natural selection, and lived with his wife Emma Wedgwood and their 10 children (of which three died in infancy). The house and gardens have been restored to look much as they would have in Darwin's time, including Darwin's study, where he undertook much of his reading and writing; the drawing room, where he tried out some of his indoor experiments; the children's playroom; and the gardens and greenhouse, where some of his outdoor experiments are re-created. Tickets and other information Timed tickets must be booked in advance through the English Heritage website. There is an audio tour and self-guided trails where you can follow in Darwin's footsteps. There's parking at the site. If using public transportation, take bus 146 from Bromley North or Bromley South railway station, or service R8 from Orpington.
Occupying top spot, literally and figuratively, in Dover’s townscape, this most impressive of castles was built to bolster the country’s weakest point at the shortest sea crossing to mainland Europe. The highlights here are the unmissable secret wartime tunnels and the Great Tower, but the huge area it sprawls across has a lot of other interesting sights, so allow at least three hours for your visit, more if you stand to admire the views across the Channel to France.
The biggest draw at Dover Castle is the secret wartime tunnels. The claustrophobic chalk-hewn passageways were excavated during the Napoleonic Wars and then expanded to house a command post and hospital in WWII. The highly enjoyable 50-minute guided tour (every 20 minutes, included in the ticket price) tells the story of one of Britain’s most famous wartime operations, code-named Dynamo, which was directed from here in 1940 and saw hundreds of thousands of men evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk.
Despite voting leave, the poor port town of Dover is possibly the Southeast community set to suffer most post-Brexit. It was perhaps for that reason that Banksy chose a highly visible gable end to create his Brexit mural that appeared overnight one May weekend in 2017. The huge artwork depicts a workman chipping away at one of the yellow stars of the EU flag, cracks splintering off in all directions across the image.
Margate’s unique attraction is a mysterious subterranean grotto, discovered in 1835. It’s a claustrophobic collection of rooms and passageways embedded with 4.6 million shells arranged in symbol-rich mosaics. It has inspired feverish speculation over the years; some think it a 2000-year-old pagan temple, others an elaborate 19th-century hoax. Either way, it’s a one-of-a-kind place worth seeing.