Lonely Planet Writer

Margate's historic Dreamland theme park reopens with some of the oldest rides in England

Following a £25 million reboot, Margate’s historic theme park Dreamland is re-opening in time for the May Bank Holiday 2017. On the Kent coast, Margate is a handsome Victorian resort: Turner painted here, TS Eliot wrote poetry on the seafront, and Van Gogh paddled in the surf, but then the English seaside fell out of fashion. Could Dreamland turn Margate’s fortunes around?

Main stage at Dreamland
Main stage where Gorillaz will perform. Image by Dreamland

The theme park was first re-opened with a flood of publicity in 2015, when its upcycled restoration was overseen by designer Wayne Hemingway. However, by May the following year, the park had run into financial trouble. Margate resident Becki Mileham says, ‘local people tried to support it, but it wasn’t feasible (because of the cost) for them to go often enough to keep it open.’ Unpredictable summer weather and technical problems with the most popular rides added to the park’s problems.

The Speedway ride at Dreamland is considered to be the oldest-surviving amusement park in Britain.

Steven Mitchell, Interim CEO at Dreamland, says the park now looks dramatically different, ‘the historic rides are set against a backdrop of interactive art installations, adventurous street food and an eclectic programme of live events.’ The park’s legendary Hall by the Sea, which once hosted the Who and the Rolling Stones, has been reopened as a 15,000-capacity venue, due to host Maximo Park, the Kills, Toots & the Maytals, Carl Barat and more over the summer. It’s also the site for the Gorillaz Demon Dayz festival – the first live outing for their new album – on 10 June, which sold out in minutes.

Workers paint the front of Dreamland
After a successful “Save Dreamland Campaign” the restoration project began in January 2010. Image by Getty

Dreamland’s vintage rides, including its jewel-in-the-kiss-me-quick-hat 1920s Grade II* listed wooden roller-coaster, are all back to their original glory, and there are new attractions too. A treetop bar gives wow-factor views over the park and over to the seaside and there’s a 15-metre festival-style bar at ground level. Dreamland is also offering vibes galore at rooftop shack Ziggy’s, which overlooks Margate seafront, offering rum-infused cocktails, Jamaican jerk chicken and reggae tunes.

Kaleidoscope Art Installation
Kaleidoscope Art Installation Image by Getty

Rather than a fixed entry fee, visitors can now choose to pay per ride or buy an armband for unlimited rides (adult/child £16/13 in advance), making it more affordable for those dropping by as well as day trippers from London. Margate is undoubtedly worth a trip: it has other attractions too, including great beaches, the fabulous Turner Contemporary Gallery, and its old town vintage and antique shops. As Dreamland is now not only a theme park, but also the most exciting new music venue in southeast, maybe this time it will give Margate the boost it deserves.