Kent is home to some of the country’s most incredible coastline and countryside. Affectionately named the ‘Garden of England’, it doesn’t take long to realise how it's held onto this title for decades.
Close enough to London for a quick weekend away, but far enough to bring a completely contrasting experience, Kent has been home from home for millions of people that love a staycation. From the banks of the Thames in the north, to the eastern shores of Thanet and the continentally close coastline of the southeast, Kent offers variety in abundance. It's shown in the incredible range of things to do in the county. We’ve picked some of our favourites in this article to help you make the most of a visit to the illustrious region.
There was no better place to start than at what is one of the oldest and most famous religious structures in the whole country. The cathedral is the working home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the highest positions in the Church of England. Standing in some shape or form since 597, the cathedral was refreshed over a seven-year period in the 1070s.
Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that plays host to pilgrims far and wide, and those looking for a unique slice of English history. The cathedral structure really is the centrepiece of Canterbury, a historic town in itself that’s well worth a visit for the impressive architecture and boutique eateries that spoil you when you head for its centre.
Dymchurch Beach offers the right balance of beauty, amenities and convenience without being over commercialised like many of its neighbours in Kent. You’re reminded that this stretch of coastline is one of the closest parts of the county to the continent on most visits, with the northern coast of France often visible from the vast, golden sand. Convenient parking surrounds Martello Towers along the coastline.
The small defensive forts are a reminder that this part of the English Channel wasn’t always as peaceful as it is today. When the tide is out, the beach becomes huge, with the sand stretches vastly out to the water. A great place for a coastal walk, bringing the bikes is also a popular pastime here, with the sea wall stretching all the way from St. Mary’s Bay up to Hythe.
The Hop Farm
One of Kent’s most iconic landmarks, The Hop Farm is an inland journey through swathes of lush countryside. As you approach, you’ll see the memorable sight of the Victorian Coast houses in the distance, the largest collection of its kind in the world. At its height, the farm functioned as the major supplier of London breweries for much of the 19th and 20th-centuries. Seasonal workers would head here from across the country to help produce the goods, harvesting the hops and preparing them for transportation.
This line of work is captured brilliantly by the museum today. Life-size recreations of a period village portray daily life on the farm and a range of attractions like the live theatre and Hopper’s Animal World keep all generations entertained.
One of England’s finest, Leeds Castle has existed since 1119. It became the favoured residence of King Edward I in the 13th-century, as well as a haunt of Catherine of Aragon, famously one of Henry VIII’s six wives. Built as a real fortress, it sits on an island in centre of a moat filled with water from the nearby River Len. The present castle has stood in glory for at least 200 years and has been a magnet for visitors for decades.
One of the best school trips this writer had come here, with the maze the star of the show. Thoroughly entertaining to navigate, the forested walls brilliantly confuse until you finally crack the code to the centre. Awe-inspiring luxury is found within the castle’s walls, with dining, reading and bedrooms all portrayed with accuracy. You can walk around the rooms at your own pace, and guided tours are also available to give you even greater context.
Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway
This miniature railway wins the hearts and minds of all those that ride it. The route from Hythe down the Kent coast to Dungeness will keep you coming back. The 13-and-a-half-mile distance takes you through lovely countryside that’s just a stone’s throw from the coast. Smaller stations such as Romney Sands and St. Mary’s Bay afford access to quiet villages in between major stops like Dymchurch and New Romney.
The latter is a great place for trainspotters, with the steam train sidings visible from the station’s platform. If you stay on until Dungeness, you’re rewarded by a visit to one of the most bizarre places in Kent. Surrounded by shingle, the village is home to unique beach huts and is a truly vast expanse overlooked by the brutalist structure of Dungeness Power Station. It’s well worth the extra time on the train.
White Cliffs of Dover
There are few greater sights that the beaming White Cliffs of Dover. The cliffs stretch for eight miles along both sides of Dover, with a visitor's section purchased by the National Trust in 2016. The views from here are panoramic, magnificently encompassing the scale of the English Channel, with the France’s northern coastline easily visible on a clear day. In the foreground, you’ll see the bustling Port of Dover, constantly ferrying people back and forth across this historic waterway.
You can park steps away, making this a great place for a picnic in the sun. You can tie in a walk along the cliffs with a visit to historic Dover Castle, also perched high up. Look out for helicopters too, with the coastguard’s helipad slightly raised above the walkway. As you explore, take in the symbolic value of a structure that for many represented freedom during the darkest of times in the Second World War. The White Cliffs of Dover are simply a must-see thing to do in Kent.