A Beginner’s Guide to…Whitstable, Kent

Escape to the classic coastal town for exceedingly good food, indie boutiques – and briny air

Age: Nearly a thousand. By an early-doors 1226, it had evolved into ‘Whitstaple’, and 500 years later, goods and passengers began to be transported by ship from London. And so began its rise as seaside resort: the first ads for bathing machines appeared in 1768, in fact.

Where exactly is it? Twenty minutes on the train to Margate, a couple of miles north of Herne Bay – and six from Canterbury. Oh, and about 75 mins’ high-speed from St Pancras.

So what goes on there? A lot, for somewhere so petite. Just arrived? Race down to the beach and gawp at the wide expanse of shingle, the breakers – and, if the tide is out, the oyster beds. Beyond is the Isle of Sheppey, crisply visible on a clear day. Then meander south along the shore, past the sailing boats, to the industrial harbour, with its cranes, painted trawlers, netting and gulls. Head back up along pretty Harbour Street, and get stuck into an art trail from the Horsebridge Centre , where there are self-guided maps to explore both galleries and public street art.

Passing clouds: the working harbour. Photos: SE

I’m hungry now. Where should I eat? There’s too much choice, to be honest. But resist seduction by the quite average, tourist-heavy Oyster Company, despite its adorable interior and flickering candles, and book early for one of these gems: The Sportsman, the famously good Michelin-starred seafront pub in nearby Seasalter, or tiny seafood-specialists Wheelers – our absolute personal favourite over the years – whose pea-green parlour has recently been slightly extended (and yay! It’s still BYO wine, which keeps the cost down).

Yes yes, we know about those. Any others? Well, over a zillion visits we’ve eaten at most places in town: newish Farm and Harper is strong on rosy steak from their open Josper grill, and nearby Samphire is a high street bistro with appealing menu and interior, although we felt our tasty Sunday mains last month were slightly overpriced at £19.95. Want to graze instead? For Mexican streetfood try Dirties, for small plates the longstanding Harbour St Tapas, or authentic pizza at unlicensed (and also BYO) Sale & Pepe opposite.

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Lunch tip: Pearson’s Arms

Dining Room at Pearson’s Arms. Photo: PR

The £13 two-course set menu (or £15 for three) at this beachfront pub is surely one of the best-value in town – and its creaking wooden floorboards and cosy nooks made a pleasant retreat from howling winds on our recent visit. For epic panoramas, the first-floor dining room, with rugs and panelling (see above) exudes seaside charm; but with ancient Jack Russell in tow, we had to remain on the ground floor by the roaring open fire, Bloody Mary in hand.

Food highlight? Easy: a starter of mackerel fillet, its skin blistered, matched with three-way cucumber scorched, jelly and sliced; and yet a sea bream main also impressed, with saffron fondant potato, leeks and mildly fiery horseradish velouté. We even polished off a blood orange posset with blobs of clementine puree and thick slab of almond shortbread. The only downside? The set menu is available Monday-Fridays – but worth a work-skive for. At other times there’s a pricier a la carte. Pearson’s Arms, Horsebridge Road CT5 

Stylish: David Brown Deli, Harbour Street

I want caffeine! Well, relax, Whitstable is heaving with options. Take your pick along Harbour Street: we prefer to sink an americano at the David Brown Deli, with its groceries one side, and a slither of a café-bar the other, with room at the counter for a dozen punters. A newer discovery for us is Garage Coffee on Oxford Street, a decent neighbourhood joint with strong beans and gluten-free brownies.

Roaring fire at The Duke

How about a pub crawl? You’re definitely in the right place. Craft beer-slash-micro brewery fan? Then hit the Twelve Taps or the popular Black Dog Ale House, both within moments’ of each other on the High Street. A pint on the beach? It has to be The Neptune, with its historic rooms and huge outside area for maximum sunset realness. Landmark boozer The Duke makes a bohemian rambling pile, with vintage-deco feel and shabby-chic interior, right at the junction of the high street and Harbour Street (the tiny Albert lies just behind it), and for a rowdy local the New Inn is a couple of streets behind (Woodlawn St). There’s also the candlelit Smack Inn on Middle Wall for hearty grub. Hic.

Nice oils: Keam’s Yard Studio

What else can I do? Shop, of course: from the dozens of indie stores our faves are Ruskin for men’s and womenswear, the bottle-green Cheese Shop, Harbour Books, Rock Bottom Records and Frank, an interiors and bookstore – all on Harbour Street. And we love the oils by Bruce Williams and his Keam’s Yard Studio gallery on the beach, and the vast, rummageable homeware store (open weekends only) above the Oyster Fishery. Shops aside, a short walk away are Whitstable Castle and Tankerton, both worth investigating, the latter for Jojo’s (which dishes up mezze and small plates).

Where can I stay? The Hotel Continental is a popular choice, now rerfurbed and so hopefully nicer than on our last stay several years ago, or try the Front Rooms, a boutique B&B. This time we tried the converted Fishermen’s Huts (a not-bad £95 on a Sunday night) right on the shingle. Surprisingly roomy, there’s a downstairs area, kitchenette, small dining table, sofa and and a bedroom with ensuite. Central heating is powerful, important given their beach location. And it includes a generous breakfast at the Continental, with cooked bespoke options aplenty.

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More info on trains from St Pancras to Whitstable, which take around 75+ mins, here



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