Folkestone, England: The U.K.'s Best Seaside Secret

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When tourists visit England, they usually stay in London. Maybe they’ll do a daytrip to Stonehenge or, if they’re feeling extra glam, take the Eurostar to Paris. If they wanted to experience something extra special, though, they’d take the train south to visit Folkestone, Kent’s most eclectic coastal town.


You’ve probably heard of the White Cliffs of Dover. We, in Folkestone, are right next door, and, in my opinion, our little town is England’s best kept secret. But on the Postcard Academy podcast, my guest Tony Quarrington and I are spilling the beans.

Tony is the local tour guide here in Folkestone (definitely book him) and on a two-part episode of the Postcard Academy, we share what we love about this magical place. 


In Part 1, Tony and I share stories to prove that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme (take a listen if you like royal family gossip). In Part 2, we give you all our favorite food and culture recommendations for Folkestone.


Subscribe to the Postcard Academy for free to hear how Folkestone went from sleepy fishing village to Victorian playground for the rich to the creative capital of Kent (or dare I say England?). Below, you’ll find some of Tony’s favorite places in town (and mine).

 

Best Walking Tour in Folkestone

History and art lovers must join one of  Tony’s Fabulous Folkestone  walking tours. He’s seen here under the promenade at Sunny Sands Beach. Photo courtesy of Tony.

History and art lovers must join one of Tony’s Fabulous Folkestone walking tours. He’s seen here under the promenade at Sunny Sands Beach. Photo courtesy of Tony.

The Grand hotel . Folkestone was really rocking in Victorian times. King Edward 7th used to stay here with his mistress Alice Keppel, and sometimes the queen, as well. You can still rent a room and/or dine here and they offer tours on Fridays.  At the very top, a light blinks ‘Earth Peace’ in Morse code. This is an art installation by Yoko Ono.

The Grand hotel. Folkestone was really rocking in Victorian times. King Edward 7th used to stay here with his mistress Alice Keppel, and sometimes the queen, as well. You can still rent a room and/or dine here and they offer tours on Fridays.

At the very top, a light blinks ‘Earth Peace’ in Morse code. This is an art installation by Yoko Ono.

The other part of Yoko Ono’s installation. This plaque is across from The Grand and echoes the peace signal at the top of the building.  Her work was part of the  Folkestone Triennial , which commissions artists from around the world to create public works of art in Folkestone. Philanthropist Roger de Haan, who’s father made his fortune in Folkestone, funded the first three events, held every three years.  If you don’t want to wait every three years for your art and culture fix, you can check out the  Book Festival , held every November.

The other part of Yoko Ono’s installation. This plaque is across from The Grand and echoes the peace signal at the top of the building.

Her work was part of the Folkestone Triennial, which commissions artists from around the world to create public works of art in Folkestone. Philanthropist Roger de Haan, who’s father made his fortune in Folkestone, funded the first three events, held every three years.

If you don’t want to wait every three years for your art and culture fix, you can check out the Book Festival, held every November.

Richard Woods’ Holiday Home. “Many people have two homes whilst many others can’t afford one.  Holiday Home  (six one-third size ‘homes’ identical except in their colourways) is in ‘unlikely’ places – suggesting that no site is too small, too unlikely, or too inconvenient for its neighbours, for a holiday home.” —  Creative Folkestone

Richard Woods’ Holiday Home. “Many people have two homes whilst many others can’t afford one. Holiday Home (six one-third size ‘homes’ identical except in their colourways) is in ‘unlikely’ places – suggesting that no site is too small, too unlikely, or too inconvenient for its neighbours, for a holiday home.” — Creative Folkestone

Charles Dickens enjoyed staying in Folkestone and spent hours walking amongst the nature when he wasn’t writing.

Charles Dickens enjoyed staying in Folkestone and spent hours walking amongst the nature when he wasn’t writing.

The Grand Burstin. They actually knocked down a gorgeous Victorian hotel to build this cruise ship-like building. Tony called it the Marmite hotel because you either love it or hate it. I kind of love it. I joined the swimming pool there and every time I went I felt like I was on a British sitcom from the 1970s. They have a casino and bar and loads of senior citizens and everyone there is super chill and just wanting to have a good time.  For some reason, they kept a sliver of the former, (much) more elegant hotel, where they still serve Sunday roast.

The Grand Burstin. They actually knocked down a gorgeous Victorian hotel to build this cruise ship-like building. Tony called it the Marmite hotel because you either love it or hate it. I kind of love it. I joined the swimming pool there and every time I went I felt like I was on a British sitcom from the 1970s. They have a casino and bar and loads of senior citizens and everyone there is super chill and just wanting to have a good time.

For some reason, they kept a sliver of the former, (much) more elegant hotel, where they still serve Sunday roast.

Best shopping in Folkestone

Old High Street.

Old High Street.

No chain stores allowed in the Creative Quarter, just charming shops and restaurants. Too many to list really, but here are some Old High Street favorites. Don’t miss Tontine, Rendezvous, and Church streets, as well.

Kitty McCall — Vivid fabrics and furnishings to beautify your home, or wherever you find yourself living.

County Fayre — Culinary delights made in Kent, from cheese to chutney.

Moo Like a Monkey — “Beautiful things for little individuals.” I bought my nephew a colorful wooden giraffe on wheels that you pull on a string. Keeping him away from the digital for as long as possible.

Shane Record — Paintings and prints by local artist Shane Record. He had one of the first shops on the Old High Street as part of the Creative Folkestone revitalization project.

Moda . And emporium of eclectic things and Folkestone souvenirs.

Moda. And emporium of eclectic things and Folkestone souvenirs.

Tontine Street. Stroll down here for art galleries and the  Quarterhouse cultural center.

Tontine Street. Stroll down here for art galleries and the Quarterhouse cultural center.

Best cafes in Folkestone

Steep Street.

Steep Street.

We have Starbucks here in Folkestone, and I do hang out there sometimes when my co-working space is closed. However, I also love spending time in the local cafes.

Steep Street — Drink the best coffee in town in a room lined with books.

The Hideaway — Laidback cafe with a vegan cheesecake that will haunt your dreams in a good way.

Bobbie’s — A former signal box converted into a cafe. Don’t know what a signal box is? It’s the little building next to the railroad tracks that manages the switches.

Best pubs in Folkestone

If you like gastropubs with candlelight and fireplaces, then you won’t want to leave Folkestone.

The Pullman — “The food is great. Nice bar area, and then you've got a patio outside which is possibly the biggest sun spot in Folkestone during the summer,” Tony says.

Radnor Arms — Best halloumi burger and chips anywhere, and they make their own gin. I’ve also become obsessed with the Spanish olives they sell and buy a can a week because I’m made of money :/

The Bouverie Tap — Small bar serving classic British food and international drinks.

The Potting Shed . It looks like a garden shop, right? Wrong! It’s a secret little cocktail club.

The Potting Shed. It looks like a garden shop, right? Wrong! It’s a secret little cocktail club.


 
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If you found this article useful, please share it, and subscribe to the Postcard Academy podcast. Each week, expats and adventurers share their insider travel tips on the best food, nightlife, and cultural experiences in the most interesting places around the globe. I’m your host, Sarah Mikutel, an American who's spent the last 8 years living in, and traveling around, Europe.