Christmas in the… City
Unrivalled Christmas shopping, a delicious festive menu, or yuletide entertainment – whatever brings you to one of Kent’s bustling towns this festive season, you’re certain to find no end of merriment and joy
There’s nothing quite like strolling around a city at Christmastime, mulled wine in hand, as you search the shops for that perfect gift. Bask in an atmosphere alive with glowing lights, roasting chestnuts and a chorus of Christmas carols sung by a choir. Spirits are certain to be high, no matter which of Kent’s towns you choose to visit. Whatever you might be looking to get out of a trip to town at Christmas, Kent will have a location sure to suit your desire. Whether that’s independent shops and galleries stocked full of unique seasonal gifts, high street shopping galore, or you’re simply a foodie looking to indulge in a wonderful winter meal, Kent’s towns and cities have it all.
For those that are looking for a good mix of all of the above, then Kent’s City of Canterbury is an excellent choice. Guaranteed to set a spectacularly Christmassy scene with its historic streets, towering cathedral, German-style Christmas market and glittering restaurants, a trip to Canterbury will leave you not only ready to impress with gift purchases, but in a marvellously merry mood. Start your Christmas shopping in Whitefriars, which houses all your high street favourites as well as the opulent department store, Fenwick. Destined to answer all your Christmas gift prayers, Fenwick houses a shiny array of quality brands, from luxury perfumes and bountiful makeup counters to high-end fashion and kitchenware. For those looking to spend a little more on gifts, Fenwick also offers a vintage designer handbag collection, which includes pieces from major fashion houses such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and more. You can shop feeling reassured as the sales team at Fenwick are always on hand to advise and assist in every department, from their fantastical toyshop to their bespoke booze section.
Canterbury is also home to a plethora of independent boutiques and gift shops that are sure to offer up further gift solutions. Wrapped! have a meticulously selected collection of gifts, from plush JellyCat toys to pot plants and stationery. The Kings Mile, an area sitting under the shadows of the cathedral’s spires, is home to the eclectic independent quarter which includes lots of indie shops. A unique example is fair trade craft and gift shop Siesta. A Canterbury treasure for over 20 years, Siesta deals in unusual and interesting gifts, musical instruments, and clothing from around the world – great for stocking fillers and those that love a wacky or unexpected gift.
Venture past the Westgate Towers and you will find the gorgeous gift and homeware shop, Platform. Specialising in ‘uncommon goods’, sourced in small batches from local artists and independent makers, here you will find perfect presents and special treats for both yourself and your loved ones. Selling everything from bath and body luxuries to candles, prints and homeware, you are certain to find something unique and special to take home. Platform is also a proud stockist of Floragy, a Kent-based, award-winning, vegan friendly, natural and sustainable skincare brand.
For those looking for a ‘forever’ gift, Canterbury is full of exquisite jewellers. Book a slot to talk designs or browse the stores for inspiration. As well as high street jewellers, there are several independent and family jewellers selling bespoke and custom-made pieces. This includes master jewellery makers Ortwin Thyssen, who are renowned for their one-of-a-kind, bespoke, handcrafted designs and can be found on The King’s Mile. Close by on Sun Street, another bespoke fine jeweller comes in the form of Justin Richardson. Craftsmen of unique custom-made jewellery and bespoke silverware, Justin Richardson has an extensive gallery of fine jewellery, silverware and gifts. You can even view their expert craftsmen at work in the on-site workshop and peruse a select range of beautiful work from other British designers.
For those looking for some respite away from the hustle and bustle of the town, there are plenty of cute coffee shops to choose from. Chocolate Café is one such place. With views of the cathedral and a bohemian-inspired interior, this is a cosy haven for coffee and chocolate lovers alike. Guests at Chocolate Café can gaze upon the cathedral from floor-to-ceiling windows in the warmth, sipping delicious Italian coffee or deluxe hot chocolate made from real fairtrade cocoa. You can also buy exquisite Belgian chocolates to eat while you’re there, or select them individually to gift in a pretty box to a friend. Chocolate Café are also big on red wine, so if you find yourself there in the evening, you can gaze upon the city lights, glass in hand – why not soak up the atmosphere outside with one of their blankets to keep you warm.
For further peace at this special time of year, visit the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral. A life-size nativity scene can be admired in the grounds amongst fir trees festooned with lights and a backdrop of glowing stained-glass windows. Inside, a programme of yuletide events will bring heart-felt magic to the city – from candlelit concerts to wonderful services and talks. Canterbury Cathedral welcomes visitors of all faiths and offers a peaceful oasis of history and spirituality away from the throng of the city.
For those looking for a different kind of concert, Canterbury has a myriad of arts venues to visit. This season, The Malthouse Theatre is hosting Christmas ballet favourite The Nutcracker, as well as a pantomime of Snow White. The Marlowe Theatre’s pantomime of Aladdin is sure to be spectacular too, and for little ones that prefer a smaller show The Littlest Yak is a heart-warming alternative. A Christmas tale that uses puppets, this Marlowe Studio based show is full of uplifting tunes. Another wonderful spot to appreciate the arts this Christmas in Canterbury is The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. With plenty of festive exhibitions, events, workshops and Christmas activities, all ages are sure to be inspired during a trip to The Beaney.
If you’re ready for food after all that shopping and spectating, book a table at the acclaimed Oscar and Bentleys. An award-winning intimate bistro, this attribute to the city is set in one of its beautiful historic buildings. Whether you’re visiting for a pre-booked Christmas meal with friends, or simply visiting for a pick-me-up bite after a day in the city, Oscar and Bentleys are certain to satisfy even the most discerning of diners.
For those looking to spend more than just the day in Canterbury, book your city-centre home-from-home with Idyllic Retreat’s The Kings Bridge Apartment. Despite being in such a central high street location, city views can be enjoyed in ultimate peace, as the apartment is fully soundproofed. Housed in a majestic 1800’s listed building with a modern flair, the flat is beautifully furnished and includes plenty of luxury amenities perfect for cosy nights in, complete with all popular streaming channels on the television. The master bedroom has a superior king-size double bed with a feature window seat. This seat makes the perfect reading nook, or spot to watch the city’s Christmas festivities going on down below.
For those looking for a stay out of the city, yet only a short drive away, Bloom Stay’s Bacchus in Petham is the perfect answer. A period home sleeping seven, Bacchus is enhanced with a touch of magic, being part architecturally designed with a stylish flair, part quaint period picturesque cottage. Exquisite and inviting, spacious and rural, this luxury self-catering former farmstead offers the perfect spot for festive family holidays and reunions at this time of year. With soft swaying vineyards, roaring fires, an outdoor pool, hot tub, tennis courts and gym, there’s plenty to keep all ages entertained.
Bacchus’s location also makes it the perfect spot for visiting not only Canterbury, but Ashford. One of Ashford’s must-visits for Christmas Shopping is the Ashford Designer Outlet. A £90 million expansion development, this shopping haven is run by the McArthur Glen Group and has over 100 popular brands including All Saints, Kurt Geiger, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ted Baker, Guess and more, all at up to 60% off the RRP. The covered, decked circular walkway makes a brilliant visit whatever the weather and is always beautifully clean. As well as shopping, there’s plenty of places to fuel yourself up too, as Ashford Outlet is home to lots of well known foodie favourites.
Situated right at the heart of the community, Ashford’s Elwick Place is another modern development not to be missed. Certain to be celebrating Christmas in style, Elwick Place’s striking architecture plays host to an array of unique and exciting businesses. Visit luxury cinema The Picturehouse to catch a festive flick, Matches sports bar for oodles of fun, Leo and Sage for festive food and drinks, or VRec for Christmas-themed virtual reality fun. A social destination that ticks all the boxes for the whole family, Elwick Place will, this Christmas, transform into Elfwick Place! Hosting a Christmas market from 23 November to 8 December, a Christmas light switch on and ‘Carnival of the Baubles’ both on 24 November, plus a bauble selfie competition, seasonal crafts and much more! Follow @ElwickPlace on Instagram to stay up to date.
Christmas as we celebrate it today has its roots firmly fixed in Victorian Britain, and one of Kent’s towns with plenty of Victorian heritage is historic Rochester. This is largely thanks to legendary resident Charles Dickens, who is also known as The Man Who Invented Christmas. His short novella, A Christmas Carol, is credited with helping to popularise and spread the yuletide traditions of family, charity, goodwill, peace and happiness – encapsulating the spirit of Christmas as we celebrate it today. So, where better to be than Dickens’ childhood home of Rochester? Here you will find plenty of independent eateries along the same lamplit streets that Dickens once stepped along himself, and even a Dickensian Christmas Market. Before you embark upon your Christmas gift hunt, start the day at multi-award-winning Café Nucleus. A continental style café infusing traditional café fare with a European accent, Café Nucleus not only serves delicious coffee and breakfasts but also helps promote and support the works of the Halpern Charitable Foundation.
As well as shops and places to eat, Rochester and Medway have several cultural hotspots to visit too. This includes The Royal Engineers museum in Gillingham, which on the weekend of 25 – 26 November, will be holding their ‘Wartime Christmas Weekend’. The museum holds a collection that has been developed by the Corps of Royal Engineers over the last 200 years and now forms one of the most important military collections in the UK. Another important cultural centre, honouring Medway’s maritime roots, is The Historic Dockyard Chatham. From 25 November – 24 December, the dockyard will be hosting Mission Christmas, an ultra-exciting Christmas-themed event with lots of clue solving and activities for children of all ages – with the chance to meet Father Christmas at the end!
If you’re feeling peckish after your adventures or shopping, Rochester is full of brilliant places to eat. For scrumptious cakes, visit Cheran’s Bakery, or for heartier meals pay a visit to SMOQE. Priding itself on its USA-inspired BBQ flavours that come through in everything from their carefully concocted meat rubs to artisan burgers, get ready to have your mouth watering as soon as you walk through the door. For those looking for a sit down feast ideal for everything from dates for two to big gatherings of friends and family, visit Brettingtons. A steak and lobster house, Brettingtons have devised a Christmas menu full of delicious festive takes on what they do best: lobster and steak. If you’re craving cocktails just as much as food, Rochester has a vibrant nightlife and plenty of stylish bars perfect for toasting Christmas drinks. Jaggers is the ideal place to do just this. As well as an array of fabulous cocktails, Jaggers also serve tapas, light bites, sweet crepes, waffles, wine and coffee – all from a suitably Dickensian building in the heart of the town.
In West Kent sits a Georgian town awash with timeless style and sophistication: Royal Tunbridge Wells. Historic architecture, boutique shops and fabulous fine dining make this glittering town a wonderful place to visit at Christmas time, with perhaps the most bustling and festive of areas being the historic Pantiles. Lined with elegant shops and overhung in places with its original ‘musick balcony’, this area will be aglow with Christmas lights and festive music: the ultimate backdrop for Christmas shopping and dining.
When it comes to the foodie scene in Tunbridge Wells, you will not be disappointed. Awash with eateries of all shapes, sizes and styles, enjoy plenty of bakeries, coffee shops and cafés perfect for refuelling after your shop, or preparing for a busy day ahead. For artisan coffees and divine pastries, drop into The Bicycle Bakery, or for sophisticated smoked salmon brunches alongside festive flutes of Champagne, stop by at the beautifully designed art-deco-inspired restaurant The Ivy. Laid back lunches with flowing cocktails and craft beer on tap can be found at trendy pubs in the town such as The White Bear.
When night falls, venture out to enjoy fine-dining experiences, gastropubs galore and a myriad of stylish restaurants and bars. These include elegant experiences such as Thackeray’s, an exquisite restaurant free from pretension while being steeped in charm and history. A former residence of author William Makepeace Thackeray, the building itself is more than 300 years old and is an architectural work of art. Odd angles, sloped ceilings and off-kilter stairways make the experience here captivating from the moment you set foot over the threshold. This season, enjoy an utterly exquisite festive menu that you are certain to remember for many Christmases to come.
For those looking to make their stay in Tunbridge Wells that little bit longer, stay at the beautiful Cart Lodge which can be booked via Bloom Stays. Beautifully renovated, this open plan lodge gives an air of space and tranquillity, with wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. The living space combines a cosy seating area where you can snuggle up to the roaring wood burning stove, which can also be enjoyed from the bedroom as it sits in the middle of both rooms! Ultra-cosy Christmas comfort, perfect for a small family or couple. Enjoy cooking up a Christmas storm in the well equipped kitchen while enjoying casual dining at the breakfast bar, taking in the views beyond the garden.
Another beautiful Bloom Stays property perfect for Christmas comes in the form of Oast Barn in Faversham. A charming 300-year-old cottage with original features, Oast Barn is attached to the owner’s original hop barn. Lovingly restored, the cottage creates a romantic one-bedroom retreat that’s ideal for couples on a festive break. Although this cosy property is set in a peaceful rural location, it is perfect for exploring the nearby market town of Faversham. When exploring this arty town with its beautiful historic architecture, visitors will be spoilt for choice when it comes to creative and inspiring places to visit – from shops to theatres and arts venues. These include Creek Creative, which hosts a myriad of events, exhibitions, courses and workshops. As well as this, there is an artisan shop that supports a variety of local artists and makers, perfect for picking unique Christmas gifts, plus a cute café. Another arts centre that will be hosting festive events and more is The Alexander Centre. Over the next two months, enjoy book fairs, comedy lock-ins, a Victorian Christmas fayre, artisan Christmas crafts markets, winter wreath workshops, a Christmas bazaar, a Santa’s grotto and more.
One of Faversham’s most thriving spots is Standard Quay. Festooned with fairy lights that sparkle in the water of the creek, this area is certain to be alive with merriment and good times. Stop by at Papa Bianco for a slice of famously good pizza and one of the best spicy margaritas in Kent, visit Baltic House Wine Bar for a festive “cheers”, or see the butcher experts at Duck and Blade for all your Christmas meats.