Christmas on the Coast
Combine the beauty of Kent’s coastline with the enchantment of Christmas and the result is destined to be magical.
Romantic walks along the seafront, sublime dining, quirky independent shops and festive markets, whatever brings you to Kent’s coast at Christmastime, the new memories you make are sure to be cherished for a lifetime. Taking up 350 miles of England’s glorious coastline, Kent is home to a plethora of enchanting seaside towns, magnificent beaches and winding coastal paths. Although sharing many similarities with one another, each of these towns embodies a wonderfully unique identity, coming all the more alive throughout the festive season.
Kent’s heritage coast, which was featured as the fourth best destination in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2022, is celebrated for its awe-inspiring countryside, enthralling history and miraculous regeneration projects. Part of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the towns of Folkestone and Dover are surrounded by craggy cliffs that blend into flat seaside paths, perfect for blustery, bracing walks at this time of year. Walk along the famous White Cliffs of Dover, from one iconic pub to another, starting at Kingsdown’s Zetland Arms sitting right on the pebble bay. A popular spot for both locals and tourists alike, the atmosphere is certain to be alive both inside and out, whatever the weather. Fuel yourself up from their brilliant ‘beach’ menu before embarking on a walk which encompasses breathtaking views, enviable houses and rare wildlife along the cliff top. As the cliff descends into St Margaret’s Bay, you will find Britain’s closest pub to France: The Coastguard. Another spot with incredible views of the channel to absorb as you eat, enjoy a menu of seasonal produce from brilliant local suppliers, including Jenkins & Son Fishmongers in Deal and Stour Valley Butchers, Canterbury.
A vibrant seaside town that thrives with art and culture is Folkestone. At Christmastime, visitors to Folkestone must visit the celebrated Harbour Arm. With its annual Festive Marketplace, the harbour becomes a Christmassy oasis of independent market stalls, festive films, snow blizzards, live music, carol services and delicious food and drink. insideKENT spoke to Dan Johannsen, communications manager at Folkestone Harbour Arm, who told us what visitors can expect this year: “We’re building on the success of the past two years and bringing in much more. More decorations, more free films, more entertainment, longer opening hours and even an opportunity to meet Father Christmas himself. We also have more dining options than ever before, so the Harbour Arm really is the place that will ignite that festive feeling like nowhere else.”
In Folkestone’s town, festive explorers can climb up The Old High Street, which leads up from the seafront and into Fokestone’s Creative Quarter. For those that love hunting for unique treasures to gift at Christmas, this is the perfect place. Here you will find galleries galore with local artists selling their pieces, including goldsmiths and jewellers, such as Aimee Craddock. As well as artists and makers, the Creative Quarter is home to lots of indie gift shops and unique creative businesses ideal for alternative gifts. These include vintage clothes shops such as Bounce Vintage, interiors shop Inspiring Interiors, shops ideal for finding lovely gifts for children such as Moo Like a Monkey and Custard HQ, as well as many others. For those difficult-to-buy-for types, Folkestone also has your answer in the form of Foras. Foras’s owner Alex, makes small-batch unisex fragrances that smell utterly divine and take inspiration from the natural world. From eau de parfum and soap to skincare and oils, no matter the personality of who you might be buying for, they are sure to love a Foras’s product. Foras also sell Kentish brand Pelegrims, which is also crafted by Alex. Products include their award-winning anti-ageing balm, and each is made from the grapes of Westwell Wines. Given together or individually, Foras and Pelegrims make beautiful Kentish gifts that will enchant anyone.
For those needing a pick-me-up in the middle of their Christmas shopping, visit the popular Steep Street Coffee. With walls lined with shelves of books from floor to ceiling, it is a lovely, cosy spot to enjoy coffee and scrumptious cake. For those wanting more of a meal, step into Marley’s who serve exquisite dishes inspired by Kentish produce and famously good pancake brunches, or pay a visit to El Cortador serving authentic tapas in Spanish style with carefully selected wines and more.
Cultural activities in Folkestone come in abundance as the town is home to several theatres and arts centres. This includes The Tower Theatre, which this season has a programme jam-packed full of spectacular shows and performances, such as their pantomime of Sleeping Beauty, which runs throughout the month of December. Cinematic arts can be appreciated at Folkestone’s independent cinema The Silver Screen, which has showings of everything from hit cult classics to new releases.
Folkestone’s foodie scene is one of the most eclectic in Kent, with restaurants in the town making the most of Kent’s Garden of England status. With a varied mix of cuisines, Folkestone is certain to have a restaurant to suit any taste or diet. Dr Legumes on Rendezvous Street uses plant-based food as a tool to communicate the ethos of health-conscious food within the local community. Passionate about blending local and exotic flavours to create a unique plant based dining experience, a trip to Dr Legumes is certain to please both the taste buds and the body. A community interest company, Dr Legumes is invested in providing accessible workshops to engage the local community through food, promoting and focusing on health, wellbeing and sustainability.
For those looking to gift a bottle of wine this Christmas, they can shop for it while indulging in a gorgeous feast at Folkestone Wine Company. As well as an accompaniment to a meal, the wines here are available to buy over the counter. A family run business, Folkestone Wine Co. encompasses all their passions: wine, food, art and music. Taste beautiful food inspired by the family’s travels around Europe in a relaxed environment of eclectic music and culture. Head chef David Hart knows his food, his inspiration coming from his French roots and adventures around Europe, trying and tasting exciting dishes across the continent. This season, David’s menu will use the best seasonal produce from local businesses to create an exquisite Christmas menu. The menu also makes the most of beautiful ingredients from all over Europe including olives, ham and Parmesan to name just a few. The bread is made fresh daily and the wine has been carefully selected for each dish. Not hungry? Sit at the bar or the cosy snug to simply enjoy the wines on their own. Surrounded by art and vinyl records playing in the background, we believe it’s the perfect environment to relax this Christmas and enjoy a glass or two!
The next stop along the coast from Folkestone is its smaller seaside sister of Sandgate. Waves crash against this long stretch of pebble beach that makes for dramatic scenery, which is perfect for viewing with a hot cup of coffee or festive hot chocolate with marshmallows in hand. These can be purchased, alongside a puppacino, from Sandgate’s Mr Whippet’s Café. Mr Whippets is the ideal place to visit with your pooch, having become a social hotspot for four-legged friends to gather before or after those special walkies on the beach. There are plenty of other coffee shops to choose from in Sandgate, with firm favourites including specialist coffee haven Orchard Lane and LOAF both serving scrumptious cake and brilliant brunch and lunches.
For more of a meal, visit brand new Lido Bon Vino at the Sandgate Hotel. Superbly Italian, Lido Bon Vino serves up hearty wholesome Italian meals at their homely best. Think spaghetti Bolognese, carbonara and tiramisu, but made with plenty of love and authenticity. For those starting out early, Lido Bon Vino serves home-made Italian pastries from 7am, so enjoy uninterrupted sea views alongside one of these and really good cappuccino.
As well as food, Sandgate is great for Christmas gift shopping too. The high street that runs parallel with the seafront is filled with antique shops and independent stores great for treasure hunting. Drop into Workshop Number 29 for a curated collection of vintage clothing, homewares and simply beautiful things – ideal for giving something a little different, that will stand out from the crowd this Christmas. Wine lovers can also be satisfied in Sandgate when they pay a visit to John Dory Wine. A wine shop and tasting room on the high street, peruse wines that range from Burgundy, German Riesling, Northern Rhône, Piemonte, iconic Tuscans, California, and proper dry Lambruscos. John Dory offers wine by the glass from a range of more than 150 specialist wines. Benefit from free local delivery, buy a bottle to take home, or enjoy any of the bottles from the shelves inside their cosy tasting room alongside a charcuterie board to match. Keep up to date with them on Instagram (@jondorywine) to find out when their festive tasting events will be taking place.
Keep going further west along the coast and you will find yourself in the next seaside town: Hythe. Known for being somewhat the sleepiest of this seaside trio, Hythe is in fact home to an incredible high street that has stood the test of time and remains to be wonderfully nostalgic. Hoards of tourists come to appreciate this quirky trait of the town, and Christmastime is one of the best seasons in which to embrace it. Full of independent boutiques, art galleries and food shops, while away the hours here and the day will be over before you even realise. Pop in to The Graham Gallery and marvel at artist Robbie Graham’s ‘photo realistic’ portraits depicting wildlife. Robbie’s numerous paintings can be ordered in most sizes if you have a particular requirement and are available in paper or canvas. Robbie can be seen regularly painting in the gallery where he is happy to discuss his methods which include a range of painting mediums such as gouache, acrylics and oils.
As well as shops and galleries, Hythe is no stranger to great food. Pay a visit to Root, a vegan and vegetarian café, which also sells a gorgeous array of foods and products to take home with you, great for gifting at this time of year too. A newer foodie attribute to Hythe is The Truffle Pig, a charming destination deli restaurant that uses fresh, local seasonal ingredients to create their delicious menus. Why not indulge in one of Truffle Pig’s tasting evenings and book a coveted seat at their chef’s table? Held on Friday or Saturday evenings, enjoy a freshly prepared, carefully curated five-course tasting menu of innovative perfect little dishes. These ‘immersive food experiences’ creatively showcase the best seasonal, locally caught fish and locally gathered produce. A tasting evening experience would make a great festive gift for any foodie that you too can enjoy alongside them.
Embrace the best of Hythe’s eclectic dining scene along with panoramic sea views at The Waterfront. Reflecting the owner’s clear penchant for collectibles while maintaining an air of sophistication and a side-serving of fun, the refurbished and rebranded Waterfront is a sensory experience that goes much further than taste. Expect supreme views of the ocean out beyond as you tuck into delicious dishes such as their highly acclaimed oysters. The Waterfront neighbours one of Hythes’ most magnificent gems: The Hythe Imperial. This award-winning hotel has stood at the heart of the beautiful seaside town for hundreds of years and today, guests can enjoy a wonderful stay, dine in style, or indulge in a pampering experience at the spa and health club. All rooms at the Hythe Imperial are individually designed and range from intimate and cosy to spacious and decadent.
The friendly spa offers a range of treatments from expert Caudalie facials to hot stone massage and OPI manicures. With four spa treatment rooms, three nail stations and a heated relaxation area, you’re sure to find tranquility here. For those who like to spend a full day at a spa, Hythe Imperial offers a great selection of spa day packages as well as individual treatments, and these experiences are all available to purchase as the perfect Christmas gift for loved ones.
Slightly away from the coast but just next to Hythe is the village of Saltwood. Saltwood is home to highly acclaimed, Michelin-starred Hide and Fox. Although a neighbourhood restaurant, Hide and Fox takes on a contemporary identity in everything from food to decor. Serving vibrant modern cuisine, Hide and Fox revel in their friendly and informal atmosphere, which embraces an accessible fine-dining experience with a relaxed and unpretentious approach. Praised by the Michelin Guide for its unique identity and take on food and having already claimed three AA Rosettes, Hide and Fox was first awarded their Michelin star in January 2021 which it retained for this year’s Michelin announcements in March. Head chef Allister chooses every ingredient with a focus on the best quality and designs menus to showcase the season. With the help of their meticulously selected suppliers, their aim is to source only the best produce available, locally where possible and is guaranteed to be an exquisite festive visit at this time of year.
From one woodland animal to another, Saltwood is also home to Bunny Cottage, a charming holiday home that can be booked via Bloom Stays. Step inside and be greeted by the warm glow of the fireplace, inviting you to curl up with a good book, with hand-picked pieces of furniture and artwork paired together for a welcoming and homely feel. The cottage boasts a fully-equipped kitchen, perfect for whipping up a delicious Christmas meal. Enjoy this in the dining area and then retire to the open-plan sitting room for wholesome evenings with the whole family.
Hidden behind an unassuming door, stairs lead up to two generously sized bedrooms finished in calming tones, with white bed linen and plump pillows offering you a peaceful sanctuary for a restful night’s sleep. Beautifully finished, the spacious bathroom includes both a shower, and a bathtub for you to unwind after a bus day of yuletide exploring.