Recharge Your Family's Batteries with 48 Hours in Thanet

Now that the Christmas holidays are a distant memory and the new term is well underway, your thoughts will be turning to February half-term and fun family weekends for new adventures.

With beautiful beaches, plenty of history, interesting attractions to explore, and delicious food, the towns of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate on the Isle of Thanet in East Kent are the perfect destination for families.

Less than a couple of hours from London, Thanet is a world away and the perfect place to recharge your family's batteries while making wonderful memories this half-term, or even the next weekend you have free.

We spent a few days in Thanet at the end of last year and had a wonderful time exploring above - and below - ground.

Where to Stay

Our base for the weekend was the beautifully restored Sands Hotel in Margate perfectly located right on the sea front at Margate - definitely a room with a view!

For more details, see our review of Sands Hotel Margate.

Day One: Underground, Art & a Sandy Beach

Yep, below ground...

The chalk rock of Thanet lends itself well to carving out, so there are plenty of places to explore underground as well as above.

And best of all, if you're going underground, it really doesn't matter what the weather's doing outside!


On your first day head underground in Margate at the fascinating Shell Grotto.

This subterranean network of tunnels with its walls covered in shells was discovered by accident in 1835 and no-one knows when or why it was constructed.

The 70 feet of passages lead to a larger chamber which many have speculated about over the years.  

Was this a secret meeting place for a cult, an ancient pagan temple, or simply a secret folly?

Whatever the truth, it's a fascinating place to visit.

What patterns can you discern amongst the 4.6 million shells used on its walls?

Our girls loved this place and there is plenty of space to draw pictures or work on activity sheets while the grown ups read up on the Grotto's history and look at some of the souvenirs from over the years.

Just round the corner there are more opportunities for underground exploration in the recently reopened Margate Caves.

Originally dug as a chalk mine in the 18th Century, the caves were used as a wine cellar, ice well and source of 'excellent' spring water until an enterprising fellow opened them to the public in 1854.

Norwood claimed the caves dated back 1400 years and constructed an elaborate legend around them to justify the threepence admission.

Later advertising hit upon the trend for smugglers in literature and lore of the time and added this romantic legend to the Caves' history too.

Some of the caves drawings were already in evidence when the caves first opened, and were later added to creating the eclectic mix you can see today.

After a chequered history the caves have been opened, closed, damaged and restored a number of times.

But now a new discovery room, exhibition, shop and community cafe sit above the caves and welcome visitors to this fascinating subterranean world.

You may also like the fascinating Ramsgate Tunnels and their wartime history.

Back in Margate, after all their underground adventures, let the kids blow off some steam on the cliff top at Cliftonville.

Bring the scooters or bikes and take a ride or just have a run along.

A stop at the Viking Adventure Playground on the cliffs overlooking the sea will go down well.

This wooden playground features a large Viking long boat to explore, complete with fun slide down from the crow's nest.

A playground with a view!


Further along back towards the centre of Margate is the disused Lido, with ambitious plans afoot to revive it.

Here there are a few eclectic shops and the lovely Roost restaurant which serves simple but delicious food, and has an amazing basement where children can hang out and play. 

The perfect place to enjoy lunch with a view.

For more details see our review of Roost Margate.


After lunch head back into town to explore the sea front.

Here concrete steps are revealed as the tide goes out, the perfect place to have a paddle.

Here too is the Turner Contemporary art gallery, which recently hosted the 2019 Turner Prize.

The ever-changing programme features a wide variety of contemporary art and is well worth an hour of your time.

Look out for one of Antony Gormley's solid cast iron figures, Another Time, emerging as the tide recedes. 

And don't miss the stunning Turner sunsets, one of the many reasons the famous London painter loved the town.

End your afternoon at the beach, where perfect sand awaits.

Go for a paddle, or even a swim in the tidal pool if you're feeling brave, or just enjoy the beach.

You can hire a Coastal Explorer Pack from the Tourist Office for £5 per day.

The pack contains lots of ideas for activities, as well as all the equipment you need to explore rock pools and insects.

The strong tide on this protruding former island means that plenty of fascinating things get washed up here too, so make sure you enjoy a treasure hunt too.

If the weather's not great, or you still have some energy left, the fun Lost Island Adventure Indoor Golf is open till 8pm every evening.

Located downstairs in the Flamingo Arcade, you can putt your way through dense jungle, mysterious statues and cheeky monekys to see who gets the highest score.

There's even a ferocious dinosaur!  Our girls loved it.

Day Two: Model Trains & a Multitude of Animals


After a good sleep (all that sea air) and a hearty breakfast on day two head out of town to the Hornby Hobbies Visitor Centre.

If you have a little (or big) kid who loves trains, this is their dream destination!

Walk them through the huge shop (you may need blindfolds) to the exhibition which takes you on a journey through some of Britain's best-loved toys.

Prepare for oohs and aahs as the big kids recall toys long lost, and try not to hurry the little ones as they pore over the detail in the model railway sets and watch the trains go round.

There are pit stops to play with Scalextric and so much to look at you'll be there hours.

The on-site cafe offers decent food and coffee if you need to refuel or have a sit down.

Perfect for toy lovers of all ages, this is a great destination for all the family.  Just be prepared to hear all about the toys of his childhood...


Grab lunch at Hornby or just down the road at Quex Barn which offers a wide variety of options.

On the same site is the fascinating Powell-Cotton Museum.

Established as a natural history museum, Percy Powell-Cotton was a pioneer in the use of natural dioramas to display animal specimens.

Borrow a kids' backpack for fun as you explore.  The giraffe one was our favourite.

Over the years he collected a vast array of animals, many of which are on display here, but later realised that this approach probably wasn't the best way to conserve species and educate others.

Later generations followed a more ethnographic and cultural path of study, so the collection ranges to Japanese netsuke, Oriental and German porcelain, painted icons and much more.

This fascinating collection even includes a breech loading gun from a dive on the Mary Rose wreck in the 1830s and a penguin collected by Ernest Shackleton (alas not currently on display).

At the end there is a wonderful exploration and activity area called The Cube.

Here visitors can get hands on with a multitude of objects, including animal skulls and furs, stuffed birds and animals, traditional musical instruments and shoes and costumes that can be tried on.

Our girls absolutely adore this place and happily spent several hours playing and exploring some of the handling collection.

There is lots of equipment for drawing and sketching, books to read, and even some toys.

So much opportunity for fun and learning.

End your day with a trip to the beautiful sandy beach at Ramsgate, or a walk or cycle along the Viking Coastal Trail which links Ramsgate with Margate via Broadstairs.

If you have more time spend a day in Ramsgate too, here are our top 7 things to do in Ramsgate with kids.

And don't miss our favourite restaurants such as Archive Ramsgate in our guide to the best places to eat in Ramsgate with kids.

Head to Visit Thanet for more information on visiting the Isle of Thanet, including the towns of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate and the surrounding area.

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