Victorian seaside resort, cobblestoned old fishing port, thriving creative community and contemporary outdoor art gallery – Folkestone feels like it’s several towns rolled into one
Less trumpeted than Margate, Whitstable or Brighton, Folkestone is a genuinely wonderful place for a weekend away. It has the perfect blend of vibrant contemporary culture, traditional harbour and seaside fun, with oodles of scope for charging off on a walk along the iconic white cliffs of Kent’s Heritage Coast or lazing about on great swathes of sandy beach.
The choice of food is fantastic, from fine dining to shellfish shacks and everything in between. There's an emphasis on fresh, local produce (hey, you’re in a fishing port surrounded by the Garden of England), and there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options too. Since the founding of its Creative Quarter in 2002, the launch of the Triennial which led to the creation of Folkestone Artworks, and the redevelopment of the Harbour Arm, Folkestone is a town that has reinvented itself, while embracing its past. Here’s everything you need to know to plan a weekend in fabulous Folkestone…
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Check-in at: The View Hotel, a fabulous little boutique property. Friendly and welcoming, it has a superb location on the corner of The Leas promenade – just a 10-minute walk from the Creative Quarter and Folkestone harbour. Go for one of the Signature rooms, which have heaps of space, with comfortable armchairs or sofas to sprawl on, period features and amazing views out over the English Channel from huge bay windows.
Take a stroll: Wander along The Leas and Folkestone Beach. Walk west along The Leas, a broad clifftop promenade laid out in the 19th century when Folkestone was at the height of fashion among well-heeled Victorian society, The former Metropole Hotel and The Grand are located up here and there are breathtaking views out to sea. Then head down one of the paths or steep steps through Lower Leas Coastal Park and onto the promenade beside the beach, which you can follow all the way to the Harbour Arm, passing rows of colourful beach huts along the way. The Harbour Arm was originally the railway terminal for the Folkestone-Boulogne ferry and departure point for soldiers on their way to the Western Front.
Alternatively, walk east along The Leas, passing the Road of Remembrance (the route soldiers took to Folkestone harbour in the First World War), and through the churchyard to reach the Creative Quarter and the harbour.
Dinner at: Little Rock. Specialising in fresh, local seafood, Little Rock is housed in a shipping container and has tables out on the beach. Open until 8pm from Wednesday to Saturday, 5pm on Sundays.
Wet weather alternative: If the weather takes a turn for the worse, the beachfront setting of Little Rock, and the Harbour Arm in general, can get more than a little wet and windy. In that case head over to Rocksalt (under the same ownership) on the far side of the swing bridge, for fine dining with harbour views.
Drinks at: Folklore at the bottom of the Old High Street, where coffee, tea and cakes give way in the evening to award-winning cocktails, live music and comedy.
Coffee at: Steep Street Coffee House. This popular little café near the top of the Old High Street has walls lined with bookshelves. Pull out a tome to read over an impeccably made coffee and a selection of mouth-watering cakes.
Discover: Folkestone Artworks is the largest urban contemporary art exhibition in the UK, with 74 artworks by 46 internationally renowned artists, including the likes of Antony Gormley, Cristina Iglesias, Bill Woodrow and Tracey Emin scattered across the town and free to explore 24/7. Granted, you’d be hard pressed to walk around Folkestone without spotting a few, but they’re worthy of a good half day’s wandering, at least. It began life when permanent installations were made of some of the works shown in the first Folkestone Triennial in 2008. They’re heaps of fun – at turns intriguing, irreverent, playful and visually stunning. Download the handy map from Creative Folkestone and start exploring.
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Lunch at: Market Square. This friendly, chilled-out place just around the corner from the Folkestone Museum has comfortable sofas, plenty of space and great food. Much of the menu has an Asian twist, with an emphasis on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options – think glazed tofu and chestnut mushroom ramen and market vegetable bhajis with mango chutney – or go for the sticky Asian BBQ beef bao buns.
Explore the Creative Quarter: This is the vibrant heart of 21st-century Folkestone. Covering the old town centre (including its steep, cobbled Old High Street, the harbour and Harbour Arm), this is a community where artists, makers, galleries and creative businesses are thriving alongside small independent shops, bars and restaurants.
Visit: Folkestone Museum to learn more about the town’s past as a fishing port, smugglers' den and Victorian seaside resort. The museum also has an outstanding collection of rare drawings by old masters including Guercino and Agostino Carracci. To discover more about Folkestone’s long history of fishing, head down to the Fishing Heritage and History Museum, run by a small group of retired fishermen.
Dinner at: Marleys. This fantastic little restaurant on the Old High Street has been championing locally grown and farmed produce since it opened in 2018. Cosy and intimate with very friendly service, the food is excellent too. From slow-roasted pork belly and salt-and-pepper squid to their take on a salad bowl, full of warmth and infused with Cajun spices, the menu champions Kentish ingredients. The beet burger is superb too.
Catch a performance or a film at: Quarterhouse. In the heart of the Creative Quarter, Quarterhouse is Folkestone’s leading performing arts venue, with a fantastic programme including everything from cutting-edge circus and dance to music, theatre, comedy and documentary films. It’s home to a slew of festivals too. There’s a laid-back bar upstairs; perfect for a coffee or a Chapel Down gin.
Drinks at: The Old Buoy. Right opposite Quarterhouse, it has a great selection of Belgian beers, from fruity to knock-your-socks-off trappist numbers.
Take a walk on the wild side: Stroll around The Warren. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to exploring stunning landscapes along this stretch of the Kent coast – you could visit Romney Marsh, or follow the North Downs Way along the cliffs to Dover. But the one scenic spot you really shouldn’t miss is The Warren – a weird and wonderful landscape of crumpled mounds sandwiched between the railway line and East Cliff, formed by a succession of landslides. It's great for walking, wildflower spotting, bird watching (it’s a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest) and fossil hunting. Or just sit and enjoy the view. To get there, walk out of town along Coronation Parade, then up over the golf course with its Napoleonic-era Martello towers, and down to the beach.
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Visit: The Battle of Britain Memorial. From the edge of the golf course above The Warren, walk up to the top of East Cliff. At the far end is a beautifully maintained and poignant memorial site to the Battle of Britain with a restored Spitfire. If you want to take a bus back into Folkestone, the 102 stops right outside.
Lunch at: The Harbour Arm. You simply can’t spend a weekend in Folkestone without grabbing an alfresco bite or two from one of the many indie food and drink places along the restored Harbour Arm and adjacent Goods Shack. There’s a whole slew of places to get your mouth watering – from The Big Greek Bus with its delicious halloumi wraps and Dr Legumes with its excellent plant-based menu, to moules marinière at Go Dutch or a soft-shell crab sandwich at Sole Kitchen, to name just a few. Just grab a table, scan the QR code and order.
Wet weather alternative: Pick Up Pintxos offers Basque-inspired small bites (pintxos) and larger plates (raciones) at the foot of the Old High Street.
Drinks at: The Lighthouse Champagne Bar. What better way to round off a corking weekend in Folkestone than with a glass or two of Kentish sparkling wine (or Champagne) beside the lighthouse at the tip of the Harbour Arm? It’s open until 6pm.
Getting there and around
The best way to reach Folkestone is by rail. Southeastern Railway operates direct high-speed trains between London and Folkestone, with a journey time of 55 minutes. Stations along the HS1 line include Ashford International; handy if you’re coming from further west. Folkestone Central station is a 10-minute walk from both The View Hotel and the Creative Quarter – and the Folkestone Artworks kick off as soon as you walk out of the station. The centre of Folkestone is quite compact and the best way to explore is on foot.
Main image: Clive117/ Shutterstock
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