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The coastal town of Folkestone is one of Kent’s most popular towns for day trippers and overseas tourists. In fact, so many people visit here from the capital that they are known as ‘DFLs’ – ‘Down from London’
Folkestone is a historic port with incredible beach views, seaside walks and an alfresco art scene. Throw into the mix an array of beachside bars and harbour front hang-outs and you know you are in for a fine day out in Folkestone
From cobbled streets and ‘Sunny’ sands to fresh fish and chips, here is our guide on the best things to do in Folkestone, Kent:
Table of Contents
Things to do in Folkestone
1. Folkestone Old High Street / Creative Quarter
Folkestone’s historic heart and cobbled streets have become a haven for independent shops and quirky bars and restaurants.
Much of this is down to the work being done by the Creative Folkestone group who are helping new businesses open and smartening up some of the more shabby buildings – it is often referred to as the Folkestone Creative Quarter.
The old town is an artisan area and a lovely place to walk around and browse – we’d also recommend walking this way to arrive at the harbour from the train station.
Address: The Old High Street, CT20 1RL
2. Folkestone Harbour
A flotilla of fishing boats and trawlers await at Folkestone Harbour making this a picture postcard setting. Indeed, it is more than likely that the first image you see of Folkestone when you search online is the marina area here.
Folkestone Harbour is a wonderful place to walk around and one of our favourite free things to do in Folkestone – there are also lots of bars and restaurants in this area overlooking the water.
We popped into The Mariner along Folkestone Stade for some drinks and it was a social and likeable place with lots of local characters.
The busiest places in the harbour were the beer garden at the Royal George, and also Rocksalt – a seafood restaurant with an outdoor terrace overlooking the harbour.
The Mariner, 16 The Stade, CT19 6AB
The Royal George, 18 Beach Street, CT20 1QW
Rocksalt, 4-5 Fish Market, CT19 6AA
3. Fish and Chips from The Smokehouse
Please note The Smokehouse is temporarily closed as at Spring 2023
No trip to the English / Kent seaside is complete without having fish and chips (or just chips!) overlooking the sea.
We did some ‘fishy’ research online and found that one of the most popular fish and chip takeaways was The Smokehouse, handily located in the harbour itself (our kinda ‘plaice’).
We grabbed our fresh fish and chips and bagged a bench in the harbour – the food was delicious but just watch out for those pesky seagulls.
A culinary rite of passage, to enjoy fresh battered fish and chips on the beach has to be one of the best things to do in Folkestone (and tastiest!).
Address: The Smokehouse, 1 Back Street, CT19 6NN
4. Folkestone Harbour Arm
An artsy array of sculptures, statues and street art combine with various pop up food kiosks and bars at Folkestone Harbour Arm. Better still, they all have incredible views of the ocean.
One of the best places to drink on Folkestone Harbour Arm is the Lighthouse Champagne Bar (because bubbles by the bay taste better).
As at Spring 2023, you’ll also find here a number of food and drink kiosks including the Big Greek Bus, Sole Kitchen (fresh seafood) and That Burger.
Folkestone Harbour Arm is home to one of the more unusual alfresco artworks – a giant seagull mobile – AKA The Mobile Gull Appreciation Unit, created by Mark Dion in 2008 for the Folkestone Triennial. This is often seen around the town at special events, with staff on hand to better educate people about the plight of seagulls.
Address: Folkestone Harbour Arm, CT20 1QH
5. Anthony Gormley, Another Time XVIII
A super-cool and salty as artwork, Antony Gormley’s Another Time statue is actually part of a much larger artwork collection.
‘Another Time 1999-2013’ is a collection of 100 life-sized iron figures that have been dispersed far and wide including in nearby Margate and also another one in the River Thames at the Grapes pub in London Limehouse.
This sculpture is actually quite easy to miss on the Folkestone Harbour Arm as it is hidden below the main walkway. Take the steps down near to the food and drink kiosks to see the statue. Be careful when walking down the stairs as they can be quite slippery, especially around high tide.
Address: Loading Bay, Folkestone Harbour Arm, Harbour Approach Road, CT20 1QH
6. Folkestone Harbour Station
A historic coastal train station that fell into disrepair and disuse before being lovingly restored in recent years, Folkestone Harbour station now has no trains but you can still walk along the railway tracks or platform admiring the artwork which include neon signs and sculptures.
The original station opened here in 1849 before finally closing for good in 2014 after several attempts at reopening.
These days, various special events take place in and around the former Folkestone Harbour Station including a popular annual Christmas market.
Address: Road of Remembrance, Kent CT19 6NN
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7. A walk to Sandgate via The Lea Zig Zag Path
When we first arrived in Folkestone, we walked from the train station towards The Leas, so we could see the coast from up high, via the cliff top walks and to admire all the grand seaside hotels and B&Bs.
Our walk took us all the way to Sandgate, a nearby Kent coastal town that has a charming high street full of tea-rooms, cafes and independent shops. It also is home to Sandgate Castle which looks directly out over the beach.
Folkestone can be reached easily from Sandgate by just following the England Coastal Path along the beach. The best way is to take the famous Zig Zag path down which traverses the hillside down to the beach.
There are a couple of beachside cafes along the way plus lots of beachside huts.
Address: The Lea Zig Zag Path, Lower Sandgate Road, CT20 2EB
8. Folkestone Sunny Sands
The most popular beach in Folkestone, Sunny Sands beach is just a short walk from the harbour and a nice spot to catch the sun or splash in the water. Unlike near to the Harbour Arm, this beach is sandy and doesn’t have so many pebbles.
When we visited Sunny Sands, there were lots of families on the sands plus there were some surfers in the water. It is also home to the annual Folkestone sand castle making competition – how cool?!
Address: Sunny Sands, CT19 6RB
9. Folkestone Street Art / Creative Folkestone
A quick word on the Folkestone art scene – there has obviously been a huge effort by local people and organisations (Creative Folkestone) to do something special here.
There are art installations and street art dotted all around Folkestone, some new and some that appear to have been here for quite some years (faded as f…).
Folkestone Artworks is the UK’s “…largest urban contemporary art exhibition” and is free to visit, with artwork all over Folkestone, some in rather unique and surprising locations (like Antony Gormley’s Another Time).
The Folkestone Artworks alfresco exhibition has over 70 artworks by almost 50 artists (as at Spring 2023) and regularly changes.
We found the best places for interesting and free Folkestone street art were the harbour arm and to a lesser extent, along the esplanade and walk along Marina Road. Visit the Creative Folkestone website here for Folkstone street art routes and maps.
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10. Beachfront beers at the Pilot Beach Bar
After a long walk along Marine Parade and Folkestone’s beachfront promenade, reward yourself with a cold one at the Pilot Beach Bar, operating out of a shipping container.
Folkestone’s Pilot Beach Bar has several different craft beer taps on at any one time (Kernel and Beavertown were the offerings when we visited) plus an outdoor area lined with tables, deckchairs and seats all looking across the pebbles towards the sea.
It is a nice way to get a ‘crafty’ beer and relax after a long coastal walk. Toilets can be found nearby in the Folkestone Harbour train station.
Address: Pilot Beach Bar, Harbour, CT20 1QH
11. Folkestone Step Short Memorial Arch
Unveiled by Prince Harry in 2014 (before he was ‘cancelled’), this stainless steel structure can be found along the Leas area of Folkestone and it was erected to commemorate those who lost their lives in the war.
As it is at the top of a hill, you can also admire views of the English Channel here and there are lots of benches and green spaces to enjoy in the same area
Address: Step Short Memorial, 1 The Leas, CT20 2DR
12. Folkestone Museum
Open 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Saturday, the Folkestone Museum is located in a grand guildhall building with a number of exhibits about the maritime history of the town (plus other artefacts like fossils and maps).
It also has a rather neat ‘Fashionable Folkestone’ section dedicated to Victorian fashion (Folkestone was a popular day-trip for high society back in the day).
A former town hall, the museum opened in 2017 and now hosts regular workshops and events. Admission to the museum is free (no entry charge) but donations are gratefully appreciated.
Address: 1-2 Guildhall Street, CT20 1DY
12. Other Kent Beaches and things to do near Folkestone
Ramsgate in Kent
A charming coastal town in Kent, Ramsgate was named in 2023 as one of the ‘coolest places in Kent’ by The Times newspaper. Just over an hour from London by train (from St Pancras), there are plenty of seaside things to do in Ramsgate.
Boasting the spectacular Royal Harbour and Marina, incredible hilltop views and walks, Ramsgate is perfect for a spot of rest and recreation.
Ramsgate also has dozens of pubs overlooking the water primed for a perfect sunset pint accompanied with the freshest fish and chips.
Whitstable in Kent
One of the best English seaside escapes and just over an hour’s train ride from London, there are so many wonderful things to do in Whitstable.
A fishing town primarily known for its delicious oysters, boutique shops and colourful beach huts, Whitstable has stunning sea views, incredible seafood and is genuinely one of the prettiest coastal towns in England we’ve visited.
Broadstairs in Kent
Broadstairs is a cute and charming coastal town with incredible hilltop views overlooking Viking Bay.
Always popular, Broadstairs is a quintessentially British beachside spot with several bars and restaurants overlooking the bay, a busy harbour arm and loads of traditional favourites like fish and chip kiosks and ice cream stalls.
Whilst in Broadstairs, you can visit the Charles Dickens Museum which showcases Dickens links to the Broadstairs region, housed in the cottage that was said to be the inspiration for Betsey Trotwood’s house in his famous David Copperfield novel.
Margate in Kent
One of Britain’s best beachside resorts and less than an hour away from London by train, Margate is a joyous mix of amusements, arts and an awesome sandy beach.
Located in Kent, Margate has become increasingly popular in recent years with both day trippers and people relocating to the area to escape the city ‘rat-race’.
There are so many things to do in Margate – from modern art at Turner Contemporary Gallery to the Bansky mural at Dreamland or cheap as fish and chips on the beach, there is something to suit all tastes and budgets in Margate.
Where to stay in Folkestone
View Hotel Folkestone
4-star boutique hotel located on a picturesque street just a 5 minute walk from the town centre. Facilities include an on-site restaurant and bar with panoramic sea views and an afternoon tea menu. Check out prices and availability for View Hotel Folkestone
Highly rated clean and comfortable bed and breakfast with stylish decor and communal kitchen. Check out prices and availability forMerchant39
Boutique rooms situated on the upper floors of a newly renovated building with views across the harbour and a harbour-side terrace. The compact modern rooms feature red-brick walls and original antique beds. Check out prices and availability forRocksalt Rooms
You might like these other South East England blog posts
- Things to do in Whitstable
- Things to do in Brighton
- Ramsgate to Margate walk – the Viking Coastal Trail
- Things to do in Margate
- Things to do in Hastings
- Things to do in Ramsgate, Kent