Unique highlights from city, coast and countryside from Visit Kent
On the doorstep of the Continent and 45 minutes from London, the county of Kent has many highlights:
1. Heritage – Kent is the oldest county in England
Canterbury is among the oldest cities with a continuous history – trace its rich heritage through the architectural styles of buildings along its narrow cobbled streets and visit St Martin’s, part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site, the oldest working parish church in England. Wander the atmospheric streets of Sandwich and you’ll come across the highest density of listed buildings of any town in England, Sandwich also has more medieval buildings than anywhere else.
2. Cathedrals – Kent is home to the two oldest Cathedrals in England
As soon as you step into the magnificent interior of Canterbury Cathedral you can sense the deep stirrings of history and worship stretching right back to AD 597. The Mother Church of the Anglican Communion has a rich tradition of welcoming visitors, ever since medieval pilgrims were drawn to the spot where in 1170 Thomas Becket was murdered. Rochester Cathedral, founded in AD 604, is the second oldest cathedral in England. The Cathedral recently unveiled the first real fresco to be painted in an English cathedral for nearly 800 years
3. Castles – Kent has more castles and historic houses than any other county
Dover Castle, commanding the shortest sea crossing to the Continent, has been known for centuries as the Key to England. At Dover you can experience life from Roman times to World War II, while the Secret Wartime Tunnels include the only underground barracks ever built in Britain. Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, echoes with romance – not least from the time Henry VIII came a-wooing his second wife. Other castles in include Walmer Castle, Deal Castle, Leeds Castle, Rochester Castle and Upnor Castle.
4. Gardens – Kent is the Garden of England and its gardens are world renowned.
With 180-plus to choose from, there’s one to match your every mood. Explore one of the world’s most celebrated 20th-century gardens at Sissinghurst, the spellbinding creation of writer/poet Vita Sackville-West and her husband, diplomat/writer Harold Nicolson. Scotney Castle Garden is pure fairytale! Created in the 1830s by Edward Hussey, in ‘Picturesque’ style around the ruins of a small 14th-century moated castle. Emmetts Garden is relaxed and informal, with many rare trees and shrubs from across the world. You’ll also find the highest treetop in Kent here!
5. Coast – tour the Kent coast, following The Maritime Heritage Trail
Whether you’re after traditional family entertainment, adrenaline watersports or somewhere to chill out, Kent’s varied coastline has just the beach or resort for you. Head for the captivating sandy bays of Broadstairs, Charles Dickens’ favourite holiday resort, wind down, have bucket-and-spade fun, flex your limbs pursuing watersports. Joss Bay is popular with the surfing fraternity, while the safe, secluded environment of Viking Bay is perfect for families and swimming. Whitstable and Herne Bay, nestling on the north Kent coast, also have distinctive characters.
6. Maritime Heritage
The most complete dockyard of the Age of Sail, The Historic Dockyard Chatham, spans over 400 years of maritime history and was the place where the ships that defeated the Spanish Armada and Napoleon’s forces were built. The intriguing remains of the world’s oldest known seagoing boat are on show at Dover Museum. Visit Ramsgate, the country’s only Royal Harbour, a title it earned from King George IV and look out for the full-size replica Viking Ship at Pegwell Bay, commemorating the arrival of Hengist and Horsa in AD 449. Richborough was the main entry port for legions invading in AD 43 and you can relive the early stages of conquest amid the evocative ruins of Richborough Roman Fort. The ‘Iron’ Duke of Wellington was once Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, which granted him residence at Walmer Castle. You can still see his original Wellington Boots there
7. The White Cliffs of Dover
Amazing but true: it took 80 million years to form the White Cliffs of Dover from the crushed remains of billions of tiny sea-dwelling plants and animals. The area now provides the habitat for many species of flora and fauna, including some that are rare, and it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Bring your binoculars, your camera and limitless curiosity. With a visitor centre, shop and café, the White Cliffs make a fabulous family day out.
8. Countryside – Some 6,876 km of footpaths criss-cross the Kent countryside
Walk, wildlife-spot or just relax in a wonderful Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The eastern half of the North Downs is known as the Kent Downs and they stretch 878 sq km (339 sq miles) across nearly a quarter of the county, from the White Cliffs at Dover to the Surrey and London borders.
9. Food and wine – The Garden of England is renowned for its fruit production
Treat yourself to a genuine taste of Kent with a tour of award-winning Chapel Down Winery at Tenterden Vineyard, the country’s largest producer of English wines. Shepherd Neame is Britain’s oldest brewer and you’ll find its characterful pubs scattered throughout the county, where you can sip handcrafted ales full of spicy Kentish hops. Or go behind the scenes at its brewery in Faversham to discover the processes behind the making of the perfect tipple.
10. Famous connections, authors and artists
Follow the 17th-century Indian Princess Pocahontas to St George’s Church, Gravesend and Dickens to locations for Great Expectations and The Pickwick Papers in Rochester. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales was the first book to be printed in England, in 1476 and Jane Austen was a frequent visitor to Goodnestone Park Gardens, near Canterbury. The artist JMW Turner lived in Margate and claimed the area has ‘the loveliest skies in Europe’. Surprisingly for such a tranquil county, you’ll also uncover the source of all-action tales and sinister goings-on. Have a drink in The Duck Inn at Pett Bottomn where – You Only Live Twice – 007’s adventures took shape, or dare to enter Arthur Conan Doyle’s Valley of Fear!