In the South East of England you could say there are two Kents.
Soft country Kent with luxury towns, National Trust houses and quaint villages, then coastal Kent, fortified the gateway to England but also adapted to 19th century seaside fun.
In the Kent countryside, the county has earned the nickname ‘Garden of England’ for its verdant hop farms and orchards and idyllic villages with duck ponds, pubs, country greens and Norman churches.
Things you won’t see anywhere else in the Kent countryside are the houses of ‘grill houses’, barns and hop farms with conical roofs covered with white vents to draw in air and dry the hops.
Let’s explore the best spots in Kent:
Canterbury is a historic university, and as beautiful as it is, it is also important.
It was the seat of the first parish in the British Isles, established in the 6th century.
The Archbishop of Canterbury remains one of England’s most influential public figures.
The magnificent Norman and Gothic cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the scene of one of the pivotal moments in English medieval history: the murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett at the altar by supporters of King Henry II in 1170 . There’s so much to fascinate about Canterbury, whether it’s Roman mosaics, ruins of castles and abbeys, city walls or England’s largest medieval gate, Westgate.
The town has always been the gateway to the British Isles from mainland Europe and a major ferry port for transit from France and Belgium.
Approaching from the water, the first thing that catches the eye are those sublime chalk cliffs.
On land, take an unforgettable walk along the grassy cliff tops that will take you to Kingston, 8 miles away.
As the closest port to France, the town needed fortification, and Dover Castle took its current form during the reign of Henry II in the 12th century. From a Roman lighthouse (one of England’s oldest structures) to an 18th-century battery and a secret World War II tunnel, there’s a ton of history here.
Like six other beaches within a short drive, Ramsgate Sands is a Blue Flag beach surrounded by promenades and cliffs.
In good weather, it’s filled with all the nostalgia of a British seaside resort, and in winter and autumn it’s a refreshing stroll.
Ramsgate is the only Royal Seaport, evident from the long wharf that protects it from the high seas and gives it an almost Mediterranean character on the hottest days of summer.
It is also necessary to descend into the Ramsgate Tunnel, a deep bomb shelter dug for World War II and now available for tours.
4. Wide Stairs
With the advent of steam power and railways in the 19th century, Londoners were able to reach Broadstairs in a few hours, and they came here to enjoy the sea breeze and seven stunning golden beaches.
Charles Dickens chose Broadstairs for his holiday and wrote David Copperfield at his desolate home on the cliffs above Viking Bay, with views of the chalk headland of the North Foreland.
On a sunny day, Broadstairs remains Thanet’s top choice for a day by the sea, thanks to its historic high street and independent shops, as well as old-fashioned beach shacks, bandstands and 50s-style ice cream parlors The retro charm of a resort facility.
Like Dover, Sandwich is one of the Cinque Terre, an alliance of five medieval towns on the Kent and Sussex coasts that cooperated in trade and defence.
Today, there are plenty of clues about the sandwich’s history around the town, such as the gates of the Old Town fortifications, two stunning almshouses and a handful of bars that have served customers for centuries.
The White Mill is a fully restored windmill built in the 1700s, explaining the rural way of life in the past.
A few minutes outside of town is Richborough Castle, a dilapidated but striking Roman and Saxon fortress and a controversial landing point for the Claudian invasion in AD 43.
If you’re familiar with the early chapters of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, you’ll feel like you’ve read The Muddy River Medway, even though the author never mentions it by name.
Dickens grew up near Chatham and later moved back to Ged Hill, a mansion outside Rochester, where he died.
But Rochester has more to do. The castle has a 12th-century castle whose walls and towers are almost intact despite their age.
It’s a breathtaking sight, on a par with the Norman and Gothic Rochester Cathedral built in the 11th century, but it is the seat of a parish dating back to 604 and is the second largest in England after Canterbury old parish.
Around the meanders of the Medway River, Chatham is a town steeped in naval history.
From 1567 to the 1980s, the Royal Navy Dockyard was here and is now preserved as the Chatham Historic Dockyard.
If you’re inspired by the age of sailing, the shipyard will surprise you, not only because you can board traditional boats like the HMS Gannet, but also because facilities such as the 364-meter-long Class I rope rope still produce rope commercially buildings.
Fort Amherst is a great addition to the shipyard, which was built in 1756 to protect the shipyard from a French invasion.
8. Royal Tunbridge Wells
On the High Weald, a rugged sandstone ridge, Royal Tunbridge Wells is a wealthy town that has welcomed wealthy guests and residents since the 1600s when they first came to the healing waters.
Strange rock formations, Wellington Rocks on Tunbridge Common and sandstone geology in the steep High Rocks outside town are clear.
Gardens in prestigious estates are available to sit idle, such as the houseless Dunorland Park, Calverley Square and Scotney Castle, all as stately as you’d hope.
The local scenery is in the picture book, all the hop farms, duck ponds, country greens, pub gardens and bakeries.
9. Seven Oaks
Sevenoaks is just off the M25 and is Kent’s first tourist destination from London, so there are many residents working in London.
Just down the hills to the north, the local countryside is dotted with pretty villages such as Otford and Shoreham, and the rich woodlands offer plenty of walking options.
But the main landmark is Knoll House, a National Trust property and one of England’s most revered mansions.
This is a marvelous 15th and 16th century gabled building in a 4 square kilometer open park with forest and deer grazing.
Considering its age, the house is large, with more than 300 rooms and seven courtyards.
There’s a lot to love about Deal’s waterfront, with its rows of whitewashed cottages and grander floorplan houses from the 17th and 18th centuries.
You can cut down the alleys with old gas lamps and find British seaside staples like potato chips and shops selling rock candy.
The town also has a military history, at Deer Castle, a 16th-century Tudor battery with 66 firing positions and a low profile, making it less of a target.
Further south, Walmer Castle has a similar outline and was built during the same period of the reign of Henry VIII. The pebble beach stretches for miles and stretches in front of the neighbouring towns of Walmer and Kingsdown, with a heath behind and wild fennel growing alongside the coastal path.
Whitstable is a characterful seaside town whose fishing creates an authentic feel.
The local specialty is oysters, which have been in local waters for 2,000 years.
The event took a few hits in the post-war years, but has bounced back and is honored at the Whitstable Oyster Festival every July.
Any visit should be a stroll around working fishing ports and markets and getting a table at one of the town’s top fish restaurants.
Pebble beaches are also on either side of the harbour, and that rare thing in old Neptune: a bar right on the beach.
An offbeat relic of Folkestone’s seaside glory days is the Leas Lift, a short funicular that transports you from the seafront to the cliff-top promenade at Leas, installed in 1885. It is a fixture of the town and is maintained by a local non-profit organization.
On a clear day, you can look out over France from the Leas Promenade, and the bottom area is the Lower Leas Coastal Park, including the beach with its colourful huts.
If you like Georgian and Victorian architecture, you’ll love the many whitewashed townhouses in Folkestone.
The Creative District is a quaint cobblestone street with over 100 artists, galleries, studios and independent shops and cafés.
If for no other reason, you should come to this village on the outskirts of Maidstone, for its views from the south bank of Medway, 14th-century bridges spanning the river, lined with tall brick houses and towers of St. Petersburg.
Peter and Paul Church.
On the street, you’ll pass a medieval workhouse and the beautiful George House, which used to be an inn for carriage travelers.
Aylesford Abbey, also known as the Friars, is unique in that it was bought back by the Carmelite Order in the 1940s, 400 years after the abbey was dissolved.
The peaceful venue is free and always open, and you can also enjoy tea and cake in the tea room 7 days a week.
Tenterden is a wealthy country town, part of the English countryside, with medieval churches, cosy side streets, old pubs and even a location on the Kent and East Sussex Steam Railway.
Nearby, you can visit a brewery or cider press, or even a working brewery.
In the village of Small Hythe, near Tenterden, is Smallhythe Place, a charming 15th or 16th century half-timbered house.
The property, now managed by the National Trust, has been the home of Victorian actor Ellen Terry for nearly 30 years.
It shows some of her possessions, such as a letter from Oscar Wilde, a monocle belonging to Sir Arthur Sullivan and stage costumes from her career.
In the heart of the county, people come to Ashford to shop from surrounding villages and towns.
The Ashford Designer Outlet is probably the most famous destination here, where luxury fashion brands are on sale.
Ashford is also a hub between England and France, as it is the last stop of the Eurostar before crossing the Channel or terminating at St Pancras in London.
Minutes from Ashford, you are in the magnificent Goddington House, a stately gabled Jacobean residence set in gardens and housing a precious collection of china.
For walks, Kent Downs is just north of Ashford and you can easily access long distance paths like the Stour Valley Trail and North Downs Road.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Kent, England
Lowest Price Guarantee