Since having a baby, I have become one of the least adventurous people in the world. I blame it on a nightmarish holiday early on in my daughter’s life when I considered bolting every single day. The train station called out to me insistently – I was desperate to get home even if it meant leaving my baby and other half behind.
That long, tortuous week put me off traveling entirely. It taught me there’s no holiday from being a mum – and, for me anyway, it’s a whole lot easier to entertain your kid at home where there are so many things to do and so many places to go.
So having JUST BEEN AWAY FOR THE WEEKEND, I thought I should at least write a post about it – because it was actually totally bearable. I even caught myself enjoying a few moments.
We went to Margate because it met my strict criteria of:
- Being close
- Being by the sea
- Having toddler-friendly things to do
Believe it or not, you can get to Margate in just over an hour from Stratford International (1 hr 18 mins), so it’s also totally do-able as a day trip.
One of the reasons I wanted to go was to visit Dreamland, the newly re-opened retro theme park (I hate theme parks, but I thought this one – redesigned by Wayne Hemingway and family – was worth a look). There was one small flaw in my plan. I forgot to check if it was actually open at the time of my visit.
It wasn’t. It opens at Easter properly.
But Dreamland’s Toddler indoor soft play, the Octopus’s Garden, is open year-round, so we went there.
Coincidentally, two friends and their three-year-old were visiting Margate also, so I can report that both toddlers had a great time. The Octopus’s Garden has slides like you’d expect, but there’s also much more. There are sandpits, mini beach houses, a pretend kitchen and shops to potter around in. And there’s a (real) cafe you can sit and watch from.
There’s plenty of other things to do in Margate though – starting with the beach.
Margate is located around a large bay. At low tide, there’s a massive expanse of sandy beach to play on. At high tide, the sea comes lapping up to steps that link the town with the sea.
At the edge of the bay is the Turner Contemporary Gallery, which has free admission. There’s a room with huge windows looking out onto the sea where children and families are encourage to draw.
I’d visited the Shell grotto before so we didn’t go again – although I was tempted to go back to the shop which sells irresistible polished shells.
There are delicious ice creams on sale at Melt, part of the Sands Hotel on the front.
Of slightly less interest to toddlers are the many amazing vintage clothing and furniture shops (but if they’ve got an ice-cream – you get to see some shops, yeah?) in the old town.
There are also loads of great places to eat (the list on Trip Advisor is pretty good.).
What made the biggest difference for me, though, was staying in a holiday rental that was genuinely well-equipped for toddlers. As I discovered when I flicked through their information booklet, the owners have two young children themselves and you could tell. There was a thing to stop my toddler falling out of bed (she normally sleeps in a cot), there was a high chair, plastic cups and plates, even some toys (and someone else’s toys are always better than your own).
We’ll definitely be going back to Margate – this time when Dreamland is actually open. If you’re thinking about a visit, there’s some more info below. It’s worth mentioning that Margate is described as ‘edgy’ – it combines being one of the UK’s poorest towns with being recently on the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet’s top places to visit (and they’ve got the whole world to choose from!).
If you live in east London, I’m not sure if some boarded up houses are going to bother you too much, but Margate isn’t Brighton – yet. It’s a bit rough around the edges. You can always stay in nearby Whitstable or Broadstairs if you prefer and leave Margate for me.
A nice day for a toddler in Margate
Potter on the beach at low tide with a bucket and spade. Visit the swings and bouncy castle on the front.
Lunch – Forts Cafe has a children’s menu and you’ll be handily placed for the Pirate Ship playground on Ethelbert Terrace. (Don’t fill up on ice-cream yet).
Allow grown ups a wander round the vintage shops in Margate old town. Visit Melt at the Sands hotel for an ice cream if bribery is required.
Or spend the afternoon at the Octopus’s Garden soft play at Dreamland. Or the whole theme park when it’s open!
If you’re there for the weekend, visit:
- The Turner Contemporary
- The Shell Grotto
- Nearby Quex Park, which has an amazing selection of stuffed animals, plus tons of other things to do.
- If the weather’s nice, walk the coastal path towards Broadstairs, stopping at some beaches on the way.
We stayed at the Old Barrel Store.