A colourful day in Folkestone, Kent

In Counties, Days Out, Kent, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travelby JanisLeave a Comment

The diamond in the rough has regained its sparkle

It had been years since I’d last visited Folkestone, and my mum kept saying to me that I should return, as Folkestone was turning the corner of rejuvenation.

An art installation spelling out Folkestone on brightly coloured tiles on the wall of the harbour arm.

FOLKESTONE by Patrick Tuttofuoco

I must be honest with you, my hopes still weren’t too high, as from memory it needed more than a just a lick of paint.

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How to get to Folkestone

You can catch a High-Speed direct train from London St Pancras International to Folkestone Central Station, which takes around 55 minutes.

But I thought I’m going to give the coastal town of Folkestone the benefit of my doubt, and I was hoping to be proved wrong.

A collection of small fishing boats in Folkestone harbour in front of The Strade, a parade of pubs & homes along the harbour edge.  Behind that, on the hill, is St Peter's Church.

Folkestone Harbour

And to my astonishment I was, I kept saying to Gary this is incredible, why had we not visited sooner, as Folkestone is only around 40 minutes by car from where we live.

Stand up and be heard

Folkestone, like many port towns, has seen a decline in its industry over the past years, and with that comes a lack of money. However, no longer is Folkestone succumbing to this stereotype, its townsfolk have decided to do something about it.

A quaint scene of a block of Georgian three-storey terraced homes, each individually painted in a pastel shade.

Pastel coloured homes around The Bayle

Further reading

If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".

You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.


Our favourite travel reads

Ancient history

Folkestone has played a significant role in our maritime history over the years. In 1155 a Royal Charter was established, and Folkestone became part of the Cinque Ports, by being a Limb of Dover.

A view from The Leas to the pebble beach below where 6 large red poppies are marked on with painted stones to remember the departure point of soldiers during world war one.

Poppies from the clifftop

Then during the first and second World Wars, these coastlines were used by a large number of our troops to head into the unknown across the English Channel.

Two Great Dames

From the clifftops, along the Leas lie some beautiful majestic buildings. During the late 19th and early 20th century’s two elegant hotels were built next to each other The Grand and The Metropole.

The Grand Hotel, a large red-brick hotel, built in the late Victorian period.

The Grand Hotel

These two hotels continued to vie for the attention of the stylish and the rich, with The Grand perhaps becoming the victor. As regular guests were King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra, and the King’s mistress Mrs Alice Keppel.
 
It was within the walls of The Grand hotel that Agatha Christie wrote 'Murder on the Orient Express' in 1933.

The Metropole Hotel, another late Victorian period hotel of red & sand brick.

The former Metropole Hotel

The Metropole also hosted many notable guests and was the last resting place for many British Officers before heading into war. One of which was the World War I poet Wilfred Owen, who wrote to his mother from here prior to heading off into battle.

Upper and Lower Leas

We actually started our day at Folkestone from the clifftops. Strolling along the picturesque promenade overlooking the sea. All along were beautifully laid out colourful flowerbeds, grand homes and a spectacular view across the bay. We could even see France.

A blue fixed telescope overlooking the English change towards France as blue skies start to appear on an otherwise cloudy day.

Is that France ahead?

Along the top here is also Folkestone’s Victorian Bandstand, which during the summer months hosts local bands, to entertain the residents on a Sunday.

An ornate Victorian bandstand with aqua coloured pillars supporting its grey roof on the Leas promenade.

The Victorian Bandstand

From the clifftops we head down the Zig Zag Path to the seafront. Once again, I’m taken aback at how pleasant it was and how well it has been managed and the thoughtful planting.
 
The path was originally laid out in 1921; however, regeneration projects during the early 2000s have seen the whole coastal path brought back to life for all the family to enjoy.

A tarmac path heading down through a man-made rocky landscape that leads towards the beach.

The start of the Zig Zag Path

Further down the now tree-lined path, the faux rockface on the right with lower evergreen beds on the left.

Winding through the Zig Zag Path

The Zig Zag Path winds its way leisurely down the Leas cliff, passing under arches and through little caves and grottos.
 
At the bottom, we continue along the lower coastal path towards the harbour. Some of the plantings almost feel tropical, rugged palm trees, soft grasses blowing in the breeze and delicate, vibrant flowers.

The Lower Coastal Walk, a tree-lined path with neatly kept flower beds full of decorative grasses and purple-headed fowers.

Tranquil stroll along the Lower Coastal Walk

Another view along the Lower Coastal Walk across a shingle bed of decorative grasses.

Grasses along Lower Coastal Walk

Tempted to?

Discover more of the Great British Isles, why not jump in a car and tour the country at your own pace. You can do it all on a road trip, SIXT car hire cover all budgets and allow you to pick up and drop off at different destinations.

Leas Lift

Leas Lift is actually a funicular railway and was installed in 1885, to transport passengers from the seafront to the promenade above.

Certainly, in need of some TLC, the lift has been closed since 2009 but is currently under restoration. It’s due to reopen in 2020.

The Leas Lift, a victorian ventricular railway that carried visitors from the Leas high above the beach down to see level.  The entrance at the base is now boarded up while they try to raise funds to bring the lift up to modern standards.

Leas Lift

Head to the beach

Now, don’t get your hopes up here, Folkestone’ beach isn’t actually awash with golden granules, what it lacks in sand, it makes up for in pebbles.
 
But, that’s the appeal, take a stroll along the wooden boardwalk and enjoy the gentle breeze brush past you from the shores of the English Channel.

A path about 2 meters wide, constructed of wooden boards, across Folkestone's shingle beach.

The Boardwalk

Ok, so I lied there is a sandy beach around the bay, head to the other side of the harbour to ‘Sunny Sands”.
 
What also appealed to me about Folkestone’s seafront was the lack of amusement arcades. Now I don’t want to sound old here; however, they are not usually the most attractive of buildings to look at.

Marine Crescent, and Edwardian apartment block four-storeys high, painted in a cream colour with a grey slate roof, in front of the shingle beach.

Marine Crescent

Something to make your travels easier?

Did someone say a beach?

If it’s a sandy beach you’re looking for then head to Margate in Kent. This another coastal town on the up and is home to the Turner Contemporary gallery.

Folkestone Artwork

Now, what I have omitted to mention up until now is the urban art exhibition that is on display through the whole town.

Holiday Home – By Richard Woods; An orange bungalow art installation with a purple door sitting on a plinth at the edge of the harbour car park overlooking the sea.

Holiday Home – By Richard Woods

It is the UK’s largest urban contemporary art exhibition and is accessible 24 hours a day and 365 days of the year.

The Folkestone Mermaid by Cornelia Parker, perched on a rock overlooking the sea.

The Folkestone Mermaid by Cornelia Parker

Dotted all around town in places you’d least expect it, are quirky pieces of art. Currently, there are 74 artworks to be found, by 46 artists. You can download the maps and routes here and head off and search out your favourites for yourself.

Jelly Mould Pavilion – By Lubaina Himid.  A small seating pavilion on Folkestone's beach topped with an egg-shaped roof said to resemble a victorian jelly mould.

Jelly Mould Pavilion – By Lubaina Himid

Looking from behind the Antony Gormley installation "Another Time XVIII” in the harbour arm onto the water and the white cliffs.

Another Time XVIII” by Antony Gormley

On display are pieces from artists such as Cornelia Parker, Tracey Emin, Yoko Ono and the one that I was most excited to see was “Another Time XVIII” by Antony Gormley.

Timing is everything

One thing I would add regarding the Antony Gormley piece is that it is under the Harbour Arm. So, it is tide dependent, and if the tide is high (queue for a Blondie song here), you won’t be able to access it.

Harbour Railway Station

Another fantastic part of Folkestone’s regeneration is the old Harbour Railway Station and viaduct.
 
Completely restored back to its 1950’s glory days, the canopies and cast-iron pillars have been given a new lease of life. Along with the traditional platform lighting and bilingual station signs.

The old Folkestone Harbour station, signal box and Customs House.  Freshly pained and repurposed as an entrance to the Harbour Arm with bars and restaurants.  The centre of the tracks has now been replanted with a garden, but many of the original features remain.

Folkestone old Harbour station

The Customs House has also been renovated, and the old signal box is now a quaint café. It is such an incredible use of resources and adds so much character to the harbour.

Looking back from the old Folkestone Harbour station to the signal box which is now a café.

Café in the old signal box

The other special touch is the pedestrian walkway across the harbour viaduct, which would once have had locomotives passing across.

Boats in the harbour in front of the Harbour viaduct, and the green swing bridge leading to the old Folkestone Harbour Station.

Harbour viaduct

This open space is now free for everyone to use and enjoy, take a stroll along the platforms passing more unique artwork,s and you’ll seamlessly wander onto the Harbour Arm.

The art installation Rug People – by Paloma Varga Weisz in the old Harbour Railway Station.  The five heads represent the different emotions of people using the station.  Some departing for war, others in luxury on the Orient Express and some arriving in the country for the first time.

Rug People – by Paloma Varga Weisz

A look down the platform to the exit sign on the Folkestone Harbour station in both English & French.

Catch up on your French

Visit more of Kent’s coastal towns?

There are so many lovely historic towns and along the Kentish coast. Take a peek at others we’ve visited, Hythe, Deal and Sandwich.

Harbour Arm

As ferries gradually ceased to run from Folkestone and the fishing industry has been slowly declining, so has the bustling life around the harbour. So, what better way to revive it than make it a social part of the town.

A blue brick building with a bright orange arrow and labelled Harbour Arm,

Harbour Arm

Stroll along the harbour arm towards the lighthouse and all the way you’ll find eateries serving food from all around the world, pop up bars and live music at the weekends.

Folkestone Lighthouse, now a bar with tables & chairs outside decorated with bunting.  The lighthouse is also adorned with the Creative Artworks Folkestone flag and the inscription "Weather is a third to Place and Time."

Folkestone Lighthouse

Take a wander along the top and watch the local fishermen trying to land their ‘catch of the day’. You’ll also get wonderful views around the bay stretching for miles.

A cream coloured 1930's Bedford horsebox truck converted to a takeout bar & restaurant.

Horsebox turned eatery

The Folkestone Harbour Company should be proud of what they have achieved here, it really is an asset to the town.

Around the harbour

Gary and I headed back across the viaduct with boats bobbing up and down below us. To discover the other side of the harbour.

A view of with boats in Folkestone Harbour with a pink version of Holiday Home – By Richard Woods in the centre.

Holiday Home – By Richard Woods in Folkestone Harbour

Here so many stories could be told along the cobbled streets and another side to Folkestone’s renewed charm.

The Mariner pub sign depicting two sailors seated by the edge of the harbour in conversation.

The Mariner pub

The Ship Inn pub sign with a painted 17th-century warship on the ocean wave.

The Ship Inn

There are old pubs, seafood stalls and a quaint little museum dedicated to Folkestone’s Fishing Heritage, which is free of charge to visit.

Outside the Folkestone’s Fishing Heritage and History Museum looking in.

Folkestone’s Fishing Heritage and History Museum

A little more history

Just along the coast from Folkestone is the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne. It’s free to enter and very touching and poignant to see.

The Creative Quarter

For vivid colours and relaxed vibes, I think Folkestone could give Camden a run for its money. The Old High Street and the Bayle area are a must to visit. As the narrow, cobbled lane winds its way up through the town, there is so much going on.

The brightly covered mural Folkestone Lightbulb – by Michael Craig-Martin at the bottom of The Old High Street.

Folkestone Lightbulb – by Michael Craig-Martin

The Old High Street in Folkestone lined with brightly coloured, quirky shops and boutiques.

The Old High Street

Passing by boutiques, galleries, cafés, antique shops, cake makers and tattooists, Folkestone’s Old High Street appears to have it all.
 
Although the shops have a modern twist below, take a lookup as the architecture from years gone by is still there to be seen. It’s lovely to see the old and contemporary blending so well together.

The top of the narrow cobbled Old High Street with more brightly coloured unique shops.

Narrow lane through Folkstone’s town

A gallery at the top of the Old High Street in a former household store.

A blend of the old and new

Beautiful ceramic tiles and old shop façades, it brings so much character and charm.

The Bayle area

This little area of Folkestone is full of so much history, old pubs dating back to the 1500s. Shops still displaying their trading past and picturesque pastel-coloured homes so immaculately kept.

The British Lion Pub in the historic Bayle area of Folkestone.  Once reputed to be a haunt of Charles Dickens.

British Lion Pub

It was just near here at the Albion Villas that Charles Dickens lived in 1855 and where he penned part of his novel Little Dorrit. He was also believed to have frequented The British Lion from time to time.

A red brick three-storey building with a deep blue frontage, and blue window frames, that now houses a stained glass window shop.

Stained Glass Window shop

A blue plaque issued by the Dickens Fellowship on a residence in Folkestone.  The plaque reads "Charles Dickens lived here in 1855 writing part of Little Dorrit in this house".

Blue plaque to Charles Dickens

Where to eat?

There are so many restaurants, cafés, quaint old pubs and fish bars to choose from, you’re spoilt for choice. There’s Chummy’s seafood stall and also Bob’s, the Rocksalt restaurant that overlooks the harbour.

Bob’s Seafood stall overlooking the harbour under a deep blue sky.

Bob’s Seafood

However, for us, if we are at the seaside, then it has to be fish and chips, with lashings of salt and vinegar.

The pavement fountain in front of Chummy’s Seafood stall at the edge of Folkestone's harbour

Chummy’s Seafood

We chose to eat at the Smokehouse along the harbour. On this occasion sat inside, as the fear of being nosedived by the looming seagulls was looking inevitable.

A portion of cod in crispy batter sitting on a bed of crispy garlic fries from the Smokehouse served in white cardboard packaging.

Fish & Chips from the Smokehouse

Final say;

Of course, there are the usual shops you'd find in any busy residential town; however, I feel that Folkestone townsfolk can be proud of their rejuvenated port town. It was a pleasure visiting, and I will be returning.

Something for the Traveller

Inspired to visit Folkestone?

Enjoy an overnight stay in the re-energised historical town of Folkestone, you won’t be disappointed.

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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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