Kent for families: Explore England's garden
Kent is the garden of England. It is also the playground of spies, novelists, artists, war heroes and beachcombers. Its dramatic mix of scenery is thrilling too, with castles, cliffs, deserts, forests, beaches and heaths. Kent has iconic tourist spots and places where you won’t see a soul, winding back lanes where you stumble on the juiciest cherries for sale and the best fish and chips. We’ve been to Kent so many times, yet never tire. It keeps on giving.
The White Cliffs
These cliffs may be Kent’s most obvious landmark, but your angle to explore with kids doesn't have to be. This is where James flew the Giant Peach in Dahl’s children’s classic. Teenagers might like to check out Visit Kent’s James Bond Tour which takes in Ian Fleming’s favourite haunts, including his holiday home White Cliffs in St Margaret’s Bay and film locations. Back in Dover Harbour, my primary age kids loved the boat tour of the white cliffs, especially when they got to wear the captain’s hat and steer the boa
With an amazing collection of boats, tanks, trains and boat-building history within 80 acres, there’s something for kids young and old. Chatham dockyard has been used as a set for The Golden Compass, Les Miserables, Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. The lifeboats and submarines fascinated my kids the most and they also loved graduating from the Sailor’s Academy onboard a Victorian sloop.
Stunning castle with awesome sea views and plenty of hands-on inspiration for children. My two loved the kitchens. Climb up to the tower or take photos on the throne. Older children might dare to experience the sounds, smells and atmosphere of the underground Second World War hospital and operating theatre
Here, old world charm meets 21st-century culture, from Turner Contemporary to Dreamland, Britain's oldest theme park -- which is a new and improved version of its former glory with rides, circus, adventure play and a retro roller disco. Dreamland serves modern seaside food: fish and chips, Italian gelato, and hot dogs. ‘My little green box’ provides veggie, vegan and gluten-free food.
Wind your way through weeping willows, across bridges, around duck ponds, rivers and lakes to Kent’s ‘loveliest castle’. The gardens, castle, maze and playground present plenty of opportunity to burn off steam. The Maze Café & Grill offers family fare, such as burger sliders and corn dogs, sandwiches and locally made ice cream. There are kiosks with coffee, sandwiches and fish and chips for on-the-go eats.
Visit the National Pinetum, one of the world's finest conifer collections, perfect for family walks and picnics. There’s family bike riding and adventure play for all ages. Older kids will love Go Ape, orienteering, table tennis or summer archery, while younger ones can enjoy the Stick Man Trail or Gruffalo Orienteering. Visit early or late in the day to get even more of the forest to yourselves.
My secret find, a holiday cottage on the edge of this stunning heath led to many happy days pretending to be Bear Grylls in the wilderness. This important reserve contains Kent's last four valley bogs and one of its few remaining fragments of open heath. With longhorned cattle, roaming ponies to spot, ponds and bogs to poke in, forest to hide in, and trees to climb, it’s a wonderful and almost deserted playground.
Dungeness beach is Britain’s only desert, one of the largest areas of shingle in Europe. A remote fishing community, it’s a paradise for beachcombers, artists and…my kids, who love hunting treasure, watching hares fly across the shingle and puzzling over long forgotten fishing boats and sheds. The chips in The Pilot are reported to be amazing, I like the ‘pub at the end of the world’ atmosphere of The Britannia, and children are welcome at both. Greatstone Beach down the road is a sandy and popular beach when you are ready to re-emerge into civilisation.
Botany Bay will take your breath away and might yield a fossil or two. Hythe is great for clambering on the rocky groynes and the chips at Park Road Fish Bar come with our seal of approval. Whitstable is an arty fishing town bursting with charm. After pottering in the gift shops, my kids had an amazing time retrieving crab shells, pincers and fish bones while the tide was out. Deal is rumoured to be pretty cool too.
One for transport-mad toddlers and bigger kids as well as grown-ups who are desperate to drive diggers! The attraction features rides, vehicles and diggers —ones you can drive unassisted, ones you can drive with a supervisor and ones locked in place that are set up to play games. The digger fun truly is endless! Locally, Rochester has a riverboat ride and castle too.
There's so much to explore in Kent with your family. Where will you visit first?