From eating street food on the Harbour Arm, and shopping in the Creative Quarter, to relaxing on the beach and visiting the Battle of Britain Memorial, these are the best things to do in Folkestone.
Kent is a county that’s made for day trips and experiences! Being such an easy area to reach from London, I’ve found myself in England’s so-called ‘Garden of England’ more and more over the years. Whether it’s an oyster-filled trip to Whitstable, a refreshing swim in the sea in Herne Bay, a beautiful stroll through the Kent Downs or a historic tour of Canterbury or Rochester, Kent offers so much.
It was only a matter of time before others gave it the recognition it deserved. So, I was over the moon to hear that Lonely Planet had named Kent’s Heritage Coast in its Best In Travel 2022. In fact, it was the only UK destination to make the list!
Kent’s Heritage Coast stretches from the beaches north of Dover around to the beaches south of Folkestone. It also includes a part of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. So, what makes this region worthy of such a prestigious accolade?
A lot actually! There are the amazing chalk cliffs around Dover and Folkestone, lots of historic landmarks including Dover Castle and the Battle of Britain Memorial, plus some pretty trendy spots too, such as Folkestone’s Harbour Arm and Creative Quarter.
It was this area I was particularly excited to dive straight into. I wanted to find out all about Folkestone – a town that’s definitely on the rise. I’ve visited around 5 years ago, and while there was a thriving independent art scene in the Creative Quarter, it felt like the rest of the town was waiting for its moment to shine.
It turns out things have changed a lot! There’s so much to recommend in Folkestone, I couldn’t wait to pop this guide together of everything I found. So, whether you’re looking for a couple of great places to eat and drink, or you’re planning a whole day out in Folkestone, this guide will definitely come in handy.
Where is Folkestone?
Folkestone is located in Kent in the south-east of England, and overlooks the English Channel. It’s around 20-minutes’ drive from Dover and Ashford. The train from London King’s Cross St Pancras to Folkestone Central Station takes just 55 minutes, making it a really great day trip from London.
14 Best Things To Do In Folkestone
Visit the Harbour Arm
The Harbour Arm has been in development since 2014, and it’s now a vibrant and fun place to spend an afternoon. Running along the old harbour wall you’ll find a wide promenade with amazing views and a huge variety of independent food and drink sellers.
And when I say variety, I mean it! You’ll be able to feast on everything from Argentine steak sandwiches, to Pad Thai, pizza, tacos, bratwurst and gyros! Many of the eateries are located inside the black sheds that make up The Goods Yard, along with a handful in shipping containers, buses and old train carriages.
As you walk towards the lighthouse at the end (more on that coming up!) you’ll also spot Folkestone Marketplace with its quirky selection of shops. The Harbour Arm is a destination in itself!
We sampled several of the food options on the Harbour Arm. I’d recommend the tacos at the Taco Shed, the mussels at Go Dutch and the coffee at Harbour Coffee Co. Other places that stood out were Docker Taproom which sells fresh bread during the week and converts to a taproom at weekends. Also, Dr Legumes for its interesting plant-based menu and The Dessert Folkes for ice creams and bubble waffles.
To be honest, I’m not sure there’s a bad meal to be had here – the businesses are all of high quality and there’s a really fun range of cuisines on offer.
Check out the artworks in Folkestone
Did you know Folkestone is home to the UK’s largest urban outdoor exhibition of contemporary art? Right now, there are over 70 pieces by 40 artists, scattered all over the town. You’ll spot many of them as you wander around, but if you want to plan your very own art tour, you can check out the map here.
I’d recommend visiting the statue of a man by Antony Gormley, tucked under the Harbour Arm, the lighthouse which features text by Ian Hamilton Finlay, Cornelia Parker’s Folkestone Mermaid which is located by Sunny Sands Beach and the brightly coloured ‘holiday homes’ by Richard Woods which are within Folkestone Harbour itself.
Go to Sunny Sands beach
One of my favourite things about Folkestone is the proximity from the buzzy town to a really great sandy beach. The town has everything you need for a proper seaside holiday.
Kids will love playing on the sand and splashing in the water here. I visited in the middle of summer when temperatures were around 24 degrees. It was lovely to see so many people enjoying the beach.
Visit the Battle of Britain Memorial
Under ten minutes by car from Folkestone town centre is the Battle of Britain Memorial. It’s right up on the cliffs in a gorgeously serene location, looking out across the English Channel towards France.
I wasn’t a history buff at school, but as I’ve got older I’ve loved opportunities like this to really get to grips with our past. This battle, which took place in the skies in 1940, was seen as the first major defeat of the war for Hitler and a huge turning point in WWII.
The memorial itself includes a statue by Harry Gray, showing a man looking out to sea. He strikes a poignant pose, and bears no information on rank or role. He represents every person who played their role in winning the battle.
Outside you’ll also find a replica Spitfire and Hurricane, as well as a life-sized silver Stuka sculpture, with its nose planted into the ground.
Inside the main Battle of Britain Museum area (known as ‘The Wing’) you’ll find the ‘Scramble Experience’. This really brings the events of 1940 to life, through videos with veterans, artefacts and interactive exhibits. Particularly enjoyable was the Spitfire simulator, which gives you an idea of how challenging it would have been to fly during the Battle of Britain.
The Cockpit Café is located upstairs, offering beautiful views over the grounds. Plus, there’s a gift shop selling books and gifts.
Whether you’re interested in learning about World War II, or simply looking for a peaceful place to explore on Kent’s Heritage Coast, I’d definitely recommend visiting. Find out more about planning a trip to the Battle of Britain Memorial.
Play crazy golf at Putters
What better way to enjoy a great British holiday destination than with a round of crazy golf?! You’ll fine brand-new 12-hole adventure golf course Putters right on the beach next to the Harbour Arm. The course itself is varied and fun, with iconic seaside landmarks such as boats and palm trees lining the course!
Macca and I love playing crazy golf and we found this one of our closest games yet! Macca beat me by one point on the very last hole!
There’s also a café at Putters so you can relax with a drink or a snack after, and perhaps even celebrate your victory!
Go for coffee at Steep Street Coffee House
Folkestone is a town for coffee lovers! There are several lovely spots for a flat white or a double espresso, but one of my favourites is Steep Street Coffee House on the Old High Street. First and foremost, it’s a cute café serving excellent coffee, delicious cakes and a range of savoury and sweet items.
Secondly, it’s a bookworm’s paradise! This café is decked from floor to ceiling with books on a variety of different topics. It creates a welcoming and cosy feel, but also means you can grab a book and get lost in the pages of something as you sip your cuppa.
Explore the shops of the Creative Quarter
I have happy memories of exploring Folkestone’s Creative Quarter on my first trip a few years ago. Centred around one colourful street that’s dotted with independent stores, artist’s workshops, gift stores, boutiques and restaurants, it’s the vibrant heart of the town.
It’d be impossible to list all of my favourite shops, but I really enjoyed looking around East Cliff Creatives. This store (which also has a branch on the Harbour Arm) sells handmade items by a range of local artists and jewellers. I also loved Kitty McCall’s colourful homewares and stylish children’s store Moo Like A Monkey.
Visit Folkestone Art Gallery
Two floors of contemporary artworks line the walls at the brand-new Folkestone Art Gallery. Launched by Robert Buchanan (an extremely talented young artist who specialises in wildlife drawings), this light and airy space is a great place to look around.
There was a broad variety of works on show when we stopped by, including large oil paintings, graphic design, typography and sculptures. The upstairs floor is particularly inviting, with its selection of homewares, plants and gifts.
Sip a glass of champagne at The Lighthouse Champagne Bar
I’ve mentioned a few of my favourite independent businesses on Folkestone’s Harbour Arm, but I felt this one deserved its own special spot on the list!
This unique bar is housed inside a working lighthouse. With seating overlooking the water, vintage tunes playing on the speakers and a classy menu of champagnes and English sparkling wines, this is such a gorgeous spot. There’s also a range of coffees, soft drinks and snacks available too.
Plus, keep an eye on the bar’s Instagram as they occasionally host jazz and oyster evenings! When the sun is shining, going for a drink at The Lighthouse Champagne Bar is definitely one of the top things to do in Folkestone!
Feast on pizza at Lubens
Are you a pizza lover? I definitely am so I was really excited to try the wood-fired pizza at Lubens in Folkestone! We visited on a Tuesday night and it was really busy. It’s one of the most popular restaurants in Folkestone.
Lubens specialises in hand-stretched sourdough pizzas, with a deliciously thin base. Choose between a Neopolitan style with a thicker base and fatter crusts, or go thinner with a Romana – they’re both great options! There are lots of tasty toppings to choose from, plus a range of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options.
Stay at The View Hotel
Fancy spending a weekend in Folkestone? There are some stylish places to stay both in both the old and new towns. We stayed at The View Hotel which is located on Folkestone’s clifftop promenade, The Leas, moments from popular venue Leas Cliff Hall.
The View Hotel offers large rooms, many of which have gorgeous bay windows and sea views. The Cliffe Lounge Bar & Kitchen serves meals throughout the day, so you can enjoy the sea views all day long!
From this hotel it’s a short walk into the old town, or you can drive to the harbour area in under five minutes. Alternatively, you can explore the Lower Leas Coastal Park close by, where you’ll find lots of walking and cycling trails.
Enjoy the views over the cliffs
You can’t visit Kent’s Heritage Coast and not take in the spectacular views from the cliffs! With their sheer chalk drops, the areas around Dover and Folkestone are just stunning.
If you’re looking for a beautiful walking route, head off along the cliffs to Folkestone East Cliff and Warren Country Park, past Samphire Hoe, all the way through Dover towards St Margaret’s Bay. Unless you have a whole day, you might just want to pick one section along this route.
These sea views and dramatic landscapes are one of the reasons Lonely Planet felt this region of the United Kingdom was worthy of the Best in Travel title in 2022!
See the Leas Lift
Folkestone was a popular holiday destination in the 19th century. Holidaymakers would visit from around England to enjoy the town’s promenade and beach. The historic Folkestone Leas Lift still remains in place. This is a grade II listed funicular railway which used to take passengers back and forth from the promenade to the seafront.
It’s an amazing icon of Folkestone to see. It’s not currently working, but there are hopes it’ll be restored as a living museum at some point!
Follow Folkestone’s Zig Zag Walk
If you visit The Leas, there’s a walk you simply have to do! Follow the scenic Zig Zag path between Leas Cliff Hall and the old bandstand. It takes you down to the seafront as well as Lower Leas Coastal Park. There are some interesting caves on the way down too!
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing all about the best things to do in Folkestone. There’s so much to see and do, it was hard to choose what to include!
You can find out more about travelling to this region on the Visit Kent website.
If you’re looking for other great destinations in Kent, don’t miss my guides to these places: