From paddle boarding and shopping, to quirky galleries and delicious food and drink, these are the best things to do in Herne Bay in Kent.
As I walked along the promenade in Herne Bay, my eyes feasting on the pastel shades of the beach huts to my left and my ears reaping the benefits of hearing the soft waves dancing over the pebbles, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have a town like this so close to London.
Herne Bay is a compact and charming British seaside town with a classic tick list of attractions. There’s a traditional pier complete with amusements for kids, a long row of colourful beach huts, an old bandstand previously used for military band concerts and tea dances, a pretty clock tower and a plethora of fish and chip shops and ice cream parlours.
It’s ideal for families looking for a safe place for kids to frolic on the beach, and it’s within easy reach of London for anyone looking for a convenient escape from the city. It’s also a creative town, with a passion for art, culture and music.
As someone who lives in a city, I find there are so many benefits from days by the water. There’s a mindfulness just from seeing the vast ocean… that ethereal feeling of being a small fish in a big pond. I find these moments put my worries and anxieties into perspective! I incorporated some water activities into my day in Herne Bay, and definitely felt the benefits as I headed back to London again.
So, if you’re thinking of visiting or are simply wondering what there is to do, here’s my guide to the best things to do in Herne Bay in Kent.
How to get to Herne Bay
Herne Bay is located in Kent, 60 miles southeast of London. The town is easily accessible by car or train.
Southeastern run direct services every hour from London Victoria and London St Pancras to Herne Bay. The direct train takes just over 1 hour 20 minutes. From the station it’s an easy 20-minute walk to the seafront. I chose to travel by train as it’s so convenient from London.
If you’re driving, the easiest routes are via the M2 or M20. The drive from London to Herne Bay takes just under two hours.
Top Things To Do In Herne Bay
If you’re planning a seaside day trip there are plenty of options. From long walks along the seafront and adventurous water activities, to shopping, eating and drinking, there are plenty of amazing things to do in Herne Bay.
Stand up paddle boarding with Herne Bay Paddle Co
If you fancy getting out on the water, and perhaps trying a new activity too, I’d definitely recommend learning to stand up paddle board with Herne Bay Paddle Co. I had a 1-2-1 class with owner Glenn, who was patient, helpful and good fun too!
I’ve been stand up paddle boarding lots of times before, but rarely on the sea. Learning to deal with waves, tides and a few gusts of wind made it more of a challenge, but no less enjoyable!
There’s something so relaxing and mindful once you’re out paddling on a board. As you look around you have uninterrupted views over the water, and can even enjoy a different perspective of the areas you’ve been walking around. I think a morning SUP session is one of the best things to do in Herne Bay.
The Herne Bay Paddle Co. offers SUP and kayak rental, plus a range of classes to teach beginners right up to the most advanced. Once you get your balance, you could book onto one of the guided SUP tours which go to the Reculver Towers, the Old Pier Head and Whitstable.
Ice cream at Scoops
Scoops in Herne Bay is THE place to go for ice cream and sweet treats! The main store is just across from the pier, while a second branch (Extra Scoops) has now opened inside King’s Hall.
Choosing what to order at Scoops is a tricky task! There are lots of tantalising ice cream flavours (including several plant-based ice cream options) as well as sundaes, crepes and waffles. You can go classic, or weigh your seaside treat down with extravagant toppings and sauces.
I spent the majority of my day in Herne Bay on my feet, so I felt like I could go as wild as I wanted to!
After a lot of indecision, I eventually ordered a scoop of mint choc chip (my usual favourite!) plus a scoop of salted caramel, Scoops’ best seller. I tucked into it down on the pebble beach, attempting to eat it quicker than the warm sun could melt it. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I was a bit of a sticky mess, with a stream of sticky minty caramel making its way down towards my elbow. All worth it though, and nothing a hand wash couldn’t fix!
Check out the colourful beach huts
You can’t help but smile when you see a row of pastel coloured beach huts. There’s a long row from Herne Bay Pier towards Hampton Pier. I ambled along, snapping photos of my favourites and of course deciding which one I’d want if I had one of my own! Some are available for hire by the day (have a Google and you’ll find them) so you can have a family day out with your very own beach hut experience.
As for buying one, when I spotted one for sale for £30,000 I thought my money might be better spent on something I could actually live in!
Feast on tasty Sri Lankan cuisine at Bay Leaf Coffee House
I wouldn’t say I have the highest expectations for food when I visit a traditional English beach town. Beyond fish and chips, donuts, candy floss and ice cream (which are all ideal choices on a British seaside day out!) there isn’t always a lot more going on. I was pleasantly surprised to discover Herne Bay has an excellent Sri Lankan café serving authentic and flavoursome dishes.
Bay Leaf Coffee House is a lively day time spot serving brunches, sweet treats and hot and cold drinks, as well as an enticing menu of Sri Lankan dishes. I couldn’t resist trying the Ceylon chicken curry which was full of flavour and spice, and served with rice, a coconut sambol and vegetable. I can’t describe how good this was! I’ve had Sri Lankan food a few times before in London, but I think this might be the best I’ve had so far.
The café is great for vegans and vegetarians, and it’s dog friendly too!
Unlock your arty side at Beach Creative
I was lucky enough to visit when there was a great exhibition by a selection of Fleet Street’s cartoonists and artists. I was chuckling my way around the topical exhibition which poked fun at politicians, the pandemic and more.
The exhibitions change regularly and it’s a lovely space to peruse. The café inside makes it a peaceful spot to recharge your batteries after exploring the town too.
Visit The Seaside Museum Herne Bay
The Seaside Museum was closed on the day of my visit, but it’s rated as one of the top things to do in Herne Bay. The Museum hosts a variety of exhibitions throughout the year, as well as work by local artists and photographers. There are activities for kids to take part in too, making it a fun addition to your seaside day trip.
Explore Herne Bay Pier
The pier you see today in Herne Bay is the third pier to stand on this site, and wow has it had an interesting history. I’d recommend reading up on it before you visit. In short though, the pier used to go 1,154 m out into the sea. In fact, you can still see the old pier head detached way out in the ocean. Parts of the pier were destroyed in WWII to prevent enemy landings.
In the 60s the sea froze, causing a lot of damage to the structure, and then it was battered by storms in the 1970s.
So, it’s almost a miracle that any of it is standing strong, but it is, and it’s everything you look for in a seaside pier experience! There are some kids’ attractions including a helter-skelter and lots of food and drink stands (including Beer on the Pier – what a great name!) On the day I visited families were gathered at the far end of the pier crabbing. It was cute to see the looks on the faces of the kids as they took a closer look at the crabs they’d caught.
Also on Herne Bay Pier is the retail village, a series of small independent stores housed inside beach huts. My favourite was Blossom – an Insta-worthy store with cute gifts and homewares.
Walk to the end of Neptune’s Arm
If the weather is nice and the sea calm, I’d recommend a little wander down Neptune’s Arm. This is the breakwater stretching out around the bay, almost touching Herne Bay Pier at the far end. You’ll get a lovely perspective not only of the town, but also of the pier as you reach the end. There’s even a little viewing platform.
It’s worth noting that this is known for being a treacherous spot if the weather is bad or the tide particularly high, so don’t take any risks.
Shop in Herne Bay
While the shopping scene in Herne Bay wouldn’t be my top reason to visit the town, it’s definitely got a few cute and quirky stores to mooch around between beach walks. My favourites were La De Da boutique and Heart and Soul Interiors, which sells a mix of womenswear, jewellery and homewares.
I also loved exploring The Emporium, a large shop that is a true treasure trove of antiques and collectibles. I spotted everything from rolls of 70s wallpaper, to collectible vintage car toys and an exercise bike from the 60s. You don’t need to be in shopping mode to appreciate this fascinating step back in time.
Reflexology with Head to Toe Holistic
If you’re looking for a way to relax and unwind on your trip to Herne Bay, how about trying reflexology? I had a session with Louise who runs Head to Toe Holistic Therapy. She specialises in hypnotherapy and reflexology and has created a wonderful sanctuary of a treatment room in her garden. She’s very open and friendly and put me at ease immediately.
I’d never had reflexology before. After Louise explained the concept of areas of the foot corresponding with areas of the body, I was invited to lie back and relax as she started the treatment. I don’t usually love having my feet touched, but this experience was incredibly relaxing. It’s not tickly or intimate, but does allow your mind to unwind and your muscles to relax.
Reflexology reduces stress and anxiety, as well as improving sleep and mood. I really enjoyed my first session and would definitely recommend visiting Louise.
Walk to Reculver Country Park along the Herne Bay Downs
I didn’t make it all the way Reculver Towers and Roman Fort on my trip as I ran out of time, but I did walk a big chunk of the route along the promenade from Herne Bay Pier. It’s a lovely walk to take as once you’ve got beyond The King’s Hall (a popular venue for live music and entertainment) you’ll have The Downs on your right and the sea on your left.
After being in the buzzy little seaside town, this felt like a real escape. It’s wilder and more rugged, with the steep slope of The Downs, covered in wildflowers and long grasses.
The walk from town to Reculver Towers takes around an hour. Once there you can see the imposing twin towers of the medieval church at Reculver, as well the ruins of an early Roman Fort.
Sunset swims in the sea
It’d been at least 15 years since I’d been swimming in the sea in England… in fact, maybe even longer! If you brave a dip on home shores you’re guaranteed cool temperatures and a bit of a shock to the system. It’s amazing how none of these things seem to matter when we’re kids running in and out of the water, splashing around for hours on end.
These days though it’s a battle of mind over matter. After my reflexology appointment, Louise (who swims in the sea pretty much every day and raves about the benefits both mentally and physically) accompanied me for a sunset swim. Do you know what, it was lovely! It helped that this was the summer, with warm daytime temperatures. The sun was shining as we edged into the water and a glittery golden hue was starting to appear in the distance.
It was easier than I expected too. I didn’t squeal or make a fuss, just walked in and then leaned forward to start swimming. I’d recommend some inexpensive water shoes like these as they help with walking on the pebbles, and you can swim in them too. Louise suggests staying in for a maximum of around 1 minute per degree of temperature, so we stayed in around 15 minutes. I came out feeling exhilarated and reenergised. It was also nice to have that sense of achievement too, of facing a fear and coming out on top!
Attend an event or festival in Herne Bay
Herne Bay is a town with a dedication to the arts and entertainment, which means there’s a great calendar of events and festivals throughout the year. When I visited, the town was preparing for the annual Herne Bay Swing and Jazz Festival.
The Herne Bay Cartoon Festival was also in full flow, with fun artworks dotted all over the pier. Definitely take a look online before your trip to see what might be happening.
Enjoy a legendary Herne Bay sunset
The position of this town means it gets some of the best sunsets in Kent. Just before I caught my train home I walked towards the pier and snapped a few photos of the beautiful golden light over the water and the clock tower. If you can stay until early evening, it’s 100% worth it!
Other places to explore near Herne Bay
If you’ve enjoyed finding out more about Herne Bay, you could consider spending a few days in Kent exploring what else the county has to offer. My top picks would be:
A day out in Whitstable – Eat oysters, check out the cute shops and explore the harbour
Visit Margate – Enjoy a fun day on the rides at Dreamland, enjoying the beach or get your art fix at the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery
Walk the Kent Downs – Explore the area around Wye on one of the best walks in the county
Take a leisurely trip from Canterbury to Dover – Explore vineyards, pretty trails, gardens and the historic city of Canterbury
Explore the historic city of Rochester – Visit the Castle, Cathedral and enjoy the quirky side of the city too
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