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Best Kent seaside towns ranked by Which? with Deal top and Herne Bay bottom


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A ranking of Kent's best seaside towns has proved controversial in all corners of the county.

Deal has come out on top in an annual survey by consumer magazine Which?, based on the experiences of thousands of holidaymakers.

Deal seafront during Party on the Prom 2018
Deal seafront during Party on the Prom 2018

But the study – which has seen Herne Bay named Kent's "worst" seaside spot, and left out notable destinations such as the Isle of Sheppey – has sparked outrage from some quarters, leaving locals and KentOnline journalists to share their own arguments in defence of their beloved towns...

Herne Bay

Residents and business owners have described Herne Bay's ranking as a "travesty".

Despite not scoring below three stars in any category and boasting the county's second-cheapest average hotel prices, it came bottom of the list in Kent and sixth-lowest out of 87 in the UK – with Skegness in Lincolnshire propping up the table.

Joe Walker, the editor of KentOnline’s sister paper, the Herne Bay Gazette, has lived in the town for 20 years.

Herne Bay seafront on Easter Saturday, 2020
Herne Bay seafront on Easter Saturday, 2020

“I’m not sure those who took part in the study have ever been to Herne Bay, if I’m honest,” he said.

“There's no way there are 81 seaside towns people would rather visit than ours, and the huge crowds that flock to the Bay every summer are testament to that.

“The beaches are packed whenever the sun comes out, the pier has been brought back to life in recent years and there’s no end of decent places to grab a bite to eat – both on the seafront and in the town."

Herne Bay was given three stars for its beaches and seafront/pier – the same score for those categories as neighbouring Whitstable.

“Comparing the two towns is like comparing apples and oranges – they both offer completely different things,” Joe says.

“But for me Herne Bay has the better seafront – it’s more of a traditional seaside town.

Mehmet Dari outside A La Turka in Herne Bay
Mehmet Dari outside A La Turka in Herne Bay

"You can buy an ice cream from Scoops, go crab-catching on the pier, spend countless hours – and pennies – at Cain's Amusements, and even enjoy 18 holes at Herne Bay Mini Golf.

"The town is definitely enjoying somewhat of a renaissance, and it’s only going to get better.

"Within the next few years we’ll see more restaurants opening, derelict buildings brought back to life, and even a large hotel built on the seafront, which is long overdue."

Leading the plans for the hotel is restaurateur Mehmet Dari, who owns the popular A La Turka restaurant on the seafront and The Grapevine in the High Street.

He is also in the process of opening a seafood and steakhouse at the foot of the pier, transforming an old fish restaurant.

Criticising Herne Bay's low ranking, Mr Dari said: "I don't believe this.

"They probably haven't discovered Herne Bay properly.

"Herne Bay's a beautiful place – we've got lovely sunsets here all the time.

"We are improving the town.

"Yes, a couple of shops are closed, but these shops all have plans for them.

Hassan Hassan at Captain Jack's in Central Parade, Herne Bay
Hassan Hassan at Captain Jack's in Central Parade, Herne Bay

"A La Turka is also heavily investing. I've been here 20 years, and I'm putting back into Herne Bay. Sometimes I post pictures and videos and people are like 'wow! where is this?'"

Also surprised by the town's low score is Hassan Hassan, who runs four businesses on the seafront – two Makcari's ice cream parlours, Captain Jack's cocktail bar and Vibe lounge and entertainment space.

"To me it comes as a bit of a shock," said Mr Hassan, who has been a businessman in the town for two decades.

"I don't believe it deserves to be ranked last.

"When you compare to other local seaside towns, Herne Bay's got lots of eating venues to choose from now, along the seafront and in town.

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"Herne Bay has a hell of a lot to offer. You've got historic places, you've got the pier and what they've done with it over the past few years, making it a real attraction.

"You've got the central bandstand, which Makcari's operates from.

"We've spent a hell of a lot of money post-Covid making the outside courtyard area nice and welcoming, with new tables and chairs and umbrellas, we put on entertainment when the the weather's nice.

"There's the promenade, the gardens – there is a lot to be done on Herne Bay seafront.

"We have a couple of derelict buildings but they've got planning permission. Every other unit is taken and operating, and the town is thriving when the sun's out."

Herne Bay seafront in June 2020
Herne Bay seafront in June 2020

Deal

Deal was the only location in Kent to score five-out-of-five for its seafront/pier, while also scooping an impressive four-out-of-five for its food and drink, shopping, peace and quiet, and value for money.

With a "destination score" of 74%, it came in 27th place nationally, beating popular destinations such as St Ives and Eastbourne, and coming first in Kent.

Pleased by the news is East Kent Mercury reporter Sam Lennon, who said: "From the time I arrived in Deal, I was charmed by this pleasant little town.

"I'm not surprised it has come out top in Kent – it has so much going for it and more and more people are realising it's a great place to live, work and visit.

Deal seafront in July 2014
Deal seafront in July 2014

"Among its greatest assets are its splendid promenade and long pier, where you can take bracing walks in the sea breeze. The beach and promenade are stunning and very flat, so easy for pushchairs, wheelchairs or dog walkers. And there are so many benches in memory of people from the town, which are nice to read and see.

"When you walk through the town you notice how many independent shops it has and this surely contributes to its unique character.

"The Astor Community Theatre in Stanhope Road is a great live entertainment venue, with a variety of music and comedy shows, as well as film screenings. I watched and reviewed Martha Reeves and the Vandellas when they played there in 2017 and I was able to enjoy a performance by Who Are You, a tribute act for one of my favourite bands, The Who

"Last year I was pleasantly surprised when director Danny Boyle used the town as one of the locations for his series about Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones.

"Two of my favourite comic actors lived in this town – Carry On films star Charles Hawtrey and Sir Norman Wisdom, who was in a children's home in the town, with the local Wetherspoons pub named after him.

Reporter Sam Lennon
Reporter Sam Lennon

"For exercise, Deal has places such as the Tides Leisure Centre and Betteshanger Country Park, which is ideal for walking and cycling."

Also welcoming the news is Peter Davies, secretary of Deal and Walmer Chamber of Trade, which comprises 150 businesspeople including hoteliers and restaurateurs.

"I'm not surprised," he said. "I've loved the town since I moved here over 20 years ago.

"I'm more than pleased that the town has received this vote, and I fully understand why.

"The standards of the accommodation and restaurants is second-to-none. You could not go to a better place for that variance."

Deal seafront, pictured on a sunny summer's day in 2014
Deal seafront, pictured on a sunny summer's day in 2014

But Mr Davies says he hopes to see more residents shopping in the town and supporting its businesses, which employ more than 3,000 local people.

"Lots of people have lovely things to say about the town, which is great," he said.

"But some businesses are really, really hard up for money – experiencing inflationary issues with regards fuel, and their costs are going up.

"Rather than going out of town, you'll be surprised what you can get in town instead."

Joshua Schofield at Deal Pier Kitchen. Picture: Joshua Schofield
Joshua Schofield at Deal Pier Kitchen. Picture: Joshua Schofield

Joshua Schofield, the general manager at Deal Pier Kitchen, is also not surprised to see the town ranked so highly.

"I moved here in 2018 and I've worked in Deal for the last few years, and we've certainly noticed how busy and popular the town has become," he said.

"I've seen it transform into an exceptionally busy tourist destination in such a short time.

"It's a wonderful town that really attracts visitors from across the UK and Europe, while still appealing to and catering for all the locals who make the town what it is.

"I think what makes it most attractive is how Deal caters for everybody, even more so throughout the summer period with various fairs and events. There are also loads of pubs and plenty of places to walk to."

Deal Pier, pictured in October 2021
Deal Pier, pictured in October 2021

Broadstairs

Broadstairs ranked the second-best seaside town in Kent, just behind Deal, with its beaches, restaurants, scenery and seafront/pier awarded an impressive four stars out of a possible five.

The town scored highly for its sandy bays – unsurprising given five of them hold the prestigious international Blue Flag and another five the coveted Seaside Award.

The seafront and pier, which now boasts the new Jetty restaurant, also fared well, as well as its charming scenery.

Foodie folk would likely agree with the high rating for food and drink, too, with its large selection of restaurants putting the town on the map as quite the gastronomic destination.

Joss Bay, Broadstairs
Joss Bay, Broadstairs

There's Michelin-starred Stark and sister restaurant Dos. There's also The Table, Kebbels and Please Sir! – Kent's best-rated restaurant on Tripadvisor – bringing in hungry visitors.

Other categories, however, failed to hit the top spot in the survey, with shopping and tourist attractions gaining just two stars.

Thanet Extra reporter Marijke Hall, who lives in Broadstairs, said: "This is a fair scoring of the town, although shopping perhaps should have been given a couple more stars.

"While there may not be big retail names, the high street has great independent shops, boutiques and galleries. There's a lovely community feel here.

"The beaches are stunning and there's no shortage of places to eat and drink. You're spoiled for choice."

Reporter Rhys Griffiths has lived in Folkestone most of his life
Reporter Rhys Griffiths has lived in Folkestone most of his life

Folkestone

At just £63 per night, Folkestone has the lowest average hotel cost of any destination in the Which? survey.

The figure is nearly half that of Kent's priciest stay, Whitstable – news that is sure to make it an attractive choice for those on a budget, as the cost of living crisis continues.

Folkestone and Hythe Express reporter Rhys Griffiths has lived in the town most of his life, and credits its "remarkable" transformation in recent years with its ranking as Kent's third-best seaside town.

"Growing up in Folkestone in the 80s and 90s, the town still had the feel of a traditional bucket-and-spade seaside resort," he recalls.

"The seafront was still the place for candy floss, kiss-me-quick hats and a spin on the waltzers, but there was no mistaking that the glory days were behind us.

Folkestone Harbour Arm
Folkestone Harbour Arm

"Then the ferry port closed, the Rotunda amusement park was demolished and the harbour and beachfront fell into the doldrums.

"Fast-forward two decades and the transformation has been nothing short of remarkable.

"Arts-led regeneration of the Creative Quarter, a thriving food scene and the redevelopment of the harbour itself have all combined to put Folkestone back on the tourist map, in a very 21st century fashion. While families still flock to frolic on the beach at Sunny Sands when the weather is warm, there is now much more to enjoy all year round.

"Living in the town, I am not surprised to see Folkestone rated so highly by Which? in its survey of seaside destinations.

"Hometown bias aside, I would encourage anyone who has never visited – or last came many years ago – to visit and see what all the fuss is about. You won't regret it."

The Old Neptune pub on Whitstable's West Beach
The Old Neptune pub on Whitstable's West Beach

Whitstable

The Which? rankings saw Whitstable secure a middling fourth place.

Probably unsurprisingly to many, the town's hotel prices came in as the highest in Kent, at an average of £123 a night.

But it scored a strong four stars for its food and drink. Famed for its oysters and with its own working harbour, the town boasts a number of high-end eateries specialising in seafood, such as The Whitstable Oyster Company restaurant and photogenic Wheelers Oyster Bar.

With a host of other reputable spots including Samphire, Harbour Street Tapas and the Michelin-starred Sportsman around the corner in Seasalter, it also has a wide array of cafes, tearooms and several excellent fish and chip shops, leaving peckish visitors spoilt for choice.

The town also scored four stars for its shopping and, with pretty Harbour Street and the town's high street offering a range of independent, artsy boutiques, it is evident why.

Harbour Street in Whitstable
Harbour Street in Whitstable

When it came to value for money, however, the town scored just two stars, while also scoring two for its tourist attractions.

Steve Jones has lived in the town for 14 years and has run Whitstable Produce Store in Harbour Street for almost nine of those.

Responding to the town's ranking, he said: "Obviously as a local businessman I'm very pleased that the food and drink has been rated so highly. It's always nice to see other places in Kent doing well also.

"They all have very different things, for different people. Obviously certain places like Broadstairs have beautiful sandy beaches, whereas we have beautiful cobbled beaches. I think it's just great that people are coming down again to the Kent coast, and long may it continue."

Steve Jones outside Whitstable Produce Store
Steve Jones outside Whitstable Produce Store

Margate

Despite the hype surrounding it, Margate came second-to-last in Kent, beating only Herne Bay.

Looking at the ratings, one might be mistaken for thinking they are reading about somewhere other than Margate, which is often described as "vibrant", "artsy" and "up-and-coming", if a little rough-around-the-edges.

The seafront and pier scored just two stars, despite the buzzy harbour arm boasting bars, a gallery and the much-celebrated Sargasso restaurant.

Food and drink overall was awarded just three stars, even with the town's array of bars and restaurants such as New Street Bistro, Bottega Caruso and the Sun Deck, with its selection of street food traders, including Pork & Co and Po' Boy.

Margate Main Sands. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Margate Main Sands. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Remarkably, despite hotspots such as Dreamland, Turner Contemporary and Margate Caves bringing in visitors, the town was awarded just two stars for its tourist attractions.

Beaches got three stars, which some might argue is a little unfair seeing as Margate boasts a coveted Blue Flag for its beautiful main sands.

Ramsgate

Ramsgate fared a little better than Margate, but still came in at only sixth in Kent.

Results for the town were middling, with the beaches handed three stars, despite a celebrated Seaside Award for Ramsgate Main Sands.

Ramsgate harbour
Ramsgate harbour

While Ramsgate has a thriving seafront, with bars and restaurants around the Royal Harbour and beautiful walks along the cliff top, the seafront and pier scored an average three stars.

And although there are plenty of places to eat – La Magnolia, Marc Pierre's Kitchen and the Royal Harbour Brasserie to name a few – food and drink scored a middling three stars, too.

Tourist attractions received just two. There's the popular Ramsgate Tunnels but admittedly not loads of attractions in the town. Then again, you've got the beach, walks, harbour and buzzy Addington Street, with its range of trendy independent shops, to keep you busy.

The Isle of Sheppey

Among notable absences in Which's seaside survey are Dover and Sheppey.

The Isle of Sheppey was not included on the list. Picture: John Nurden
The Isle of Sheppey was not included on the list. Picture: John Nurden

John Nurden, reporter for KentOnline's sister paper the Sheerness Times Guardian, has expressed his outrage at the exclusion of the latter – which he describes as "Kent’s own self-styled treasure island".

“Every time there is a survey like this, Sheppey ends up the forgotten island," said fuming John, who has lived on the Isle since he was a boy. "I really can’t understand why.

"With three award-winning beaches at Sheerness, Minster and Leysdown it really should be a contender, if not a winner.

“Whatever you want, Sheppey can deliver. There are kiss-me-quick hats, arcades and sandy beaches at Leysdown; fossils, sandbanks and cliffs to explore at Minster and Eastchurch; and a mile-long promenade, indoor swimming pool and quirky shops at Sheerness.”

The Island is steeped in heritage, being the birthplace of British aviation, and a favourite haunt for historical figures such as Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys and Lord Nelson.

Reporter John Nurden on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: John Nurden
Reporter John Nurden on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: John Nurden

Artist JMW Turner loved its natural lighting and painted the Fighting Temeraire off the coast of Queenborough.

There is a clutch of fascinating museums including the Blue Town Heritage Centre within the renovated Criterion Music Hall, the Eastchurch Aviation Museum and the Minster Abbey Gatehouse.

For those who love wildlife there is the award-winning Elmley Nature Reserve.

"And now there are even some decent restaurants.

“There is a reason why the Island is still popular with visitors and holidaymakers," added John. "To ignore Sheppey is criminal.”

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The survey by Which? asked more than 4,300 visitors to rate coastal resorts they have visited across a range of categories including quality of beaches, seafront, tourist attractions, food and drink, scenery, peace and quiet and value for money.

In first place was Bamburgh – a tiny village in Northumberland with a population of just over 400 – with a sweeping sandy beach overlooked by a cliff-top castle described as “spectacular” and “imposing” by respondents.

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