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Being a tourist in your local area: Folkestone

1 March 2022

A seaside town with a growing reputation, Folkestone, on the south Kent coast, has attracted visitors and new residents from across the country, in large part due to its burgeoning leisure offerings. With a new cultural quarter, the derelict Harbour Arm turned into a thriving spot for foodies, and a transformed seafront designed by architect Sir Terry Farrell, there’s plenty of choice to while away the hours.

So much so, that residents might be forgiven for failing to have so far explored the many sights the town now has to offer. With that in mind, here are some highlights for residents who want to discover Folkestone like a tourist.

The Harbour Arm

In its previous life, the Harbour Arm was the railway terminal for the Folkestone-Boulogne Ferry. After a revamp and re-opening in 2015, it’s now home to more than 30 independent food and drink vendors, providing great views of the town’s seafront on one side, and the English Channel and France on the other. Nowadays, the rail station’s shell remains, with the tracks replaced by a walkway.

Enjoy a round of mini golf, eat Sole Kitchen’s delicious signature Soft Shell Crab Sandwich, or take in the views with a glass or two outside the Lighthouse Champagne Bar, housed out to sea right at the end of the Arm. For vegan food, there’s Dr Legumes – if there’s a seitan burger on the menu on the day of your visit, get it! There’s also access to the beachfront Pilot Beach Bar, and Little Rock fish restaurant, which offers seaside bottomless brunches Fridays to Saturdays from 10:30am to 2:30pm.

The Old High Street

Not only is the Old High Street – home to Folkestone’s Cultural Quarter – a great place to find independent retailers and eateries, but it’s a good place to get the heart racing, thanks to the narrow, steep pathway that winds its way up from near the beachfront up towards the town centre. On your way up, you might want to pause for breath at artist Shane Record’s gallery, and explore art and homeware from local designer Kitty McCall at her store.

Musicians will love a stop at Plectrums Pens And Paints. Those who make up it all the way up the street deserve an outstanding pattie at Big Boys Fine Burger Co, including its Fat Boy burger (pulled pork, BBQ sauce, streaky bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, gherkin and mustard, (£13.95)).

Folkestone Museum

Want to learn more about the history of your town and make a day of it? What better place to start than Folkestone Museum. Reopened in The Town Hall in 2017, it features several collections, including on the area’s ancient history, its maritime heritage and the military traditions of the town and the part it played as the crossover point to the continent during both world wars.

Admission is free, though donations are welcome.

Go Skiing

Kent might not be globally renowned as a hot bed of winter sports, but you can at least make a start to learn the basics off piste there before you head to the Alps. Folkestone Snowsport Centre features a 60m dry main slope, as well as a junior academy for young skiers and snowboarders. Tuition is offered from qualified artificial ski slope instructors, both for adults and children aged from 7-16 of all abilities.

Lower Leas Coastal Park

Metres from the beach, the Lower Leas Coastal Park has been a green flag winner every year since 2007. Home to a 350-seat amphitheatre, which hosts events during the warmer months, and a huge fun zone adventure playground for the kids to play in. From there, down a zig-zagging path is the Mermaid Café to stop off for a bite to eat. This overlooks Mermaid Beach, which has become a favourite spot for cold-water swimmers.

Take in a show at Leas Cliff Hall

Towering over Lower Leas Coastal Park is this 900-seat venue, owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group. Concerts, ballet, and wrestling are all among the types of touring show that have made a stop at this clifftop venue, built in 1927. If you want to see a stand-up comedy show in 2022, there’s plenty of options, with Jimmy Carr, Sara Pascoe, Jason Manford and Al Murray all scheduled to perform here this year.

Stick to the sand and away from the shingles

Given that Folkestone’s beaches – and those for much of the south-east coast of England for that matter, is pebble-strewn, Sunny Sands is a rare find. Access to this tiny patch of sandy shoreline east of the harbour can be tricky due to the beach disappearing underwater at high tide, as well as its popularity. So, check tide times and arrive early if you can.

Anne’s Restaurant

Found on Shorncliffe Road close the Folkestone Central station, this building was formally Ames House, built in the 19th century – and a former convent school and part of the Folkestone College site. Anne’s was launched as a restaurant in 2021 following an £8m redevelopment. And the money spent shows, especially in the well-appointed, relaxing dining areas. Try the pork shoulder with fries, BBQ sauce, coleslaw, salad and flat breads (£13.50).

Rocksalt

What’s not to like about Rocksalt? If you want food with a view, you’ve got it, thanks to the restaurant’s spectacular, panoramic view of Folkestone Harbour and the English Channel. Sumptuous seafood is its specialty – including the Folkestone Sea Bass, Crab Champ, Brown Crab Ketchup main (£26.50), though its roast dinners (such as the 28 Day Aged Roast Sirloin or Roast Overnight Pork Belly, Yorkshire Pudding (£19.50)) is usually a crowd pleaser too. If you just want a drink, then relax indoor or outdoor in the upstairs bar for a cocktail. If you fancy a home away from home for the night, Rocksalt also owns four bolt hole rooms across the road from the restaurant. Your stay in one of these comes with a complimentary breakfast.