Just five miles from the historic English city and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Canterbury (yes, the Canterbury, as in Chaucer’s classic Canterbury Tales), and a mere hour or so from London’s Gatwick Airport, lies Whitstable, a seaside village famous for its oysters and cute little cobblestone streets.
Famous is a term we use loosely, as the town of 32,000 residents doesn’t garner much attention in the traditional sense and definitely isn’t touted as the next “cool, new” place to visit in England.
Nevertheless, Whitstable’s relaxed atmosphere — and still very English feel — caught our attention, with its glorious (and obviously Instagrammable) sunsets, one-off shops, fresh seafood and quaint bars. Laid-back, dog friendly and oh-so peaceful, Whitstable somehow feels worlds away from London’s bustling streets, clanging horns and rowdy pubs, a beachy hideaway that’s still close enough to big city civilization for those who crave a day or two of respite from all things loud and lively.
Here, long walks on the beach — and through the village’s working harbor, built in the 1830s — are not just encouraged, but also cathartic. Swimming is second nature, as is sunbathing, and because this village has no promenade, it remains relatively tranquil. If you’re more of a history buff than a beach bum, amble over to Whitstable Castle and enjoy afternoon tea at Orangery Tearooms, followed by a guided tour of the gardens; what’s now a castle with a lush rose garden was once a family home named Tankertown Towers in the late 18th century.
Whitstable somehow feels worlds away from London’s bustling streets, clanging horns and rowdy pubs…
Shop, eat and drink by the water or on charming High Street. Old Neptune was one of my favorite spots. Nicknamed “the Neppy,” this pub is right on the beach, perfect for chasing sunsets while sipping local ales or lagers and noshing on some fish and chips. The Neppy has a rich backstory, as well as free live music every weekend.
Established in 1856, Wheelers Oyster Bar is the oldest restaurant in town. Its pink facade and hand-painted lettering called my attention immediately and its small seasonal menu (six starters, six main courses and six desserts) is ideal for those who have a tough time choosing what to eat. Wheelers is BYOB and worth a visit, even if just for a quick snack at the oyster parlor.
White Stuff (inspired by the snowy French Alps, where the two young owners first started selling sweats and tees to mountain people) is one of those “do good, feel good” shops; the store works with and fundraises for more than 120 local charities throughout the year and has a large scope of items including women’s, men’s and kids clothing, shoes, accessories and home decor.
Even if you don’t have children, you surely have friends with kids you’re fond of. At Jojo Maman Bebe, you can find gifts for moms-to-be or your beloved nieces/nephews and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t delight in beautifully-crafted window displays that showcase those teeny, tiny legging and jumper sets?
When to visit? Stay away in summertime, as warmer months equal busier months, unless your reason for stopping in is to attend one of two summer festivals. Whitstable Oyster Festival, which takes place in July, turns the town into a hub for shellfish, music and more three days each year. There’s also the Whitstable Biennale, a two-week festival held every other June, which has grown in popularity and celebrates performance, film and sound. The Biennale showcases international up-and-coming artists and filmmakers.
As for me, I can’t wait to go back to Whitstable, no matter the season. In a town as special as this one, one visit is surely not enough.
Where is somewhere you’ve found a surprising breath of fresh air?
Feature image via Alex Talmon