Kent is often described as the garden of England. Situated in the south-east of the country, Kent is home to over 1.5m people and offers some of the best scenery available within the UK.
I’ve often felt quite lucky to live in this haven on the outskirts of London. Close enough to the capital to enjoy a day out there and, of course, for work, but far enough away to feel removed from the everyday hustle and bustle city living can bring.
The county also shares borders with Essex along the estuary of the River Thames and even with the French department of Pas-de-Calais through the Channel Tunnel making escaping to the continent (when we don’t have a pandemic taking place) easy to do.
It’s an area steeped in history also. Kent was the first British territory conquered – and settled-in – by Germanic and Nordic tribes with the Nordic originating Jutes from the Jutland area of Denmark and South Sweden settling in Kent and nearby areas of the South East of England.
It was also an area highly favoured by kings and queens including the infamous King Henry VIII who enjoyed a special relationship with Kent. During his reign Kent was used as his personal escape from royal life and his playground for his – how shall we put it – extra-curricular activities.
Yet modern Kent is far more than just a shrine to a fallen King; although it can be hard sometimes to move away from his influence as he owned over 70 residences in the county during his lifetime.
Here are some of my top picks for things to do during a day out in this beautiful county.
The cathedral city of Canterbury is a hive of activity in the busiest periods of the year and offers a quint-essential medieval experience. And at the heart of any visit to Canterbury should be a trip to its famous Cathedral.
As one of the oldest – having been founded in 597 AD – pilgrims and visitors have made their way to Canterbury Cathedral since the Middle Ages. Now one of the most famous Christian structures in England, Canterbury Cathedral remains one of the most visited places in the country and for good reason.
Sitting in the heart of the city, the cathedral’s stunning architecture and beautiful stained-glass windows are a sight to behold.
Adults can gain entry for just £10 per person and children under 17 are free when accompanied by a full paying adult.
The city was also home to the much-loved Canterbury Tales exhibition. An animatronic walk-through account of the great Geoffrey Chaucer’s 24 stories was a must-see for visitors to Canterbury before it sadly closed down earlier this year.
Around the old streets of the city there are plenty of shops and restaurants to while-away the hours and visitors can enjoy a pleasant walk around the city centre. Just outside the main centre of the city there are also numerous parks and woodland areas that dog-walkers and visitors alike can also enjoy.
A lesser-known (well compared to the Cathedral anyway) attraction is that of the city’s biggest escape room; Escape Kent.
These fun hour-long story-based puzzle rooms provide a fun-for-all-the-family activity. Well run, and entertaining, Escape Kent provides the right mix of logical fun puzzles with challenging and thought-provoking plots.
At the time of writing there are six live escape rooms, although I know from personal experience that these do change to keep ideas fresh and make you want to come back for more.
Games are usually for between two and eight players and cost as little as £20 per person (for larger groups) or £25 per person for smaller ones.
The harbour-town of Whitstable stands on Kent’s north coast and provides a pleasant backdrop a family-filled day of fun.
While it may lack the sandy beaches of the more popular Broadstairs and Margate seafronts, Whitstable has an abundance of character and charm that should pull it to the forefront of your attention.
A walk through the town’s modest-sized shopping street will take you down towards the harbour where you’ll have ample opportunity to try some of the freshest catches straight from the sea. Numerous winkle, crab and ‘famous’ oyster outlets give you a great flavour of the area while there are also an abundance of fish and chip shops offering a wide range of locally-sourced products.
A trip to Whitstable wouldn’t be complete without a walk down the pebbly seafront. This pleasant stroll will take you past the various beach-facing holiday homes and beach huts and gives even more opportunity to sample so local food from the stalls set up at the end nearest the harbour.
Your best bet here is to walk down the length of the beach towards The Old Neptune Pub which is located on the seafront. Here you can get a drink or two, have lunch and enjoy it all while watching the world go by on land and sea.
3: Knole Park (Sevenoaks)
Located in picturesque Sevenoaks, Knole Park is a stunning example of Kent country life. The beautiful deer park covers acres of land surrounding Knole House; a country house and former archbishop’s palace.
A national-trust property, Knole is provides a great place for families of all ages. Children will enjoy walking around the deer park watching the animals amongst the huge trees both standing and, in some cases sadly, knocked down in the Hurricane of 1987. The deer are indeed very use to humans in their habitat. Many will allow you to get quite close and some even try and take food from picnickers.
At the centre of the park sits Knole House. This property which dates back to the 15th century is a typical stately home and boosts numerous paintings and tapestries of historical faces and events that are relevant to the area or to the house itself.
Best of all, this day out is a nice cheap affair. Visitors – who are not National Trust members – have to pay £5 to park their car at the grounds for the day and then a further £8 per person to enter the house. However, if you just want to walk around the grounds then the car parking fee will be the only outgoing.
This location is best to do on a sunny day. Although the sun brings the crowds, there is always plenty of space in the grounds (which also hosts a full-sized golf course) to enjoy a pleasant stroll and picnic.
4: Panic Rooms (Gravesend)
Anyone who has ever read my blog will know that I’m a huge fan of an escape room. And fortunately for me, one of the world’s best (in my opinion) is located a mere stone’s throw from my front door.
Located in Gravesend, The Panic Room is the UK’s largest escape room experience going. Spread across three locations in the town centre, there are currently 14 different rooms they have set up all ranging in theme and difficulty.
What strikes you straight away with The Panic Room are three things. Firstly, they have put a lot of time, effort into their brand. It looks fantastic. Secondly, the staff are extremely friendly and enthusiastic.
No matter what the scenario you play out, no matter how many of you are there and no matter your level of escape room experience, they tailor the situation to your needs. Finally, they are not a cheap, nor tacky, looking escape room. Some places struggle to make it look good but that is not an issue here. They have gone the extra mile.
They also keep the rooms fresh, changing rooms up for new themes to keep customers wanting to come back for more.
As mentioned there are a host of rooms available. For a newbie to escape games I’d suggest something like The Don or Old Father Time as they are more gentle introductions to the escape room genre, combining logical puzzles with an interesting story.
For the more seasoned teams, you can opt to try out rooms that incorporate live actors – such as the Happy Institute – giving a whole new twist on what you have to do.
Special mention must also be made to the extraordinary Dino Land. This is far bigger than a normal room and has the feel of taking part in your own Jurassic Park-esque feature-film. I won’t say any more on it as I’d hate to spoil the surprises for anyone keen to take part!
Prices start from £25 per person for a team of two (so £50 total) and go down to £13.75 per person for a team of eight (£110 total).
5: Leeds Castle (Maidstone)
Just five miles from the town of Maidstone, travellers will find Leeds Castle.
There has been a castle on this land from as early as 1119, initially a simple stone stronghold constructed by Robert de Crevecoeur which served as a military post in the time of Norman intrusions into England.
As the centuries bore on, the castle developed and in the 16th century, Henry VIII used it as a dwelling for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
The castle and its grounds are now a major travel destination. Aside from the castle itself there is a maze that is exited through a shell grotto, a golf course and what may be the world’s only museum of dog collars! In the grounds there are often events taking place like live birds-of-prey shows or medieval jousting events. There are two castle-themed children’s adventure play areas targeted at the under sevens and the under fourteens.
The castle itself is a joy to walk around. Overlooking the gardens and the surrounding lakes, there are plenty of stunning views to take in from its many viewpoints. It also acts as a wedding destination for couples looking for that something special on their big day, although you’ll need a fair bit of money behind you to afford the prices of such a venue!
Couple of ideas here. Firstly, visit the castle in the month or so during the lead up to Christmas. Not only does it create a magical setting that the kids will enjoy as the sun sets behind the ramparts, but it also plays host to a Christmas market that has live music, tasty food and more mulled wine than anyone could ever wish to drink.
Secondly, hold onto your tickets after you have left. The tickets give you free access again to Leeds Castle as many times as you want over the course of a year. This means if you are looking for somewhere to visit at short notice and don’t want to spend a fortune, then the castle and its grounds can provide a great cost-effective trip.
Tickets for the first entry may seem a bit steep but if you plan multiple visits then it’s great value for money. An adult ticket is £27 per person while a family ticket for two adults and up to four children can cost £80.
This blog first appeared as a guest publication on Famously Frayling on 24 August 2020.