Whether for a one-day stopover or a week-long stay, there are never too many good places to discover London and its surroundings. On the program: a quick getaway by the sea, 90 minutes by train from the capital, and a visit to a district of West London in full swing, Shepherd’s Bush. As the British say, “Lovely!” »

As soon as you leave the station, you understand why the city of Margate is flashing on the radar of Londoners.

Our first steps lead us to the edge of the sea, in the rue Marine Gardens and its row of tangy storefronts that house arcades and ice cream bars. A very vintage atmosphere, accentuated by the presence of the Dreamland amusement park which welcomed its first visitors in… 1880!

This small seaside resort in Kent, 90 minutes by train from London, has absolutely everything you need for a successful getaway: the sea, good restaurants, state-of-the-art hotels, original shops and even a small art museum. contemporary art with breathtaking views of the Atlantic. Who says better ?

We understand why Sam Mendes set the scene for his latest film, Empire of Light (available for rental on digital platforms), starring Colin Firth and the formidable Olivia Colman.

The English have come to breathe the salty air of Margate since the 1730s, when the city was located on the island of Thanet, which became a peninsula over time. Margate has a rich history that envelops us as soon as we enter the old town.

The nifty little museum in Margate will tell you that the Market Square, now frequented by tourists and local hipsters, had its first stalls in 1630! The Margate Old Market, a closed market that time, is home to England’s tiniest pub. More than two customers and we are cramped. A few blocks away, you could find a beautiful piece of clothing by Isabel Marant or Gianni in one of the many second-hand clothing boutiques. Mandatory stop at the Margate Bookshop with its beautiful turquoise blue storefront and tiny coffee corner. We rave about the bookseller’s picks—Rachel Cusk, Rebecca Solnit, and Nora Ephron on the same shelf! — who could certainly be our friend.

Bubbling with creativity, Margate has several art galleries and artist studios. Perhaps the most famous associated with the coastal town is Grandmaster Turner, who resided in Margate when he was 11 years old. He returned there as an adult to paint the dramatic sunsets that melt into the sea. Today, a museum of contemporary art bearing his name stands on the site of the rooming house where he lived.

The most famous, Tracey Emin, a renowned artist and member of the Young British Artists movement, returned to live in her hometown in 2017. Her large studio hosts young artists in residence and exhibitions that attract London’s rich and famous.

And if you think you recognize Banksy’s line on one of the walls of the Dreamland amusement park, you’re not mistaken: it is indeed a work by the enigmatic artist, originally from Bristol, England. The work entitled Valentine’s Day Mascara appeared on a wall in Margate on February 14 and denounces violence against women. As it incorporates a real freezer, we moved it between the walls of the amusement park so that it remains accessible.

Margate is multi-faceted, but first and foremost it’s a music city with plenty of bars to listen to music on top of being host of the Margate Soul Festival for 21 years. Many musicians — discouraged by the capital’s astronomical rents — came to settle there. Among them: Pete Doherty, who opened a hotel, two bars and a recording studio in the Cliftonville district, where wine bars, a vinyl café and other more sophisticated businesses are springing up as the gentrification grows. The number of scaffoldings we passed on our walk leads us to believe that Margate’s transformation is far from complete.

We understand why Margate has been renamed Shoreditch-by-the-Sea, a nod to the trendy district of London where the owner of Sargasso, the restaurant where we spent our Saturday evening, owns another restaurant, the Brawn. On the menu: seafood and natural wines, with an Italian touch and a jazz funk musical score. Perfect evening.

But the truth is that choosing a restaurant was not easy as Margate has several tempting tables. We could have opted for the Buoy and Oyste, the Angela (one Michelin star) or its little sister Dory’s, a seafood bar without reservation, an excellent option for last minute decisions. For brunch, our choice fell on Wildes, a large bright room with peach walls and rattan furniture that turns into a cocktail bar in the evening.

Another sign that Margate is in turmoil: the number of boutique hotels opening their doors is on the rise, with two highly anticipated new addresses in the city center this spring. In short, with or without children, alone, as a couple or with friends, Margate is really a small town that is worth the detour.

1264: Foundation of the town of Margate which was called Meregate at the time

$50: Cost of round-trip train ticket. Several departures per day. The fastest departs from St-Pancras station.

63,322: Population of Margate according to the 2021 census

Hotels are expensive in London. It’s worth straying a bit from the center to save a few bucks. Shepherd’s Bush in West London is 30 minutes from Heathrow Airport on the new Elizabeth Line, and a 30-minute walk from chic Notting Hill. An interesting option to discover a neighborhood in turmoil.

There are signs that don’t lie, like the opening of a Hoxton hotel. The owners of this very trendy chain, with addresses in Europe and the United States, have the nose to identify a promising district. They were among the first to settle in Shoreditch in 2006. They opened Hoxton Shepherd’s Bush last December, a sign that this neighborhood is on the radar. Their new hotel is welcoming and bright, you would spend the day strolling in the lobby. Another good point: it is a stone’s throw from a metro station and very well served by several bus lines.

The restaurant, Chet’s, specializing in reinvented American-style Thai cuisine, is on Time Out magazine’s list of London’s best restaurants. You can find a room there for less than $250, depending on the time of the season.

In a street behind the Hoxton Hotel, there is this small open-air market where sellers of household items and clothes stand alongside a few food stalls. Please note, we are not at the Saint-Ouen flea market. It’s modest, but friendly.

Quite a contrast to the Westfield, the largest shopping center in Europe, which is just a few blocks away. A huge, soulless “shopping center” with several affordable meal options. Among other things, there is a great Japanese grocery store, Ichiba Japan Center, with its small counter for eating on site. Perfect for rainy days.

Shepherd’s Bush is a multi-ethnic neighborhood and it shows when you walk around the area, especially on Uxbridge Street. Thai, Indian, Ethiopian… The restaurant offer is varied and affordable. Through this, a few trendier addresses like Hawk’s Nest, a pizza and cocktail restaurant opened in 2020 by the owners of the chic Soho House, another sign that the neighborhood is changing.

The terrace is definitely worth a visit. We walk on Askew Road for its cafes and wine bars while Goldhawk Road reminds us a bit of Plaza Saint-Hubert with its many fabric stores through which we find other nice restaurants and pubs.