There is a new kid in the fair ground world, and this one is showing off, as it’s loud, rowdy and top of the class.
During our UK staycation this Summer, the kids, godmother, and their guide (me) decided to go against the flow, and ditch our invite to Lake Como* in favour of spending our August weekend bank holiday at Dreamland in Margate. (*We’re actually still waiting for the invite Mr Clooney.)
During our 48 hour trip we were able to do all of these things (and more); paddle on a white sandy beach, fly on a ferris wheel, fall for wonderful vintage shops, have a decent double espresso, eat fresh cockles and winkles, visit a world class museum, not join the 20 deep queue for fish and chips, see an Anthony Gormley sculpture in the sea, go to a SKA gig, cry with laughter on the bumper cars, dress in Tudor costume, visit a shell grotto, ride the carousel, and (breath) ride the scenic railway (roller coaster) 5 times.
They are also reasons why your Personal Concierge Consultancy My Culture Club is now organising bespoke itineraries, and corporate trips to Dreamland, launching with their special October events now called Screamland.
IT’S UNDER 2 HOURS FROM LONDON
Margate is situated on the southeastern tip of Kent 76 miles from London. The people of Kent, say that its unique location provides it with a more temperate climate that other parts of the UK.
Seaside Trivia; Margate is closer to France, than it is to the town of Maidstone (in Kent).
Travelling by train from London to Margate direct (from St Pancras International), takes 1hr 33mins. It costs £23.80 for a super off-peak day return. Family/ Young person/ Groupsave/Network railcards can give you discounts on these fares. Dreamland itself is a 2 minute walk from the station, and Margate Old Town a 10 minute walk. If you drive it’s 75.9 miles from London. On a good day, that will take 2 hours by car via the A2 and M2.
DREAMLAND REGENERATING A BRITISH JEWEL
Considered to be the oldest-surviving amusement park in Great Britain, the site of Dreamland (as it was re-named in 1920) dates back to the British railway boom of the early 1860s when, in its original form, the ‘Hall by the Sea’ was operated by the famous circus impresario, ‘Lord’ George Sanger.
Move forward nearly 100 years to 2003, and just as the site was threatened to be turned into luxury flats, a ‘Save Dreamland’ campaign was launched by locals and amusement park enthusiasts, which raised £18m to secure its future.
The original jewels of the park were saved being the Grade II*-listed Scenic Railway, the Grade II*-listed cinema complex and the Grade II-listed menagerie cages.
Thanet Council purchased the site and began restoring it In 2014. It reopened in June 2015, with new and rejuvenated buildings and fairground rides.
After more investment in 2017, the site was expanded to hold 15,000 people in one go (ready for some top Events and a Summer Music festival), and now includes restored vintage rides, art installations, an open air live music space, a giant marble run, the world’s largest bouncy castle, street food, a rooftop bar, new gastro pub… to name but a few.
3. THE THRILL OF THE FAIRGROUND
With 2 kids aged 10 and 8, and 2 older kids aged somewhere near 35+10, we could have spent 3-4 days trying out all the rides, and events on offer. We packed it into 2 days, which worked, as you always want to leave wanting more, right !
The park is really well managed by staff, so a major part of the experience for us was knowing that the kids were safe at all times. There are visible security guards in key areas, and all the staff are well trained, and super helpful (especially our friend Carol at the information desk).
Prices start from £9.50 for a small kid (under 1.25m) day wristband, and cost £20.50 for a 2 day big kid wristband. You can buy annual membership for £50 for small kids, and £70 for big kids, or £175 for a family of 4. There are off-peak and peak prices available, and the wristbands allow you unlimited use of all the rides.
The prices for 4 of us, including return train travel was around £120 for 2 days (not included accommodation and food), which considering that this was our main Summer holiday entertainment was very reasonable!
They also have a Dreampass option, which works like a debit-card. You load it up with cash, and then pay-as-you go for rides, food, and goodies.
There is a wide range of rides for all ages to enjoy. You can choose from the Scenic Railway, Gallopers, Helter Skelter, Double Decker, Hurricane Jets, Chair O Plane, Dodgems, Big Wheels, Betty Beehive Coaster, Born Slippy, Mirror Maze, Swing Boats, Speedway, Austin Cars, Twister, Waltzer, Magic Mouse, Brooklands Speedway and Wedgwood Tea Cup.
On our visit 95% of the rides were up and running, it was only the Helter Skelter that wasn’t open, and the kids didn’t even notice. There were very few queues for most of the rides, and when we had to queue, they were totally manageable lasting around 10 minutes (apart from the main attraction rollercoaster where we queued for about 25 mins).
Dreamland is open weekends and school holidays (although the park closes completely in November with the exception of our indoor areas – roller disco, arcades).
4. MARGATE OLD TOWN IS MY VINTAGE ‘HAPPY PLACE’
Now, as we were on our Summer holiday, it was essential we squeezed in some food, shopping, and culture. First we will share some of the secrets we found in Margate Old Town.
What you need to know is that the Old Town, is only metres from the ‘New’ Town, and that there is no need to go to the new town, as it will detract from the fun you’re having, it’s not at all glam.
Walking along the promenade from Dreamland towards the Turner Contemporary is essential during your trip to Margate. You will pass the cool skater kids shop, homemade pizza bar, a few seafood restaurants. All these and more are all bustling, busy and full to the brim of local Kent/Essex families, loving life.
The only food we had time to eat, which is often the way when shopping & roller coating is your main activity was brunch, and The Greedy Cow (above) is 10/10 for food and service.
There is a cosy collection of independent shops in the Old Town, that have something for everyone. We could have spent loads of our pension/pocket money had we not had to carry everything back through Dreamland on our way home.
It doesn’t stop there either. Margate offers some eccentric and brilliant unique history. We visited The Tudor House, one of the Margate’s oldest buildings, which dates back to the first half of the sixteenth century.
This vintage furniture shop rocked. Imagine you have just bought one of those huge warehouses in Spitalfields, and you have an unlimited budget to furnish it. Then Ramsay & Williams is the place. They had a vintage table football, lights, record players and more gems that will all have been snapped up by now.
5. THE WORLD CLASS TURNER CONTEMPORARY
And, what’s more it is on the same site as Mrs Booth’s boarding house where the artist J. M. W. Turner stayed when visiting the town.
We really didn’t leave much time to make friends with it, but we did walk through the building, and just breath it in.
It is a special place, open to all, full of light, invention, inspiration and as Tracy Emin says “The brilliant thing about Turner Contemporary is that it has given people hope that things are going to change here and also put Margate back on the map”.
It feels like a brave move spending the money, and backing a project like this in a small UK seaside town, and the project is not without it’s critics. Yet, in the same way I love how Grayson Perry takes the UK as his drawing board for many of his projects, and challenges the ‘everyday’, I think this museum does this same thing to the Margate community.
British seaside towns have been hit hard by recession in recent years, and with air travel being cheaper than ever, fewer people holiday in the UK these days. So, planners, architects, town councils and communities have to embrace challenges, put their neck out, and move with the times.
If building a world class museum on the edge of the shore, and pumping money from the City of London into a nearly forgotten 1920’s amusement park is what it takes, I’m all for jumping on that roller coaster.
Let My Culture Club organise a group trip to Dreamland and Margate for you.
Contact me here to have a chat about it. firstname.lastname@example.org
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