This whole COVID situation has definitely messed up all my travel plans in the last year and a half, but it also allowed me to travel to places that I would have probably not even considered otherwise.
This time we only had three days and, given the uncertainty of travel allowances constantly changing, we decided not to get too far from London. Google Maps open, we crossed out all the places we had already been to and ended up choosing Kent AONB as our final destination.
We had already visited Canterbury and Dover a few years back, so we picked instead less known places for our itinerary. Here you’ll have 7 unmissable things to do in Kent Downs other than those two more famous destinations.
VISIT A CASTLE
Kent AONB is famous for its infinite number of castles, so it would be impossible not to stumble in at least one. They are a treat for the eye and very rich in history so that they make an interesting stop for your trip.
The one we visited is the Rochester Castle, probably not the most suggestive one but a great one for its history: in 1215, King John used the fat of 40 pigs to fire a mine under the keep, bringing its southern tower down; even then, the defenders didn’t give up and survived two more months hiding behind the rubble until they starved to death.
If you’re looking for a straight out of a fairytale castle and are prepared to pay a bit more, head over to Leeds Castle as it is considered “the loveliest castle in the world”. Another very interesting one would be Hever Castle, known as Anne Boleyn’s childhood home.
TRACE CHARLES DICKENS’ STEPS
In Kent it is possible to embark in various literary tours retracing the steps of some of the most famous English writers of all time. Charles Dickens has lived there with his family for five years before moving to London, and continued visiting the county after during his holidays.
He has spent many summers in Broadstairs and several buildings from Rochester and surroundings can be found in his novels. Once he even told his biographer, John Forster, that “the seven miles between Maidstone and Rochester is one of the most beautiful walks in all England”.
When you visit Rochester you can admire the Guildhall, the Corn Exchange and Restoration House all making their appearance in the novel Great Expectations. For an even more unique experience you can head over to the Dickens House Wine Emporium, once the apothecary where the writer used to buy his medicines.
RIDE THE SMALLEST TRAIN IN THE WORLD
The 1927 Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway is a 15 in gauge in Kent and with its one-third full-sized steam locomotives has been, until 1982, the smallest public railway in the world. You can jump on the train in Hythe and arrive in Dungeness one hour later, or you can drive to one of its stops and admire the train from the outside.
The RH&DR was the realisation of a dream of the racing driver Captain J. E. P. Howey and the owner and driver of the Chitty Bang Bang Mercedes Count Louis Zborowski. The Count, however, never saw the final product since he was killed while racing in the Italian Grand Prix before the locomotives were delivered.
It is a great attraction for the whole family even today and with its amusement park, exhibition, restaurants, cafes and proximity to the beach there will be guaranteed fun throughout the day.
EAT PIZZA AT PAPÀ BIANCO IN FAVERSHAM
I know it may sound like a cliche, but being Italian it is almost a must for me to try and find a good pizza wherever I go.
I had spotted this place before leaving for our holidays when everything was still in the planning stage, it was then recommended to us by our host Beatrice (find more about our stay at Beatrice’s place here) so that our first night in Kent we ventured to Faversham and ordered take away pizzas at Papà Bianco.
Papà Bianco is situated in the warehouse complex at Standard Quay alongside fishmongers, antique shops and tea rooms. It has lovely interiors and a few tables outside that are perfect if you want to enjoy your dinner while watching the sun setting on Faversham Creek. The pizza? More than decent.
VISIT THE MEDIEVAL TOWN OF RYE
Rye is one of England’s secrets, hidden between the English Channel and green hills it is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England.
You can walk along its cobbled streets and lanes, with peculiar names like Mermaid Street and Wish Street, surrounded by ancient inns and crooked houses and feel like time stopped around you.
To fully enjoy your visit, make a stop at the famous Mermaid Inn and look for the secret passage once used by smugglers, or enjoy an afternoon tea at Cobbles Tea Room in their secret garden and let the magic of Rye take over.
GO FOR A SWIM IN CAMBER SANDS
Not far from Rye (there is in fact a regular bus service that connects Rye to Camber Sands) you will be able to reach one of the most beautiful beaches in England.
Camber Sands is a stretch of light sand with dunes in the background, a landscape that we are definitely not used to see in England. Now I’m not gonna lie, having read amazing things about the place my expectations were a lot higher than it actually came to be, but I have to admit not everybody has had the privilege of living close to the Mediterranean like me.
It reminded me a lot of my hometown, and even though the beach is covered with little stones that don’t make your walk exactly an easy one, the sun was shining when we arrived and, after more than a year of not being able to leave the UK, laying on the beach in Camber Sands felt good.
EAT OYSTERS IN WHITSTABLE
I know, you have probably already seen this place a million times on Instagram. The truth is, even without its instagrammable facade, Wheelers Oyster Bar would be an unmissable spot if you’re a fish lover.
Whitstable is a seaside town and it’s particular famous for its “Native Oysters“, that were already being harvested in Roman times.
Founded in 1856, Wheelers Oyster Bar is the first and last one standing of the Wheelers restaurants that later opened throughout London. Wheelers through the years has developed its own local organic garden producing salad, herbs and fresh fruit, they deliver homemade bread and only work with the best quality fish, coming to them directly from local fishermen.
I have recently made the leap and removed fish from my diet, making it entirely vegetarian, but my mum assured me that the crab sandwich from Wheelers Oyster Bar was the best one she ever had.
My Kent experience doesn’t finish here: don’t miss the video on my new YouTube channel to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the AONB!