Hattie Lloyd 29/06/23
From Julius Caesar’s possible landing point, to bustling Medieval port and quaint Victorian resort, Deal’s seen a lot. Pepys described it as ‘pitiful’. Defoe thought ‘The barbarous hated name of Deal shou’d die’. And yet, with Ted Lasso levels of resilience and wide-eyed optimism, their town motto is Befriend the stranger.
And it seems to have worked, because in the intervening centuries, Deal’s been given a pretty good hand. It’s an unbelievably picturesque town on the Kent coast, about 25 miles from France (which you can actually see on a clear day). It’s quiet, charming, and one of the most relaxing spots you can pick for a restorative long weekend trip from London.
Which is quite the coincidence, because we’ve detailed the perfect way to spend a weekend in Deal right here.
London’s creative types are flocking to Kentish coastal towns after the recent discovery that they have the sea there, but while Deal’s star is definitely on the rise, it feels a little more secluded than the likes of Margate and Whitstable.
Deal feels like it’s in the midst of a revival, but it’s one that’s led entirely by locals. Culture is thriving here: the Smugglers music festival, the Deal Film Festival and July’s ten day music & arts festival are all run by residents, and all make great reasons to time your trip well. Meanwhile locals are campaigning to get the art deco Regent cinema back open, and the Deal Despatch is a new town paper that ties the community together (but wouldn’t look out of place in a Wes Anderson film). In between all that, you can indulge in all the classic seaside pastimes of ice cream, chippie teas and penny arcades; explore the town’s local history with a trio of charmingly specific museums; and take in some historic sights before resting up in some truly stunning hotels.
Trains run regularly from St. Pancras to Deal station; they take about 1h30 and a single costs all of £15. Deal’s also a 40 minute train ride along the coast from Margate if you wanted to pack both into one long weekend. And if you’re driving, it’ll take about 2h 20mins from central London.
It’s a short walk from the train station to drop your bags at the hotel, so start off by heading left down West Street, right down Stanhope Road, and taking another left at the bottom to check in at The Rose (more on which later). For now, however, you’ll want to stretch your legs, and of course the only place to do that is the seafront. Pop into Arno & Co opposite, and pick out a hamper for a beach picnic (they come loaded with sparkling wine, Perello olives, mezze, chocolate and cake) before taking a right down Farrier Street to meet the sea.
Deal’s pebble beach is beautiful. Dotted along the seafront you’ll see striking modernist beach shelters; pretty Georgian architecture; weather-beaten, shored-up boats; and miles of turquoise sea stretching off into the horizon. Deal has had three piers in the last 200 years; the first blew down in a storm, the second blew up in the second world war, and the third, built in 1957, is still standing. The café at the very end makes for the perfect spot to take in the coastline over a coffee.
Depending on the weather, you might want to take a couple of hours here to sunbathe, read a book, and – just maybe – brave the water (here you can claim to be swimming in the North Sea and the Channel at the same time). When you’re dried off and ready to explore the town, head for Middle Street.
Middle Street was the centre of vice during Deal’s 18th century smuggling heyday. Expensive, morality-threatening goods like tobacco, spirits and lace were brought in on small boats and hidden in nooks and crannies in the houses lining Middle Street. But what was once a den of iniquity frequented by brawlers and prostitutes is now a famously charming street lined with pastel-painted Georgian houses and old street lanterns. Watch out for Salvatori the Deal Deli van trundling through the streets delivering Italian produce to the locals.
Aside from admiring the houses, there’s plenty of shops worth dipping into as you explore the streets. Take any turning away from the seafront to come back onto Deal High Street, and keep an eye out for the eclectic homeware & clothing in Hoxton Store and Dunlin & Diver; a cornucopia of fresh fruit & flowers at Lavender and Blackberry; handcrafted homewares at Barkened; antique bric-a-brac at The Shop Front and Mileage; and an eclectic selection of vinyl and ale at Smugglers Records, a shop borne from a record label which even stages a four-day woodland festival just outside Deal in early September each year.
Drop off your haul at the hotel, and freshen up before heading across the road to the scarlet-fronted wine bar, Le Pinardier. Specialising in natural and biodynamic wines, it’s a bijou, candlelit spot run by wine connoisseur Benoit Dezecot and his partner Sarah Ross. The place is lined with bottles (which the staff will more than happily guide you through), and since it doubles as a bottle shop you can take your best discovery back to the room with you – though it’s worth sticking around at least until the live music begins at 8pm.
The bar’s sibling, Frog & Scot, is a popular tapas restaurant down the road, but for dinner tonight we’d recommend you head… back to the hotel. Because The Rose’s restaurant – aside from being a highly stylish dining room with midcentury furnishings and local artwork – serves some of the finest food in town. Seafood, is, unsurprisingly, a strong suit here, with dishes like razor clams & beach herbs or pan-fried skate wing with brown butter, cockles and samphire – but there’s also crowd-pleasers like chicken schnitzel, and macaroni cheese.
If the night feels young, take an evening stroll along the front and see what’s on at The Lighthouse. It’s a storied live music venue masquerading as a pub, with live bands most weekends and a line-up of local craft brews and Kent-grown wines behind the bar. Otherwise, make the most of the plush room you’re calling home for the night. The Rose‘s eight distinctive bedrooms have all been individually styled with velvet headboards, antique furnishings, and a stack of coffee table books to peruse. Larger rooms also come fitted with record players, TVs, and free-standing baths. And wherever you’re staying, you’re encouraged to make use of the hallway bars for a nightcap or two.
If The Rose is booked up, or if you’re really after a rural escape, make a beeline for Updown. This renovated 17th century farmhouse just outside the town aims to be a ‘home from home’, only it’s a massive upgrade from your flat in New Cross. Its many charms include breakfast in bed and dinner in a pergola-laden garden; a library where you can relax with board games and the papers; seven acres of grounds to romp around and beautifully furnished bedrooms.
It’s another beautiful day in Deal – probably – and you’re going to make the most of it, just as soon as you’ve had some eggs. Breakfast is included at both The Rose and Updown, so feast on omelette Arnold Bennett and fiery Bloody Maries before heading down to the High Street.
First stop is down St. George’s Road, left after the church next to The Rose. At the end, you’ll find a small clapboard house which is actually a tiny little museum charting the history of Deal. Inside you’ll find dozens of artefacts from the town’s nautical history (including “a collection of lifejackets of national importance”), but also fascinating everyday items that have been lost, found and cherished for centuries, giving you an insight to the daily lives of shopkeepers, bakers, and your friendly village smugglers.
Carry on along the street and a few doors down you’ll find Linden Hall Studio, a brilliant contemporary art gallery that stages exhibitions alongside affordable prints and artwork to take home with you. Take a left at the end of the street, and a left again, to discover the second of Deal’s endearingly niche museums. The Kent Museum of the Moving Image is a curiosity cabinet of film paraphernalia, from Victorian magic lantern shows to the golden age of Hollywood. Cap off your cultural tour by rejoining the High Street, and heading down Sondes Road, where you’ll find the Don’t Walk Walk art gallery, the village indoor market, and the grand finale, the Timeball Tower – whose 1pm ball drop used to tell the time for Victorian ships, and which still drops every hour for the sheer thrill of it.
At this point, you’re probably ready for a drink. If it’s sunny, head left round the corner and grab a table outside the flower-laden King’s Head; if it’s raining, get the bay window seats at the Ship Inn, an old maritime tavern at the other end of Middle Street which looks like it could have been the set for The Banshees of Inisherin.
Liam Clarke Architectural Photography
From here, take a walk southwards along the coast – or hop on the vintage tandem you can borrow from The Rose – and suck in some sea air as you head towards Walmer. Along the way you’ll pass Deal Castle, one of many fortresses King Henry VIIIth built down here. Even if you don’t go in, it’s worth stopping to gawp at its unusual layout – built in the shape of a Tudor rose – but head inside and you’ll also find subterranean tunnels, and 16th century graffiti scrawled into the lead roof.
After another five minutes’ walk, you’ll come to the Deal Memorial Bandstand. Pop into the chippie opposite, and take your golden-battered parcel of joy to the grassy banks outside, overlooking the whitewashed beach huts looking out to sea. During the summer, the bandstand comes into its own with big brass bands and swing groups playing every Sunday from 2.30pm, so you can enjoy some rambunctious live music as you tuck into your fish & chips.
From here, it’s a bracing 20 minute walk along the seafront to reach the final stop of your Deal weekend itinerary. Walmer Castle is another of Henry VIIIth’s seaside fortresses, only since it was converted to a manor house in the mid-18th century, it’s a lot fancier. Mooch around the castle’s opulent interiors (including the Duke of Wellington’s bedroom, and his famous boots), then have a browse in the second-hand bookshop and kick back on the beautiful lawns of the surrounding gardens. It’s what the Tudors would have called ‘seriously f*cking relaxing’.
And it’s all a half hour walk back along the seafront to the station, where you can hop on a train and be back in London in time for tea.
We’d call that a pretty good deal.
If you’re a fiend for quaint British seaside towns… you’ll love these 21 Day Trips from London
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