8 Fantastic Days Out In Kent To Do By Public Transport

8 Fantastic Days Out In Kent To Do By Public Transport
The exterior of Quex House, a three-storey Regency-style manor building, with four life-size cannons outside, and a green awning along one side of the building.
Quex House. Photo: Nikhilesh Havel

There are ample opportunities for day trips from London in the county of Kent, from castles and stately homes, to beautiful gardens and splendid beaches. But so often, the best places to visit require a car to get there. Here, though, are eight days out in Kent that can easily be done on public transport — no car, and no walking alongside dangerous country roads.

Note: we're focusing on specific attractions here, though there are of course many towns in Kent worth a visit in their own right and easily accessible by train — Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells, to name just a few.

1) Knole, Sevenoaks

The front exterior of Knole House, a three-storey brick building with redbrick chimneys and a gatehouse in the centre.
Knole is located in the town of Sevenoaks. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Unusually for a National Trust property, Knole is located fairly close to a town centre — namely Sevenoaks. The house itself started life as an Archbishop's Palace, Henry VIII hunted here, and Queen Elizabeth I is also said to have visited this 15th century manor house. More recently, Alan Titchmarsh went poking around in the attic for a Channel 5 series. It's been owned by the Sackville family since 1603, and they still live in private apartments on site today, while opening large parts of the building, and the courtyard, to the public.

These days, there are two particular reasons to visit Knole; the art collection, and the deer. Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Reynolds take up space on the walls, while portraits allow you to familiarise yourself with former Knole owners and residents

And the deer? Knole is set in Knole Park, over 1000 acres of parkland that's home to herds of wild sika and fallow deer. It's not uncommon to see them roaming right outside the house (they've learned that visitors tend to picnic here), but feeding and touching the deer is prohibited. The Beatles filmed the videos for Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane here, too.

Also worth visiting is the Gatehouse Tower, located over the archway into the central courtyard. If you're willing to tackle the spiral staircase, you're rewarded with views down onto the building and into the courtyard, as well as panoramic vistas across Knole Park — for our money, it's at its best in early autumn, when the leaves start to change colour.

Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN15 0RP.

Getting there: Knole is about half an hour (uphill!) walk from Sevenoaks station, through Sevenoaks town centre and into Knole Park. Regular, direct trains from Sevenoaks to London Bridge take around 25 minutes.

Nearby: The town of Sevenoaks is home to historic buildings, beautiful gardens and independent restaurants and cafes.

2) The Historic Dockyard, Chatham

A classic ironclad ship with rigging stands beside a peculiar roofed structure
Photo: Matt Brown/Londonist

Home to "three of the most incredible rooms you'll ever see", Historic Dockyard Chatham is an awe-inspiring day out. Though the working docks closed almost 40 years ago, their heritage lives on in a visitor attraction which includes a ropery in a room that's a quarter of a mile long, a Grade I listed building home to a Polaris nuclear missile, plus a dry-docked submarine, the HMS Ocelot.

Throw in warships, models and artefacts from Chatham's naval history, a steam train, an outdoor playground and an indoor soft play for little ones, and the only issue you might find with a day at the Historic Dockyard is squeezing everything in.

Various TV shows and films have been recorded here, including Call The Midwife. That show is so popular, in fact, they even offer official location tours at certain times of year.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TZ.

Getting there: Trains from St Pancras get to Chatham in as little 42 minutes. Alternatively, trains go from London Bridge, Victoria and Charing Cross and take a little over an hour (or you can take the Elizabeth line to Abbey Wood and change there. Once in Chatham, it's a 20-30 minute walk to the site (but a very interesting one), or catch one a local bus heading that way. If walking, bear in mind that the entrance is at the north of the docks, not the closer southern end with its inviting Georgian gatehouse.

Nearby: We still lament the loss of the Dickens World indoor theme park which used to be located next door. The Dockside Shopping Centre and Ninja Warrior course are still very much up and running, around a 10 minute walk from the Dockyard. The route between the Dockyard and Chatham station passes Fort Amherst, a free-to-visit Napoleonic fortress.

3) Dreamland, Margate

A music festival in full swing. Photo: Dreamland Margate

Amusement park Dreamland has a chequered past, its fortunes rising and falling alongside those of Margate, the seaside resort it sits in. There's been an amusement park on this site since the 1880s, and though recent years have been turbulent, it was ultimately saved by the fact it's home to a Grade II* listed scenic railway wooden rollercoaster, which cannot be removed from the site.

These days, Dreamland offers vintage-style fairground rides including carousels, a helter skelter, dodgems, and that historic scenic railway. The Roller Room hosts regular roller discos, and big-name concerts and festivals are frequent in the summer. Plus, food stalls sell seaside favourites like candy floss, ice cream and fish and chips.

Dreamland, 49-51 Marine Terrace, Margate, CT9 1XJ.

Getting there: Dreamland is a five-minute walk from Margate station. From here, direct trains to St Pancras take around 90 minutes, and to Victoria take about 1 hour 45 minutes.

Nearby: The Turner Contemporary Gallery is a 10-minute walk from Dreamland, while Margate's Shell Grotto is around 15 minutes away. Dreamland is located right opposite the sprawling Margate Beach, with plenty of sand for everyone, and its own tidal swimming pool.

4) The Powell Cotton Museum and Quex Park, Birchington-on-Sea

A display at the Powell-Cotton Museum consisting of taxidermy giraffes, zebra and various species of deer, arranged to look like they are grazing on the African Savannah
Image: Powell-Cotton Museum

A couple of miles inland from the north Kent coast lies Quex Park, home to... well, pretty much everything you could need for a day out. A farm park, adventure golf, alpaca treks and goat experiences keep the kids happy, with a garden centre to browse, and the impressive Waterloo Tower to ogle.

Also within the park — though operating separately, as a charity — is the Powell-Cotton Museum, a sizeable gallery combining natural history and the collections of explorer and hunter Percy Powell-Cotton. The majority of the objects on display hail from Africa, and include a carved wooden leopard from the Kingdom of Benin (in present day Nigeria), a jar of White-Lipped frogs preserved in alcohol, an okapi skull, and taxidermy specimens including a Giant Sable (a type of antelope) from Angola. Your museum ticket includes a tour of Quex House (top photo) too.

Quex Park and the Powell-Cotton Museum, Birchington-on-Sea, CT7 0BH.

Getting there: Quex Park is a 20-minute walk from Birchington-on-Sea station, where trains to either St Pancras or Victoria take around 90 minutes.

5) Spa Valley Railway, Tunbridge Wells

A black steam engine (British Railways 0-6-0 Class A No. 52322) seen pulling a train of green carriages, at Eridge station on the Spa Valley Railway
Eridge station on the Spa Valley Railway. Photo: PeterSkuce via creative commons

We're cheating a bit here, as the magnificent Spa Valley Railway has one wheel in Kent, and the other in East Sussex. The line runs steam and heritage diesel trains between Tunbridge Wells West and Eridge, with stops at High Rocks (occasionally, check the timetable) and Groombridge along the way.

Choose whether to ride the whole route, or hop off along the way. You can also wander through the engine shed and see trains currently undergoing restoration.

As well as the regular heritage rides, the Spa Valley Railway lays on many special events, such as fish and chip supper rides, on-board cider and ale festivals, afternoon tea trips, and plenty for the kiddies, including appearances by familiar characters, and Santa specials at Christmas.

Spa Valley Railway, West Station, Nevill Terrace, Tunbridge Wells, TN2 5QY.

Getting there: Though you can board at any of the four stations on the Spa Valley Railway, Tunbridge Wells West is the easiest to get to by public transport — it's a 15-minute walk from the mainline Tunbridge Wells station, which has regular, direct trains to London Bridge

Nearby: The Smith & Western pub, located right opposite the Spa Valley Railway, resides in the former Tunbridge Wells West station building — it still has the clock tower, which chimes at regular intervals. On the walk between Tunbridge Wells mainline station and Spa Valley Railway, you'll pass through The Pantiles, and walk past one end of the enchanting Frog Lane. Here's our full guide to Tunbridge Wells. If you alight at Groombridge, Groombridge Place and Enchanted Forest is a five-minute walk away — though you'll have to hop back on the Spa Valley Railway to get home, as there's no mainline station in Groombridge.

6) Walmer Castle

The exterior of part of Walmer Castle, showing two circular shaped parts of the building, one of which has battlements on top
Photo: DeFacto via creative commons

Kent is dripping with castles — you can barely swing your sword in this county without hitting one. And while some are tucked away deep in the countryside, others — such as Walmer Castle — are much easier to get to.

This English Heritage-owned seaside fortress has been home to the Duke of Wellington and the Queen Mother (not at the same time...) and displays the former's famous boots, as well as the armchair in which he died. Rooms open to the public include the Duke of Wellington's own bedroom.

The gardens are as impressive as the castle itself, with a kitchen garden, woodland paths to wander around, and a play trail for children. There's also a second-hand bookshop in the castle basement — ideal if you're looking for a new read for the train journey home.

See also: Tonbridge Castle, Rochester Castle, Deal Castle — all located within 10 minutes walk from their nearest station

Walmer Castle, Kingsdown Road, Deal, CT14 7LJ.

Getting there: Walmer Castle is under 30 minutes walk from Walmer station. Direct trains take around 90 minutes to St Pancras.

Nearby: If you've not had your fill of castles, Deal Castle is a 30-minute wander along the coast, and Deal is also home to a pier, a beach and other seaside attractions.

7) Canterbury Cathedral

The tower of Canterbury Cathedral, seen from down a pedestrianised street in the city centre, with shop signs hanging in the foreground
Photo: Inja Pavlić via Unsplash

Kent's only city is home to a World Heritage Site in the form of Canterbury Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is also leader of the Church of England. Despite its religious significance, the building is open to the public — it's known for welcoming pilgrims — with around a million visitors from over the world entering its doors each year.

Take a self-guided audio tour, or join an official tour and hear about Canterbury Cathedral's history, from the re-establishment of Christianity in England in 597, to the murder of Thomas Becket, which made Canterbury one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the medieval world. Visit the cloisters, the quire, and the crypt and get a closer look at the many stained glass windows. The cathedral also has some impressive gardens, worth visiting in their own right.

Canterbury Cathedral, The Precincts, Canterbury, CT1 2EH. Note the cathedral may be closed to visitors for special services and other events, so check before you make a special journey.

Getting there: Canterbury East and Canterbury West stations are each around a 10-minute walk from the Cathedral. Canterbury East gets you to Victoria in around 90 minutes, while Canterbury West has direct trains to St Pancras taking under an hour.

Nearby: There are oodles of things to do in the centre of Canterbury. Continue your religious voyage with a visit to St Augustine's Abbey, delver further into history at Canterbury Roman Museum, or ogle the view from the top of Westgate Towers.

8) Dickens House Museum, Broadstairs

The exterior of Dickens House Museum, a white, terraced house with black door and window frames, and a first floor balcony. There are colourful hanging baskets, and flowers in the front garden.
Image: Ron Strutt / Dickens House Museum, Broadstairs, Kent / CC BY-SA 2.0

Janet! Donkeys! This famous line from Charles Dickens' novel David Copperfield was inspired by events relating to the building which is now the Dickens House Museum. Dickens himself never lived here, but used to visit it for tea and cake with owner Miss Mary Pearson Strong, on whom he based Betsey Trotwood.

These days, the clifftop cottage is a museum, laid out as it would have been in Dickens' day, with the author's writing box and mahogany sideboard on display, along with prints by his illustrators. See letters written by Dickens, along with a fine collection of prints by H K Browne (Phiz), one of Dickens' principal illustrators. There is also a selection of letters written by Charles Dickens about Broadstairs, and examples of early editions of Dickens novels and serial publications.

Dickens House Museum, 2 Victoria Parade, Broadstairs, CT10 1QS.

Getting there: Dickens House Museum is a 10-minute walk from Broadstairs station, which has direct trains to St Pancras taking 1 hour 20 minutes, or Victoria taking a little under two hours.

Nearby: Realistically, you'll need an absolute maximum of a couple of hours to visit the museum. Why not wile away the rest of your day at Viking Bay, one of the south-east's best sandy beaches, located right below the museum? Or, wander less than half an hour along the coast to ogle North Foreland Lighthouse.

Last Updated 29 July 2022

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