Whitstable is a small, unique, delightfully quirky, seaside, fishing town in east Kent. It is packed full of lovely independent shops and places to eat and drink, it’s a vibrant town with a huge sense of community.
Whitstable is most famous for its native oysters and for its annual Oyster Festival which attracts visitors and celebrities from all over the UK. You can also now see Whitstable on your television, in a new series called “Whitstable Pearl” which you can find on Acorn TV. The series is based on The Whitstable Pearl Mystery books written by local resident author Julie Wassmer.
Whitstable Oyster history
The history of Whitstable oysters dates right back to the Roman times around 80 AD. In 1973 the rights to harvest Oysters in Whitstable was purchased by the Company of Free Fishers and Dredgers of Whitstable and they are still harvested today by The Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company.
Whitstable beach is a shingle/sandy beach and when the tide is out you can see the oyster beds in the sands. Whitstable oysters are the Ostrea Edulis ( native oyster) and the Crassostrea Gigas ( cultivated European Oyster) – the meat is very fat and succulent and these can only be found in the oyster beds in Whitstable apparently.
They are world famous for their outstanding quality, so well worth a try if you are in the town. They are delicious eaten with a squeeze of lemon or tabasco.
You can also try them in local restaurants grilled with either Garlic butter and parmesan, Black truffle butter and champagne, Guinness tempura batter, Thai style with lemongrass, cucumber and lime granita or Southern Fried, Louisiana style, with bacon, roasted peppers and chorizo crumble.
How to eat your Oyster
Legend has it that you should tip it down without chewing it, but apparently in order to enjoy the full flavour of the oyster, it’s recommended that you chew it once or twice before you swallow it.
You should use your fork to loosen the oyster from it’s shell after it’s been shucked ( the opening of the shell ) and then tip the oyster into your mouth, from the wider end of the shell.
Whitstable Oyster Festival
The Whitstable Oyster Festival has become quite a well known event in recent years and regularly attracts celebrities from all over the UK to the town.
The festival starts with celebrating the first Oysters of the season landing on the shore. The Oysters are brought ashore and then received by the Lord Mayor of Canterbury and blessed by the clergy.
The festival dates back to Norman times, when Whitstable was a fishing port and the town had an annual thanksgiving and blessing of the Oysters and the town. This day would be a day off for the villagers and they would spend the day playing games and feasting. This day was the 25th July which was St James’ Day, who is the patron Saint of Fishermen.
This became the Whitstable Regatta in the 18th Century and more recently the Whitstable Oyster Festival.
The Oyster Festival now helps to promote the locally grown oysters and there’s lots of fun and games to join in over the weekend. You can “build a grotter” out of oyster shells which involves you making a little round “Grotto” made of the shells and then a tealight is placed in the middle so that it glows in the dark.
This tradition of building a Grotter was originally to pay your respects to St James but then became something used by children to get a penny from passers by and now it’s a lovely tradition during the Oyster Festival and well worth seeing all the grotters lit up on the beach at dusk.
You can also join in the Oyster eating competition, the challenge is to see who can eat 6 oysters and drink half a pint of beer in the fastest time and keep it down !! Another favourite is the Mud Tug which involves teams of 8 adults competing in a tug of war in the mud, on Long Beach, often in fancy dress .
There’s also plenty for children to do with kite flying, crabbing competitions ( with prizes for the biggest, smallest, angriest, ugliest and prettiest crabs), beach cleaning, pirate pottery and a treasure hunt.
The main part of the harbour is where all the fishing boats are moored up for the night. The boats catch Oysters as well as Shrimps, Cockles, Whelks, Dover sole, Skate, Crabs and Lobsters to name a few.
Opposite the harbour is the Whitstable Fish Market which is one of the biggest, premium fish and seafood markets in the UK. Next door to this is the Crab and Winkle Restaurant and The Harbour Garden Cafe where you can sample the local produce and enjoy a glass or two looking out onto the harbour.
Whitstable Harbour Market
Right next to the harbour you will find the Whitstable Harbour Market. Each hut sells different hand made, top quality, crafted goods and fine art. There’s micro eateries, jewellery, ceramics, paintings and all sorts of locally made products. A lovely place to pick up some momentos of your visit to Whitstable.
Eating out in Whitstable
There are plenty of restaurants and cafes to have something to eat in Whitstable and lots of independently owned shops to browse around. The restaurants in Whitstable are second to none and there are plenty to choose from for your evening meal.
In Whitstable itself there is the Samphire Restaurant which always uses locally sourced food from local farmers, allotments and fishermen.
For seafood restaurants there is Wheelers Oyster Bar in the high street or The Crab and Winkle or The Oyster Shack on the harbour.
Just outside Whitstable there is a fabulous Michelin starred restaurant called The Sportsman which is an acclaimed gastro pub, although you may have to book in advance for this as it does get very busy.
For lunch and snacks there are also some amazing, independent cafes in town serving locally sourced food, such as the multi award winning Whitstable Produce Store in Harbour street who have the most delicious, freshly squeezed, fruit smoothies and vegetable juices, freshly made coffees, locally made cakes and pastries .
The Umbrella Cafe sells the most amazing home made cakes and lunches, catering for all dietary requirements and in the summer if you fancy an ice cream then head on down to Sundae Sundae in Harbour Street for a bucket full of ice cream. They have so many flavours, some quite unusual, and loads of toppings, so well worth a visit.
Great pubs in Whitstable
The Neptune Pub
Along the beach you will find The Old Neptune or “Neppy” as the locals affectionately call it. It’s right on the sea front on the beach and you can have a pint or glass of something from their extensive wine list, whilst watching the sun go down on the beach, on one of their many picnic benches.
They also serve home made, traditional pub grub which is delicious. They are a live music venue too and often have music events on Saturdays and Sundays from 6pm.
The original site of the Old Neptune was thought to have been maybe a boat yard workshop. Then a beer house called The Old Neptune was built right on the beach in Whitstable.
In 1853 it suffered bad damage when an exceptionally high tide and gales washed away the foundations. In 1883 there was another big storm which didn’t damage the pub, but it did take a few lives at sea and the pub was apparently used a temporary morgue for those lost during the storm.
Sadly in 1897 the pub was badly damaged by the sea in another big storm.
A new and better Old Neptune was built using some of the timber from the destroyed pub and other cottages that had been effected during the great storm.
The pub is now run by Darren Wilton who has made it a huge success. It sits in pride of place on Whitstable seafront and is one of a handful of pubs that are actually situated on a beach in the UK.
Other Whitstable Pubs
The Duke of Cumberland on the corner of Harbour Street in Whitstable town centre is great for live music, high quality accommodation, food and drink.
Also in Harbour Street you will find The Twelve Taps. This is a craft beer bar and also serves numerous types of gin. The draft beers they have on tap are Urban Goose, Spratwaffler, Tinsel Town, Sweeeet Wheat, Mors, Jule Bock, Art of Escapism, Lighthouse Lager, Dry Stout, Capulets, Twerking Turkeys and Peel and Bean.
Independent Shops in Whitstable and Tankerton
Whitstable is full of independently owned shops with a huge variety of high quality and hand made goods. There’s something there for everyone.
Fantastic shops such as Toys N Trends, Harbour books, Copperfields Cook Shop, Flory and Black, Whitstable Lavender, Georges Whitstable, The Cheese Box, Mosaic, Buttercup and Jane at Graham Greener to name just a few.
The Whitstable Pearl TV Series
Whitstable can now be seen in all it’s glory on Acorn TV in a new hit series called “Whitstable Pearl” which is based on a series of books called “The Whitstable Pearl Mysteries” written by local, resident author Julie Wassmer. It stars Kerry Godliman who plays the feisty detective Pearl Nolan.
The series follows Pearl who is starting up a detective agency, which she runs from her family restaurant on Whitstable Harbour and sees her teaming up with Chief Inspector Mike McGuire to help solve local murders. It’s a great whodunit series and well worth a watch.
Julie is on her 9th book now in the Whitstable Pearl Mysteries series. Her books are The Whitstable Pearl Mystery, Murder-on-sea, May Day Murder, Murder on the Pilgrims Way, Disappearance at Oare, Murder Fest, Murder on the Downs and Strictly Murder. The latest Novel in the series “Murder at Mount Ephraim” is due to be released on the 12th May 2022.
There is a Castle in Whitstable. It used to be a family residence to the Pearson’s in the late 1790’s but has since been renovated with millions of pounds being spent on it. It’s about 5 minutes walk from the harbour and it’s a lovely place for an afternoon stroll and has a great children’s play area in the grounds.
There’s a lovely tea shop there too if you fancy treating yourself.
Originally the building was Tankerton Manor and was used as a base for “Copperas” a mineral used to help fix dye colours to material. In 1773 the owner of the Manor married Charles Pearson in 1780 but sadly the use of copperas declined so Mr Pearson took down the factory and rebuilt an octagonal tower called The Manor House which is still part of Whitstable Castle.
Mr Pearson also helped with the start of the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway apparently. Following his death the castle passed to a cousin Wynn Ellis in 1836. He purchased the Tower for his mistress and built a new wing called the Bell Tower and designed new gardens around the house.
The gardens are simply stunning and have many plants there from all around the world. There is a terraced garden, a rose garden, beautiful herbaceous borders and the lawns look out onto the Thames Estuary.
After his death and being owned by a few of his children it was purchased by the local council in 1935 where it was used as council offices for a while with the gardens open to the public.
The castle is now owned by a local trust and primarily used as a wedding and conference venue.
The Maunsell Forts
From the shore you can see the fabulous forts which line the coast line from Whitstable to Herne Bay. The Maunsell Forts were built in 1942-1943 by Guy Maunsell to protect the Port of London shipping channel which ran through Whitstable during the 2nd World War.
This shipping channel was a target for German mines and by 1940 over 100 ships had been sunk in the Thames Estuary. The forts could apparently hold 265 soldiers who were to fire the anti aircraft guns situated on top.
These crews remained there until 1953 even though the war ended in 1945. The forts were then stripped of their amourments and left, as it was apparently too expensive to take them apart.
They have since been used for a few pirate radio stations such as Screaming Lord Sutche’s Radio Station and more recently by Red Sands Radio. They were also apparently used in a Doctor Who episode.
Greta Sailing Barge
You can go out to see the forts on the Greta Sailing Barge based in Whitstable Harbour. The Greta Thames Barge is one of the oldest barges left in the UK. It was built in 1892 and was originally used to ship goods on the Thames Estuary.
It was even a part of Operation Dynamo – the rescue of troops from Dunkirk in 1940. Now you can take trips on the barge around Whitstable, The Forts and Wind flats, Reculver and to Swale to see the seals.
The famous actor Peter Cushing was a resident of Whitstable for over 50 years. He was well known for his portrayal of Baron Frankenstein, Doctor Van Helsing in Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who and more recently for his role of Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars.
The local Wetherspoons is named after him and you can read all about his life and times in the Whitstable museum and Gallery and see pictures and memorabilia from his film star days.
Whitstable locals always talked about what a gentleman he was and he apparently always took time to support local charities and causes. He used to love painting pictures of the sea and there is a special bench on the beach commemorating this, called “Cushing’s View” by Island Wall.
The First Ever Diving Helmet
Did you know that the first ever air pumped diving helmet was designed and built in Whitstable in 1829 by Charles and John Deane, which they then used to salvage shipwrecks such as the Mary Rose.
Tankerton is a small village next to Whitstable, formally known as Tankerton-on-Sea. It dates back to the late 19th Century when the railway opened a station there to bring holidaymakers to the seaside.
There are some fabulous tea shops in Tankerton including Quite Contrary and The Bears Trading Company. Quite Contrary is a family run business with a gift shop, cafe and a venue for children’s parties. All their cakes and scones are handmade in the shop and are legendary.
The Bears Trading Company is also worth a visit too. It’s packed full of bears of all types and sizes, it’s a veritable Bear Utopia. It’s also a gift shop, tea room and ice cream parlour.
If you want to try some delicious Tapas and Cocktails the place to go is JoJo’s meze, meat and fish restaurant on Tankerton seafront. JoJo’s is a family run restaurant that serves amazing sharing dishes with a mediterranean feel. Everything is freshly cooked to order and the dishes are simply divine. You will need to book a table if you would like to go, make sure that you book early as it’s very popular.
There are some fabulous seafront places to stay in Tankerton like the Marine Hotel and Beacon House. The Marine Hotel is one of the earliest set of terraced house built on Marine Drive in Tankerton, dating back to the 1800’s.
It was used as a military hospital during WW2 and then was brought by the local brewery Shepherd Neame in 1949 who transformed it into a luxury hotel with period details, modern comfort and a contemporary interior style. They even rebuilt and restored the original first-floor balustrade.
Beacon House is another favourite place to stay. You can hire the whole cottage and it’s placed right on Tankerton Seafront, in front of the famous street, were you can walk out into the sea from the shore.
Beacon house is also registered for Weddings and is perfect for a seaside wedding venue and then a great place to stay on for your honeymoon or just for a relaxing week away right by the sea. It has stunning views and is such a pretty house with a wooden front and verandah with wrap around decking.
This famous stretch of shingle strip is only visable at low tide and is know locally as “The Street”. It’s about a mile and a half long and you can walk right out into the sea on the strip, to look back on the beach and surrounding shores. It’s a totally unique stretch and a must see if you are in the area. It’s absolutely stunning at sundown and a great place for photo opportunities.
Caution must be advised though, as it’s easy to be caught out by the advancing tide.
Whitstable is a lovely, vibrant, eclectic harbour town and there is always so much to see and do there. There are some fantastic places to stay in and around the area and some lovely local shops, restaurants and pubs to visit.
It’s a great place to wander around, try some local delicacies and get a blast of sea air to blow away the cobwebs.