Si had just gotten a new car and was keen to take it out for a Sunday drive, and I was up for doing some exploring so, we decided to head east on a day trip to Whitstable to take the new wheels for a spin. A few of my friends had recommended England’s oyster capital to me, the seaside town of Whitstable. With the unprecedented heat wave that continued on strong, I quite fancied a day out at the beach. I had grand visions of rock, colourful beach huts and long stretches of white sandy beaches. Located in Kent, just a 1.5-hour drive from central London, it was the perfect day trip option.
How to get to Whitstable: We jumped in the car and cruised along with the top down feeling the heat of the summers sun on our milky white skin. The High Street and Harbour Street were busy with tourists and local thoroughfare as we approached the town. There wasn’t a whole lot of signage for parking – I had been warned about this. This right here could have been the deciding factor on if we were to have a good day or a bad day. Si likes to take his time finding the perfect car space. I imagine it’s like me getting good feng shui about a seat on the tube – sometimes you just need to get that feeling? Fortunately, we fluked out and found the perfect spot by the harbour’s edge. Tip: arrive early to avoid traffic.
Where to park in Whitstable: There is a school on the high street with charity parking – it is usually less congested than the small parking lots by the sea. Or to avoid the parking issue entirely, get the train. With regular services that take just over an hour from the city, it’s a great stress-free option.
Where to go in Whitstable: As we entered the harbour, we took a left along the esplanade westbound towards The Old Neptune. The weathered houses that lined the shore had seen better days. The beachfront was not the long stretches of white sandy beaches that I had imagined and was instead allotments with coarsely grained sand. Weeds matted themselves around upturned boats and the sky suddenly looked rather grey. This was not the Whitstable that my friends had described.
Whilst the beach front was not as picturesque as I had imagined, we persevered. We soon came across some quaint colourful cottages and oyster shacks that opened onto the seafront. They were nothing fancy, but there was something very rustic and charming about them. Where to eat in Whitstable: I actually had a lunch reservation for us at legendary Wheelers, Whitstable’s oldest restaurant located on the high street. The teeny tiny oyster parlour and seafood bar serves market-fresh seafood and is somewhat of a local institution. Its candyfloss shopfront has been welcoming delighted diners since 1856. But as the sun came out from behind the clouds again, in the humidity I just couldn’t bring myself to go inside when I could be outside in the fresh air by the sea. So, we joined the queue at The Forge and ordered half a dozen of Whitstable’s finest oysters.
We plonked ourselves on a wooden bench and savoured the salty brine flavour in our mouths. I have to admit, this wasn’t the oyster eating experience I had imagined we would have. I saw some lovely oysters being served up ahead of us, but ours, in particular, didn’t look very appetizing. So much so, that I actually only had one before being put off entirely, but Si assured me despite their looks they still tasted good. I also felt let down by the cheap wine served in plastic cups on offer. I had hoped for a lovely glass of chilled Chablis alongside my fresh oysters. C’est la vie I guess!
Where to eat inWhitstable: Along the way, we passed The Whitstable Oyster Company, a lovely looking beach chic restaurant. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any availability but the hostess was super helpful and could see that we were desperate for a nice seaside restaurant, so pointed us in the direction of the Lobster Shack. It’s easy to see why The Whitstable Oyster Company is so popular, I would recommend booking in advance to avoid disappointment.
On the other side of the harbour was the Lobster Shack. Specialising in a selection of incredibly fresh seafood alongside local beers and wine. The beach bar has loads of outdoor seating along the edge of the harbour, looking back over the busy esplanade. So, I hurried off into the sunshine to grab us a table while Si joined the mahoosive queue. I was so hungry by this point and looking forward to our yummy fresh fish and chips. About that… Si came back looking like thunder, “there’s a 40-minute wait on all orders”. What were the chances?! So, we were up and off again in search of some of this enticing seafood we had heard so much about.
Running out of seaside options, we headed back to the harbour. Busy with fishing trawlers and loud squawking gulls, we stumbled across the Harbour Garden Café, and after a short wait, they had a table available for us. Hallelujah! The portions were massive, the fish was some of the freshest I have ever had – I couldn’t fault it. It was heavenly.
Where to go in Whitstable: We decided to go for a stroll along the high street after lunch to stretch our legs ahead of the journey back and to try to walk off our filling lunch. Lined with pretty boutiques and cafés, Whitstable’s high street is charming and delightful. No trip to the beach is complete without an ice-cream, so we stopped in at Sundae Sundae who have an incredible selection of creamy English ice creams and sensational sweets (including that rock I had imagined about!).
As evening approached, it was time to head back to London. The verdict? Being Australian, I am always happiest when I am beside the sea. I love the sound of the soft waves crashing along the shore, the smell of the fresh salt water, and the feeling of the cool ocean breeze against my skin. Whilst Whitstable was not quite as I had imagined it would be, I thought it was a sweet down to earth rustic seaside town, well worth a visit. I would suggest calling ahead and making a lunch reservation to avoid disappointment; The Whitstable Oyster Company looked like a great option. We went on a Sunday and found quite a few shops along the high street were closed, Saturday may be a better option.
Until next time, safe travels.
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