During the 18th century, the most popular way to arrive in Margate, the voguish English coastal resort, was by water. Cargo ships carried passengers from London who wanted to experience saltwater swimming, which was touted as a panacea for all sorts of ailments. By 1815, one could travel from the British capital by steamer in just under eight hours. The salt air, and even saltier entertainment, drew literary figures from John Keats to Oscar Wilde. (“The Waste Land,” T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem, which references “Margate Sands,” was partly written at Nayland Rock, a Victorian promenade shelter.)

A century later, direct trains whisk Londoners to this sprawling Kent town in just 90 minutes. Margate is in the midst of another cultural renaissance that is no less seismic. The vast crescent of sand and all-consuming skies, which J. M. W. Turner declared “the loveliest in all Europe,” is as remarkable as ever. No wonder the artist captured its wild, blustery beauty in more than 100 paintings.

Margate has been a seaside escape from London since the 18th century, but now it has some panache.

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We also have him to thank for inspiring Turner Contemporary, Margate’s most prominent art gallery. Designed by the architect David Chipperfield, it opened in 2011 as part of a broader effort to regenerate the town. (Like so many other English resorts, it had fallen out of fashion as a vacation destination after the war. With the invention of the package holiday, Londoners began to travel more widely throughout Europe.)

The Turner Contemporary’s angular shafts of opaque glass stand beacon-like on the water’s edge. It overlooks the Georgian and Victorian grandeur of the seafront and the harbor arm, a hook-shaped sculpture that nods to Margate’s previous life as a medieval fishing hamlet.

“Most people in Margate would acknowledge that Turner Contemporary has made a difference and brought a positive focus to the town,” says Matthew Slotover, the co-founder of Frieze—the art fair, academy, and gallery—who was appointed chair of the gallery in October 2022. He hopes that by staging important exhibitions, the Turner will make the town an international destination for culture seekers. It seems to be working— since the opening, a wave of artists have migrated to Margate. “It’s become the Berlin of Britain,” says Slotover.

Under the direction of Frieze co-founder Matthew Slotover, the Turner Contemporary has been attracting artists and visitors from all over the world.

But unlike other hot spots, which become second-home ghost towns during the offseason, Margate has maintained its character. Slotover takes pains to temper the expectations of deep-pocketed collectors who come to Margate seeking some version of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “It’s not bourgeois or boring,” he says. “It’s real.”

And that’s why it appeals so strongly to urbanites.

Nicholas Cullinan, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, in London, and the actors Emma Corrin and Ben Whishaw have homes here, but weekenders are best served by Slotover’s other project, the 14-room Fort Road Hotel.

A onetime boardinghouse that dates to 1820, the building site had been derelict for more than 20 years when Slotover acquired it in 2018, along with his partners, the artist and author Tom Gidley and the designer Gabriel Chipperfield. It was in such a state of disrepair they couldn’t even enter it. Together, they have overseen a stylish, ground-up renovation, adding a top floor and bijou roof terrace with a panoramic view across the bay. Its virtues include midcentury furnishings, beautiful art and furniture, and a pistachio-paneled, terra-cotta-tiled restaurant serving garden-fresh cuisine cooked up by River Cafe alumna Daisy Cecil. There’s a sense that the hotel joins the dots, linking together the independent shops and cafés of the Old Town with Margate’s cooler outlier, Cliftonville.

The 14-room Fort Road Hotel was purchased and completely reimagined by Slotover, Gabriel Chipperfield, and Tom Gidley.

Yet the biggest splash is being made by the artist Tracey Emin, the town’s prodigal daughter. Emin describes its geography as “thrusting like a bent forefinger from the crazed knuckle of England.” Her 1970s childhood experiences there—her rape at the age of 13, encounters with punk rockers, and dancing with Chuck Berry—have long cast a dark shadow in her work.

“Yet I owe so much to the place I grew up,” she has conceded. “Mainly because it is so beautiful. And what is so fantastic and beautiful is the sunset, and that is free.”

She recently returned to live in Margate after recovering from bladder cancer. In 2017, Emin and her former partner, the gallerist Carl Freedman, bought a series of buildings, which they turned into a home and studio, complete with a swimming pool. Next came TKE Studios, her artist residency and teaching space, which awards free 18-month stays to at least 10 painters, sculptors, and ceramists at a time.

Emin at her Margate studio. She recently opened an arts school and residency program in her hometown.

These legacy-building acts have seen Emin crowned the unofficial Queen of Margate. She recently announced plans to transform Westbrook Loggia, a dilapidated bathing house, into a public swimming pool, sauna, and café.

Emin’s work introduced many artists to Margate, including the London-based actor Russell Tovey. Along with Robert Diament, the director of the Carl Freedman Gallery, he hosts the podcast and book series Talk Art. Tovey is currently renovating a weekend home there; Diament moved to the town in 2019. “It never feels like people move here just because they can’t afford London,” says Tovey. “Margate is its own thing. It’s queer, it’s foodie, it’s arty, and it’s unique in the way it’s growing and building its own narrative.”

Ed Wilson and Josie Stead, the restaurateurs behind Sargasso, expanded to Margate following the success of their first project, Brawn, in London’s Hackney neighborhood.

The food scene is a big part of that. The restaurants Sargasso and Bottega Caruso are often full, and locals and tourists alike can’t get enough of Angela’s, which specializes in seafood. Its co-owner, Lee Coad, is a former art director who moved to Margate from Hong Kong six years ago. “We’re not fancy,” he says. “It’s about doing something creative and interesting.”

Coad’s next endeavor is the Perfect Place to Grow, a working café and restaurant with a training kitchen that will open this fall. It was created together with community developer Anistasia James and Bottega Caruso’s Harry Ryder, and its aim is to help local youth find a passion—and full-time employment—in food. Taking its name from the 2001 installation by Tracey Emin, the project has been made possible by the fact that the artist has given them a space, rent-free. For Coad, it’s this eagerness to evolve that makes Margate so special.

Clams in broth at Sargasso.

When Dom Bridges, the founder of the skin-care brand Haeckels, first visited Margate while touring the Kent coast over a decade ago, he was so enchanted that he stayed indefinitely. “I’d just come back from Cuba, and something about the faded grandeur and bleak desolation of the place, which seemed as though it had almost fallen into the sea, felt comforting,” he says.

He soon realized that Margate was home to an abundance of seaweed, an under-used resource that can be processed into an anti-aging ingredient used in skin care. Inspired by the farm-to-face beauty he’d encountered in Los Angeles, Bridges began making seaweed-based soaps for friends. This enterprise eventually became the skin-care brand Haeckels, whose seaweed-based products are, he says, “not made in Margate, but made of Margate.”

Sam Mendes filmed his 2022 drama, Empire of Light, at Dreamland Margate, an amusement park.

When Haeckels opened its Cliftonville store in 2012, the rent was less than $100 per week. But even though there were few visitors then, its highly Instagrammable design generated a lot of publicity. In the years that followed, many film and television projects were shot in Margate, including Empire of Light, starring Olivia Colman, and the recent Lily Allen comedy series Dreamland, which was named for Margate’s Art Deco amusement park. “There was a point when you could barely go out to buy a bag of crisps without ruining a Sam Mendes shot,” says Bridges with a laugh.

Last year, Estée Lauder bought a minority stake in Haeckels, and its minimalist bottles and balms—little tokens of Margate—are now found in boutiques all over the world. Communal, creative, and steeped in briny British history, Margate has chugged along for centuries. And yet now, it’s only getting started.

Aimee Farrell is a Cambridge, U.K.–based writer. She is a contributing editor at the Financial Times’s HTSI and a contributing writer for T: The New York Times Style Magazine and British Vogue