Kent is well-known for its famous landmarks: Chatham dockyards, the white cliffs of Dover, Canterbury Cathedral and Dover Castle amongst many others, but the county is also home to a number of lesser-known attractions hidden amongst the ‘Garden of England’. These are the top 5 hidden tourism gems of Kent.
- Located on the fringes of the High Weald, and just off the A229 near Staplehurst, Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens was the home of the poet Vita Sackwille-West and her husband Harold Nicolson in the 1930s, where they transformed it from a squalid farmstead into one of the country’s most influential gardens. Built in the middle ages, the building has seen a multitude of uses, from a stately home which once entertained Queen Elizebeth in 1573, to a prisoner of war camp during the seven-year war. Although never truly a ‘castle’, Sissinghurst Castle Gardens is a beautiful place to visit, whatever time of year.
- Set amongst the expansive East Kent Marshes is the home of potentially one of Britain’s most important Roman sites – Richborough Roman Fort. Originally founded during the Roman invasion of AD 43, the pioneering fort and Ampitheatre lasted until the downfall of Roman rule in AD 410. Features at the English Heritage site include an entensive audio tour, the ability to explore the huge ‘Saxon Shore’ Fortress walls, and the option to catch a boat from Sandwich to the fort, just like the Romans did! Both the fort and Amphitheatre are located just off Richborough Road, near Sandwich.
- Lullingstone Roman Villa is an intriguing view into the past; presenting in beautifully preserved condition the life of wealthy owners living in luxury. The remains of the Villa have been covered by a purpose-built museum which holds many artefacts of the period, including human remains and an incredible floor mosaic from the Villa. You can even dress up like a Roman with their range of traditional Roman costumes! This is an attraction that can be visited all year round, with multiple events occurring each year.
The site has free parking and is close to Eynsford town, near junction 3 for the M25, the A20 towards West Kingsdown and A225 to Eynsford. It is also a short walk from Eynsford Train Station.
- Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest is recognised as having the most complete collection of conifers on one site of anywhere in the world, including 56 vulnerable or critically endangered species. Open all year, the site offers something for everyone, comprising of many cycle and mountain biking routes, paths, and running trails. There is also a Go Ape tree top adventure and adventure play trail. The Bedgebury Café, open all year round, offers a wide range of locally sourced food as well as Fairtrade tea and coffee.
- Down House, near Orpington, is the home of world-renowned scientist Charles Darwin and is one of the county’s ‘must-see’ attractions. You can stand in the study where he wrote the revolutionary ‘On the Origin of Species’, amble through the house gardens that inspired the great man’s work, or let Sir David Attenborough take you on an interactive multimedia tour of the house. The Darwin family escaped to the Down House in 1842 after life in a cramped London house became too much, with Charles’ wife Emma describing the house ‘at the extreme edge of the world’, with plenty of room for the children to play.
Today, you can explore the structurally unchanged study where he worked, full of original furniture and dozens of Darwin’s possessions. The house is open all year round, and is located off the A21 on Luxted Road near Orpington. There is free parking and the house is accessible via a level pathway.