Explore pretty parklands, traditional Kentish villages, and a grand, 1100-year-old castle in Maidstone and its surroundings.

As the county town of Kent and one of its most storied locales, Maidstone thrives from its origins as a pivotal meeting ground and a legacy that continues to define its character. The name ‘Maidstone’ traces back to the year 975, when it was recorded as ‘de maeides stana’ and ‘maegdan stane’ – ‘the people’s stone’ – marking its status as the bustling hub along the River Medway centuries ago. This river served as the historic demarcation between West and East Kent, with Maidstone reigning as the capital of the former. To the west resided the ‘Kentish Men’, while to the east dwelled the ‘Men of Kent’—a distinction proudly maintained to this day.

What to do in Maidstone

Nestled within the picturesque villages and verdant countryside encircling the town, Leeds Castle is Maidstone’s most enchanting historical and cultural attraction. Often hailed as ‘the loveliest castle in the world’, the castle greets visitors with an unforgettable sight as it gracefully emerges from its surrounding moat and well-kept parkland. Its fascinating past saw it used as a home for six of England’s medieval queens, is complemented by a lavish 20th-century transformation, orchestrated by the Anglo-American heiress, Lady Baillie, whose influence on the castle has been kept flawlessly intact. Today, Leeds Castle stands as one of Britain’s most revered historic attractions, captivating visitors with its timeless allure.

Although parts of Maidstone have been redeveloped, it remains very much a historic town steeped in tradition, with several original buildings for visitors to admire. One such gem is the Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery, which is nestled within the beautiful Chillington Manor House, a splendid Tudor residence. Established in 1858, the museum possesses an impressive collection of over 660,000 artefacts and specimens, offering a rich array of exhibits and objects to explore, alongside regular storytelling sessions and children’s holiday activities. Highlights not to be missed include a 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy, Maidstone’s very own dinosaur, and interesting local tales that cover everything from toffees to cricket balls. Perhaps surprisingly, the museum also houses a vast Japanese Gallery, which is one of the country’s finest collections of Japanese art with over 3,000 artefacts. Meanwhile, fans of military history may enjoy a look around the esteemed Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regimental Museum, an independent museum housed inside the Maidstone Museum that provides a compelling insight into the history of Maidstone’s famous local regiment.

For a further glimpse into Maidstone’s bygone era, venture to the stables of the former Archbishop’s Palace on Mill Street. Here lies the Maidstone Carriage Museum, inside which more than 60 vehicles grace its displays, ranging from majestic carriages like Queen Victoria’s State Landau to antique Sedan chairs and Victorian ‘growlers’. The museum owes its impressive collection to Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake, a 12-time Mayor of Maidstone, who began amassing carriages upon realising the decline of horse-drawn vehicles due to the rise of the motor car, providing a poignant tribute to preserving the past for generations to come.

Alongside its wealth of historical sites and museums, Maidstone has a myriad of country parks and outdoor activities on its doorstep. Among these, Mote Park has a long-held reputation as the town’s most impressive, standing as a quintessential outdoor destination in all seasons. The park’s origins trace back to medieval times, and it has since amassed a rich history, not least under its former owners: the Royal Family. For nearly nine centuries, Mote Park has welcomed visitors to partake in leisurely pursuits within its expansive grounds, which encompass over 450 acres. Today, beyond leisurely walks and scenic cycling routes, the park boasts a diverse array of activities, including Segway tours, dinosaur-themed 9-hole adventure golf, and exhilarating adventures like the 32ft-high Sky Trail and climbing wall. Young adventurers may frolic in the children’s adventure park, while a vast lake sets a gorgeous scene for a day of fishing (enthusiasts can obtain permits on the day with a valid rod licence).

Where to eat in Maidstone

For those in pursuit of refined dining experiences, or seeking the ideal spot for a romantic rendezvous, Maidstone offers an abundance of culinary delights to satisfy every palate. One example of this is Frédéric Bistro, a delightful French bistro and cocktail bar adorned with outdoor tables, and complemented by an adjacent pâtisserie and wine bar. The epitome of authentic French gastronomy, Frédéric’s menu draws inspiration from the picturesque Dordogne region of France, boasting delicious home-cooked fare and promising guests a delightful journey through beloved French culinary classics, expertly paired with fine wines to elevate the dining experience. Alternatively, for those still eager to immerse themselves in Maidstone’s rich architectural heritage, La Taberna beckons. Tucked away within the ethereal Corpus Christi Hall on the foodie hotspot of Earl Street, La Taberna invites patrons into its familial embrace. Born from a ‘family dream’ started in Marbella, Spain, more than 25 years ago, this Spanish restaurant and bar exudes warmth and authenticity, offering an enticing array of tapas and expertly crafted cocktails.

What to do in West Malling

Just a short drive or train journey from Maidstone, explorers can find the market town of West Malling, where contemporary flair harmonises with a storied past. Prepare to be captivated by its picturesque streets adorned with eye-catching architecture and enticing boutiques, its eclectic mix of individual shops and the monthly Farmers’ Market adding to the town’s vibrant atmosphere. The landscape is adorned with a treasure trove of ancient buildings, including the striking Tudor Abbey Gatehouse, the unique Georgian waterfall known as The Cascades, and the grand Queen Anne Went House. Echoes of centuries past resonate through the Mill Yard Craft Centre, which dates back to the 1550s, and is now home to a collection of specialist shops and a charming tearoom. Delve into history at the remnants of St Leonard’s Tower, a towering Norman keep under the care of English Heritage, and the historic Church of St Mary the Virgin, both serving as poignant reminders of West Malling’s rich heritage.

West Malling further entices visitors with a diverse culinary scene, boasting an array of restaurants, pubs, cafés, and quaint tearooms. Extend your visit to West Malling by visiting The Swan, an independent bar and restaurant which adds another touch of luxury to the town. With fresh takes on modern classics and exciting seasonal dishes filling their all-day menus, The Swan offers a stylish welcome to everyone; whether you’re stopping by for a brilliant brunch, the fabulous set menu, date night cocktails or a hearty Sunday roast, you’re certain to be pleased.

Where to stay in Maidstone & West Malling

For larger family or group getaways in Maidstone and West Malling, Farriers Cottage is a beautiful grade-listed accommodation offering excellent access to the towns and their nearby attractions. Tucked away in a quiet position behind West Malling’s high street, this property provides a tranquil stay for up to seven guests, and includes a private garden that’s perfect for both lounging in the warm afternoon sun, or enjoying a family barbecue. With charming decor that spans the best of both worlds, Farriers Cottage retains many of its original characteristics (exposed beams, fireplace) in the living spaces, while bathrooms and the kitchen feature up-to-date amenities, providing modern comforts.

Families and groups of up to five will love the luxurious stay provided by Bushes Oast, a stunning newly-renovated oast house in Sevenoaks. Set within a private estate overlooking the Weald, the property benefits from wonderful, uninterrupted views that can be enjoyed from both the house and garden. With miles of footpaths right on its doorstep, it’s the perfect option for those who want to combine day trips to Maidstone with a few walks in the countryside (perhaps with a dog or two?).

Couples seeking a picturesque, romantic getaway with good access to local attractions should look no further than the gorgeous Little Seven Oaks. Situated a 20-minute walk through glorious countryside from historic Leeds Castle, this modern annexe has it all; from reading snug and private terrace with fire pit, to 600 thread count linens, warm robes, and a generous welcome pack, relaxation is all but guaranteed.