Situated in the heart of Kent, surrounded by lush countryside and quaint villages, you’ll find the rapidly growing town of Ashford. It isn’t exactly known as a tourist hot spot but if you’re just visiting or new to town you might be wondering what there is to do. This article will show you all the best things to do in Ashford that are worth checking out!
After having spent the last 2.5 years of my life living in Ashford, Kent I’ve been asked almost on a daily basis by locals “what is a Canadian doing in Ashford!?” If I received £1 for every time someone asked me this, let’s just say I wouldn’t be living in Ashford!
In all seriousness, my time in Ashford has been an overall positive experience. Despite the fact that people love to speak negatively about this town, Ashford is actually full of fascinating history and it’s located only 38 minutes from London by train.
The gorgeous town of Canterbury is only a 15 minute train journey away and the picturesque village of Wye is one stop away on the train. Feel like spending the day in Paris or Brussels? Just hop on the Eurostar from Ashford’s International train station and you can be there in under 2 hours! The location honestly couldn’t be any better!
I’m not here to tell you that Ashford is an incredible destination that you should go out of your way to visit. However if you do find yourself in town, I’ve created this list of the top 10 things to do in Ashford that are worth checking out 🙂
Table of Contents
The Top 10 Best Things To Do In Ashford
Just outside of the town centre is the lovely green space and the largest park in Ashford, Victoria Park. Dating back to the 19th century during the time that Ashford’s population began to rapidly grow, this 17 acre park was created to provide more leisure facilities for the town. Trees were planted throughout the park to honor important townspeople and members of the royal family and in 1912, the park was given its best feature, the Hubert Fountain.
Today, Victoria Park is a peaceful place to relax with a book, have a picnic, or go for a walk or run along the riverside. I really enjoyed living right next to this beautiful park during my time spent in Ashford!
St Mary the Virgin Church
Ashford’s town centre has seen many changes to its appearance over the centuries but there has always been one thing that’s remained unchanged, the beautiful medieval church. There has been a church on that site for nearly 1000 years dating back to the Anglo-Saxon times but the existing building has been standing since the late 13th century.
St Mary’s church went under significant restorations by Sir John Fogge in the late 15th century, transforming it into the church that we see today! Take a walk around the church yard and through the old cemetery. The church yard is surrounded by historic buildings dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries.
Inside the church is where you can find some impressive ancient artifacts including Sir John Fogge’s tomb, a carved Coat of Arms of Charles II, a beautifully carved marble pulpit and more. The church is located in the heart of Ashford town centre and is open to visitors daily from 10 am.
The Willesborough Windmill is located on the outskirts of Ashford town centre. It’s a beautifully restored and working windmill that was built in 1869 by John Hill. This year it is celebrating its 150th anniversary! The mill was originally used to produce flour until the sweeps stopped turning in the 1930s. It was fully renovated by the Ashford Borough Council and opened up to the public in 1991.
Nowadays you can find a museum inside the mill as well as a little cafe selling cakes, tea and coffee. The mill is only open during the summer season from the March 30th – October 27th.
If you want to visit this historic windmill, the museum is open on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from 2 – 5pm. They are also open on Wednesday afternoons from 2- 5pm during July & August. If you’re interested in taking a tour, it lasts between 45 minutes & 1 hour.
Best Pubs in Ashford for Lunch
There’s nothing I love more than a good old English pub lunch. Old English pubs are definitely one of the things I will miss the most when I leave the UK! One of my favourite things to do in Ashford is to go for a nice pub lunch. Below I have listed some of the best pubs in Ashford that are worth stopping at for lunch or just for a drink!
Coming in at no. 1 on my list is the newest addition to Ashford’s pub scene: the Curious Brewery. Conveniently located opposite the Ashford train station, this one is worth a stop even if you’re just passing through! While it’s not actually an old pub (it’s literally the newest pub in town), the food and brews here are truly one of a kind.
Inspired by the Chapel Down winemakers, their delicious ciders and premium beers are all produced on site. Book a tour & tasting or stop in here for a relaxed afternoon of drinks and lunch. They have a large range of tasty snacks and starters to accompany your drinks and the perfect atmosphere for socializing.
On my recent visit to the Curious, I had the veggie burger made with spiced cauliflower along with the triple cooked chips – which are amazing by the way. The Kent cheeseboard and Scotch eggs are great too! Click here to see their full menu.
The Old Mill is a historic building that dates back to the early 19th century. Located on Canterbury Road, just an 8 minute drive from Ashford’s town centre, this cosy little old pub is a great option for lunch or dinner. Serving traditional and modern pub food along with a great range of vegetarian and vegan options.
The Old Mill is owned by the same company as the Swan & Dog so you can expect to find the same type of quality food and service at both pubs.
Swan & Dog
One of my Ashford favs – the Swan & Dog is located in a 16th century building in the charming village of Great Chart, just outside of Ashford’s town centre. Great Chart dates back to the year 762! Most of the buildings along the main street date back to the medieval times.
We’ve stopped in this lovely pub a number of times over the last few years and each time the food did not disappoint! I love the feeling of stepping back in time as you enter this old pub. Their menu is full of traditional English classics along with delicious modern pub food. You really can’t go wrong with a lunch at the Swan & Dog!
The Blacksmiths Arms
Just outside of the town centre in Willesborough, The Blacksmiths Arms is another local pub that’s worth checking out. It’s in a traditional old building with a beer garden out the back, perfect for afternoon drinks on a sunny day. With great reviews, this family-run pub serves fresh food, good beer and an excellent Sunday roast.
If you like craft beer and amazing wood fired pizzas, then look no further. Another new addition to Ashford’s pub scene is the Tap Room which is located on Bank Street in the town centre. Serving a fine selection of craft beers on tap along with ciders and wines, the atmosphere is usually great in the evenings with people gathering to have after work drinks. Don’t forget to try their truffle chips!
The County Hotel – Wetherspoons
You’re probably thinking, why has she listed Wetherspoons here? Well, hear me out. Every great night out in Ashford typically starts at the spoons. It’s conveniently located in the town centre, always buzzing with people, affordable, you know what to expect and who doesn’t love the spoons? I’m not ashamed to say that the majority of my time spent in an Ashford pub was in the spoons!
Believe it or not, this Wetherspoons is actually considered a historic pub since it’s housed in a building that dates back to the early 18th century! Initially built as a private home, it later became a medical practice and then in 1890 it was turned into an inn. The building became the County Hotel in 1926 and it still goes by this name today.
Ashford Designer Outlet
A short walk from Ashford’s International train station will take you to the Designer Outlet. If you love shopping, this is the perfect place to spend a day and score some bargains on loads of designer brands including Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Coach, Calvin Klein and many more!
The Designer Outlet has recently undergone some big changes and renovations in November 2019 with the addition of many new stores. On top of the 70 designer shops, you can find a kids playground area along with plenty of great dining options like Wagamama, Five Guys, Pizza Express, Starbucks, Subway and more.
The Ashford Deisgner Outlet is a fun place to spend a day out with the family and get some shopping in at the same time.
Port Lympne Safari Park
The Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve is a wildlife park located a 20 minute drive south of Ashford. For a unique and fun day out in Kent, go on a safari through the English countryside and see over 700 endangered animals including the only giraffes in Kent. Enjoy watching the animals as they roam freely throughout the park at their own leisure.
You can expect to find zebras, gorillas, tigers, lions, bears, and the largest herd of black rhino in the UK! Grab a pizza and a glass of Prosecco and relax at Babydoll’s Wood Fired Pizza restaurant located in the heart of the park among some beautiful landscaped gardens.
Tickets – £23.50 or book online and pay £20
Don’t forget to check out the Dinosaur Forest which is sure to be a highlight for any families with children. The Dinosaur Forest has the largest collection of life sized dinosaurs in Europe. Inside the forest, you will find a massive T-Rex, stegosaurus, pterodactyl, diplodocus and many more!
Port Lympne also offers accommodation and makes an awesome place to retreat to for short breaks with family and friends. For 2 days in the reserve and an overnight stay, prices start as low as £25. Find more information about prices and bookings right here.
More Fun Ways to Spend a Day in Kent
Dinner & Movie at the Picture House
Another brand new addition to Ashford is the Picture House located in Elwick Place near the town centre. The 6-screen cinema regularly shows Hollywood blockbusters and independent films. There’s also a restaurant and bar making it the perfect place to go for a date night or a relaxing night out.
The restaurant has a large menu with something that appeals to everyone and drinks that can be taken into the cinema. We’ve visited the Picture House once since it’s opening earlier this year and had a lovely time there.
Day Trip to Wye
A short 6 minute train ride away from Ashford will take you to the picturesque little village of Wye. This charming town is the perfect place to escape for the day to go for a walk in the Kent Downs and enjoy some peaceful time in nature.
Our favourite thing to do when visiting Wye is to take a walk up to the memorial crown, a hill top viewpoint overlooking the village of Wye and surrounding countryside. This walk is mostly uphill and takes about 35 minutes.
After you’ve finished the hike, wander back into town and head straight for the Tickled Trout. Located on the banks of the Stour River, this historic pub is built in traditional Kentish style architecture and is full of rustic charm. It’s the perfect place to relax in the sun and sip pints all afternoon post hike. There has been a pub in this location for over 400 years!
We’ve visited the Tickled Trout many times and it’s definitely become our favourite, go-to pub for lunch and drinks. Wye has many other cute little pubs throughout the town, The Kings Head and The Flying Horse are also worth stopping at for lunch or just a drink!
Godinton House & Gardens
The Godinton House is a stunning old brick manor located 10 minutes from Ashford’s town centre in the lovely countryside of Great Chart. The estate dates back to the 14th century and was owned by the Toke family for more than 400 years. In the 17th century, the medieval building was extensively renovated and extended by Nicholas Toke.
The only way to see the interior of the house is by taking a guided tour but it is worth doing as the rooms are beautiful and still have their original furnishings. The other highlight of visiting Godinton House is the incredible 12 acre gardens that surround the manor.
It’s easy to spend an afternoon exploring and admiring the extensive and artistically designed gardens which include fountains, water features, sculpted hedges, and endless pretty flowers. The gardens came later than the manor and date back to the late 19th century.
Click here for more information about opening hours and tours of the manor.
Tickets – £7 gardens only, £12 house and gardens
If you’re a history lover like me then you’ll have to make a trip to the Ashford Museum! Located in the Church Yard, this museum is housed in a Grade II listed 17th century building. Take a step back in time and learn about the history of Ashford over the centuries.
The museum covers Ashford’s history from the pre-historic times (seriously, there is a 200 million year old dinosaur leg in there!), Neolithic and Anglo-Saxon times, medieval times, Victorian era through to today. The exhibits are displayed over 2 floors and you will learn all about the smugglers in the Ashford area, Ashford’s history as market town, Ashford during the wars and so much more!
Entrance to the museum is FREE and it is is run by volunteers, donations are welcome.
*Note* This museum is only open for limited hours during the spring/summer months.
Opening Times – April to 28th October: Tuesday to Saturday, 11am until 2pm
Getting from London to Ashford
If you’re travelling by train, the quickest and most convenient way to get from London to Ashford is by taking the high speed train from St Pancras Station to Ashford International. This train journey only takes 37 minutes and is much more efficient and direct than taking the slower trains which take up to 1.5 hours.
Where to stay in Ashford, Kent
Cornerstone B&B – This lovely bed and breakfast is located inside a Grade II listed building in the heart of Ashford’s town centre. It’s within walking distance to the International Train station/Eurostar and is nearby many restaurants, pubs and shops.
Reviews of this bed and breakfast are extremely positive stating that the Wi-Fi is great, the host is friendly, and the rooms are clean and comfortable.
The Conningbrook Hotel – The Conningbrook Hotel is a 5 minute drive from Ashford’s town centre in the village of Kennington. It has a bar and restaurant serving delicious traditional meals and caters to vegetarians. I’ve eaten at this restaurant before and can confirm the food is great! There is also a big outdoor beer garden. The rooms are large and comfortable and with a rating of 8.3 on Booking.com, it’s one of the most popular places to stay around Ashford.
Ashford International Hotel – QHotels – If you’re looking for something a bit more luxurious for your stay, you can’t go wrong with the Ashford International Hotel. It’s conveniently located minutes from the M20 and the Eurostar connection. There’s a fitness centre with a pool and spa offering a variety of treatments, as well as a restaurant and bar.
It’s only a 5 minute drive from the town centre and has excellent ratings and reviews on Booking.com.
Best Restaurants in Ashford, Kent
If you’re looking for somewhere nice to eat, these are some of the most popular, highly-rated restaurants in Ashford’s town centre:
Amici – Ashford’s no. 1 restaurant as per TripAdvisor reviews. The food is incredible here, there’s really not much else to say! It’s an Italian and Mediterranean restaurant with great service and high quality food. The reviews speak for themselves.
Shens – Located on Bank Street in the town centre, Shens is a Mediterranean restaurant serving Turkish and Greek cuisine. We love Shens! They serve amazing, fresh food with great service. The atmosphere and quality of food in this place makes it the 5 star restaurant that it is! We’ve always had a great experience dining here.
Little Raj – Fancy eating Indian in a medieval building? Little Raj is located in a gorgeous 16th century building in the town centre and they serve delicious Indian food with vegetarian and vegan options available. The ratings on TripAdvisor are great.
Interesting Facts and History about Ashford, Kent
- Ashford has been a market town since the 13th century. To this day a regular market continues to be held in the town centre.
- A Mark IV female tank was presented to the town in 1919 for their war efforts. You can find this tank in St Georges Square near the town centre.
- Ashford has been the centre of five railway lines since the 19th century. After the railways were built, this provided a source of employment and contributed to the exponential growth of the town.
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