Ashford in Kent is often overlooked for more-well known nearby locations, such as Faversham and Canterbury; however, it is a fabulous place to visit in its own right.
Thanks to a town regeneration programme including a dynamic street art trail in 2023, a hip urban entertainment space and a programme of fabulous music and food events, this is a hidden gem in Kent worth visiting.
Ashford is also the home to Curious Brewery, which opened in 2019. The brewery runs tours which, by all accounts, are very good. The site is directly opposite Ashford International Railway Station, so there is no need to worry about driving; instead, arrive by train.
Of course, Ashford also has a long and rich history. In the 19th century, it was a thriving industrial hub with five railway lines converging in it. The town also has links to Queen Marie of Romania. She was Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, born in 1918 on the family’s estate in Ashford, who went on to marry the King of Romania. Her statue can be seen in Elwick Place.
There are many things to see and do in Ashford and the surrounding area, and in this post, I will highlight the best things for you to discover on a day out in Kent.
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Best Things to See in Ashford
Ashford Unframed Mural Festival
As part of Ashford’s regeneration programme, a fabulous street art/mural festival has been held, and it was a great success.
Street artists came together from the locale and further afield to create a walking trail leading through the heart of Ashford, bringing previously forgotten parts of the town alive.
So popular was the event that the organisers were inundated with offers from muralists and street artists. Finally, 18 were chosen, and their creativity can now be seen around Ashford. Two were late additions and are not shown on the trail map.
You can download the Ashford Unframed Trail Map or pick up a paper copy from Ashford Picture House, Made in Ashford, Coachworks, The Ashford Gateway or Low Key Taproom.
From vibrant graphic-based pieces to beautiful fine art characters, such as ‘Workshop of the World’ by Aspire, depicting elements of Ashford.
The piece includes ash tree leaves from where the town gets its name and a metal bolt in the kingfisher’s beak, reminding visitors of the town’s industrial history.
One of the most talked about street art pieces in Ashford is entitled ‘Flamboyant Fawn’ by Curtis Hylton. You will find it on the side of the Bucksford Law building, and it is a masterpiece.
The fact it won the award for the best global street art for March 2023 by the world’s leading street art platform is an amazing achievement. It also happens to be one of my favourite murals in Ashford.
Tiny Beegle’s Urban Artwork
Another urban art piece that caught my eye was the ‘Ashford Icons’ piece painted by local Kent resident Danielle Williamson, aka Tiny Beegle (all street artists have a creative #tag by which they are known).
Danielle created the piece over several days and used an old shipping container as her canvas. Her painting depicts things that Ashford is best known for. It includes a WW1 tank that takes pride of place in the town centre and the nearby Willesborough windmill.
Beside the container is Danielle’s Snowdog. It is a nod to the children’s classic book The Snowman, part of a previous art sculpture trail in Ashford.
The renowned street artist Mr Doodle was also involved in the project bringing his iconic style to Ashford.
His huge black and white interwoven design is now on the side of the brutalist-designed car park building. Unbelievably, the ‘Concrete Cluster’ mural only took ten hours to complete!!
Two final pieces that caught my eye were ‘Too Big For Your Boots’ by Alex Chinneck and ‘Lithest, Gaudiest Harlequin!’ by Will Redgrove.
The first 10m high piece depicts the wall of the old Odean cinema being unlaced.
The second piece represents the love, respect, care and memory at the forefront of the Pilgrims Hospices ethos. A field of bluebells, forget-me-nots and sunflowers is the backdrop for three blue tits with a flowing ribbon between their claws.
Students from Ashford College were also involved with the mural festival, with a feature outside of the train station and a graphic design on the side of the college wall.
Next to Ashford International Station is Coachworks. It was not dissimilar to venues I have visited in London hotspots like Shoreditch and Kings Cross, and I was told it is a popular place for locals and people visiting from London.
On the outer wall of Coachworks is a mural entitled ‘Traverse’ by The London Mural Company x Accent London, the festival’s organisers.
This bright geometric mural is a nod to the historic building’s former use; the coach works paint store. It represents colourfully painted wheel tracks running across the windows.
An outdoor seating area with street-food-style eateries housed in shipping containers gives a real urban feel to Coachworks.
‘The One Round the Back of Coachworks’ by ODISY is a huge mural that overlooks visitors as they socialise in this hip outdoor space.
Grab a coffee from the Coffee Shed, burgers from Wild Souls Kitchen, pizza from il Pakkero and Nepalese dishes from Khaza, and quench your thirst with drinks from the Yard Bar.
An indoor events venue is on-site, which can host everything from parties to workshops. A DJ is also in regular attendance. It’s a great place to mingle with friends.
I thought the design was cool, and using upcycled furniture and chipboard was in keeping with the town’s regeneration programme.
Music and food events and craft workshops are on the agenda for the year, so there is always something happening to keep visitors interested. Check out the Coachworks Ashford website for event details.
Low Key Tap Room
If you love artisan beers, check out the Low Key Tap Room and enjoy drinks with friends in a great environment.
The Tap Room hasn’t escaped from the daubings of Ashford Unframed. Doodles on the walls and piano are in the form of black and white characters known as ‘Tales of the High Lock’ by Hatch.
If you arrive when the Tap Room is shut, you can still peep at them through the window.
Made in Ashford
Ashford has a real community feel, and nowhere more so than inside Made in Ashford. This is a gem of a find, run by a stream of local craftspeople whose products are sold in the shop.
If you want to support a local business and buy a unique gift for a loved one or yourself, this is the place to come. There is something for everyone, from cards and prints to glassware and jewellery.
Across from the shop is a wonderful space called the Craft Ship used to run community courses for all ages. It’s a fun and rewarding way to unleash your creativity!
If you can’t make it to the shop in person, Made in Ashford sells a selection of their gorgeous stock online.
Discover Church Yard
Away from the main shopping street, Ashford is an endearing place to wander around.
Cobbled lanes, half-timbered and clapperboard buildings and cute tea shops all add to Ashford’s charm. St Mary the Virgin church is at the heart of Ashford and reminded me very much of Rye in East Sussex.
Walking just one road away from the high street had transported me back in time!
An air of peace and tranquillity surrounds the 13th-century St Mary the Virgin, and the Church View tea rooms are a lovely spot to enjoy afternoon tea in the shadows of the Grade l listed church.
One of the notable things to see on the church grounds is a memorial headstone for Francis Eppes, one of Hopewell, Virginia’s first settlers, sent to the United States by King James l. Ashford is twinned with Hopewell.
Across from the church is the Ashford Museum (free entry). The building has existed since the 17th century and was originally opened as a free school. The plaque on the wall tells of its history.
Inside the Grade ll listed building, it is a cacophony of unusual and interesting artefacts from the area, including a 200 million-year-old dinosaur leg bone!
See the Mark IV Female Tank
A short walk back into the town centre takes you to something rather unexpected.
The world’s last remaining Mark IV Female tank takes centre stage in St George’s Square. If you are interested in militaria, this historic war memorial is a must-see in Ashford.
Before you say goodbye to Ashford, head to the Picture House in Elwick Place. Enjoy one of the latest cinema releases or a screening of opera, theatre and ballet events. The plaza also serves great food and drink (confirmed by a local resident!).
Another one of the tasty places to eat in Ashford town centre is Leo and Sage. They are opposite the cinema and are great if you are after a light bite and good barista coffee.
Accommodation in Ashford
Fancy staying the night in Ashford? Hampton by Hilton is a modern hotel conveniently positioned opposite Curious Brewery and Ashford International Railway Station.
Or, for a splash of luxury, spend the night at Eastwell Manor Hotel, a Champney’s spa hotel and also home to the Hawking Centre.
Final Words on Ashford
I loved Ashford’s street art and felt it could fit quite nicely into any of Europe’s best street art cities. I felt a real community spirit run through the town, and I spoke to many lovely people, all working hard with local groups and charities to put Ashford on the map.
Ashford Borough Council is ensuring that there is something for everyone to enjoy, and I hope this post has inspired you to visit this up-and-coming Kent town and see the developments for yourself.
How to Get to Ashford Kent
The London St Pancras Eurostar service runs through Ashford to the Eurotunnel but no longer stops at Ashford International railway station. The service is hoped to resume by 2025. This will allow travellers to board the train in Kent for a short hop across the English Channel.
Southeastern trains run services to Ashford International from London stations, including St Pancras and Victoria, taking between 35 minutes to one hour, depending on the route.
Central London to Ashford – 2 hours. There is plenty of parking in Ashford. The Civic Centre car park is the largest and can be found by the train station.
Other Attractions in the Ashford Area
Godinton House and Gardens – a Jacobean house set in stunning gardens
Ashford Designer Outlet – McArthurGlen outlet selling discounted designer and high-street brands.
Rare Breeds Centre – highlighting various breeds of sheep, trailer rides and a butterfly tunnel.
Port Lympne Safari Park
Some great things to do in the surrounding Kent countryside include visiting the Wye National Nature Reserve, part of the North Downs Way, a 153-mile National Trail between Farnham in Surrey and Dover. Or why not visit one of Kent’s charming seaside towns or medieval castles?
Kent Coastal Towns Near Ashford
Driving times from Ashford
Folkstone – 25 minutes
Dymchurch – 30 minutes
Dungeness – 35 minutes
Whitstable – 40 minutes
Kent Castles Near Ashford
Driving Times from Ashford
Leeds Castle – 25 minutes
Dover Castle – 30 minutes
Sissinghurst Castle – 35 minutes
Walmer Castle – 45 minutes
Scotney Castle – 60 minutes
Kent Cities Near Ashford
Canterbury – The home of the world-famous cathedral (40 minutes)
Maidstone – (35 minutes)
Please Pin for Future Travel to Kent