When my husband and I first decided to move away from London to live closer to his work and escape the cutthroat real estate prices, I had no idea what a nice little town Gravesend was.
I had no idea about this great heritage and history in this great city, the amazing pubs and nice shops. There are a lot of great things to do in Gravesend and it is definitely worth it to spend a day in this Kentish historic city.
This is a list of the 10 best things to do in Gravesend
1. Relive history at the New Tavern Fort
Although I lived very close to the New Tavern Fort, it took me a good few months before I actually visited this historic landmark.
New tavern Fort lies in the Riverside Leisure Area – a truly beautiful park and is historic artillery fort dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The unusually well-preserved fort remained one of the defensive forts protecting London and the Thames until the Second World War.
New Tavern Fort was built during the American War Of Independence and was used to defend London and The Thames from invading French and Spanish raiders who operated in support of the USA. In the middle of the 19th century it was redesigned and rebuilt to protect the capital city against French iron warships.
At the start of the 20th century they decided to disarm the fort – however, it was taken back into use during the Second World War as Tilbury and Gravesend are important strategic points along the Thames.
Currently The New Tavern Fort is completely restored and open to the public. Joshua and I visited the fort during one of our Sunday walks. We just had breakfast at King’s Diner (best English Breakfast in Gravesend ) and decided to take a troll through the park when we noticed the fort was open to visitors.
Entrance to the fort was £1 (or maybe £2 – it was very cheap anyways) and the exhibition inside was very interesting. A big shout out to the amazing volunteers manning the fort and keeping the heritage of the New Tavern Fort alive!
2. Meet the REAL Pocahontas
Did you know Pocahontas was actually a real girl?
Pocahontas was a Native American Princess who intervened to save the life of Captain John Smooth in 1607. She later married Englishman John Rolfe. It is believed that John Rolfe married Pocahontas to create peace between the settlers in Chesapeake Bay and the Native Americans. Which worked! Pocahontas converted to Christianity – the first ever Native American to do so, and adopted the name Rebecca after being baptised.
Not long after Pocahontas left Virginia to travel with her husband to England. In England she was seen as a bit of a novelty. Most people had never ever seen a Native American. She became a well-loved guest at the court of King James and was invited to many soirees by the London elite.
In 1616 Pocahontas and her husband decide to travel back to Virginia. It was written that she did to much against her will – it’s a long way from the London Ton to the mud of the Virginian Settlements. But Pocahontas was also ill. Rolfe decided to leave for Virginia anyway setting sail from London mid-March.
Most boats made a stop in Gravesend as this was the last place to take on fresh food and water before hitting the open waters to the New World. Pocahontas, now seriously ill, was taken ashore in Gravesend and died here in 1617.
She was buried in St George’s Church but when the original church burned down the exact location of her grave was lost. Nowadays there is a statue in front of the church to commemorate this great female “pioneer”.
They used to have a special QR code you could scan at the statue. This QR code would let you have “a call” with Pocahontas and she would tell her story from Native American princess to her demise in Gravesend.
3. Go vintage shopping at Gravesend Borough Market
Ever since they renovated the overcovered Gravesend Borough Market it has been a beating heart in this beautiful little town. From food stalls to little shops selling antiques and perfumes, Gravesend Borough Market is a nice place to visit at the weekends.
I loved taking a stroll through the market and looking at the wares on the weekends. You can obviously also visit throughout the week, but not all stalls might be open. I would also recommend stopping at the street food stalls in the back – especially the Pad Thai! This is the place to be for great vintage and craft shopping in Kent!
4. Learn more about Sikhism at Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara
Joshua and I lived very close to Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara – in fact: I could see it from my bedroom window!
Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara is absolutely beautiful! It is like stepping into India. Literally – you step through the beautiful archway into the carpark from where you have a great view onto the Gurdwara. The design of the Gurdwara is unmistakable inspired by Indian design and architecture and I loved being a part of one of the biggest Sikh communities in the United Kingdom!
Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara is very happy to have visitors and often invites the local people to visit the Gurdwara and come and take part in Punjabi and Sikh culture. It was absolutely lovely! If you are interested in visiting Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara or learning more about Sikhism, just send them a message on Facebook. The community is very friendly and often do tours and open days for non-Sikh visitors and people from the area.
5. Have a picnic with a view at Windmill Hill
From streets lined with beautiful houses and cottages to a beautiful park and a breath-taking view: I absolutely LOVE Windmill Hill in Gravesend.
It is the perfect park to take your family and have an amazing picnic with panoramic views over Gravesend and the Thames.
During the First World War the Germans tried to drop bombs on Gravesend as Gravesend and Tilbury had two forts defending London. However, because the British lit fires on Windmill Hill, the Germans dropped the bombs on Windmill Hill. There is still a commemorative plaque where the bombs hit the hill!
From Windmill Hill you have a great panoramic view over Gravesend and you can see Tilbury over the water. You will also have a view on the Dartford Crossing (a massive bridge over the Thames) and the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf (all the way in London!). On sunny days you also have a view over the Thames to Southend-on-Sea.
This is the perfect place to have a spring or summer picnic!
6. Have a beer in a historic setting
Gravesend has many ancient and historic pubs. One of the most important and famous historical pubs in Gravesend had to be The Three Daws. This historic riverside pubis known for it great local and craft beers and amazing food. The food menu has burgers but just as well a great choice of old, traditional English food that will just melt on your tongue.
Every Tuesday and Thursday evening the nearby game paradise Mug and Meeple gets together in The Three Daws to play Dungeons and Dragons and other Roleplays. If you would like to start playing RPG’s or if you are up for a boardgame or two, contact The Mug and Meeple.
Another great historical pub is The Ship and Lobster. This old riverside pub was the inspiration for The Ship in Dickens’ Great Expectations. It serves an amazing breakfast and should not be ignored by people who love Dickens.
Another great pub in Gravesend is The Jolly Drayman. This old inn has a very cosy beergarden and stepping into the pub is literally stepping into the past.
7. Take the ferry to Tilbury and visit the fort
From Gravesend you can easily take the ferry to Tilbury. Tilbury is another small town on the Thames and known for its fort, almost directly opposite the one of Gravesend, that defended London from enemy boats making their way up the Thames.
Although Tilbury is not as nice nor as big as Gravesend, visiting the fort is very interesting. The walk into town (they do not really have a highstreet) is about 2 miles whereas the ferry from Gravesend leaves from the town (by The Three Daws) itself.
A return trip on the ferry costs £5 and many locals take it to work or people from Tilbury take it to do some shopping in Gravesend.
8. Step in the footsteps of Charles Dickens
Did you know that Dickens LOVED Gravesham? He used to have a second home in the area and often took long walks through and around Cobham. He was so much in love with the area that he even set part of the Pickwick Papers in Cobham!
The ship and lobster – as mentioned before, was part of the book Great Expectations and the chance that once, long ago, Dickens would have visited the “last pub on the Thames” is quite big.
In David Copperfield, Mr Peggoty has a reverted boat for a roof on his little cottage. This house actually existed along Canal Road in Gravesend. Mr Peggoty and Ham also sailed from Gravesend when the migrated to Australia.
In Higham you can find Gads Hill Place (now a private school) which was once the house of Dickens himself. This stately home with beautiful gardens is an imposing red brick Georgian house. It is said that Dickens greatly admired the house and told his father that he would once own it. This is said to also have been the inspiration to The Uncommercial Traveller.
If you want to find out more about Dicken’s ties to Gravesend and Gravesham, please have a look at the website of Discovergravesham.
9. Get your game on at The Mug and Meeple
Do you love RPG’s and Boardgames? Go and play a game at the Mug and Meeple! This amazing game shop has a large library of playable games. You can buy soft drinks and candies and meet other gamers and boardgame enthusiasts in the shop.
The owner, Glenn, is very knowledgeable and Joshua and I felt right at home in this little community when we moved to Gravesend. In fact: we were a bit sad we were moving to Dubai because of the friends we made through The Mug and Meeple.
10. Shop till you drop in the many charity shops
Just like any other small city in the UK, Gravesend carries A LOT of charity shops. From British Heart Foundation (They have 2) to RSPCA and Oxfam – I loved making my rounds from charity shop to charity shop in Gravesend. Last time I counted they had close to 11 charity shops in the city.
I love shopping in Charity shops as you might find some nice dresses or shoes or nic nacs!