Dreamland Margate is one of the oldest surviving amusement parks in the United Kingdom and, amongst enthusiasts, is best known for hosting the oldest rollercoaster in the country, The Scenic Railway. When the park was kind enough to invite us down to visit, it was undoubtedly this classic that I was therefore most excited to experience, but also couldn’t wait to see what else this new-to-me park would have to offer. So, join me, Claire, as I explore everything at ‘the picture-perfect seaside amusement park’!
As we approached Dreamland from the sunny Margate promenade, I was certain we would be entering the park through the large, marquee building facing directly onto the street, however, this was not the case. The park’s entrance lay down a slightly sloped, shaded street directly adjacent to this building. This somewhat unimposing entrance gave me the feeling of stepping into Narnia, or Phantasialand, not knowing what wonders would wait on the other side of this unassuming portal. Well, first we would pass through a hallway lined with booths, including a gift shop and a small museum documenting the park’s history. This museum was our first stop, as I was keen to enter the park with an understanding of its history – and what a history it is! Featuring fires, elephants, and compulsory council purchases, this is clearly a park that places history at the very core of its ethos, and for good reason. The centrepiece of the exhibit was a gorgeous miniature model of a previous iteration of the park, featuring a multitude of classic attractions that I personally would very much like to have gotten to experience.
Historic appreciation of the park gained, it was time to see what modern-day Dreamland had to offer! Heading into the park from the entrance hall, we were greeted by an enormous, stunning, entrance archway, overflowing with individual pieces of art – as well as bubbles! As far as park entrances go, it’s hard to beat a riot of colour and bubbles! As we proceeded under the archway and into the park on the way to our first ride, I was taken by just how well-presented every offering was. Food stall, fairground flat ride or rollercoaster, it didn’t matter, everything was colourful, clean and appealing. This immediately just felt like a nice place to be, the perfect vibe for a park, particularly a free-to-enter seaside park.
All attractions within the park are 1 token per person, with the exception of The Scenic Railway, which is 2 tokens. Tokens can be purchased at various points around the park for £3 each, or in a bundle of 20 for £40.
Our first stop was, of course, The Scenic Railway. When the oldest rollercoaster in the UK forms part of the line-up, you know where you’ll be starting your day! Originally opened in 1920, The Scenic Railway managed to survive WWII but subsequently was partially destroyed in three different fires in 1949, 1959 and finally 2008, with the latter also destroying the original hand-carved trains. Thankfully, this coaster is so beloved that time and time again, it’s been brought back from devastation, and still continues to delight new riders to this day – including me! With pop music blaring as we waited in the station, I was taken aback as the – brakeman-operated – train pulled in. High-sided, with bold teal colouring and beautiful carvings, these trains are works of art. They are certainly very unique trains to ride too, with the restraint system being both a lap bar and an over-the-shoulder seat belt as if you’re riding in a car. Combined with the hard wooden seating, this arrangement did make me a little anxious for my comfort on the upcoming ride. Thankfully, the ride was gloriously smooth for a ride with such a vintage. I’m always anxious about riding a new historic wooden coaster. They’re often some of the most memorable coasters of any trip, just not always for a good reason. But happily, The Scenic Railway was a delight. I’d clearly completely failed to grasp the coaster’s layout as we had approached the ride, as whilst we were riding I was taken aback by just how long it was. It really felt like we just kept going and going – there is even a second lift hill! Sure, if you’re looking for a high-thrill experience, this is not the ride for you. It doesn’t take the layout with any considerable speed, nor is there particularly plentiful airtime – though there is certainly some to be had at the rear of the train – but it’s wonderfully enjoyable, and that perfect step up for younger riders who are looking for a little more excitement than the nearby wacky worm. It’s a beautiful classic attraction for riders of all ages. Quite rightfully, the Queen of Dreamland. Long live the Queen!
Whilst near the Scenic, we opted to tick off the other attractions in this corner of the park, including a classic Helter Skelter, and a Wacky Worm with a difference! The Helter Skelter ended up being one of my favourites of the day, it’s hard to beat the pure, simple joy of being an adult going down a big, speedy slide! Also, being an adult meant I ended each slide by zooming out the end and straight into a padded wall. Delightfully silly! It was this silliness that also made the adjacent Wacky Worm particularly excellent, for this was no worm! It was, in fact, a bumblebee! Busy Bee Coaster was a traditional Wacky Worm in every other sense, but with a vibrant bee-shaped train that made it so much more delightful. Just look at that face!
Next, we took a short walk back to the area by the park entrance in order to take on one of our other most anticipated rides of the visit. If, like much of the UK community, you’re a follower of the work of a certain John Wardley, you may recognise this facade from his recent return to YouTube!
John Wardley recently posted the following video on his channel, johns miniatures, detailing his handmade miniature of the very first ride he worked on, Pepper Biddall’s Ghost Train! This very same ghost train can now be found at Dreamland!
It follows that this is one of the best ghost trains I’ve experienced with this scale and budget. First, the vehicles are (adorable) miniature trains! It’s an actual ghost *train* – sorry Derren Brown, you were beaten by nearly half a century. The layout is also one of the best I’ve experienced on a ghost train, filling the tiny footprint with seemingly endless twists and turns – with scares around each one of course – making for a much longer experience than expected, as well as building far more anticipation. Sure, the scares are what you’d expect, with mannequins, flashing lights and sirens galore, but in a surprise that sure got me, you may not leave this attraction quite as dry as you enter it! Undoubtedly one of the highlights of my day.
Soggy and spooked, it was definitely time to grab some lunch in the sunshine. Dreamland generously provided us with meal vouchers redeemable at the outlets surrounding the park’s central stage. Here you can find a selection of food trucks serving high-quality versions of the food you’d expect to find: pizza, fish and chips and burgers. We opted for burgers from Rad Burger, a local burger company based in Whitstable, and battered sausage and chips from Ocean’s Seafood Bar. The Texan Vegan Burger was a fab plant-based option, with an always-reliable Moving Mountains patty, onion rings, vegan cheese and plenty of sauce! For me, it was also filling enough for lunch on its own. Pricing was rather high at £9.50 for a stand-alone burger or £13 with fries but isn’t particularly surprising from an independent food truck in a prime location. And the location really is great. This central hub features a large stage, a lawn with seating, and at the back a hill with staggered seating – the perfect place to sit, eat and watch the world go by. Throughout the day, the stage featured family favourites on a large screen, with Inside Out playing as we ate our lunch. With a bar also adjacent, this appeared to be a popular spot for adults to relax whilst younger family members went to enjoy a few rides.
We still had one final coaster to tick off the list, so our next stop would be Rock ‘n’ Roller. New for 2023, Rock ‘n’ Roller is no stranger to the south of England, having spent the previous 17 years as Cliffhanger at Blackgang Chine. Since its relocation to Dreamland, the ride has received a stunning green and pink repaint – we really don’t have enough colourful coasters – as well as a gorgeous retro-style attraction sign, with each letter bursting with popcorn lights! Thankfully, alongside its charming aesthetic, this coaster rides really, really well. I won’t lie, I wasn’t expecting this ride to be remotely smooth, but aside from one small jolt on the lift hill, it was glossy! Not only that, but it generated an impressive amount of speed and force for a coaster so small and compact. The helix especially is great fun with some impressive forces. I found myself immediately wanting to go around for a second ride, and we were able to grab a back-row ride which delivered even more force – beautiful!
As well as rides, Dreamland is home to a selection of classic seaside attractions including crazy golf, a mirror maze and a house of mirrors. Like everything else in the park, these were all colourful, charming versions of these attractions. Whilst we didn’t quite have enough time to try the vibrant crazy golf course, I was impressed that this was included in the token system at 1 token per player. However, we did take time to try out the mirror maze, which had some fun graphics surrounding each mirror, which alongside some colourful lighting, made this a really enjoyable maze, even if I got really, really lost! Funny Mirrors meanwhile is exactly what it says on the tin, a room featuring a collection of crazy mirrors. However, in keeping with the historic style of the park, some of these mirrors are thought to date all the way back to the original Madam Tussaud collection from the 1920s!
On the subject of classics, if you’re looking for the fairground classics, you won’t leave disappointed. The park houses a waltzer, carousel, dodgems, whirl-a-round and even hurricane jets, the likes of which I’d only previously seen at the gorgeous Carters Steam Fair. All of these attractions are presented to an extremely high standard, with gorgeous signage, vehicle design and even fencing! My personal favourite was the hurricane jets, where riders can control their elevation – and receive quite the pop of airtime when they do!
It’s easy to forget, when at Dreamland, that you’re in the middle of a busy seaside town, but a ride on the Big Wheel quickly remedies that! With stunning views over the park – particularly the Scenic Railway – as well as Margate itself and the neighbouring sea, this centrepiece of the park is not to be missed. Just be prepared for the wind up there!
But it’s not all about rides at Dreamland, not even close. During regular opening hours, the Roller Room provides a classic roller disco where for just £5 (including rollerskate rental) for an hour, guests can skate around the rink beneath a glistening disco ball. In this space, you’ll also find an arcade and coffee shop, as well as… a Banksy?
Valentine’s Day Mascara was discovered on Valentine’s Day 2023, on the side of a property in Margate. The artwork was then cut away from the building, in order to be transported to its new home at the Dreamland, with the piece on display to the public since June. With the theme of the piece being a commentary on domestic abuse, the park has partnered with Oasis Domestic Abuse Service to raise vital funds.
With many art installations to be enjoyed around the park, this is not the only one to fuse charity and art, with the Margate Seagull Project featuring a flock of wooden seagull sculptures, each decorated by local creatives, charities and community groups.
The park is also host to an incredible roster of events, including concerts from such acts as Queens of the Stone Age, Tom Jones and Two Door Cinema Club to name just a few, alongside a Pride festival and a traditional Christmas event.
As we left the park, we stopped to investigate the other stalls in the entrance hall. After all, what amusement park visit is complete without a visit to the gift shop? As well as a selection of merchandise celebrating Margate as a whole, the shop did offer a small but charming, and very well-priced, selection of merchandise. I picked up a cute pin and a block of wood from The Scenic Railway for a grand total of £3!
In the final booth lay a selection of vintage pinball machines, all available to play for 50p each! Sadly, the change machine was out of order, so make sure to bring your 50ps with you if you’re a pinball fan because there are some beautiful machines here. But of them all, one really caught my eye. A Dolly Parton pinball machine! Just look at the colours! On my next visit, you can bet I’ll be bringing a whole pocket full of 50ps.
Dreamland is so much more than a seaside amusement park. It’s the historic, beating heart of Margate, bringing people together with rides, music, good food and an even better atmosphere. With such a turbulent history, it feels extraordinary that such a place should have survived, and be as delightful as it is today. As a free-to-enter park, surely no visit to Margate would ever be complete without a visit to this hidden wonderland. Thank you again to Dreamland for inviting us to visit!