The M20, M2 and A2 carve through northeast Kent on their way towards Folkestone, Faversham and Dover respectively. If you're heading for Royal Tunbridge Wells from London, it's only about 30 miles' drive: jump off the M25 at Sevenoaks and take the A21/A26 route.
The nearest international airport is London Gatwick, from where a 45-minute drive will take to the centre of Kent, but Heathrow and Stansted are also well-connected. Kent International Airport at Manston (www.kentinternationalairport-manston.com) is a small airport with charter flights to short-haul destinations such as Palma and Jersey; there are plans to offer domestic flights, too.
Southeastern trains (www.southeasternrailway.co.uk) connect Kent to London and the rest of the country, with regular services from London Victoria, Cannon Street and Waterloo East to destinations including Royal Tunbridge Wells, Rochester, Whitstable, Canterbury and Dover. 2009 sees the launch of a high-speed link from London St Pancras; and Eurostar trains from the Continent also stop at Ashford in Kent.
UK country code: +44. Royal Tunbridge Wells: (0)1892. Canterbury (0)1227.
The Canterbury Tales is Chaucer's bawdy British take on the Decameron; John Buchan's classic thriller The 39 Steps, inspired by Kent's smuggler's coves; get into the mind of long-time Kent resident, gardener, poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West in her Selected Writings. Charles Dickens also lived and wrote in Kent: try David Copperfield, Little Dorrit or Bleak House.
Do go / Don't Go
You can't beat a bright spring day in the countryside, but we're rather partial to wrapping up for wintry walks and then warming up by the fire. Kent's beaches are mercifully uncrowded; even in the height of summer, you should still be able to find somewhere to erect your windbreak and unfold your deck chairs. Family-friendly sites such as Hever Castle will, of course, be less busy outside the school holidays, and Bank Holiday weekends can bring short but tiresome traffic jams.
The Garden of England not only grows greens; it has acres of splendid orchards and vineyards (see Local activities), fruit farms, dairies and breweries, not to mention specialists meats such as Romney Marsh lamb and wonderful fresh fish and seafood, including Dover Sole. Today's orchards have dwindled, but you can get a taste for their former glory at the Brogdale National Fruit Collection (www.brogdale.org) at Faversham, and in the many jars of home-made jam you'll find in local shops. Whitstable is renowned for its native oysters - try them at the Whitstable Oyster Company's Oyster Fishery Bar and Restaurant (+44 (0)1227 276856; www.oysterfishery.co.uk), right by the sea.
If you need a taxi, your best bet is to get your hotel to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs, since they'll know the most reliable local cab companies.
Most restaurants will include a 12.5 per cent service charge in your bill, so check before you sling an extra tenner on the plate; smaller cafés and tea rooms will appreciate your loose change to round up the total.
Pound sterling (£).
Kites for windy days; empty crate or bottle rack for ferrying Kent-made wine, cider or beer home in the boot of your car; oyster shucker and champagne cooler for posh picnicking; mud-proof shoes for long walks on the Weald; binoculars for bird- and boat-spotting.
Some of England's most interesting bricks-and-moats attractions are an easy drive away: pick from Ann Boleyn's family seat (Hever Castle; www.hevercastle.co.uk), a 14th-century country manor (Penshurst Place), a deer park and pre-eminent private house (Knole), a romantic gothic castle (Chiddingstone), Winston Churchill's home (Chartwell), and last but certainly not least, the eyeful of loveliness that is Leeds Castle. If hanky-flapping, hopping, bearded men in green tights, scary hobby horses and sticks with bells on are your thing, Kent also hosts numbers folk festivals throughout the year.
At Riverhill House (www.riverhillgardens.co.uk) near Sevenoaks, there's a spectacular hillside garden (only open from Easter till mid-summer) with wide-ranging vistas to the south; take a cheese, chutney and cider picnic there, and go when the bluebells are in full blue-m.
In Tunbridge Wells, browse the Pantiles colonnade for quirky boutiques, antiques and collectibles. Dedicated followers of fashion will love Daizie Brown, 70 High Street (+44 (0)1892 528877), where they'll find on-trend pieces by Betty Jackson and By Malene Birger, plus sweet Johnny Loves Rosie accessories. In Whitstable, pick up vintage trinkets and then have home-made ice-cream at Sundae Sundae (www.sundaesundae.co.uk) on Harbour Street; or rummage for applied arts in sweet gift boutique Frank (+44 (0)1227 262500) and homewares in Urbanista (+44 (0)1227 282852). In Broadstairs, you'll find delicious home-made jams and cute 40s-style bathers and kitchenware among the cakes at the Oscar Road café (+44 (0)1843 872442); and funky boutique-hotel style furnishings and gifts at Found (+44 (0)1843 609478) on the High Street. When in Deal, stock up on retro sweets from the Sugar Boy (+44(0)1227 769374) at 10 Broad Street. This tiny emporium is stacked with jars and jars of old-fashioned delights such as apple-toffee bonbons, banana-split éclairs, butterscotch tablet and milk bottles. Readers and rummagers will love Golden Hind Books (+44 (0)1304 375533) at 15 Silver Street. The shop is crammed with old-fashioned postcards and ancient editions and housed in one of Deal's oldest seafront buildings. Stock up on gifts and trinkets at Carried Away (+44 (0)1304 379167) at 183 High Street. There's a magpie-pleasing profusion of china tea-sets, jewellery, scarves and other fripperies. Add to your antiques collection with a healthy conscience at Hoppy's Haven (+44 (0)7814 631127) at 33 Middle Street. Proceeds go to the owner's animal sanctuary and the wooden furniture is worth a gander. Kent's not really a shopaholic's dream destination though, so on the whole you're more likely to be rewarded browsing for gastro goodies and previously loved gewgaws…
One of the most inspiring views in Kent is of bluebells carpeting the ancient forests of the High Weald: visit Hole Park Gardens (+44 (0)1580 241344) near Rolvenden in April or May for a big blue eyeful. From the top of Sissinghurst Castle tower there are views of classic Kent countryside, the horizon jagged with oast-house roofs.
There's plenty to keep you busy without shelling out, not least of which is beachcombing and paddling in rock pools along the coast. The rugged path along the White Cliffs of Dover will take you past Dover Castle and the South Foreland Lighthouse, as well as give you a glimpse of France on a clear day (+44 (0)1304 202756). From Canterbury, you can follow sections of the North Downs Way, which follow part of the Pilgrim's Way: visit National Trail (www.nationaltrail.co.uk) for route maps.
June-September The Pantiles Summer Jazz Season in Tunbridge Wells' sees free jazz sessions every Thursday evening at the Corn Exchange. June The Broadstairs Dickens Festival celebrates the seaside town's favourite holidaymaker with readings and events. July Slurp down plenty of those slippery little aphrodisiacs at the Whitstable Oyster Festival. November Guy Fawkes is remembered with a bang at Leeds Castle with music and fireworks displays on the 7th, 8th and 9th.