Dover is mostly famous for its spectacular white cliffs of chalk and its beautiful castle, located in Kent in the south-east of England. While thousands of travellers descend to the port of Dover while en route to Continental Europe, this port town has plenty to offer to its visitors. We visited Dover for the first time while we were on a long-distance bikepacking to Europe. Later we went back for a day trip to explore the historic town and its surroundings. A day trip to Dover from London is very convenient and this coastal city offers many fun things to do and beautiful places to see.
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How to get to Dover
Driving to Dover will take around two hours depending on your departure time from London and how much traffic there is on the way. The best route is via east London and then travel along the M2 motorway all the way to Dover.
Don’t worry, if driving is not an option, you can take a train from London’s Victoria Station to Dover. The train ride usually takes less than an hour.
Top Things to do in Dover
Visit the Town Centre
Dover is heavily influenced by the Roman heritage with several Roman-era attractions to see. These include the remarkable lighthouse located on Castle Hill and the Roman Painted House. After the Romans departed Dover as the front-line of repelling attacks from Europe, this was particularly true during WW2 when Dover suffered severe damage due to its being a naval base and its close proximity to mainland Europe.
When in Dover, make sure to visit the old town hall, known as Maison Dieu Hall. It was built in the year 1203 by Hubert de Burgh and was once used as a hostel for pilgrims.
There are also a number of museums and historic sites around the town where you can learn about the significant moments in Dover’s past history.
The White Cliffs of Dover
Visiting the White Cliffs of Dover should be on the top of your list of things to do when you plan a trip to Dover. These steep chalk cliffs have been a proud symbol of Dover and a welcoming sight for those returning to England. The cliffs are topped by the mighty castle to the east of the town.
The Gateway to the White Cliffs Visitor Centre, operated by the National Trust is the best place to begin where you will find interpretive signs about the area that includes flora and fauna. From here visitors have stunning views across five miles of beautiful countryside as well as a view across the English Channel, one of the worlds busiest shipping lanes.
From here it is also possible to visit and explore the Fan Bay Deep Shelter, a series of tunnels built during WW2 beneath the artillery battery stationed on the cliffs. The White Cliffs are also extremely popular for walkers and cyclists with numerous marked trails linking the main attractions of the area.
For visiting the White Cliffs, you can also join an organised tour with a guide. By taking this tour you will not only visit the famous White Cliffs but Canterbury Cathedral and Dover Castle. Click here to check the prices and availability.
Dover Castle, one of the main attractions, is situated high above the English Channel. This Medieval castle was originally built as a fortification in 1066 and it was known as the “Key to England". Later in the 12th century, the castle was rebuilt in stone, and a huge keep was added by Henry II.
Inside the castle, you can visit the Great Tower which has six chambers including Henry II’s own private room. There are also the ruins of the Roman Lighthouse and the Church of St. Mary in Castro located next to Colton’s Gate. This structure was built by the Saxons in the year 1000 from Roman bricks incorporated into the castle’s complex.
There are other attractions including the Napoleonic Wartime Tunnels and the Underground Hospital. At the top of the castle, you will have a panoramic view of the English Channel, the countryside and Dover city. I highly recommend you to purchase the castle ticket in advance, you can buy it online here.
South Foreland Lighthouse
Located on top of the White Cliffs of Dover, the beautiful Victorian lighthouse was constructed in the year 1843. This lighthouse is famous for being used by Marconi as the worlds first successful attempt at radio navigation.
The lighthouse was erected to warn sailors of the shifting Goodwin Sands while being guided through the straits of Dover. The lighthouse is also known for being the world’s first to display an electric light. If you are lucky with the weather, you will be able to see France from the lighthouse
Samphire Hoe is the result of all the chalk and rock dug out during the construction of the Channel Tunnel. It is a 74-acre nature reserve created at the foot of the Shakespeare Cliff between Dover and the neighbouring port of Folkestone.
It is one of the best places from which visitors can enjoy the majestic White Cliffs as they rise above you. This site is popular for the activities of bird watching and sea fishing. It is easy to access, and it has easy walking trails.
The Grand Shaft
If you are looking to see something unique and special during your trip to Dover, you should visit the Grand Shaft which is an impressive 140 foot long triple helix staircase.
Construction on the Dover Western Heights and the Grand Shaft began in 1779 when the fear of a French invasion was high across the south-east of England. The complex grew to become one of England’s largest networks of defensive fortifications.
It consists of numerous ditches and forts stretching away along the coast from Dover Castle and featured several important strong points that are still visible today. On the third Sunday of every month from April through to November, the Grand Shaft is open to the public, so it is well worth your time to coincide your visit to include this feature. You can check its calendar here.
The Dover Museum is located inside the family visitor centre in the towns Market Square. The museum is situated across three floors and contains objects and displays of Dover’s rich history, from its earliest days as a Roman port through to the modern-day.
The main attraction of the Museum, is the worlds oldest seagoing vessel, a wooden boat dated back to the Bronze Age. This boat is believed to be more than 3,000 years old and is the focusing point of an exhibition that relates to that period of Dover's history.
Other highlights in the museum include impressive displays of artefacts and jewellery dating from the Saxon era and several scale models of Dover throughout its history including the damage inflicted upon the town due to shelling during WW2.
Roman Painted House
Construction on the Roman Painted House began around 200 AD, it as part of a large mansion used by travellers as a hotel while they waited for a passage to take them across the English Channel.
It has been described as the finest surviving Roman Period House to be found in England. Over 50 structures have been uncovered to date and these include several examples of uniquely painted walls.
There are over 400 square feet of frescoes that have survived the centuries on display here in addition to an elaborate under-floor heating system. There are also displays of artefacts from Roman Dover, which at that time was known as Dubris. There is also a garden area available to visitors for use as a picnic area. The entrance fee is £4 per adult.
Blériot Memorial, located in North fall Meadow, is a small wooded area just to the northeast of Dover Castle. It is a memorial to the French aviator Louis Bleriot. He was the first person to fly across the English Channel in 1909 in an aircraft described as being ‘heavier than air.’
He completed this journey more than 100 years after the first hot-air balloon had successfully completed the crossing. The granite memorial is in itself particularly unique, in that it is carved in the shape of Bleriot’s plane.
The plane itself is on show, not in Dover, but in the Musee des Arts Metiers in Paris. There is another memorial to Bleriot at Calais in France, where Bleriot began his adventure across the English Channel.
If you fancy exploring around Dover, you might want to check out Deal Castle. This castle was built for Henry VIII in 1540 and is located just 11 miles to the north of Dover.
Deal Castle is widely thought to be one of the finest examples of a Tudor period castle in England. It was the first of a most elaborate chain of coastal forts to be built along the coastline of the English Channel.
The entire castle is open to visitors, its appearance is more of a stately home than a castle and after visiting the fort, you should take the time to visit the pleasant gardens surrounding the structure.
Once you have finished then visit the town of Deal, it is very Medieval with a long history as it was one of five defensive and trade towns that comprised the Confederation of Cinque Ports. The area is also very good for walking and cycling with several trails available.
Richborough Roman Fort
Richborough Roman Fort is managed by English Heritage, and it is located only 15 miles from Dover. This site played a significant role in British history as it is the location where the Roman rule in the British Isles began, and also where it ended.
There is an impressive ruin of the Roman settlement at Richborough where the Romans first invaded Britain in AD 43. There are extensive remains of walls and defensive ditches worth exploring and a fun boat trip take visitors on the route the Romans would have taken when they first invaded these shores. There is also a small museum and shop on the site.