Many people tell me that they have been to Dover… but what they really mean is that they have driven through Dover (to get to the port and to travel to the Continent). Whilst most tourists plan to visit London or Cambridge, Dover can often be overlooked. Yet Dover, as a hub of both British and European history, is the home of some spectacular hidden gems- from the magnificent Dover Castle to the stunning White Cliffs.
As a major port, access into Dover is reasonably simple but I will begin with a brief guide that will cover ways of travelling to Dover:
Most people drive through Dover in order to get to the port so it is fairly easy to get to Dover via the A2. However, I will warn you that you should NOT attempt to drive to Dover on the first weekend of the Summer holidays. During the first weekend of the English Summer holidays, for the past few years, Dover has become gridlocked due to the extremely high volume of holiday traffic heading to the Port and the Eurotunnel. In 2016, this traffic issue was exacerbated further by increased security checks at the French boarder control. Hopefully this will not be the case this year… but I would still advise you to avoid driving to Dover during that weekend. (Do not let this put you off visiting Dover at any other point in the year though!)
There is an excellent High-Speed service from Dover Priory to London St Pancras International that runs approximately twice an hour and only takes 1hour and 5 minutes. As always, I would suggest booking your tickets in advance as this makes it considerably cheaper.
Alternatively, you can take the slower (and slightly cheaper) train:
-2 hours between Dover Priory and London Victoria
-1 hour 55 minutes between Dover Priory and London Charing Cross
If you are traveling from Canterbury, then the 15 Bus takes you to Dover Pencester Road. Buses between Dover and Deal also travel up Castle Hill Road and stop near Constable’s Gate entrance at Dover Castle.
Ferry or Eurostar
If you are traveling to Dover from the Continent you can obviously use the ferries or travel on the Eurostar. Once again, it is cheaper to book far in advance.
Things to Visit in Dover:
1. The White Cliffs of Dover
The White Cliffs of Dover have been symbolic of Britain, particularly during times of war, for example in Vera Lynn’s ‘There’ll be Bluebirds Over’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FawMg0NXpg).
They are truly a prominent focal point and can be seen clearly from Dover Beach, the Port or by anyone arriving by ferry or cruise liner. The millions of people who have travelled to and from England over the centuries, via Dover, have seen these cliffs.
The Cliffs are not just magnificent to look at, but they also provide a beautiful scenic walk, run by the National Trust. If you are a member you can park your car for free. However, if you are not a member then it currently (June 2017) costs £3.50 to park your car and £6 for motorhomes. Be aware that this car park closes at 7pm, after which they close the car park.
My favourite route along the White cliffs is along the coastal path; from the car park to the Southforeland lighthouse.The views are breathtaking. You can look directly over the Port, get fantastic views of Dover Castle and look out over the English Channel. On a clear day you get a stunning view of France because it is so close. In fact, the ferries only travel 26 miles between Dover and Calais and the narrow gap between the two countries is why many people swim the Channel. The shortest distance between England and France is actually between the South Foreland Lighthouse and Cap Gris Nez (20.7 miles).
National Trust say that it only takes 50 minutes to walk to the Lighthouse from their car park, but it is really subject to how quickly you walk, the weather and how many times you stop to capture photos. The walk provides so many beautiful photo opportunities, particularly on a sunny day. Although, the trail covers a lot of uneven and steep ground so I would not advise anyone with walking difficulties to walk all of the way to the lighthouse.
At the Southforeland Lighthouse there is a small giftshop, the opportunity to climb to the top of the lighthouse and a quaint tea room. The drinks and a sit down are definitely needed after the trek along the cliffs.
I also, particularly in the winter months when the nights begin to set in earlier, love to head up to the cliffs in the evenings. The Port is lit up and sometimes you can see the car lights glinting over on the Continent. It can be truly magical.
2. Dover Castle
Dover Castle is my favourite place in the WORLD and I am lucky enough that it is right on my doorstep. Perched on the White Cliffs of Dover, the Castle can be clearly seen by sea and from almost anywhere in Dover town. This was Henry II’s intentions when he ordered the construction of the Great Tower in the 1180s. If you visit Dover, then you MUST visit the castle. I can guarantee that it will make your day 100% better. I am currently writing another Blog post about just Dover Castle so I do not want to bombard you with all of the information here. Please check back in on my blog in a few days to read that!
3. The Western Heights
Opposite to Dover Castle, on the other side of the valley, is the Western Heights. Due to the war with France that broke out in 1778, action was taken to fortify the area with a bastion fort. This no longer survives but in its place is the Drop Redoubt, which is a detached fort built between 1804 and 1815. Unfortunately, the Drop Redoubt is only open to the public a few times a year and there are bookable tours once a month.
Similarly, The Grand Shaft, which is a triple spiral staircase, is only opened to the public occasionally. There is a popular theory that in the Victorian times, the staircases were divided by class-
Officers and their ladies,
Sergeants and their wives,
Soldiers and their women,
If you are interest in seeing the Drop Redoubt or The Grand Sharft then check the Dover Western Heights website before you visit (http://www.doverwesternheights.org). If you cannot visit on an open day, then the Western Heights alone provide a beautiful walk with fantastic views over the town.
4. The Roman Painted House
25 years of excavation uncovered 50 roman structures in Dover- the best preserved being the Painted House (AD 200). It was originally used as a hotel for people crossing the English Channel to the Continent. The museum only costs £3 for an adult and £2 for concessions and children and the car parking is free! It is also only a 5 minute walk from Dover Priory Station or 5 minutes from Pencester Road (the main bus station). I think that because Dover has so much history that is prominently visible (such as the Castle), The Roman Painted House is often overlooked. Yet it is a small, old fashioned museum that is really worth a visit and support.
5. Dover Museum
You may have gathered, from this blog, that Dover is at the heart of both English and European history. Therefore, Dover Museum, situated in the town centre, captures the story of the historic port and the local area. I used to love visiting Dover Museum as a child, partly due to the infamous giant Polar bear on display. Reginald Koettlitz, an explorer, had brought the polar bear back from the Arctic in 1897 and it stood in his families Dover surgery from the late 1890s until 1960 before being moved to the museum!
The ground floor exhibition covers the history of Dover from the Stone Age to the Saxons. The first floor exhibition often changes. My favourite is the second floor, which contains 6 massive models of the development of Dover town and port. It also included the Bronze Age Boat, which is the world’s oldest known seagoing boat!
Whilst Dover is physically marked and immersed in Roman, Medieval and Wartime, it also bares the marks of todays politics. Recently, a huge Banksy mural appeared on the Castle Amusements building, near Dover Port.. The workman chipping away at one of the 12 stars on the EU flag has clearly been inspired by Brexit and there has already been debate surrounding what the mural represents. The position of the mural is highly conspicuous as it is opposite a ‘Welcome to Dover’ sign, it is within metres of the port and it is in the town closest to Europe.
Dover is a coastal town and you cannot visit a town on the sea without visiting a beach. Therefore, here are my three favourite beaches in the Dover area.
1. Dover Sea Front
Growing up, I spent most of my summer months at Dover beach. When I was really little, my family and I would paddle in the sea and eat Fish and Chips on the pebbles. As a teenager, my friends and I would spend all day at the beach; jumping off the jetty, swimming in the icy cold water and cooking sausages on poundland BBQs. Now, I still love to take a dip in the sea, to compete to see who can throw a pebble the furthest and to eat Fish and Chips on the beach as the sun falls behind the horizon. If you are visiting Dover and you want a cheap, yet memorable, meal, then a bag of chips on Dover beach is the best option. (Also, car parking in free after 5pm)
Dover Beach is not the only beach worth visiting. If you have a car, or can call a taxi, then it is worth visiting Samphire Hoe or St Margaret’s Bay
2. Samphire Hoe
Samphire Hoe is an artificially created piece of reclaimed land positioned at the the foot of Shakespeare Cliff, just between Dover and Folkestone. The 30 hectares of land was created out of the spoil from the Channel Tunnel construction so it is is a truly fascinating area. The thing that amazes me the most about Samphire Hoe is the amount of biodiversity that thrives on the manmade area. In fact, Samphire Hoe has received the Green Flag award for 12 years in a row! It is a successful nature reserve, with hundreds of plants, birds and butterflies. There are also sheep and cows that graze on the land.
With regards to parking, I usually pay £2 and that covers me for anything over 2 hours. Therefore I am not pressured or restricted by time. If you are a blue badge holder or travel by motorbike then parking is free! Samphire Hoe is also ideal for blue badge holders with wheelchairs because the ‘West shore via the Hoe’ route is a 2km walk along a tarmac path. Therefore, it is also pushchair friendly (and the toilets have a baby changing facility).
3. St Margaret’s Bay
I don’t know if you can truly classify St Margarets Bay as being in Dover… but it is within driving distance and I love it! It is a sheltered, hidden away, shingle cove that lay at the bottom of a narrow, windy road. As a child I would often go rock pooling at the bay (when the tide was out). We used to explore between the seaweed covered rocks and find so many crabs, little fish and other shellfish. I used to absolutely playing in the rock pools all day and I would always fall fast asleep in the car on the way home. Writing this blog is reminding me that I should visiting the bay and explore the rock pools more often.
As you can see, there is so much to do in Dover, particularly history related activities. I hope that this guide has given you some useful information and will help you plan a trip to the historic coastal town. As I mentioned previously, I am currently writing a blog post on Dover Castle. So please check back in with me in a couple of days.
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Any comments would be greatly appreciated and I would love to answer any questions.
Love Soph xxx
Also, if you would like to see more pictures from Dover and my other trips, follow me on instagram-Sojerden Instagram