Guide to Dover Castle- The Key to England

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Perched upon the infamous White Cliffs of Dover, the Key to England confidently watches over the English Channel. Dover Castle was first described, by Matthew Paris, as the Key to England in the thirteenth century and even today it is still the most iconic fortress in England.


Here is the site map of Dover Castle. Hopefully this will help orientate you with the site before you arrive. There is a lot to see in just one day so it is best to arrive in the morning and plan what you want to see and when you are going to see it!

Obviously you have to either park or walk onto site and buy tickets before you actually see any of the 2,000 years of history. If you are walking or visiting with a school group, you are most likely to walk up and get your tickets at Constable’s Gate (number 20 on the map).

20. Constable’s Gate

This would have been the main entrance to the castle between when Hubert de Burgh built it in 1217-21 until 1797. Hubert, who was the Constable (official in charge of the Castle) at the time, built himself a place to stay above the gate. It is still regarded as the official home of the deputy constable yet it is now uninhabited.

16. Canon’s Gate

All cars will drive through Canon’s gate in order to get to the car parks. However only walkers, camper vans and Blue badge holders have to stop to buy their tickets at Canon’s.

Interestingly, Canon’s gate was built in 1797 as vaulted bomb-proof passage with a gateway wide enough to take a column of troops.

1. Ticket Office

Most people will park in one of the three car parks and buy their tickets at the ticket office. You can also buy membership here. I have explained all of the admission prices and about the English Heritage Membership at the bottom of this post.

Once you have your tickets, membership or overseas visitor pass you can start to soak up the history!

I usually start off at the Secret War Time tunnels. This is simply because they are guided tours, that run every twenty minutes or so until an hour before closing, so they can get quite busy. They are absolutely incredible tours and should not be missed!

13. Operations Dynamo- Guided Tour (number 13)

The Operation Dynamo tour is guided tour around the Casemate tunnels (built between 1797-1810) used by Vice-Admiral Ramsay to organise the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. The tour allows you to become immerse into the history of the 338,000 men rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk between 26th May and the 3rd June 1940.

14. The Underground Hospital/ Annexe- Guided Tour (number 14)

This is a 20 minute guided tour of Annexe tunnels (built between 1941-2) that were used as a secure hospital as well as emergency dormitory accommodation.

After exploring the War time side of the site, I then head to the medieval side. The medieval aspects of the site are unguided, although there are informative members of staff dotted around to answer any questions. Also, there are usually medieval reenactors during the holidays, weekends and event days.

2. Roman Pharos

The octagonal pharos was probably built in the second century AD and burning braziers would have allowed it to act as a beacon at night. The Pharos would have originally been apart of a trio- with another pharos on the Western Heights (across the Valley) and another one in Boulogne.

3. Church of St Mary-in-Castro

The Church next to the Pharos is Saxon but it was heavily restored in the nineteenth century (plus the roof was fixed during the summer of 2016).

4. Inner Bailey

The inner bailey consists of 14 rectangular mural towers that were built in the 1180s. During the thirteenth century, some of the buildings in the inner bailey functioned as brewhouses, bakehouses and stables. However, the most of the buildings that you see today were built in the eighteenth century.

Cafe and Gift Shop

Today there is a cafe and gift shop within the inner bailey buildings. It is believed that the shop building was medieval in origin! It is worth popping in because they have great gifts and fantastic food/ alcohol that you can taste.

5. Arthur’s Hall

Arthur’s Hall is currently set up as an interactive introduction to the history of the Great Tower. However, it was originally built for Henry III c.1236-44.

7. The Great Tower

The Great Tower itself is focal point of the whole site and can be seen for miles. The square keep was built under Henry II during the 1180s and it was intended as an occasional residence but its function has differed considerably throughout history! For example,

  • During the Spanish Wars of Succession it was used to house French prisoners.

  • It was militarised during for the Napoleonic Wars (to support cannons on the roof)

  • Today it is open to the public.

This is my favourite part of the site, partly because everything that you see inside is how Historians think it would have looked in 1189. Dover Castle is not an empty shell or crumbling ruins. It is a grand castle that draws you into the world of Henry II.

Admission prices:

Gift Aid: If you live in the UK and you pay UK taxes, then gift aid is a voluntary 10% donation. This donation then enables English Heritage to reclaim ALL of the tax back from your admission ticket (Which is currently 25p per £1). I know that 10% is a lot of money on top of these tickets, but the tax given back to English Heritage is used to conserve sites so as they survive and can be experienced in the future!

All of these admission prices are likely to change on the 1st April every year, so if you are reading this in 2018 double check the English Heritage website .


Alternatively, you can always invest in a membership. If you enjoy visiting historical sites, love travelling around the country or want cheap days out for all the family, then a membership could be financially beneficial! It was one of the best decisions I made.

Benefits of being an English Heritage Member:

  • FREE access into over 400 historical sites across the England
  • FREE entrance for 6 children per adult
  • FREE handbook
  • FREE and exclusive Members Magazine 4x a year
  • Plus reduced entry into Associated Attractions (Such as The Canterbury Tales, which will be mentioned in my up coming Guide to Canterbury Blog)

ALSO, English Heritage are currently offering 3 month of FREE membership if you sign up by Direct Debit. Therefore, the membership will last you 15 months- so it will cover next summer as well! I am not sure how long this offer will last for though.

As I live in the Southeast, a membership is financially logical. Along just the Southeast Coast you have:

  • Dover Castle

  • Deal Castle

  • Walmer Castle

  • Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre

  • St Augustine’s Cross

  • Reculver Towers and Roman Fort

In fact, by the time I had visited Dover, Deal and Walmer Castle, I had covered the cost of the membership!

(Above: Photo of Deal Castle)

Membership Prices:

Despite the membership offering you so many opportunities, something that can cost up to £96 often needs a bit of thought. Therefore, you can buy your day tickets in the morning, think about the membership throughout the day and if you change your mind, head back to the Ticket Office (Number 1 on the map). They will give you the money that you paid for your ticket back and upgrade you to a membership!

Overseas Visitor Pass:

If you are only on holiday in England then an Overseas Visitor Pass might suit your need better. I have never bought one (as I live in England) but it is ideal for anyone who wants to see England in a limited amount of time.

Benefits of buying an Overseas Visitors Pass:

  • Lasts for 9 OR 16 days
  • FREE entry into over 100 sites
  • FREE English Heritage Guide Book

Overseas Visitor Pass Prices:

The same rule applies as it does for Membership- if you buy your day ticket and change your mind, then they can give you your money back and upgrade you to the visitor pass.


So this was an extremely long post in comparison to my other Guides. However I have only touched the tip of the iceberg in this post… there is so much to see and do at Dover Castle that you need at LEAST a day to see it (and even then you will miss bits).

I hope you have enjoyed this post and that it inspires you to plan a trip to Dover Castle (my favourite place in the world). Any comments would be greatly appreciated and if you have questions, please do not hesitate to ask! If you would like to see more posts like this then please subscribe.

Love Soph xxx

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9 thoughts on “Guide to Dover Castle- The Key to England”

    • Morning Lorelle,

      I am glad that you like it! It is such a green site and there is so much to see and do!
      Love Soph xxx

  • Great post! I’m really considering investing in a English Heritage Membership because even though I live in London, I’d love to travel around the UK and all our sites there. You’ve really brought Dover castle to my attention,where I normally may have ignored it 🙂

  • Great post! I’m really considering investing in a English Heritage Membership because even though I live in London, I’d love to travel around the UK and all our sites there. You’ve really brought Dover castle to my attention,where I normally may have ignored it 🙂

    • Hey Nami,

      This comment has made my evening. If you are planning on travelling around the UK then an English Heritage Membership is a worthy investment. Dover Castle, despite the fact that it is MASSIVE, is a hidden gem. Most people, who visit England, focus on London rather than small towns like Dover. Yet there is so much history captures in one site! <3 I hope that you get a chance to visit the Uk and come down to Dover.

      Love Soph xxx

  • Saw this on the Community Pool and glad I took the adventure to read about this awesome castle! Living east coast of the US, I actually have a place called Castle Island near me. It’s not nearly as cool as the Dover Castle, but Massachusetts isn’t really known for Castles in the first place. Great photos and facts, look forward to more posts in the future!

    • Oohh Castle Island sounds awesome!

      I am glad you liked the post. Thank you for commenting and stay tuned for more posts ❤️❤️
      Love Soph xxx

  • I did a really nice walk earlier this year from Fanham all the way to Dover along the North Downs Way (over quite a few weekends!!)
    I was sooo happy to reach Dover at the end of the hike, but really sad that we arrived too late to make the most of the amazing castle. I’d love to go back so it is really good to see all your photos.

    If you ever have a free weekend, you would LOVE the walk along the last section of the North Downs Way to Dover. It’s free, but gorgeous and you get to finish with the amazing view of the castle.

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