The Best Things to do in Dover, Kent
The port town of Dover sits along the southern coast of Kent, nestled in beside the iconic White Cliffs. A visit to Dover will provide you with a fascinating insight into some of Britain’s most important historical events, from the Roman times all the way up until World War II.
Dover is also home to a few of the best highlights of Kent which makes it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, attracting over 3 million visitors per year! While the town itself isn’t known for being particularly beautiful, there is enough history to discover and plenty of fun things to do in Dover that make anyone’s visit worthwhile.
If you’re staying in London, visiting Dover makes a great day trip and the perfect way to get out of the city to see some of the scenic English countryside. Being only an hour away from London, it’s easy to reach by taking the high-speed train. For those who prefer taking a tour, there are many great options that include Dover’s main highlights on tours that depart from London.
If you have any extra time, it is well worth staying a night or two in Dover as there are plenty of sights and activities to keep you entertained for more than just a day. So, whether you only have one day to spend or decide to stay a bit longer, here are the very best things to do in Dover that you shouldn’t miss on your visit!
White Cliffs of Dover
By far the most popular thing to do in Dover is visiting the majestic White Cliffs which have long been an icon of Britain. Through the middle ages and even as far back as the Roman times, they were the first thing boats would have seen as they approached England. This explains the reason Dover is often referred to as “the Gateway to Britain.”
There are a few different paths that run along the edge of the cliffs, each one varying in length depending on how far you wish to walk. One path runs closer to the edge of the cliffs and another path is further inland, breathtaking scenery can be seen from either one.
The views from the paths are truly spectacular as the rolling green hills contrast against the white of the cliffs and blue of the sea. On a clear day, you can even look out across the busy channel and see France in the far distance.
Most people choose to walk the 40-minute route from the Visitor Center to the South Foreland Lighthouse and then back. If you’re after a longer walk, you can continue all the way to St Margaret’s Bay which is a small village next to Dover and takes 1 hour of walking from the Visitor Center to reach. If you make it that far, you can choose to either catch a bus back to Dover or return on the same path.
Fan Bay Deep Shelter
A 25-minute walk along the cliffs from the Visitor Center will take you to the first historic attraction of the White Cliffs. Fan Bay Deep Shelter is a series of tunnels that were built into the cliffs during the second world war. Their purpose was to provide accommodation and storage for the men who were in charge of operating the gun battery on the cliffs above.
Experience life during the war by taking a tour through the tunnels. The tour will begin with your guide leading you down a steep set of stairs, as you descend into the tunnels 70ft underground. Along the way, you will see graffiti on the walls left by the soldiers who once occupied the dark passageways.
This amazing attraction hasn’t been open to tourists for long. It was re-discovered and uncovered in 2012 as the tunnels had been forgotten and left untouched for decades after the war. Guided tours of the Fan Bay Deep Shelter tunnels are only offered during the spring and summer months on a first-come, first-serve basis. For those who don’t enjoy being in confined spaces, this tour is not recommended.
South Foreland Lighthouse
A further 15 minutes of walking along the cliffs from Fan Bay Deep shelter will lead you to the beautiful Victorian South Foreland Lighthouse. Although there has been a lighthouse in that location since the 14th century, South Foreland was built in 1846 and operated for 142 years. There is no direct access to the lighthouse, the only way to get there is by following the 2-mile path along the cliffs from the Visitor’s Center.
If you choose to take a guided tour of the lighthouse, you’ll be taken up to a platform at the top where a panoramic view of the cliffs, St. Margaret’s Bay and the English Channel can be seen. The tour will take you back through the years of the lighthouse’s history and you’ll hear fascinating stories of the historic events that unfolded at South Foreland.
Mrs. Knott’s Tearoom
A visit to the South Foreland Lighthouse isn’t complete without a stop in this charming little tea house that looks like it’s stuck in a past era with its lovely vintage interiors.
Mrs. Knott’s Tearoom is attached to the lighthouse and was once home to the Knott family who were the lighthouse keepers during the 19th century. You can stop here for refreshments to break up your walk along the cliffs. Soup and sandwiches along with homemade cakes and fresh scones are some of the staples on their menu.
Discover over 800 years of English history in the extremely well preserved Dover Castle. This impressive castle happens to be one of England’s largest and most iconic fortresses. Due to its hilltop location, it’s played an important role in defending Britain from invasions over the centuries.
The origins of Dover Castle can be traced back to the 11th century and over time it was rebuilt to take shape as the castle we still see standing today. The castle’s Great Tower was built by King Henry II in 1180 and to this day, remains in excellent condition.
Explore the beautifully decorated medieval chambers and experience what life was like for royalty in a typical 12th century English court. On certain days you will even see costumed actors roaming the halls, bringing the castle to life. As you climb further up the steep spiral staircase, you’ll eventually reach the top of the tower where a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside awaits you.
Going back to the 1st century AD, long before Dover Castle existed, this incredible Roman lighthouse is still standing within the castle walls. It’s the oldest lighthouse to survive in all of England.
Beneath the castle, you can descend into the dark tunnels that were built to protect Dover Castle against sieges during the middle ages. As you explore the maze of tunnels, you will come across old cannons set up just as they would have been during one of the many sieges.
A separate network of underground tunnels exists at Dover Castle but this one was built during the second world war. A hospital was built under the castle to provide a safe location to treat injured soldiers. Guided tours of the hospital will take you through a series of re-created rooms.
Events at Dover Castle
Throughout the year, there are many fun events that take place at the castle. For example, each summer there is a jousting tournament held inside the castle grounds. To see all upcoming events at Dover Castle, click here.
If you’re visiting on a day trip, you will likely only have enough time to see the White Cliffs and Dover Castle. With any extra time to spare, this museum is well worth a visit as it’s home to some fantastic ancient artifacts and tells the story of Dover’s history from the prehistoric times up until today.
The major highlight of Dover Museum is seeing the world’s oldest man-made boat on record. The boat has been dated back to the Bronze Age and is estimated to have been used around the year 1,500 BC!
You can find Dover Museum in the town center, only a 5-minute walk from the train station. The best part is that admission is free!
Western Heights of Dover
On the western hills of Dover, on the other side of town from the White Cliffs is the Western Heights fortifications. They were built into the hillside in the 18th century as an additional layer of defense and protection against attacks during the Napoleonic Wars.
Today, the fortifications and ditches can still be seen from the outside by simply following a path along the grassy hillside. The forts are opened up to visitors for a small fee on select days of the year.
The best part about visiting the Western Heights is actually the spectacular view that can be seen from the trail along the hillside. As you peer across the valley, a perfect view of Dover Castle and the White Cliffs can be seen. This is possibly the only spot where you’re able to capture both the castle and the cliffs together in one photo.
Best Places to Eat in Dover
The White Horse
A quintessential old English pub, in fact, it’s the oldest pub in Dover with a building that dates back to the year 1365! If you’re looking for a proper English pub meal and traditional ales, this is where to find it.
It’s a 10-minute walk from Dover Castle which makes it easy to get to while you’re out and about sightseeing. The White Horse is the place to go for those who love dining in historic pubs, full of fascinating stories and a cozy atmosphere.
Wheeler’s Fish and Chips Dover
Eating fish and chips by the sea is one of those classic British experiences everyone must-have when visiting a coastal English town. Wheeler’s is a popular fish and chip restaurant serving fresh seafood dishes from mussels, prawns, and oysters to the traditional battered cod with a side of chips.
The Smuggler’s Bar and Restaurant
If you make it all the way to St Margaret’s village on your walk along the White Cliffs, then you must pop in for lunch at the Smuggler’s. This is another traditional old English pub, steeped in history dating back to the days of smuggling in the 17th century. St Margaret’s was known to be a hub for the smuggling of illegal goods during those days.
The Smuggler’s is a family-run pub with very good ratings serving high-quality British food, pizza, and Mexican in a lovely historic building. On a warm day, their beer garden is a great place to relax with a pint in the sun.
Getting to Dover from London Train
The easiest and quickest way to reach Dover is by taking the high-speed train service that travels from London’s St. Pancras Station to Dover Priory Station.
The train runs frequently throughout the day and the journey takes just over 1 hour. Taking the high-speed service will come at a slightly higher cost than taking the slower train but it’s worth it to save yourself the time and hassle of having to switch trains along the way.
Dover Day Trip from London
If you prefer taking an organized tour, this highly-rated full-day tour of Dover departs London in the morning and takes you to the White Cliffs and Dover Castle. It also includes a stop at the famous Canterbury Cathedral as well as some free time to spend exploring the lovely town of Canterbury.
This tour is the perfect choice for those who have limited time but still want to see some of the highlights of Dover and get a taste of the beautiful countryside of Kent!
As you can see, there are quite a few things to do in Dover and it definitely worth a visit. As a local, I hope you can visit Dover on your next trip to England.
Ann is the other half of The Road Is Life where she blogs with her partner Rick about travel and living a minimalist lifestyle. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she has spent the last 2.5 years living in a small town in Kent, England where she used that time to explore as much of Europe and the U.K. as possible!