Dover is a charming coastal town in southeast England which holds a rich historical significance. Dover is renowned for being the primary crossing point between England and continental Europe.
Known for its iconic White Cliffs, impressive medieval castle, and picturesque marina, Dover captures the essence of English heritage and natural beauty.
It makes for a great day trip from London and is very easy to reach to by train or car. During the summer months, we love cycling and have explored Dover by bike a few times. Below, we share the top things to do in Dover for a day.
What is Dover Famous For
Dover is renowned for being the primary crossing point between England and continental Europe. Dover is home to one of the busiest and most important ports in the United Kingdom and serves as a gateway to Europe, with frequent ferry connections to Calais, France.
It has historically been the starting point for journeys to mainland Europe, and the famous White Cliffs have been the welcoming sight for those returning to Britain, similar to the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Dover Castle is another famous feature of the town. This medieval fortress stands prominently on the White Cliffs and has a history dating back to the 11th century. Dover Castle played a crucial role in defending the English coast throughout various periods, including World War II.
How to get to Dover
There are several ways to get to Dover depending on your starting point, including by train, bus, car or ferry.
- Train: Dover is well-connected by train services from various cities in the UK. Trains from London depart from London St Pancras International or London Victoria stations. The journey from London to Dover takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the train service.
As we go by bikes, we take the fast train from Stratford International station to Dover Priory which takes just over 1 hour. You can check prices and book your train ticket on the Trainline’s website.
- Car: Dover is easily accessible by car via the A2 or M20 motorway. From London, you can follow the M2 motorway and then connect to the A2, which leads directly to Dover. The journey takes approximately 2 hours, depending on traffic conditions.
If you are considering renting a car, check Rentalcars.com to find the best deal.
- Bus: National Express operates bus services from various cities in the UK, including London to Dover. Buses depart from London Victoria Coach Station and offer an affordable option for travel. The journey time by bus varies depending on the route and traffic conditions, but it generally takes around 2 to 3 hours.
You can use Omio for your coach tickets but also to compare different modes of transport including trains, coaches and ferries to Dover.
- Ferry: If you are coming from continental Europe, taking a ferry to Dover is an option. Ferry services are operated by companies such as P&O Ferries and DFDS Seaways. The journey time by ferry is around 1.5 to 2 hours, and it offers a scenic approach to Dover’s coastline.
If going by ferry from Calais to Dover, you can use Omio to buy your ticket. This is also good to compare different modes of transport including trains, coaches and ferries to Dover.
Many years ago when I first visited the UK, I came on the P&O Ferry from France and still remember the exciting journey on the ferry and the amazing White Cliffs seen from afar.
Top Things to do in Dover
Once you arrive in Dover, there are a number of things you can do in a day but the White Cliffs and Dover Castle are absolute must visit places.
1. Admire the White Cliffs of Dover
The White Cliffs of Dover are located near the town of Dover and stretch along the coastline for approximately 10 miles (16 kilometres). The cliffs are easily accessible from Dover town centre, with various transportation options available, including walking, cycling, and driving.
The first time we went to Dover, we took the train from London to Deal and then cycled from Deal to Folkestone with the first stop being the White Cliffs. It was amazing to see them and be so close to them.
The White Cliffs are made primarily of chalk, a soft, white sedimentary rock formed from the remains of microscopic marine organisms that lived in the ancient oceans millions of years ago. Over time, layers of these organisms’ skeletons accumulated and were compressed to create the distinctive chalky cliffs we see today.
There are several walking and hiking trails that allow you to explore the White Cliffs of Dover. The National Trust operates a visitor centre near the cliffs, providing information, exhibits, and facilities for visitors as well as highlighting different routes and distances to suit various preferences and fitness levels.
As we were with the bikes, we didn’t do much hiking during our visit but really enjoyed taking the time to admire the views from the top of the cliffs.
The White Cliffs of Dover hold immense historical significance. Over the centuries, they have served as a natural defence system, safeguarding the shores of England from potential invaders and have witnessed pivotal moments in British history, including Roman invasions, medieval battles, and World War II.
After we spent a few hours in the cliffs area, we wanted to visit the castle, which was supposed to be our next stop. We underestimated the journey and didn’t have enough time to visit Dover Castle, so we returned to Dover specifically to visit the famous castle.
2. Discover Dover Castle
The castle offers a wealth of historical significance and captivating attractions. You should allow at least 3 hours to visit but you can easily spend a whole day on the castle grounds.
To ensure our visit, we booked our Dover Castle tickets in advance and we recommend you do the same.
In general, the visit is self-guided except two guided tours to the Underground Hospital and the Secret Wartime Tunnels. We recommend you start with these as they only allow a limited number of people per tour.
Discover the Secret Wartime Tunnels
We started our visit with the Secret Wartime Tunnels which offer a fascinating insight into the defensive strategies employed during World War II. During our visit there weren’t many people and we only had to wait around 20 minutes. Be prepared to wait more during busier times.
The tour is interactive and takes you through the tunnels where you can learn about their role as the nerve centre for the Dunkirk evacuation and as a command post during the Battle of Britain.
After being in the tunnels for about 45 minutes, the end of the tour takes you to the amazing views from the cliffs towards the Port of Dover.
Unfortunately photos are not allowed during the tour but it is an interesting and different experience worth doing.
Visit the Underground Hospital
After learning about Operation Dynamo and Dunkirk’s evacuation strategies, we joined another tour to visit the Underground Hospital.
During World War II, Dover Castle played a crucial role as a military command centre and hospital and some of the tunnels were converted into an underground medical facility.
This tour was less impressive but was good to discover the wartime history, see the equipment used back in the days, and learn about the experiences of those who worked there. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and had interesting stories to share.
The tour lasted only 20 minutes. Be aware that you need to climb stairs at the end. If you have mobility issues or visit with children, you can also take the lift.
Useful tip: try to visit first the Secret Wartime Tunnels as the end of the tour is nearby the entrance of the Underground Hospital tour, which makes it easy to join.
Uncover Dover’s Roman and Saxon stories
After the underground hospital tour, we explored more the castle grounds until we reached to this amazing place.
Here you can see the Roman Pharos – the oldest surviving lighthouse in the country, and one of the oldest in the world. This remarkable survivor was once used to aid navigation by Romans across the English Channel from France.
Right next to the lighthouse is the Anglo-Saxon church of St Mary in Castro which is a working church still in use today.
Explore the Great Tower
The Great Tower is the centrepiece of Dover Castle and offers a glimpse into medieval life. It is a large stone structure built during the reign of King Henry II in the 12th century.
It is an example of Norman architecture and was constructed as a symbol of royal power and a fortified residence for the monarch.
The interior of the Great Tower houses beautifully reconstructed rooms that offer a glimpse into medieval life. You can explore various chambers, including the King’s Chamber, Queen’s Chamber, and the Great Hall. Sitting on the throne in the Great Hall was a real highlight!
Climb to the top of the tower and soak in the breath-taking panoramic views of the English Channel and the surrounding countryside. On a clear day, you may even see France across the water.
The views offer a stunning backdrop and a unique perspective of the castle’s strategic positioning.
The Great Tower of Dover Castle stands as a testament to medieval architecture, royal power, and the castle’s strategic importance. Exploring its chambers, learning about its history, and enjoying the panoramic views from its vantage point provide a captivating experience for visitors interested in the rich heritage and grandeur of the past.
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Walk along the Medieval Tunnels
Yes, more tunnels! After exiting the Great Tower, you pass by the entrance of more underground tunnels which you can explore.
These tunnels provided vital defence and served as storage and communication routes during times of conflict. I really enjoyed exploring these but Paul didn’t seem too keen on it.
It was much cooler in the tunnels which was welcomed but due to the humidity the floors were slippery, so do be aware of this.
Enjoy the Castle Grounds
Once you have seen the main things, simply wander through the castle’s expansive grounds and enjoy the well-maintained gardens and picturesque surroundings. Take a leisurely stroll, enjoy a picnic, or simply appreciate the castle’s impressive exterior.
If you get peckish, there is a café and a restaurant where you can grab a bite and indeed if you decided to spend a whole day at the castle, you can enjoy coffee and lunch there as well.
3. Explore the Vibrant Marina of Dover
Dover’s marina is a picturesque waterfront area that offers a blend of maritime charm, dining options, and recreational activities.
When we visited this place the first time, the area was still under construction. We were pleasantly surprised to see the amazing transformation of this place.
Overlooking the English Channel, the marina has undergone modern developments, transforming it into a vibrant hub. You can enjoy walks on the long pier and admire the views towards the castle from afar.
You can explore the rejuvenated waterfront, stroll along the promenade, and enjoy the array of shops, cafes, and restaurants. The marina also serves as a launching point for boat tours, fishing trips, and water sports, adding to the allure of this coastal gem.
Organised Tours to Dover from London
If you prefer to join an organised tour, you can combine a trip to Dover and also pay a visit to the amazing town of Canterbury as most tour companies are offering combined trips. Here are some suggestions for organised trips from London to Dover:
- Canterbury Cathedral, Dover Castle, and White Cliffs
- White Cliffs of Dover and Canterbury Day-Trip
- Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral & Dover
The benefit of the organised tour is the stress free itinerary planning, expert guides with local knowledge, comfortable and reliable transportation and the opportunity to meet like-minded travellers.
Dover’s charm lies in its captivating historical sites, the natural beauty of the White Cliffs, and the lively atmosphere of its marina.
A day trip to Dover from London promises an enriching experience, offering a glimpse into England’s past, stunning coastal landscapes, and a relaxing seaside ambiance.
Dover is easily accessible from London and other parts of the UK. It is an affordable trip and a great way to spend a day out.
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