Dover is perhaps best known for its towering White Cliffs, often depicted in film and art. But the city of Dover and its surrounding areas have a lot more to offer than simply the natural formation, from historical sites to seaside eateries to boat trips. Dover is located southeast of London, and it's easily accessible by car or train from the British capital, making it a great weekend trip from the city. While Dover is great all times of the year, it's probably best visited during the warmer, sunnier months when you can enjoy its beaches and outdoor attractions. Here are 12 of the best things to do in Dover.
Visit Dover Castle
Dover Castle, which overlooks the iconic White Cliffs, dates back 900 years, with a vast history that includes a key role in World War II. Visitors can explore the English Heritage site, including the castle grounds, the battlements, and the interior spaces. The castle's long history is on display in the many rooms, from the former underground hospital to the ancient medieval tunnels to the Great Tower. There is also a Bunker Escape Room, inspired by the Cold War, which you and your family can book for an extra cost. The castle is home to the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment and The Queen's Regiment Museum, which you shouldn't miss during your visit. Tickets are available in advance online for those who like to plan ahead.
Walk Along the White Cliffs
The towering White Cliffs of Dover are perhaps the most notable destination in the area. The cliffs, which face the Strait of Dover and France, reach up to 350 feet tall and have a striking white gleam thanks to being made of chalk. It's worth seeing the cliffs from both above and below, so take a day to go for a long stroll to explore the area fully. There is also a wheelchair accessible footpath that leads to a viewing area, making it possible for less mobile users to get a glimpse of the views. Look for the official White Cliffs parking lot, which also has a takeaway cafe and toilets.
Explore Dover Museum
Located in the heart of Dover, the Dover Museum is one of the oldest museums in Kent. The museum, originally founded in 1836, moved into a new space in 1991, and its exhibitions tell the history of the Dover port and town from the Stone Age through the Saxons. There is also the Dover Bronze Age Boat gallery, which details the excavation and preservation of the Dover Boat and looks at the Bronze Age overall. Admission is free for all visitors, making it a great addition to your Dover itinerary, and it's important to note that Dover Museum is closed on Sundays.
Tour Fan Bay Deep Shelter
While visiting the White Cliffs, don't miss the Fan Bay Deep Shelter, a series of tunnels built during World War II for the Fan Bay Battery artillery battery. The tunnels were dug into the cliffs themselves in 1940 and 1941 and are now abandoned. Inside, visitors can walk through the tunnels and see the existing sound mirrors, early acoustic warning devices used during World War I. Entry to the shelter is every 30 minutes on a first-come, first-served basis with a maximum of 12 people per tour. Opening times vary throughout the year, so be sure to check online ahead of your visit. Note that it takes about 45 minutes to walk to the tunnels, located one and a half miles from White Cliffs Visitor Centre and that all guests will have to walk down 125 steep steps in and out of the shelter (so wear comfortable shoes).
Relax at St. Margaret’s Bay
Visitors to Dover should, of course, experience one of the nearby beaches. This is best done at St. Margaret’s Bay, located just north of central Dover alongside the coast. The shingle beach is nice for a stroll, or you can go farther with the 4.7-mile St Margaret’s Bay hike, which takes you from the beach to the cliffs. The beach itself is home to a kiosk that sells ice cream and snacks and some cafes. The parking lot requires a bit of a walk to get to the beach itself, and it's not soft sand, so bring comfortable shoes you don't mind getting a bit wet. The beach can be crowded in the summer, especially on the weekends, so plan accordingly.
Visit the Roman Painted House
Discovered by Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit in the 1970s, the Roman Painted House is one of Dover's best historical attractions. The house, which is now only ruins, was built in 200 AD and was used as a hotel for travelers crossing the English Channel. The surviving murals showcase scenes with the Roman god Bacchus, and there is a surrounding exhibition on its history and excavation. It's family-friendly, with an outdoor garden for picnics, and visitors should call the museum in advance to ensure it's open. Bonus: the tickets are very budget-friendly.
Explore the Dover Transport Museum
Kids and car lovers will enjoy the Dover Transport Museum, which is home to vintage cars, buses, and locomotives. There is also a visitor-operated model railway and a taxi and bus hunt to engage younger visitors. The museum can be found a few miles outside Dover and is available by car or by local bus, which runs from downtown Dover. Hours and opening dates change based on the time of year, so it's best to check the admission times online before heading to the museum. Be sure to stop by the Tram Stop Café for a meal or a treat after your visit.
Hike the End of North Downs Way
The North Downs Way National Trail is a long-distance hiking path in South England, which winds from Farnham to Dover through the Surrey Hills and the Kent Downs. While the entire 153-mile trail can take up to two weeks to hike in full, travelers to Dover can enjoy the tail end of the trail from Dover itself. Camping is allowed along North Downs Way for those who want to make a longer trek, and hikers can even hire a company to transport their bags. Be sure to follow the signs as several other trails intersect with North Downs Way. Use the trail's official itinerary planner to find the best route for your journey.
Visit South Foreland Lighthouse
Walk along the cliffs to South Foreland Lighthouse, a Victorian lighthouse on the South Foreland in St. Margaret's Bay. It was built in 1843 but has been out of service since 1988 and now welcomes travelers to learn about the lighthouse's history (and get some serious views of the Channel). Owned by the National Trust, South Foreland Lighthouse is a great addition to an itinerary alongside Pine Gardens or Fan Bay Deep Shelter. It's closed during the winter, so plan your visit during the spring or summer. Visitors should park nearby at the White Cliffs parking lot and walk to the lighthouse.
Stroll Through Pines Garden
Pines Garden, a picturesque six-acre garden near St. Margaret's Bay, makes for a nice afternoon out from Dover. There is a lot to see, from a scenic lake to 40 different species of fruit to a statue of Churchill, and visitors should be sure to stop by the St. Margaret's Museum as well. Don't miss the Pines Garden Tea Room during your visit, which serves an amazing afternoon tea with a changing daily menu. The Garden is open throughout the year, but hours vary depending on the season, so be sure to check online when planning your trip.
Dine at Cullins Yard
Grab a drink or a bite to eat alongside the water at Cullins Yard, a quirky nautical restaurant and boat bar in Dover. The restaurant, found by the marina in a converted shipyard, has a funky vibe and delicious food, and amazing views of the cliffs from its outdoor seating. The menu, made with local ingredients from nearby butchers and fishmongers, is accessible to even picky eaters and includes vegetarian and vegan options (as well as a Sunday roast). Reservations can be made online, but you can also turn up for lunch or dinner.
Hop Aboard the Dover Sea Safari
See the White Cliffs of Dover from a boat on the English Channel. Dover Sea Safari offers daily boat trips from Dover Marina to Langdon Bay, St. Margarets Bay, Deal, and more. The guided trips last one and a half hours and are great for visitors of all ages, including kids. There are two types of boats available, one of which is wheelchair accessible, and all visitors must wear life jackets at all times. Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early for your trip. It's best to reserve tickets online in advance, especially if you want to ride on a particular day.