An important coastal town and seaport on the southern Kent coast, and the nearest point to mainland Europe. Dover is the world's busiest passenger terminus and principal cross channel port, with regular ferry, hovercraft and cross channel train services.

Dover Castle © Travel About Britain

Dover occupies a strategic position on the coast with a large natural Harbour. Due to its geography it has always played an important role in Britain's defences. The Norman castle, positioned on top of a high cliff at the edge of town has defended these shores since 1198 when King Henry II built a fortress here.

Dover (Portus Dubris) has been a major port since Romans times. Julius Caesar landed near Dover in 55 BC with 6000 men, although his initial incursion was not decisive. The more successful invasion by Claudius in AD 43 established the town as an important naval base and the starting point of the Roman Watling Street. The Romans built two lighthouses (Pharos) on the cliffs above the town, one of which still partly survives to this day.

The Anglo-Saxons built a small settlement by the harbour in the 6th century. This gradually developed into a medieval port town. The Saxons built several churches of which only St Mary-in-Castra in the castle grounds still survives. Due to fierce Saxon resistance the invading Normans destroyed much of the town but later rebuilt it. In the 13th-c Dover became an important member of the famous Cinque Ports (along with Sandwich, Hythe, Romney and Hastings) in defence of the realm.

During WWI the town became the host for the Dover Patrol, raised to defend the Straits. The patrol consisted of fishing trawlers converted into minesweepers, whose task was to keep the Channel ports clear for shipping. A granite obelisk commemorating their brave deeds is sited at St Margaret's Bay, along the cliffs to the east. Dover suffered greatly during WWII from heavy bombing and shelling, destroying much of the seafront and town.

St Margaret's Bay, a mile to the east, is the closest cove to Europe and a popular starting point for cross-channel swimmers. On a clear day the coast of France can be seen just 21 miles away.

Dover Ferry Port © Travel About Britain

Dover port owes its existence to its closeness to France. The harbour and docks are a constant hive of commercial activity, with long queues of cars and lorries awaiting to board cross-channel ferries. One of the world's largest artificial harbours, it covers 850 acres, and is protected by massive breakwaters. There are two main areas the old docks to the west, which deal with train ferries and the modern car-ferry terminal and hoverport to the east. The 4,000ft Admiralty Pier, in the old docks, is the longest marine-pier in the world. The channel tunnel, just to the west of the town at Folkestone, opened in 1994.

On the promenade are two statues dedicated to famous Channel crossers. Captain Matthew Webb, who in 1875 was the first man to swim the Channel and Charles Rolls, who flew across the Channel in both directions in 1910.

The town has several historic sites of interest including the Roman Painted House, St Edmund's Chapel (1262) and the medieval Maison Dieu, now a Grade I Listed and a Scheduled Monument, which was originally built as a hospice for travellers and those in need.

The coast near Dover is best known for its white cliffs. Walks along the cliff tops lead to several nearby coastal towns and villages, such as Kingsdown to the east, with its spectacular views of the Channel. Long-distance paths within reach include the Pilgrims' Way to Canterbury and the North Downs Way to Surrey.

Places of Interest in Dover

Dover Castle

Dover's remarkably well-preserved castle is one of the finest examples of Norman military architecture in England.

The stone build fortress, which stands on the cliffs overlooking the town, was built on the site of earlier fort. A long time important military headquarters and defensive garrison, its massive keep was built by Henry II in 1180. The site has been garrisoned right up until World War II when it was used as a command post for the Dunkirk evacuation.

The main fortifications are 12th and 13th century, which includes the keep and inner bailey. The walls of the outer bailey were not completed until the reign of john Henry VIII.

In the early 13th-c Hubert de Burgh successfully held it for King John against invading French forces. Captured by Oliver Cromwell in the civil war it was strengthened during the Napoleonic wars. Beneath the castle is a labyrinth of tunnels dug by Napoleonic Prisoners of War. These were greatly extended during the early 19th-c for use as air-raid shelters during WWII.

The castle's fine rooms, banqueting halls and chapels are open to the public. The castle museum displays an extensive collection of ancient weapons and armour.

The octagonal Roman Pharos near the castle is the earliest known lighthouse in Britain, dating from the 1st century AD. The top section that carried the original light has been lost and during medieval times it was used as a tower for the nearby church of St Mary.

Further north along the coast are Walmer and Deal castles.

Opening times: daily 10am to 5pm - Admission Charge
Location: Castle Hill Rd, Dover CT16 1HU
Tel: 0370 333 1181

Dover Museum

One of the oldest museums in Kent. Its many galleries illustrate the history if the town and its port, using locally discovered artifacts, photographs, illustrations and dioramas. Collections include Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman finds. A recent addition is the Dover Bronze Age Boat exhibition - a major local archaeological find that tells story of the discovery and preservation of the world's oldest known seagoing vessel.

Opening times: Monday to Saturday: 9.30-5.00; Sunday: 10.00 - 3.00 - Free Entry
Location: Market Sq, Dover CT16 1PH
Tel: 01304 201066

Roman Painted House

In 1970 an exciting discovery was found beneath the streets of Dover. Excavations unearthed the remains of a fine Roman town house with richly decorated walls and a hypocaust or underfloor heating system. The onsite exhibition describes the historic occupation of the town and displays a number of preserved Roman wall paintings. Read more...

Map of Dover


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