Dover Tourist Guide
Explore the fascinating history of Dover and discover the many wonderful places to visit in this famous town in Kent!
There is evidence of people living in the valley of the River Dour some 6,000 years ago. These Stone Age farmers had almost certainly come across from the European continent. In Dover Museum today there is a 3,500 year old Bronze Age boat showing how easy contact with the continent would have been. When Julius Caesar sailed across with his invasion fleet he initially came close to the Dover shoreline, but having seen Britons lining the cliffs he pushed on up to Deal. Once under Roman rule in the first century BC Dover became a thriving port and town. Being the closest Roman port to the rest of the empire gave it a tremendous advantage. The Romans called the town Dubris after the British name Dubras meaning ‘waters’. The Roman town had a large harbour, two lighthouses and three successive forts. The Classis Britannica, the Roman Navy in Britain, occupied the fort from 130-208AD. In the fifth century, following the Romans withdrawal from Britain, Germanic tribes crossed to Kent. The area became known as Dofras and was a major settlement. By 950AD Anglo-Saxon Dover was prosperous and well organised, with its own mint and cross-channel trade.
After his success at the battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror headed to Dover and burnt down the castle. Later the old Saxon town was rebuilt along with the castle. By 1190 the massive stone keep and bailey were complete. Following further destruction in 1295 by the French, medieval Dover recovered enough to become one of the Cinque Ports. In return for providing naval and ferry services the town was given certain rights and privileges. Dover’s defences were strengthened considerably under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the town was garrisoned to defend against possible French invasion. In 1804 a massive programme of defensive building in stone and brick took place including the building of two forts and deep brick-lined ditches. The forts were linked to the town by a 140ft triple staircase known as the Grand Shaft.
In the nineteenth century Dover saw rapid growth with the coming of the railways together with cross-channel passengers, harbour expansion and an increase in local industries. The town was trying to develop as a seaside resort now as evidenced by the creation of a seafront crescent of hotels and apartments, a pleasure pier, bathing machines and an ice rink.
During World War 1 vast numbers of men crossed to France from Dover and the town was home to the Dover Patrol – a collection of warships and fishing vessels allocated to protect Britain’s control of the Channel. In the 1920s and 1930s cross-channel traffic increased with ‘Golden Arrow’ and ‘Night Ferry’ luxury services from London to Paris. In World War 2 Dover became known as ‘Hellfire Corner’ as it was pounded from the air and long-range guns on the French coast. In May 1940 two-thirds of the men evacuated from Dunkirk came through Dover. After the war many historic buildings in the town were replaced, partly to improve road congestion, and the hovercraft, Channel Tunnel and cruise liner terminal continued to increase traffic.
Places to visit in and around Dover:
This is one of English Heritage’s premier sites. Within the walls are a Roman lighthouse, Saxon church, Norman keep and wartime tunnels. The castle stands on the site of Iron Age fortifications. The Romans added their lighthouse to the original earthworks while the Saxons contributed the church of St Mary in Castro. Although the eleventh century castle was built by William I, the present one was constructed in the twelve century by Henry II. The building had two beautiful chapels and the keep’s two upper floors were residential in use. The walls were begun by Henry II then continued by John and Henry III. During the latter’s reign the castle was called ‘The Key of England’. Henry III also added Arthur’s Hall, a kitchen and chapel. In the later part of the eighteenth century the castle was remodelled and an underground passage extended as well as a barrack block constructed.
The castle is east of Dover town centre on Castle Hill. Tel: 01304 211067.
Dover Museum, in Market Square, tells the story of the town's history since prehistoric times using modern displays, original artefacts, fine arts, graphics and models. In the centre of the museum is a lively programme of changing displays on subjects which have included wartime cross-channel guns, wildlife photography, arts and crafts. The museum now incorporates Dover Bronze Age Boat Gallery, which houses a 3,600 year-old boat. Exhibits include Bronze Age objects, interactive displays and video presentations.
Crabble Corn Mill
This mill in Lower Road, River, was built in 1812 (although a mill had stood on this site since 1227) to provide flour for the troops on the Western Heights. It stopped producing flour in 1890. There are now six floors of machinery, most still in working order, and displays as well as a café with home-baked flour. Tel: +44 08701 453857 .
Built originally in 1203, the Maison Dieu used to be a hostel accommodating pilgrims travelling to and from the continent and is now part of the Town Hall. It has a superb interior with stained glass windows, flags, armour and paintings of the present Lord Wardens of the Cinque Ports. Open 1st Sunday each month 10:00-15:00. Tel: +44 01304 201200.
The White Cliffs of Dover - The National Trust Saga Gateway
The White Cliffs of Dover are known all over the world. Come and walk the cliffs, visit the South Foreland Lighthouse or just enjoy the magnificent views of the Straits of Dover while enjoying a drink and snack in the fashionable coffee shop inside the Gateway to the White Cliffs visitor centre. There are five miles of coast and countryside owned by the National Trust. You can walk to the South Foreland Lighthouse. Find us at Langdon Cliffs, Upper Road. Tel: +44 01304 202756.
The Roman Painted House
Located in New Street, the remains of a Roman mansio (hotel) which were recently discovered under Dover's New Street area, with remarkable early 3rd century frescoes, the best 'in situ' in Britain, and Roman central heating. Displays show the history of the Painted House and the Roman, Saxon and medieval town of Dover. There is also a touch table and activities for children. Tel: +44 01304 203279 for details.
The Pines Garden
This garden in Beach Road, St Margaret's Bay consists of six acres of serenity with mature trees, lawns, specimen shrubs, spring bulbs, lake, waterfall, grass labyrinth and rockery. The beautiful and organically maintained Pines Garden offers diverse features including undulating parkland and more secluded areas to explore. There are extensive paths, a roundhouse shelter for picnics and ample seating to relax. A bronze statue by Oscar Nemon of Sir Winston Churchill looks across the garden to the famous White Cliffs of Dover and the garden itself is adjacent to spectacular cliff walks and the beach. Tel: +44 01304 851737.
Dover Transport Museum
Road vehicles of all types from bicycles to buses can be found here. There is a model railway and tramway. Find out about local transport history and see hundreds of models. You can also see items about Kent coalfields, a maritime room, bygone shops and a 1930s garage. There is the opportunity to see exhibits being worked on. The museum is found in Willingdon Road, White Cliffs Business Park.
Heroes, Romans & Countrymen
A 3-mile trail starting at Dover Priory takes you up onto Dover's famous chalk cliffs to discover Ice Age plants and other fascinating flora and fauna. For your copy of the Escape into the Countryside brochure please contact Dover Tourist Information Centre on 01304 205108.
South Foreland Lighthouse
A Victorian lighthouse built on top of cliffs which once protected shipping from the dangerous Goodwin Sands. It was used by Marconi for the first radio contact and has the original light mechanism, information panels and good views. December 1998 saw the 100th anniversary of Marconi's first ship-to-shore signal which was made from South Foreland Lighthouse. The mechanism powering the rotation of the optic was restored in 2004. Tel: +44 01304 852463.
Transport in and around Dover
Road links via the A/M2 and A/M20 bring the M25 to around 1 hour 10 minutes, and easy access to the rest of the UK motorway and trunk road network. London is about 1 hour 50 minutes.
Dover is also only 15 minutes away from the Channel Tunnel with the Shuttle making twice hourly crossings to Calais and is 25 minutes from the International Passenger Station at Ashford. Ashford IPS provides fast access to Lille (50 minutes), Brussels (1 hour 25 minutes) and Paris (2 hours) and from 2009 fast domestic services to London St Pancreas (37 minutes).
Eurotunnel - 0870 5353535
Eurostar - 01233 617575
Dover is the worlds busiest roll on roll off ferry port. P&O, SeaFrance, Norfolk Line and Speed Ferries depart from Dover to Calais every 20 minutes. You can also travel to Boulogne and Dunkerque from here. The Port of Dover also serves as a major International Cruise ship terminal, with up to 120 cruise ships visiting the Port each year.
P&OFerries - 0870 5202020
SeaFrance - 0870 5711711
NorfolkLine - 0870 8701020
Dover Harbour Board - 01304 240400
The District's rail service is served by South Eastern Railway, Dover Priory station provides passenger services to Charing Cross and Victoria in around 1 hour 30 minutes. With news of the expected extension of Channel Tunnel Rail Line fast domestic services in Kent, this journey time would be cut to 1 hour from 2009. Tel: 08706 03 04 05.
Cycle routes throughout the district help you explore leafy lanes and bridleways. Enrich your senses as you take in open views, fresh sea air and contrasting countryside. Stop off to visit magical castles, or for refreshments at characterful old inns and teashops along the routes. For guided cycle rides all year round, contact White Cliffs Countryside Project. Tel/Fax 01304 241806.
The District's bus service is provided by Stagecoach. Tel: 0870 2433711
National Express provide coaches to destinations throughout the UK. Tickets can be purchased at the Dover Visitor Information Centre – Tel: 01304 205108.
For International services Heathrow is only 1 hour 50 minutes and Gatwick 1 and 30 minutes journey time by road.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015