A change of scenery is good for the soul. Fresh sea air and a sunny, albeit chilly forecast inspired me to flip through the pages of my Rick Steves’ England bible and select Dover for this weekend’s day trip from London. Dover has a fascinating history due to its proximate location to France just 22 miles across the channel. It has played a key defensive role for Britain during wars throughout the centuries. From a tourist point of view, there are two main attractions: the cliffs and the castle.
White Cliffs of Dover
Follow signs from the train station to the seafront. Walk along the coastline until you come to the main ferry terminal. Cross the street and you’ll see more signs pointing you uphill for the Heritage Walk White Cliffs trail. It’s about a 45 minute walk from the train station but the views of the castle behind you and white cliffs ahead help pass the time.
Fun facts about the cliffs:
- The cliffs are made of chalk which dates 60-140 million years old. It’s comprised of the remains of millions of sea creatures. Whoa!
- The strait of Dover is the busiest seaway in world. Over 400 ships pass through daily.
- The tallest cliff measures 360 ft tall.
- Don’t stand too close to the edge because they erode at 10cm per year.
Next up, castle time. The castle began as a fortress over 2,000 years ago. Henry II is responsible for building a castle on the hilltop but there are also Roman, Norman, and Saxon sections of the castle – along with military barracks and wartime tunnels used as recently as WWII. Take the tour of the Secret Wartime Tunnels built into the chalk to learn more about Operation Dynamo, a mission responsible for evacuating over 330,000 British and Allied troops stranded on the shores of Dunkirk, France in 1940.
There is even a lighthouse dating back to Julius Caesar’s time when his Roman fleet for the colony of Brittania was based in Dover’s harbor. So historical!
Most of the tour is self-guided and I spent about two hours exploring the various components that make up the castle today. I left the castle around 3pm and was back in London by 5pm. A nice little outing to check off my list of England sites.
Know Before You Go:
- Dover is a quick 1 hour train journey from London St. Pancras to Dover Priory station.
- Buy train tickets early in advance for the best fares. I waited until the day before and paid £30 roundtrip but they can be purchased for much less a few weeks in advance. Search prices and schedules on nationalrail.co.uk
- Both attractions are walkable from Dover’s train station but wear comfortable shoes because it’s a lot of uphill.
- Dover is in Kent – you could combine it with a day trip to Sandwich or Canterbury if you’re feeling ambitious. Both of these options are easily accessible via train.
- Dover Castle is closed on weekdays between November and February. Research current prices and hours here.
- The visitor center for the white cliffs is free and informative. You’ll just pay a small fee to park if you arrive by car. Even dogs are allowed on the trails with a leash. More information here.
- Pack a lunch and enjoy sweeping views of the white cliffs and channel mid-day.
Inspired to take a day trip from London? Here’s a few more options.