9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Dover

Dover, with its famous White Cliffs, is one of Britain's principal cross-channel ports. Yet despite the opening of the Channel Tunnel to Calais, many visitors to the country still choose to arrive by ferry for the magnificent views of Kent's lovely coastline. Although most visitors pass through Dover on the way elsewhere, the town is well worth a visit. Of particular note is its town hall, the Maison Dieu Hall, built in 1203 by Hubert de Brugh as a hostel for pilgrims.

Like so much of England, Dover was heavily influenced by its Roman heritage. A number of Roman-era attractions can be enjoyed, including the remarkable lighthouse on Castle Hill, and the Roman Painted House, excavated in the 1970s and decorated with incredibly well preserved frescoes. For centuries after the Romans left until WWII when the town suffered severe damage due to its role as a naval base, Dover was a bulwark against attacks from Europe. Today, this period can be experienced in museums and historic sites located in and around the town.

1 White Cliffs of Dover

White Cliffs of Dover
White Cliffs of Dover

The steep chalk cliffs of Dover, for centuries a proud symbol of the "splendid isolation" of England and also the first sign of home visible from afar for returning sailors, are crowned to the east by the mighty castle. The western cliffs bear Shakespeare's name as King Lear ended here, and the much-used quotation invoked by sight of the cliffs - "This precious stone set in the silver sea" - comes from Richard II.

The National Trust's Gateway to the White Cliffs Visitor Centre is the best place to begin sightseeing in the area, and includes displays, interpretive signs about the area, as well as programs about its flora and fauna. It also offers superb views of five beautiful miles of coast and countryside, as well as of the maritime traffic on the world's busiest shipping lane. A worthwhile side trip is to the nearby Grand Shaft, a 140 ft triple staircase cut into the cliffs that served as a shortcut to town for troops on the Western Heights.

Langdon Cliffs, Dover

2 South Foreland Lighthouse

South Foreland Lighthouse
South Foreland Lighthouse Bart van Dorp

This beautiful Victorian lighthouse perched atop the White Cliffs of Dover was built in 1843 and has the distinction of being used by Marconi for the first successful attempts at radio navigation. Built to warn mariners of the shifting Goodwin Sands while guiding them through the Straits of Dover, it's also famous as the first lighthouse in the world to display an electric light.

The views of the English Channel are wonderful, and on a clear day you can see France. Inside, interpretive displays showcase the work involved to keep the lighthouse running, including maintaining the unique mechanism that made the lighthouse flash.

Location: The Front, St Margaret's Bay, Dover

3 Dover Castle

Dover Castle
Dover Castle

Perched high above the English Channel, Dover Castle was started in 1168 by Henry II on the site of ramparts that were already some 1,000 years old - it's therefore safe to say the castle has been safeguarding England for close to 2,000 years. The central Norman keep, built in 1180, houses most of the castle's exhibits, including the Great Tower with its richly furnished chambers. Costumed guides and medieval feasts in the banqueting hall are all part of the fun available to visitors.

Other on-site attractions include the superb Wartime Tunnels Uncovered. Built during Napoleonic times to provide protection from enemy fire, the tunnels under Dover Castle are open to the public and contain exhibits tracing their history. More recently, in WWII, they served as HQ for the evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk. Another tunnel area to explore is the Underground Hospital, a reconstruction of the wartime surgery that served the many troops stationed in the area. Afterwards, pop over to the ruins of the Roman lighthouse and the church of St Mary next to Calton's Gate, built from Roman bricks by the Saxons in the year 1000 and incorporated into the castle complex.

Location: Castle Hill, England

4 Dover Museum

The Dover Museum, located in the family visitor center in Market Square, houses three floors of objects and displays recounting the town's rich history from its Roman beginnings to the modern day. It's also home to the world's oldest known seagoing vessel, a prehistoric wooden boat thought to be about 3,000 years old.

Location: Market Square, Dover

5 Roman Painted House

The Roman Painted House was built about 200 AD and formed part of a large mansion used by travellers crossing the English Channel. It's the finest surviving Roman Period House in England, with unique painted walls (frescoes) and elaborate under-floor heating. Also on display are a variety of interesting artifacts from Roman Dover.

Location: New St, Dover

6 Blériot Memorial

Blériot Memorial
Blériot Memorial Orde Saunders

A memorial to aviator Louis Blériot - the first person to fly across the English Channel in 1909 - has been erected in Northfall Meadow, a small woods to the northeast of Dover Castle.

7 Pines Garden

Pines Garden
Pines Garden Bonita de Boer

The six-acre Pines Garden is a pleasant diversion after all that sightseeing in Dover. Located in St Margarets Bay just four miles away, these 'sustainable' gardens include a lovely cascade and adjoining lake, a grass labyrinth and an organic kitchen garden with over 40 different species of organic fruit and vegetables.

Be sure to check out the award-winning Pines Calyx, a conference center built into the hill using centuries old construction. Directly opposite the main entrance to Pines Garden is St. Margaret's Museum with a good selection of WWII artifacts.

Location: Beach Rd, St Margarets Bay, Dover

Official site: www.pinesgardens.co.uk

8 Deal Castle

Deal Castle
Deal Castle

Built by Henry VIII in 1540, Deal Castle (just 11 miles north of Dover) is one of the finest Tudor castles in England, and is among the earliest and most elaborate of a chain of coastal forts that extends along the English Channel. Visitors can explore the whole castle - as much a stately home as it is a fortress - and afterwards stroll the pleasant grounds and gardens.

Location: Marine Road, Deal

9 Richborough Roman Fort

Richborough Roman Fort
Richborough Roman Fort Andrew and Annemarie

This English Heritage site just 15 miles north of Dover (near Ramsgate) marks the place not just where Roman rule began in the British Isles, but also where it ended. The impressive ruin of the Roman town at Richborough was where the Romans launched their successful invasion of Britain in 43 AD, and the extensive remains of the walls and defensive ditches are well worth exploring.

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