Surrounded by stunning Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, sightseeing in Dover is always easy on the eye. Between the myriad of stunning historic buildings – including the biggest castle in Britain – and the sweeping views many of the parks offer over the incredible White Cliffs of Dover, you could spend days marvelling at the beauty and heritage of this area.
An impressive sight that dominates the skyline in the centre of town is the iconic Dover Castle. The largest castle in England, it was founded in the 11th century and is nicknamed the ‘key to England’ thanks to its fantastic position as a defensive fortress in many historical battles. Visually it’s stunning, and the inside is just as interesting with a number of great exhibits that document the history and strategic significance of Dover Castle.
Sticking with the theme of defence, Dover Western Heights is one of the most intricate and imposing forts ever built in Britain. Created in the 1860s specifically to protect the area from French invasion, Dover Western Heights is the site of some of Britain’s richest history. This is free for everyone to walk around and view, and parts of it are also open for tours throughout the year which must be pre-booked through the Dover Western Heights Preservation Society website. If you want a fantastic view of Dover Marina, this is also the place to come. The views of the water are truly spectacular from here.
Also part of Dover Western Heights is another piece of the town’s medieval history, the Knights Templar Church. A small chapel built in the 12th century, the nave was just 33 feet in diameter. It is speculated that this site was linked to the Knights Templar – a religious group that protected the Holy Land and the people that travelled to it. The foundations are the only thing left to see now, but this is worth a visit if you’re already in the area.
With Dover Western Heights and Dover Castle being so integral to British defence, the town needed a way for troops to move between each location. Enter The Grand Shaft, a five-minute walk away from Dover Western Heights. At 140 feet deep you can venture down the shaft and journey through the gallery, just as soldiers would have done many years ago. The Grand Shaft features three staircases and is widely considered to be an engineering marvel that is a sight worth seeing, especially if you’re staying in our Dover A20 hotel which is a 10-minute drive away.
Set in over 100 acres of stunning land, Fort Burgoyne – once known as Castle Hill Fort – was built in the 1860s as one of Dover’s many defence forts constructed under the threat of French invasion. Named after John Fox Burgoyne, a 19th-century British Army general who fought in the American War of Independence, the fort is now owned by The Land Trust. Although there is currently no general public access to the fort, there are plans to open it to the public in the next few years. If you do want to have a look around, check the website as events are held here throughout the year. As one of the most haunted buildings in Kent, the ghost hunting tours that The Land Trust hosts here are a great way to spend a spooky night in Dover. Located close to Dover Castle, you can drive to Fort Burgoyne from our Dover East hotel in around five minutes.
Moving further into the town centre, close to Dover Museum and the Roman Painted House, you’ll find St Mary’s Church. A Grade ll listed Anglican church, it is recorded in the Domesday Book and is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Dover. This is a practising church where you can attend a service but if you just want to have a look around, there are usually volunteers on-site to greet visitors during the daylight hours in summer months. Some of the things to note here are the ornate stained glass windows, the historic artefacts within the church and the eight church bells which were made back in 1724 by Samuel Knight.
For beautiful views across the sea look no further than South Foreland Lighthouse. A landmark of the breathtaking White Cliffs of Dover, this was the first lighthouse to install an electric light. Originally built in the 1840s to warn sailors of shifting sands, it is now used to communicate with ships approaching the Dover coast. You can take part in a guided tour of the building which delves deep into its history and gives a spectacular view of the White Cliffs, St Margaret’s village and a clear line of sight across the channel. A great family day out, little ones can fly kites in the sea breeze on the lawn surrounding the lighthouse, and you can all grab a sweet treat or delicious bowl of homemade soup from Mrs Knott’s Tea Room which is a one-minute walk away. South Foreland Lighthouse is owned by the National Trust and is open during most of the spring and summer months. Entry to the grounds and tearoom is free and the lighthouse tour is around £6 for adults and £3 for children.
Our video guide to Dover attractions
If you’re looking for a great day out in Dover, Kearsney Abbey and Russell Gardens has everything you need and more. Popular with locals and visitors alike, it’s not difficult to see why. The park has been carefully landscaped to create ample space for family fun that includes woods, water, slopes and a lake. When it comes to activities there is loads to do as well. From a visit to the incredible Kearsney Abbey, which was built in Norman times, to a walk round the Grade ll listed Russell Gardens which were designed by Thomas H Mawson, a celebrated landscape architect. There are also two play areas for children, grass tennis courts and a lovely café – located inside Kearsney Abbey – which serves a selection of hot and cold drinks, snacks and light lunches. Located in the Kearsney area by Abbey Lake, the parks, abbey and garden are open all year round from 7am–9pm and you can get here from our Dover Central hotel in about 15 minutes.
Also nearby in Kearsney is Old Park Hill nature reserve, a fantastic little park famed for its range of species and habitats. The perfect place to go butterfly hunting or bird watching, the park is currently being restored to provide an even better visitor experience. With habitats such as chalk grassland, woodland and scrub, there are always interesting creatures to be found here especially between April and July when the wildlife is more active. Open all year round, and at all times, you need to be a decent walker to venture here as the landscape is steep and rugged with some harsh slopes.
Dover’s first established park, Connaught Park dates back to Victorian times and is set on a hillside below Dover Castle. The perfect place to stretch your legs before a day of sightseeing nearby, Connaught Park offers a delightful stroll with traditional plants, an ornamental lake and fantastic views of the town. There is also a play area to keep young ones occupied and three grass tennis courts if you want to take part in some recreational sport while you’re in town.
If you’re looking for some respite in the centre of Dover, head to Pencester Gardens. A lovely park with open lawns, there are stunning views of Dover Castle from here as well as a bandstand constructed by Dover Town Council in 2000. If you visit in summer, the park comes alive with character as families and friends picnic on the lawns and live music is performed in the bandstand. You’ll find Pencester Gardens a two-minute walk from the Roman Painted House.
Offering dramatic views of the White Cliffs of Dover, Samphire Hoe is a beautiful nature reserve on the coast, just off the A20. Created by Eurotunnel and opened in 1997, you can find this 30-hectare area at the foot of Shakespeare Cliff.
Another nature reserve about six miles from Samphire Hoe is Whinless Down, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty just a stone’s throw away from the town centre. A wonderfully colourful haven, the chalk landscape is a great place to view wildflowers, butterflies and other brightly coloured insects. If you’re planning a full day of walking here make sure you pick up an orienteering leaflet from the information booth which will give you plenty of information about the wildlife and history of the area.
If you want to catch some live sport during your trip to Dover, look no further than Crabble Athletic Ground. Home to Dover Athletic F.C. and Dover Sharks RFC, this 5,745-capacity stadium by the River Dour has seated and standing terraces that the whole family can enjoy. Tickets to watch either sport are reasonable with Dover Athletic F.C. matches setting you back around £17 for an adult and £8 for a child. If you want to sink a pint on the way in or out, The Cricketers pub and The Phoenix Social Club are only a few minutes away on foot.