Why Dover Castle England is Worth Visiting – Complete Guide and Tips for Visitors
Perched above the picturesque White Cliffs of Dover, is Dover Castle England. Known as the ‘Key to England‘, this incredibly formidable fortress has been England’s first line of defence for centuries with extraordinary chronicles to tell. At the heart of this mighty castle grounds is the magnificent Great Tower, recreated meticulously to reflect the opulence, pageantry and intrigue of the medieval court. Within the expansive grounds of the castle, discover the Anglo-Saxon church still in use, a surviving lighthouse built by the Romans and explore the incredible tunnels that take you deep into the famous White Cliffs of Dover as well as the Battlements Walk for breathtaking views over the English Channel.
Dover Castle England has more than enough for a full day out in Dover.
However, one popular question often asked has been whether the medieval castle is worth visiting today.
In this complete guide to Dover Castle England for visitors, I tell you if I think Dover Castle is worth a visit. I also share all the information about the castle, that you may need for your visit, should you opt to visit. An overview of the castle’s historic significance, the castle’s highlights along with what to expect on your visit, together with practical information and best tips to make your visit a fun and rewarding experience.
Best tip: Check availability and pre-book your visit to Dover Castle
IS DOVER CASTLE ENGLAND WORTH VISITING?
I have visited Dover Castle twice and absolutely enjoyed all that the castle offered. Therefore, for me, this is an easy response. Yes, Dover Castle is absolutely worth visiting!
In essence, Dover Castle is worth visiting because the mighty Dover Castle England is a lot more than just a castle. While it stood formidable as the gateway to England, the castle was never attacked by the enemies. The grounds are extensive. There is a Roman lighthouse, a simple and beautiful medieval church, the great tower, signal station, and places to eat. From the battlements walk, the surreal views of the White Cliffs and the English Channel to the ingenious beyond belief, and incredible winding secret wartime tunnels beneath the White Cliffs, the dazzling medieval royal palace with its hologram and the royal lifestyle of sumptuously furnished chambers.
The list includes all the exhibits along the way, display of old wartime cannons, activities for children for family fun days out, and so much more. For many, Dover Castle is one of the best castles to visit in England.
Dover Castle is a great destination for historophile, paleophile, single travellers, couples and for fun days out with kids, typically fulfilling a day.
Read on for all the information you may need along with the unmissable highlights that this castle offers to visitors.
WHERE IS DOVER CASTLE ENGLAND
Dover Castle sits gallantly atop Castle Hill, in the city of Dover, an important ferry port in Kent, England. The Castle faces France, across the Strait of Dover, at its narrowest sea-crossing point between England and Europe at 33 kilometres (21 miles), a key strategic position throughout history.
Dover Castle is conveniently reached by road and rail and makes a perfect day trip from London (more on this below on practical information).
WHY IS DOVER CASTLE IMPORTANT — AN OVERVIEW
Occupying an extensive eighty-acres of castle grounds today, Dover Castle was important in the history of England with almost 1000 years of stories to tell. Despite being a mighty fortress and the first line of defense, this magnificent castle has never been conquered.
The mighty Dover Castle began as a hill fort built by the Romans, some 2000 years ago (800 BC — AD 43). The Romans also built a lighthouse to guide the ships across the Channel to the harbour. Between the 10th and early 11th century, the Church of St Mary in Castro was built next to the lighthouse.
The hill fort took shape to be a motte and bailey castle, one of the first castles constructed by the Normans in 1066 by William the Conqueror who also built a castle in Windsor and in London. In the 12th century, the castle was transformed extensively during the reign of King Henry II, between 1179 and 1188. The Keep, walls of the inner bailey and the outer curtain wall were constructed, giving the castle the current structure we see today. The castle itself is made of Caen stone. It is one-hundred feet square and just under one-hundred feet tall.
Dover Castle stood strong against the French attacks in 1216, and later the castle was mainly used as an administrative centre in the 15th century. Much of the castle fell into ruins by the 17th century. However, by 1740, measures were implemented to strengthen the defences and barracks were built. More transformations were added and Dover Castle stood formidable in the 1800s against the Napoleonic wars. Thereafter, the castle was adapted for modern warfare. This imposing fortress was used in both World Wars, and played a pivotal role in the evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk in 1940.
The castle’s first line of defensive significance in the history of England has earned itself the reputation as ‘Key to England,’ defying all attempts to conquer it.
In a nutshell, Dover Castle was the most important military post in the realm. It was garrisoned from 1066 right until 1958, uninterruptedly. As from 1740 to 1945, the castle’s defences were continuously updated in account of every threat and war Europe and Britain were exposed to.
Today, Dover Castle England is managed by English Heritage UK.
HIGHLIGHTS OF DOVER CASTLE — WHAT TO EXPECT ON YOUR VISIT TO DOVER CASTLE
With over 80 acres of castle grounds, there is quite a lot to explore. You may want to dedicate a complete day for this visit. Pick-up a map of the castle grounds to help you navigate.
1 | The Labyrinth of Secret Wartime Tunnels
Deep inside the dramatic White Cliffs of Dover are a labyrinth of secret winding tunnels that served as a sanctuary and a strategic military role.
The tunnels date back to the Medieval times when the garrison gathered before attacks. In preparation for the Napoleanic Wars, the tunnels were expanded to serve as barracks for soldiers. These were the only underground barracks built for soldiers in Britain. Reportedly it can house up to 2000 soldiers. The tunnels are now most famous for the vital role it played during the Second World War.
‘Operation Dynamo‘, also known as ‘Miracle of Dunkirk‘ took place between May 26 and June 4, 1940 and was the evacuation of 338,226 British and French soldiers from the shores of Dunkirk. Initially. it was estimated that only 20,000 to 30,000 troops would be rescued but by May 26, there were almost 400,000 troops awaiting evacuation. Admiral Ramsay used as many navy vessels as he could along with little ships to rescue 338,000 soldiers. Sir Winston Churchill called the operation, ‘a miracle of deliverance.’
Post WWII, these tunnels remained in used during the Cold War, and up until 1984.
Lots of information is shared as you keep moving along to visit the communication centre, shelters, dormitories, hospitals and admin areas. There are vivid video projections and original films on the walls to tell the stories, bringing to life the wartime scenes that took place at a pivotal time in British history.
1.1 The Underground Hospital in the Secret Tunnels
A tunnel complex, named Annexe was constructed deep into but on a higher level at the White Cliffs in the summer of 1941. Its purpose was to provide medical treatment to injured soldiers in relative safety. The complex was created with long and short tunnels, operation theatre, wards, kitchens and stores. The complex was bombproof, and safe from attacks. The hospital was staffed by the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) along with nurses and surgeons. An operational unit remained in Annexe until the 1950s.
A scene at the underground hospital tells the story of an injured soldier fighting for his life. Using sounds and lights, the scene of the emergency room is recreated for visitors while bombs fall outside. Very atmospheric.
1.2 | About Visiting the Wartime Tunnels Tour
Directions to the Wartime Tunnels are signposted well. However, visits to the tunnels are timed and tours take place every 15 to 20 minutes. Each tour lasts for approximately 50 minutes, led by a knowledgeable guide. As tunnels are enclosed spaces, visits are done in small groups, and this may involve some waiting time. There is a visitor centre at the end of the Secret Wartime Tunnels tour, where you could take a break for coffee, tea, snacks or buy some souvenirs.
Georgina: Though there may be a wait for a little while, I highly recommend visiting the Wartime Tunnels, and experiencing the historic moments in English History.
2 | The Great Tower at Dover Castle
Not much is known of the fortification built by William the Conqueror when he came to Dover after the Battle of Hastings, but the great castle seen today was constructed during the reign of Henry II, representing kingly power and authority whilst it stood guard at the realm of his kingdom.
King Henry II spent lavishly and created one of the most magnificent castles in Europe at the time. Combining defence and a grandiose residence, the medieval castle was an immense, sophisticated great tower and structure.
Standing at the heart of the expansive castle grounds is the Great Tower, at 25 metres (183 ft) at its tallest and walls at 6.5 metres (21 ft) in places. Used primarily for royal ceremonies and to house the royal travelling court, the Great Tower showcases a regal medieval world it once was.
The interior is recreated following painstaking research over many years. The rooms are decorated in rich and vibrant colours and are set to look like how it was when in use. There are wall hangings and stunning furnishings representing the opulence, and grandiosity of the powerful Henry II.
Explore unhurriedly, from the kitchens to the grandeur of Henry II bedchamber. There are storage rooms, dining halls, damp passageways between rooms. The rooms are presented for an authentic experience and kept free of information panels to enrich a visitor’s experience.
As you explore, stop and take a sneak peek over the grounds. Climb to the rooftop for incredible views of the castle grounds, across the English Channel and the town of Dover.
3 | Medieval Tunnels at Dover Castle
There are more tunnels at Dover Castle! When the castle was under siege from the French in 1216, tunnels were dug beneath the castle to withstand the siege. The winding medieval tunnels were constructed to provide covert defences to prevent the fall of the realm. Cannons still remain in their respective positions. There are three passageways to explore, each leads to eerie winding tunnels beneath the castle.
Visitors can access these medieval tunnels, take a closer look at the artillery and peer out to the various points across the Channel.
4 | The Roman Lighthouse
An octagonal tower-like rough masonry structure stands on the outer curtain wall of the medieval castle, next to the church of St Mary in Castro.
History tells us that the Romans built this tower to function as a lighthouse (pharos) on Castle Hill with another lighthouse on Western Heights, located opposite the hill. Using fire beacons, both lighthouses supported the navigation of ships approaching the river mouth. The lighthouses may have continued in use until the 5th century, but only the one on Castle Hill remains today.
There are five layers to the octagonal lighthouse, built using ragstone and flint. The archways are made of bricks. The first four layers were built by the Romans and the fifth top layer was added in 1430.
Later, the Roman lighthouse was used as part of the chapel and bell tower to St Mary in Castro. This best preserved 5-level-8-sided Roman pharos is one of three to exist in the world from the Roman empire. The other two are Leptis Magna in Libya and La Coruna in Spain.
The lighthouse is accessible and remarkable that it is still standing after 2000 years!
5 | Church of St Mary in Castro
Dating back to 1000 AD, the Church of St Mary in Castro is an exceptional church, that once held sacred relics during medieval times. Built by the Saxons in circa 1020 AD, the church was extensively renovated in 1582 but went into disuse in the late 16th century and was in ruins by the 18th century. It was used as a coal store during the Napoleonic War between 1793 and 1815.
The Church of St Mary in Castro was fully restored in 1862 and is a Grade I listed building. It is an active church, serving the local community of Dover, Army and is the Dover Garrison Church.
Services are at 10:00 every Sunday. Holy Communion and Sung Matins on every second Sunday of the month.
6 | World War 1 Fire Command Post
The area of Dover was designated a fortress during the First World War and was home to a garrison of over 10,000 men. Dover Castle was designated as a military headquarters during the war. Stories of Dover Castle during WWI are recreated and retold at the Fire Command Post.
Unique to the Fire Command Post is a British 3 Inch Gun, built in 1915 and was one of the first of its kind that was specifically developed to combat aerial warfare, a new threat at the time. This priceless creation is the only working gun of the kind and one of six left in the world.
When here, you could try using the Morse code while also enjoy the panoramic views across the Straits of Dover.
The World War I Fire Command Post was only recently opened for the public, in 2015.
Plan your visit to Dover Castle on weekends during the summer months of July through to September. During these times, costumed volunteers re-enact gun drills, and gunfire demonstrations.
7 | Walk the Battlements
Finally, walk the extensive Battlements and the extraordinary defences that surround the mighty Dover Castle. It seems to go on forever, but truly a remarkable experience, Seeing the blues of the blue waters of the English Channel as far as your eyes can perceive, amidst the gentle sea-breeze under a cloudless blue sky.
Ensure you pick a good day 🙂
8 | Events for Kids
Dover Castle is a great destination for families. There are hands-on activities, historic performers and immersive activities for all the family. Activities are especially geared towards families and kids during school holidays and summer term. Learn more about kids activities at Dover Castle.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING DOVER CASTLE ENGLAND
The following information is helpful when visiting Dover Castle in Kent:
Dover Castle is easily accessed by road and by rail.
Address: Castle Hill Road, Dover CT16 1HU
Sat Nav : Postcode: CT 16 1HU
1 | Opening Times of Dover Castle
The Castle opens its doors at 10:00 and closes at 17:00. The last admission is an hour before closing.
2 | Prices for Dover Castle
Admission ticket to Dover Castle starts from € 25.50 (May 2022).
Timeless Travel Steps Best Tips:
You do not have to book in advance but booking in advance has its advantages. Booking in advance will almost always get you the best price and your entry is guaranteed on the day. Advance booking online also means that you would save time and avoid waiting in queues.
As a member of English Heritage, your membership entitles you to free entry to Dover Castle., but this does not include a free parking space onsite.
You may wish to purchase the admission ticket/s online hassle free, you could check availability for Admission to Dover Castle here.
3 | Accessing Dover Castle by Road
3.1 | Driving:
Take the A2 towards Dover. The entrance to Dover Castle is on A258, Castle Hill Road.
Parking: Free Parking is available for about 200 cars onsite and offsite. If offsite, there is a regular mini-bus service connecting the car park to the Castle. NB: Car park opens at the same time as the castle.
3.2 | Bus
Bus services are provided by Stagecoach in East Kent. Take – 15, 15X, 80, 80A, 93
3.3 | Bicycle
The National Cycle Network provides an up-to-date and safe cycle route to follow. Cliffs and Castle Route | Dover to Deal
4 | Accessing Dover Castle by Train
The nearest train station to Dover Castle is Dover Priory. The station is served by Southeastern trains.
When travelling by train from London, you will need the Kings Cross London St Pancras International Station or London Victoria Station.
4.1 | From London St Pancras International Station to Dover Priory
Journey time from London St Pancras International Station to Dover Priory is on average 1 hour 6 minutes. There are 27 trains daily. Book train tickets in advance to secure a cheap price. Tickets for this journey starts from £5.60 when booked in advance. Check availability and book London St Pancras International Station to Dover Priory.
4.2 | From London Victoria Station to Dover Priory
Journey time from London Victoria to Dover Priory is on average 2 hours 3 minutes. There are 19 trains daily. Book train tickets in advance to secure a cheap price. Journey price starts from £5.60 when booked in advance. Check availability and book London Victoria to Dover Priory.
From Dover Priory, take bus 93 from Priory Street (Stop E) towards Deal. Journey time is 5 minutes. Alternatively, you may wish to walk. Walking time is about 30 minutes from Dover Priory to Dover Castle.
5 | Additional Considerations
1 | As a centre for military operations, Dover Castle was not built with accessibility in mind. While many areas have been adapted and are accessible, the underground hospital and the floors above the ground floor at the Great Tower are accessible only via stairs. Some areas of the castle grounds involve steep slopes and are not easily navigable. Areas with access difficulty are clearly marked on the map. For specific access needs, contact Dover Castle well in advance as some access facilities need prior booking. For more information on accessibility and how to contact, navigate to the Dover Castle Access page.
2 | Whilst experiencing the Great Tower, the War Time Tunnels and the WWI Command Post indoors, you will also spend a considerable amount of time outdoors, on the castle grounds. Therefore, consider visiting Dover Castle on a pleasant day and use comfortable shoes.
ADD TO YOUR DOVER CASTLE ITINERARY
While visiting Dover Castle, you may want to include the following experiences also:
1 | Visit the Battle of Britain Memorial. A national memorial dedicated to ‘The Few’ — selfless aircrew who played a major role in defending the UK against the invasion of the Luftwaffe during World War II. The monument is located on the White Cliffs at Capel-le-Ferne, near Folkestone, on the coast of Kent.
2 | The White Cliffs of Dover which is a great place to walk and experience the compelling fortress from a different viewpoint. While here, explore the tunnels that make up the Fan Bay Deep Shelter, which supported the defensive gun batteries at the castle.
3 | Visit the Grand Shaft at the Western Heights. The Grand Shaft was constructed during the Napoleonic War, between 1806 and 1809 for the rapid movement of troops from the barracks at Western Heights to the town below. Three spiral staircases make up the shaft and meet at the top in a bowl, from where further steps lead up to the parade ground in front of the Grand Shaft Barracks.
RELATED ATTRACTIONS IN THE UK
Castles are dotted all around the United Kingdom with 4000 castles in England alone. While some are ruins, there are some that are protected and looked after by a charitable organisation. There are also castles which are still lived in. Each castle is unique and has a story to tell.
1 | Tower of London. The infamous White Tower built in the 11th century has an incredible story to tell. The journey takes you through murder, mystery, coronations and Crown Jewels. An unmissable stop on a visit to London. Join a tour offered by the Yeoman Warders.
2 | One of the oldest, largest and still lived on castles built by William the Conqueror is Windsor Castle. Windsor Castle attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
3 | Visit Hever Castle Kent — the childhood home of Anne Boleyn who was the Queen Consort to King Henry VIII. Read about Anne’s enduring legacy and how the Boleyns are related to the Royal family.
Would you like to see more of England in one day?
Here are some ideas for you to explore. All trips are from London:
Hop aboard a superior air-conditioned coach with free wi-fi and enjoy the ride to all the attractions:
I recently visited the Cotswolds and was totally enchanted with the charming scenery. Secret doors, timeless architecture and places where the Emperor Hirohito, Japan’s famous ruler once stayed. You could visit four of the most famous Cotswold villages in one day and enjoy a quintessential English lunch as well. Learn more about this day trip that departs from London and check availability:
ESSENTIALS FOR A VISIT TO DOVER CASTLE, KENT, UK
Dover Castle is one of the best preserved medieval castles in the United Kingdom, and that fact alone makes it a worthwhile visit. Added to this are the incredible war time tunnels which are an experience in itself, along with the Roman lighthouse, the St Mary in Castro church, medieval tunnels and the Battlements walk. One more thing — the views across the Straits of Dover. Taking all of the things to see and do, along with the experiences, Dover Castle just elevates to a whole new level where a visit is completely worth your time and money.
My sincere wish is that you found this article helpful in planning your visit to Dover Castle. If so, use the links to book your tickets or buy your train tickets. We earn a commission on qualified purchases and bookings at no additional costs to you. As always, we appreciate your support.
Have a super awesome time at Dover Castle 🙂