Dover Castle

Discovering Dover Castle, Kent

Have you been to Dover Castle? It’s one of English Heritage’s top attractions, popular with visitors from across the world. Located above the white cliffs, the site occupies a prominent defensive location and is a microcosm of British history.

To give you just a flavour. First used by Iron Age inhabitants as a hill fort, the Romans built a lighthouse, the Saxons a church. Henry II was responsible for the stone tower, Henry III added gatehouses whilst Henry VIII just visited. Underground tunnels were built during the Napoleonic Wars; these became the headquarters of Operation Dynamo in World War II and a nuclear refuge in the Cold War. And now they’re invaded by tourists, including us!

Dover Castle
Dover Castle

With so much to see its difficult to know where to start. However, we’d been warned about queues for the tunnels that’s where we headed first.

There are more than 3 miles of tunnels in the chalk cliffs, most of which are inaccessible to visitors. However the World War II Secret Wartime Tunnels and Underground Hospital are open. Although we’d arrived early we were disappointed to find there was already a 90 minute wait to tour the main set of tunnels. We reluctantly decided to skip these and just visit the underground hospital.

Entrance to wartime tunnels
Entrance to wartime tunnels

Hospital tunnels

The hospital tunnels were used from 1941 as a triage centre for wounded troops. Medical dressings were applied and emergency operations carried out to stabilise the injured before they were moved further inland to recuperate. We joined a tour and followed the story of an injured pilot. This took us through recreated rooms complete with ‘real’ wartime sounds and dimming lights to make us feel as if we we’re under attack. The operating theatre was my favourite but it was also interesting to see the everyday dormitories where some of the women lived.

Dover Castle
Dover Castle

Medieval tunnels

I’d spotted another set of tunnels on the map so after a coffee break we took a long walk round to the opposite side of the castle. Built during and after the 1216 siege to help protect the castle from attack is a maze of medieval tunnels. Dark and atmospheric in places, they give you a real feel for how life might have been. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to be a soldier!

Dover Castle great tower
Dover Castle great tower

The Great Tower

By then we’d had enough of tunnels so headed above ground to see the star attraction, the Great Tower. This was used both to entertain visitors and as state apartments for the king. Many of the rooms, such as the King’s chamber, are furnished and richly decorated to reflect this. I read that the walls are 6.5 metre thick in places, you could never imagine that in a modern building.

Inside the Great Tower, Dover Castle
Inside the Great Tower, Dover Castle

From the top of the Great Tower the views out across the Channel are impressive. It’s easy to see France on a clear day but even if the weather is cloudy it’s mesmerising to just watch the comings and goings of the port traffic.

View from the Great Tower, Dover Castle
View from the Great Tower, Dover Castle

Our next stop was lunch in the Great Tower cafe; a disappointing choice. It was a Bank Holiday weekend so you’d expect them to be prepared for a busy time but the cafe appeared overwhelmed with visitors. At 12.45pm we queued out of the door only to find that they’d run out of kid’s sandwiches and there was no bread to make any more. 

Roman lighthouse at Dover castle
Roman lighthouse at Dover castle

We walked off our lunch with a wander around the battlements out to the church and lighthouse. The kids enjoyed a runaround at Avranches Tower which was once a multi-level tower used by archers firing crossbows.

Roman lighthouse

I was particularly impressed with the Roman lighthouse. Almost 2000 years old it is one of a pair which once protected the Roman port of Dubris. Although you cannot tell from the photo above it stands right next to the Saxon church, rather a strange pairing!

The visit was wrapped up with a trip to the gift shop and an ice cream. Although we spent most of the day at the castle we didn’t see everything. So what are my tips for other visitors to Dover Castle? Definitely plan an entire day on site, take a picnic and try to visit on a quiet day.

More info:

  • Dover Castle is open daily for most of the year but only at weekends during the winter. Check the website for exact opening times. It’s run by English Heritage so is free to members, a family ticket for non-members costs £46.80 excluding gift aid.
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29 thoughts on “Discovering Dover Castle, Kent”

  1. I have never been, but it looks wonderful. The views and are stunning and some walls 6.5m thick, wow! I bet the wartime tunnels are interesting, but I don’t think I’d have waited 90 minutes either 🙂 The medieval ones sound just as interesting and really must have been very atmospheric! #countrykids

    1. I’d been through Dover a few times before too, always on the way to/from France so it’s never been convenient to stop. Definitely worth a visit if you get the chance.

    1. The cafe should have been better organised. There seemed to be a lot of cafe staff around, just not enough of them serving or making food!

  2. I’ve never been only seen it in the distance but your post makes it look very inviting. I love the idea of the underground tunnels and the old lighthouse too. Thank you for sharing with me on Country Kids.

    1. I loved the fact that the Romans had built the lighthouse 2000 years ago – and then the Saxons built a church right next to it!

  3. That place looks fascinating. Def agree about not waiting 90 minutes for the tunnels and I think I’d be torn about if to go in as I don’t like not being able to get out. I would def love to hear about all the history though. Thanks for linking to #sundaystars

    1. I was disappointed not to go into the main war tunnels but we’d have had to miss out on something else if we’d waited in the queue. And I couldn’t really see my kids being particularly patient about queuing!

    1. Yep, not a cheap day out. We almost considered joining English Heritage so we could get ‘free’ entrance but there’s not much else local to where we live so we wouldn’t really have got our money’s worth.

  4. I can’t believe the queues!! This is another place that I’ve always fancied visiting, but never yet made it to. It looks terrific – a proper looking castle, if you know what I mean.

  5. I can’t believe I have lived in Kent for 3 years and never been to Dover Castle. Think I’m going to try and get there next month – your post has given me the kick I need!

  6. It’s so funny… we were just saying how much we wanted to visit Dover and its White Cliffs, so now we can stop at the Castle too! What a gorgeous view you got from the top – such a lovely photo. Shame about the cafe though, but I wouldn’t have wanted to queue again.

    1. I think we’d have wasted quite a lot of our time if we’d queued for both sets of tunnels. Some families obviously had more patient children than ours!

    1. I’m a castle fan too, although generally I prefer the old ruined ones as I like to imagine how they would have been.

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