Dover, England – A Cruise Port Guide

Dover Port Guide

Dover, England features on many round UK cruises so we thought it was time for a Dover Cruise Port Guide! Dover is in the county of Kent, known as the ‘Garden of England’ because of its apple and cherry orchards and its ‘Hop’ fields. Hops are harvested and then dried in the conical Oast houses that you will see in the area then supplied to make beer. Local Kentish Beers to particularly lookout for are from Faversham brewer Shepherd Neame and Maidstone brewer Musket Brewery.

Kent Oast House

Dover faces France across the English Channel (or La Manche if you are looking across from the other side!). It is the nearest point between the two countries which is why the Channel Tunnel was constructed beneath the sea here although its surface based operations are at nearby Folkestone. Dover is one of the original Cinque Ports (along with Hastings, New Romney, Hythe and Sandwich) that have been charged, by successive Kings since Anglo Saxon times, with supplying the ships and sailors needed to protect England from invasion. In return these towns could set tariffs and taxes on imports through their ports and this brought huge wealth to the Dover.

Dover Castle

Dover for Cruisers

For centuries Dover has been one of the most important places in the defence of England and for many years an important base of cross channel travel. This has changed over the years from the small ‘packet’ ships of the 16th century to the prosperous, railway run ships of Victorian times and now to the huge ferries carrying mainly lorries and cars that you will see entering and leaving the port today. Nowadays very little Cross Channel traffic stays in Dover so the town is no longer wealthy, although some parts are quite pleasant other bits are distinctly run down and shabby. Nevertheless there is a lot to do here…..

Your ship will dock alongside at the Cruise Terminal which was originally built in 1914 as Dover Marine Railway Station. The building has since been renovated but it retains the iconic ironwork railway architecture. Through the restored building you will find a modern departure hall with the usual facilities including a Bureau de change, toilets, Wifi and a cafe.

Most cruise schedules list Dover as ‘for London’ and for this reason there is often a longer than normal stopover in port to allow time for the trip. Personally I would always rather see things that are more local than spend all day in a coach visiting a ‘big ticket’ destination but obviously if this is the only time you will be in the UK then I understand why you would want to visit London, otherwise I would truly advise that you come to London for a weekend of sightseeing another time!

What can I do in Dover?

The White Cliffs of Dover

Staying close to the ship you have one of the biggest tourist attractions in Kent right above you! The word Iconic gets a bit over used but the views of Dover Castle on top of the White Cliffs probably can claim that description!

It has two thousand years of history as the first line of defence for England so it really is the best thing to visit when you’re in Dover and you could easily spend all day there. The port shuttle buses run there direct or you could get a local bus or taxi. If you want to walk one way I suggest you walk down!

The site dates back to the Iron Age and has a Roman Pharos (lighthouse) which was you can visit, also an Anglo Saxon church with Victorian stained glass windows. In 1066 William the Conqueror landed in England and quickly took control of the castle, by the 12th Century Henry II had added most of the defences now visible at the site. The Great Tower houses a reconstruction of Henry II court, also an interactive exhibition about the history of the tower.

Dover Castle

You can visit the Medieval tunnels, dug during the Siege of 1216 and later expanded during the Napoleonic Wars. Yet more tunnels were dug during WW1 & 2 when the castle was used as a command post and a wartime hospital and both are open for visitors.

The Admiralty Lookout has been restored and has amazing views across the Channel to France, which on a clear day it seems no distance away at all. There are wonderful views of the Channel and the White Cliffs from the Battlement Walk which overlooks the huge castle walls. A shop, cafe and restaurant will fill some more time, and you are never even out of sight of the ship!

A couple of places in Kent that are definitely worth a visit are either Canterbury for its Cathedral, Abbey and medieval buildings and or the moated Leeds Castle, and its grounds, just outside Maidstone – but not both in one day!

Where can I walk from the ship in Dover?

While most of these arriving passengers will have spotted the famous white cliffs from the sea and some may even have noticed the famous Dover Castle perched high above the port, they are missing out on some real hidden gems. There is a lot more to Britains oldest port than its white cliffs so make time on your visit for a little portExplore. We’ve put a few suggestions together of things that you can do for free (or the price of a pint!) within walking distance of the ship.

The harbour wall is through the door at the end…
The harbour wall is through the door at the end…

1. Old Dover Maritime train station … at the western edge of the harbour is a large brick built doorway with a steep flight of stairs, leading to a long glazed walkway. Every passenger travelling from London to Calais would have used this passage from its construction in the 1920s until the late 1960s – its a very evocative space. At the very end of the passage you can see down into the old ticket hall and past that is the entrance to the harbour wall. Although it is owned by the Dover Sea Angling Association they are normally happy to let visitors walk it. This is a really good place to take some wonderful pictures of the port, your cruise ship, the White Cliffs and Dover Castle. It can be very bracing buts its an interesting little walk!

Shakespeare Beach
Shakespeare Beach

2. Shakespeare Beach & Cliffs… Walk back through the station walkway and at the bottom of the stairs turn left, follow the road round past the fishermen’s huts and onto the shingle of Shakespeare Beach.  Although this is NOT a good place to swim because of the serious undertow this is a good beach for a nice crunchy, bracing walk. Go right to the far end and you will find Shakespeare’s Cliff – it is called that because it is mentioned in the play King Lear. Shakespeare wrote a description of the Samphire pickers who scrambled down from the cliff top, clinging to a rope and clutching a basket to pick the green samphire – a local delicacy which you can still see growing on the cliff.  Don’t attempt to climb around the headland or onto the cliff itself as it is quite unstable, with frequent and dangerous rock falls. 

Shakespeares Cliff … a lot of the green is the  samphire he mentioned...
Shakespeares Cliff … a lot of the green is the samphire he mentioned…

3. Samphire Hoe… further to the west, on the other side of Shakespeare Cliff, but only accessible from the top of the cliffs, is an award winning nature reserve. To find it follow the footpath out of Dover, marked as The North Downs Way, it will take you to the tunnel entrance and down through the cliffs to Samphire Hoe.

Lookout at Samphire Hoe.
Lookout at Samphire Hoe.

A stunning location and outstanding scenery with peace and quiet – walks, wildflowers, birds and wildlife. The site becomes wilder the further you get from the visitor centre but most of the Hoe is accessible for wheelchair users and the mobility impaired who can follow a route marked on the map displayed by the Cafe. If you turn and look up the cliff you will be able to see remnants of the old footpath which used to be the only access but is now defunct and extremely unsafe.

The 30 hectare site is a model of biodiversity, a peaceful place to see plants, butterflies, sheep, dragonflies and birds. The location of the Hoe, just across the Channel from mainland Europe, means it is an important area for migrant birds. 

A election of the beers at Lanes
A election of the beers at Lanes

4. The Lanes Pub… after all this walking you will be pleased with choice no 4!! The Lanes Micropub in Worthington Street,  Dover, was named at Kent named as Pub of the year 2018 by CAMRA, the real ale society. It is small, friendly and family run and if you’re not a beer fan they also sell Kent wines, Mead, ciders and Perry (cider made form local pears.) They don’t do food but are quite happy for you to buy something from the Deli opposite and bring it back! A refreshing change in these days of Gastropubs – good conversation, board games, no keg beer, lager, or piped music- a proper English pub! 

Views right across the Channel to France from the Western Heights

6. Western Heights

Climb up to the Western Heights, a wooded area directly above the ports western docks for amazing views across to France on a clear day. You can follow various trails through the cliffs and discover the remains of a Knights Templar chapel, a roman lighthouse, WW1 dugouts and gun emplacements  as well as the massive defences built to defend against invasion by the French, that never actually happened.You can see these Napoleonic defenses… forts, barracks and a unique triple Helix staircase that runs 140 foot down through the cliffs – so lots to explore and see, or you could just sit and look at the view!

Where to eat and drink in Dover

Dover is really not a gastronomic destination – the lanes Pub as mentioned above and Cullins Yard close to De Bradleigh Wharf are probably the two best pubs close to the port. De Bradleigh Wharf is an outlet store with some good bargains – especially in rain wear – there is a cafe there or restaurants on the nearby seafront – The Hythe Bay is good for seafood and if you are looking for afternoon tea try the Best Western Hotel.

Dover beach and seafront

I hope you enjoy your time in Dover, I would love to know what you think so it would be great if you commented below! If you find any of our information is out of date or if you have anything you thing we should add please let us know!

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