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Dover Cruises

Dover, England

About Dover

With its close proximity to France across the English Channel, Dover has long enjoyed a strategic location, earning it the nickname, the “Key to England.” The Romans established it as a major crossroads; they laid roads from the coast deeper into England, erected forts, raised lighthouses to guide passing ships and built a remarkable Roman villa, which still stands today.

As the port was under constant threat because of its location, the massive, 11th-century Dover Castle overlooking the channel grew over the centuries to become the nation’s largest edifice and remains so today, striking an imposing figure on a hillside. William the Conqueror is said to have set it afire on his way to London after his Battle of Hastings victory. Dover and its castle also served as a bastion and command center during World War II.

In medieval days, Dover was one of the Cinque Ports (Five Ports). This confederation, composed of five coastal towns at the narrowest part of the channel, was formed to support the military and trade and to provide ships for the monarchy should the need arise for them to evacuate. Most famously, Dover is known for its dramatic white-chalk cliffs towering over the English Channel.

Dover Lifestyle and Culture

The people of Dover look to their history and their castle with pride. It is in many ways a quintessential seaside British town, with breezes coming in from the channel and a quiet and tranquil air. As a main port to and from the continent, it also exudes the bustle of travelers and an international flavor. Many are “just passing through,” enjoying an overnight layover here before hopping the ferry the next morning.

The unhurried pace of life here is strongly shaped by Dover’s geography, from the leisurely channel tides to the gentle flow of the Dour River after which the town was named. Visitors and locals alike linger on the green, blanketed plateau of the cliffs, gazing out to sea and to France.

Though fresh fish and chips are ubiquitous in Dover, the city’s pubs have kept with the times, infusing their menus with fresh ingredients from the surrounding farmland and with new flavors. The city also has its share of upscale dining experiences and unique eateries.

Dover Sights and Landmarks

The most impressive sight in Dover may be its white cliffs, towering above the surf of the English Channel. These enormous walls are beloved for more than their scenic beauty. Over the centuries, their symbolism has shifted with history. At times, they have been guards and sentries protecting Britain from enemies approaching by sea … the last glimpse of home as soldiers and travelers departed for the continent … and the welcoming sight of home as they’ve returned.

Dover Castle, too, has long overlooked the waters of the channel. More than a basic edifice, its grounds tell the story of the defense of the city, and of England. Some structures date back to 50 AD. But the castle wasn’t the city’s only line of defense. Another edifice, known as the Western Heights, also protected the port from both sea and land attacks. Today, its fortified walls, redoubts and bunkers are a nature reserve.

Nestled amid the townscape are the ruins of St. James’s Church. Damaged and subsequently destroyed during World Wars I and II, it is maintained as a “tidy ruin,” with manicured lawns and flowers blooming in ancient crevices. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, however, is very much in one piece. Built on the site of old Roman baths, it is a fine example of Norman and Early English architecture.

Dover Entertainment and Activities

On a clear day, you can see France from the grounds of Dover Castle. But there’s so much more to explore. Descend into the secret wartime tunnels, first dug during the Napoleonic Wars and later used during World War II. Head up to the perch of Henry II’s Great Tower. Marvel at the Roman lighthouse, standing since 50 AD. It’s a fascinating visit.

In town, admire the extensive Roman wall paintings at the Roman Painted House. This remarkable villa was built around 200 AD as a hotel for travelers, perhaps those just disembarking after crossing the channel.

History reaches even farther back at the Dover Museum, where an incredible 3,500-year-old boat is on display. The Dover Bronze Age Boat was discovered in 1992 and is heralded as the world’s oldest known seafaring boat.

Just outside of town, stroll the winding pathways of the Pines Garden, six acres of blooms, a grass labyrinth and an organic kitchen garden with 40 types of fruits and vegetables and a waterfall.

Dover Restaurants and Shopping

The Allotment restaurant serves up local fish and meats flavored with herbs from the backyard garden. Admire the stained-glass facade and enjoy views of the Maison Dieu Guest House, the medieval pilgrims’ hospital.

At teatime, stroll two miles from the White Cliffs Visitor Center to the 1846 lighthouse that’s been lovingly converted into Mrs. Knott’s Tea Room. It’s a charming experience all by itself, and made more delicious by egg and cress sandwiches, sponge cake and, of course, a finely steeped Earl Grey.

To browse the shops and drop by a pub in Dover, head to High Street and Biggin Street, a blend of independent shops and cafés. Or stay on the waterfront to browse the shops at De Bradelei Wharf, a comprehensive collection of boutiques, large stores and restaurants.