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London (Dover) Overview
Located 76 miles (122 kilometers) to the east of London, Dover is a major passenger cruise port (as much for cruise ferries as it is for conventional ships) that's considered England's gateway to Europe.
Dover is best known for its stunning white cliffs (remember the World War II song "White Cliffs of Dover"?) that perch over the English Channel. It's also got a quite-spectacular castle. Once, in the mid-19th century, it was a popular seaside resort, though it was repeatedly bombed during World War II. Dover's city center hasn't yet fully regained its footing.
Dover is most commonly a port of embarkation and/or debarkation (itineraries can vary, from those that head to the Baltics and Northern Europe to those cruising south, to the Mediterranean), and most cruise passengers who want extra time in England will use London as their base instead. London is about a 1 1/2-hour train ride or two-hour drive away. Dover's proximity to some major southeast England towns and villages means there are alternatives to big city touring as well: Rye, a 1 1/4-hour drive south, is a charming medieval village and the city of Canterbury is noted for its awesome cathedral, among other sites. For day trips, Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville-West's famous gardens, are near enough to tuck into an "on the way to the port" sightseeing jaunt, as is Leeds Castle.
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Other British Isles & Western Europe Cruise Ports:
Amsterdam • Antwerp • Belfast • Berlin • Bilbao • Brugge • Brussels • Dublin • Edinburgh • Ghent • Hamburg • Holyhead • Lisbon • Liverpool • London • London (Dover) • London (Harwich) • London (Southampton) • Newcastle • Paris • Paris (Le Havre) • Paris (Rouen) • Prague • Rotterdam • St. Peter Port (Guernsey) • Vigo
English is understood and spoken everywhere.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The national currency is the sterling pound (quid in slang). Currency exchange can be made in most banks, post offices and train stations (for current currency exchange, go to www.oanda.com). Traveler's checks should be exchanged at banks or exchange offices since very few businesses will accept them (ATMs and credit cards make them nearly obsolete). For the best exchange rate, use ATMs found almost everywhere.
If you are visiting from outside the European Union, you can get back some of the 17.5 percent VAT (Value Added Tax) you pay on certain goods. Not all shops participate, and stores that do, set a minimum purchase level. You will need to carry your passport with you and fill in a form at the time of purchase. Present the forms to Customs at the final departure from the European Union, but keep in mind the agents most likely will ask to see the goods (www.globalrefund.com).
Note: Some ATMs in England require a PIN to be only four digits long, so plan ahead. Also, many display only numerals on the keypad. For pin codes that include letters, commit them to memory or jot down the translation to numbers.
Anything from the outlet shops at Dover's De Bradelei Wharf 'cause it sells discounted merchandise -- you may get deals like 70 percent off everything from lingerie to glassware from England.
Where You're Docked
The Port of Dover is a one-mile/20-minute walk (or quick cab ride) to the town center, Priory Station and Pencester Road. A shuttle bus is available to/from the town center. The Tourist Information Centre is on Old Town Gaol Street and is open Monday - Friday from 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. In July and August, it's open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily.
Dover's city center is a brisk 30-minute walk from the port terminal (ten-minute ride) and it offers basic services -- drugstore, cybercafe, grocery store. But otherwise, most of the city's major attractions require auto transportation.
In Dover, cabs are relatively easy to hail. Major car rental agencies like Hertz and National have outposts here.
From London's Airports to Dover: Your best bet is to arrive at Gatwick (a 45-minute drive) or Heathrow (1 3/4-hour drive). Trains from both airports are frequent and both connect through central London. Or opt for renting a car with one-way drop-off from the aforementioned rental car agencies. Taxis are pretty expensive -- from Heathrow, you'll pay about 125 pounds (nearly $250 dollars), and that's one-way.
From London to Dover: Options for traveling to/from London include the new high-speed (1 hour 20 minutes) Javelin train, which runs throughout the day to/from St. Pancras Station (£37.50 day return; £74.60 open return) to/from Dover Priory Station via www.nationalrail.com. Frequent daily buses to/from Victoria Coach Station to/from Dover's Pencester Road ($19.50, 2 1/2 hours) via www.nationalexpress.com. For both local and expanded taxi service, try Central Executive Taxi (44 (0)1304, www.centralexectravel.co.uk), ($175, 2 hours). Car rental agencies are plentiful, including Avis, Hertz, Budget, National, and Europcar.
One of the oldest castles (12th century) in England -- Dover Castle was built by Henry II. Check out the Pharos lighthouse that is said to have been built by the Romans during the 1st century. Inside is a military museum that includes a great exhibit of WWII spy equipment. This is where to see the Secret War Time Tunnels that were used during the excavation of Dunkirk for Operation Dynamo and the Battle of Britain during WWII. The 200-feet-below-the-ground (60 meters) tunnels were originally excavated to house cannons to be used on Napoleon if he invaded. Check out the English Channel from a hidden, cliff-top balcony just as Churchill did during the Battle of Britain. April - October: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily. November - March 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. daily.
Nearby, the White Cliffs are impressive and looming. Stroll along Prince of Wales pier for an excellent view. There are 40-minute White Cliff Boat Tours that leave from the Clock Tower in the Marina. Try to thumb a free boat ride with one of the local fishermen in Deal (about 5 miles/8 kilometers from town). Even better -- drive to the White Cliffs Park, where you'll find glorious views of the English Channel (and any ship lover will find the cruise lanes, just below your perch, a fascinating spectacle as cruise ferries pull in and out on a regular basis). The park features miles of gentle hiking trails as well.
Quite large, there's an amazing collection of artifacts and photographs depicting Dover's history inside the Dover Museum & Bronze Age Boat Gallery. Included in the admission charge is entry to the award-winning Bronze Age Boat Gallery with interactive exhibits, computers and microscopes. Monday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Closed Sunday. Market Square.
To see the sights of Dover, we suggest the 50-minute Open Top Double-Decker Bus Tours. Tickets valid for 24 hours and you can get off and on at any one of eight stops as you please. Market Square.
Nearly 2,000 years old, the Roman Painted House (the Romans were here as early as 54 B.C. and occupied the country from 43 A.D. for 400 year). Dubbed England's "buried Pompeii," it's all impressively preserved, including an under-floor heating system. Don't miss the award-winning bacchic murals. April - September: Tuesday - Sunday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Closed Monday. New St.
Voted 2004 Tourist Attraction of the Year by Kent Tourism Alliance, Walmer Castle was built by Henry VIII in 1539 as an artillery fortress to counter the threat of invasion from France and Spain. It's fun to cross over the moat to see this Tudor Castle's private royal apartments -- in particular, the yellow chintz armchair in which the Duke of Wellington died back in 1852 that is exactly as it was then. The formal gardens are impressive -- and be sure see the Queen Mother's Garden that was designed and presented to her on her 95th birthday. During WWII, both Queen Elizabeth (then Princess) and her mother made regular visits here to see Churchill. Some of the rooms they used are open to visitors. A must for afternoon tea. Through September 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily. October until 4 p.m.
England's largest collection of 1940 related items are on public display at the Kent Battle of Britain Museum. Check out the display of British and German 1940 flying equipment plus artifacts recovered from over 600 shot-down aircraft from both sides. Through September Tuesday - Sunday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Closed Monday. Aerodrome Rd, Hawking.
Been There, Done That
One of England's earliest Christian sites, Canterbury is considered its ecclesiastical capital. Once completely walled with many of its old fortifications standing today, the idyllic landscape of apple orchards, hop farms and cottage gardens is 90 minutes from London. Must-sees: The shrine of Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral that drew thousands of medieval pilgrims and inspired Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" and the magnificent stained-glass windows; the Roman Museum's intricate mosaics and other archeological evidence of Roman settlement in England. Open bus and walking tours available. Canterbury. Starting at $9, depending on sites selected. Note: Come early or late to avoid busloads of tourists. Beyond the Cathedral, Canterbury has a plethora of sights to see; in particular, check out Higham Park Stately Home & Gardens.
Sissinghurst Castle Garden (near Cranbook) is the fantastic creation of two 20th-century English aristocrats. Writers Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West created it around their huge Elizabethan home. Through October 31, open Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 11 a.m. - 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Sunday and Bank holidays from 10 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. Closed Wednesday and Thursday. For more info email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Considered one of the world's loveliest castles (and we can attest to that fact -- it's fully furnished and in fact was inhabited by a family until the 1970s so it has a combination of historic appeal and a lived-in look), Leeds Castle, located in Maidstone, is like the Disneyland of Castles. There's much to do and see -- a day's worth, really; beyond the manse itself there is an aviary, maze, grotto, gorgeous gardens, a duckery, woodland walks, restaurants and shops. Open all year; 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily. Info: www.leeds-castle.com.
We spent a magical pre-cruise weekend at the aforementioned Rye. This medieval port city (which these days actually lies a few miles inland from the English channel due to shifting tides) features an incredibly atmospheric village center, museums, art galleries, boutique shopping, tearooms, pubs and restaurants. Accommodations -- all of the upscale B&B variety -- are also lovely. Info: www.rye-tourism.co.uk.
Old Lantern Inn: In an old 1636 farm house, they serve up some good vegetarian options. But we say try the Stilton and chestnut pate. Per-person cost for three courses including wine will run about $34. Noon - 2:30 p.m. daily. Martin St.
Wallett's Court: Without a doubt, the best and most impressive (and formal) eatery in the area. Try the Kentish huntsman's platter, a terrine of game partnered perfectly with apple jelly. Per-person cost for three courses including wine will run about $40. Sunday - Friday, noon - 2 p.m. West Cliff.
The Churchill Hotel: We mention this restaurant with reservations. It's the most scenic "eatery" in Dover, located on directly on the harbor, and serves up basic pub fare (there are outdoor tables as well as indoor seating). We can't, however, wholeheartedly rave about the food or service -- after an hour of waiting for a ham and cheese sandwich we finally asked for a refund and left, lunch-less. Noon - 2 p.m. daily. Dover Harbor.
The Ellie Café: Located in the heart of Market Square, this bistro-style joint offers patio seating (with fun people-watching). Noon - 2 p.m. daily. Market Square.
Best Afternoon Tea
Lord Warden's Tea Rooms inside Walmer Castle near Dover for scones, clotted cream and wonderful pastries. April - September, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily; October until 5 p.m.
Closest to Port: The Churchill Hotel is one of Dover's only waterfront hotels -- a grand, Victorian-era place; it's atmospheric for sure, but a bit run down. The Churchill Hotel is affiliated with the Best Western chain.
Big Splurge: Wallett's Court is top-of-the-line, and features a spa, tennis court, pool and an aerobics studio.
Family-friendly: Lighthouse Inn offers spectacular sea views and a children's menu in the restaurant.
Here are our choices for the best ship-sponsored shore excursions.
Best Choice for Castle Cravers: Leeds Castle & Canterbury. Duration: 7 hours. Price: $98. Offered by Holland America, Princess Cruises.
Best Choice for Luxe Living: Venice-Simplon Orient Express from Southampton or Dover to London. Duration: full day. Price Up to $315. Offered by Cunard.
Best Choice for House Hunting: Chartwell House -- Home of Winston Churchill. Duration: 5 hours. Price: $95. Offered by Regent Seven Seas.
Best Choice for London Lovers: London Sightseeing. Duration: Up to 10 1/2 hours. Price: Up to $127. Offered by Crystal Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America, Regent Seven Seas, Princess Cruises.
Staying in Touch
C@fe Enroute 66, 8 Bench St (just off Market Square).
For More Information
On the Web: Dover and White Cliffs Country Tourism Association
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Britain
The Independent Traveler: England Exchange