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Things to see and do at The White Cliffs of Dover

Two people admiring the view of the sea from the clifftop at The White Cliffs of Dover, Kent, on a sunny day.
Admiring the view of the sea from The White Cliffs of Dover, Kent | © National Trust Images/Solent News and Photography Agency

Whether you enjoy quiet walks, exploring historical sites or watching wildlife go by, there’s something for you at The White Cliffs of Dover. A variety of paths take you to the perfect spot to admire the famous views. Our knowledgeable and friendly volunteers are on hand to guide you around the Second World War deep shelter at Fan Bay and the lighthouse at South Foreland.

Walking on the White Cliffs

There is a wheelchair-friendly footpath that leads to a viewing point, ideal if you just want a short route to see the famous cliffs. This all-weather path is built with a staggered incline, which allows for a few breathers on the way up. At the top is one of the best views of the cliffs, with the rolling green landscape and sheer chalk edge, dropping to the sea below. Here is a map you can download.

We use livestock to graze some of the chalk downland and their location changes occasionally. If you would like to walk your dog along the cliffs, or if you are just curious to know, please see our page Visiting White Cliffs and the Lighthouse with your dog.

Adventure awaits

Venture further to take a choice of paths - steeper nearest the cliff, gentler further inland. These will take you to Fan Bay Deep Shelter and South Foreland Lighthouse. Beyond the lighthouse, you can continue walking the coast path to St Margaret's, Kingsdown or even Walmer or Deal. The ground can be uneven and the weather unpredictable, so please wear stout shoes and dress appropriately. Download our trail guide for more details of the walk from the Visitor Centre to South Foreland Lighthouse.

Image of a group of people having a picnic in long grass in the summer
Visitors enjoying a picnic in the grass | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Enjoy your picnic

You’re welcome to picnic at The White Cliffs of Dover. There are lots of spaces to spread your blankets, break out the food and drink and enjoy a great picnic with your family. Whether you like a secluded spot or just some nice grass to relax on, with some lovely views, The White Cliffs has it all. You can even take part in ’50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾‘ while you picnic – activity no. 9 is a picnic in the wild!

Our shops, cafeteria and tea rooms should be able to help if you’ve forgotten something, or if you’d just like a little extra takeaway treat.

Barbeques and open fires

The White Cliffs of Dover is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Open fires of any kind, including barbeques and gas cookers are not permitted anywhere on site, including the car parks.

Please help us keep The White Cliffs beautiful for everyone and take all your litter and food remains home after your picnic, as these can harm the delicate wildlife on the chalk downland.

Drones

Please do not attempt to fly your drone at the White Cliffs of Dover. The National Trust does not permit privately-owned drones to be flown anywhere over its property. See Flying drones at our places for more information. The Port of Dover has also established legally enforceable regulations that define a restricted flying zone. These regulations cover a large part of Dover town centre, the port area, and all of the land at the White Cliffs of Dover as well as the cliffs themselves and the nearby sea. Further details and a map are available at: Operations - Port of Dover.

Corrugated metal interior of the Fan Bay Tunnels, commissioned by Winston Churchill in the Second World War, at The White Cliffs of Dover, Kent
Inside the Fan Bay Tunnels, commissioned by Winston Churchill in the Second World War, at The White Cliffs of Dover, Kent | © National Trust Image/Chris Tapley

Fan Bay Deep Shelter

Fan Bay deep shelter is a tunnel complex built between 1940-41 as accommodation for the soldiers who operated the guns above. Today this network of abandoned tunnels is virtually all that remains of these long-forgotten defences. After an extraordinary volunteer effort, these Second World War tunnels were opened to visitors in 2015. Find out more about Fan Bay Deep Shelter.

Venture inside

With the aid of hard-hats and head torches, you can adventure underground on a guided tour to see this incredible time capsule hidden within the cliffs. The tunnel tour also includes the chance to see two sound mirrors - First World War early warning devices - up close and find out more about them. Entrance to the shelter is via steps only: find out more about accessibility here.

Something strange at the shelter

Captain Arthur Lionel Strange was the commander of the gun battery at Fan Bay during the Second World War. On selected days come and see volunteers dress up as Captain Strange to bring this period of The White Cliff’s history to life.

South Foreland Lighthouse
South Foreland Lighthouse | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

South Foreland Lighthouse

A landmark of The White Cliffs, the Victorian lighthouse was built to warn mariners of shifting sands and guide them through the Strait of Dover. Extended and refurbished in 1842, the lighthouse was one of two lights at South Foreland that were used together for navigation. Find out more about South Foreland Lighthouse.

A place of invention

The lighthouse was the scene of many experiments by Michael Faraday and Guglielmo Marconi. Faraday would make South Foreland the first lighthouse to be lit by electricity, while Marconi conducted the first ship to shore radio transmission from here.

Guiding light to guided tours

South Foreland Lighthouse was continually staffed until it was automated in 1969. It remained in service until it was decommissioned by Trinity House in 1988. In 1989 the lighthouse was acquired by the National Trust, unusually with much of the mechanism still intact.

Today, you can visit South Foreland Lighthouse, take a tour and witness this historic place of innovation and science for yourself. Ask our guides to tell you the story of the Knott family of lighthouse keepers and admire the spectacular view from the top. Then, why not treat yourself to a well-earned rest in Mrs Knotts tea room?

Image of a child holding a small frog
Child holding a small frog | © National Trust Images/John Millar

'50 things to do before you're 11¾'

The National Trust's '50 things to do before you're 11¾' is a checklist of activities that will encourage kids to get mucky, discover their wild side and most of all enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer. There are lots of activities that can be ticked off at The White Cliffs of Dover, here are a few recommendations to get you started:

No. 31. Make friends with a bug

Next time you're enjoying a stroll, there are plenty of bugs to make friends with on the way. Don't forget to pop them back where you found them afterwards.

No. 33. Go cloud watching

Choose a warm, summer’s day when there are plenty of clouds in the sky. Find a nice comfy spot to lie back and look up at the clouds. What can you see?

Some clouds are white and fluffy, like cotton wool, and others are grey and thin. They move, they change shape and no two clouds are ever exactly the same! Use your imagination to pick out shapes and pictures in the clouds as they drift by. Do they resemble anything, like animals, trees or cartoon characters?

No. 34. Discover wild animal clues

There are lots of different things that you can look for when you're on the trail of an animal or bird. Keep an eye out for footprints, feathers, fur and poo and you might find something sooner than you think.

No. 44. Spot a bird

There is a wealth of wildlife at The White Cliffs of Dover with many species of birds making their home here. To be a successful bird watcher you'll need to be as quiet as a mouse while you keep a look out for our feathered friends. What will you spot? 

No. 48. Keep a nature diary

Keep a record of your amazing adventures in nature, capturing your memories of the animals and plants you’ve seen. Decide how you’ll record your experiences of nature, will you use words, pictures, sounds or a mixture of everything? You could even write a poem or a story about your adventures. To get you started we've listed some of the plants and creatures you may find as you explore and you can even download an identification sheet if you're not sure what they are.

Find yourself a diary, a scrapbook or a sound recorder and get started. Make a note of all the things you’ve seen and done in nature, whether it’s a picnic in the wild, or getting to know a wild animal. Which activity did you enjoy the most?

A Chalkhill Blue male butterfly in July at Lighthouse Down, Kent
Spot the chalkhill blue butterfly flitting above the chalk grassland | © National Trust Images/Matthew Oates

Wildlife spotting

As you are walking along the cliffs, take time to admire our wildlife. The rare chalk grassland environment on the White Cliffs provides the perfect habitat for birds, butterflies and wildflowers. Why not download a spotter sheet and see what you can find as you explore? If you prefer, you can collect a printed spotter sheet from the visitor centre.

Birds spotter sheet

Butterflies spotter sheet

Wildflowers spotter sheet

Plants and flowers

The clifftop blooms with colour during the warmer months. Alongside the wildflowers that cover the ground and fill the air with their scent, look out for these beauties:

Early spider orchid

This nationally rare orchid has yellow-green and brown petals and a flower that looks like the body of a spider - it’s easy to see where its name came from. This small plant flowers for just two months in April and May.

Oxtongue broomrape

Similar in appearance to an orchid but not from the same family, this is recognised by its straw-coloured stems bearing yellow, white or blue snapdragon-like flowers. This delicate flower can be seen dotting the clifftop walk from June to September.

Viper's-bugloss

This is easily seen thanks to its vivid shades of blue and purple with rough petals and red tongue-like stamens. Viper’s-bugloss can sometimes be overlooked in its longer flowering period of June to September.

Butterflies

The White Cliffs of Dover are home to around 30 species of butterfly, who love this area thanks to the many wildflowers that grow.

Here’s what to look out for:

Adonis blue

The male has vibrant blue wings which are edged in white, whereas the females are a rich chocolate brown. These rare butterflies can be seen on the wing in two broods, mid-May to late June and then again in early August to the end of September.

Chalk hill blue

This butterfly likes the chalkland environment and can be distinguished from the Adonis Blue as the males are far paler in colour. These can be seen flying low to the ground, just above the vegetation, from mid-July to early August.

Red admiral

Visible from February to November, the forewings of this butterfly are a velvety black-brown with an orange stripe dividing the white spotted tips from the rest of the body.

Marbled white

More modest in appearance, this butterfly has an even balance of black and white with a delicate white border, making the wings looked scalloped. Look for this butterfly amongst the wildflowers from June to August.

Birdwatching

If you listen carefully as you explore the White Cliffs of Dover you may be able to hear some of the resident bird life who live here. Alongside jackdaws hopping around by the café, look out for large ravens – breeding at the cliffs again after more than 100 years – and rare peregrine falcons and skylarks. Look away from the coast and you may be lucky and spot one of our resident buzzards - a bird of prey with a wingspan of over 1 metre. Chiffchaffs and whitethroats can also be seen during the summer following their migration journeys.

Shipwreck spotting

Although the cliffs are well known for their views and famous chalk face, the waters around them are dangerous. The remains of shipwrecks can still be found if you know where to look.

Two shipwrecks can be seen at the base of the cliffs. Visible at low tide from the first viewpoint, on the beach in Langdon Hole, is the steel hull and ribs of the iron-screw steamer the SS Falcon, which ran aground in 1926 after a fire.

The other wreck can seen at low tide, whilst walking across the cliffs, just off the shores of Fan Bay. The Preuβen was the largest five-mast, full-rigged ship ever built. It was wrecked at Fan Bay on 7 November 1910 after colliding with RMS Brighton off Newhaven and drifting to her final resting place.

An aerial view of a long stretch of the White Cliffs of Dover in Kent with the white cliffs emerging from the sea and topped with green fields

Discover more at The White Cliffs of Dover

Find out when The White Cliffs are open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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