Aside from a short visit to London and exploring the neighboring towns in our local area, our first real vacation while living in England was to a charming seaside town named Deal in Kent County on the southeastern coast. Our trip took place in November, so we weren’t able to take advantage of all the activities you’d find in a typical coastal town, but it was a great trip nonetheless. We rented a cottage about two blocks from the beach and an easy walk to local shops and restaurants, including a nice bakery.
Upon moving to England, multiple people recommended we purchase an English Heritage annual pass which would allow free entrance to participating English Heritage sites. We did so, and for paying by annual direct debit, our passes would be good for an additional three months, so 15 months total.
Less than two weeks after receiving our passes in the mail, we put them to good use on this trip by visiting both Dover and Walmer Castles. A quick note, the annual family pass cost us £92.50. Without our English Heritage passes, admission costs to these two castles would’ve been £52.50 and £29.10, respectively, totaling £81.60. These two visits alone nearly paid for our entire 15-month pass!
From Deal, Dover Castle is an easy, 15-minute drive. Although we didn’t know much about Dover Castle, we’d heard it was a must-see and it did not disappoint! Dover Castle was built in the late twelfth century by Henry II and is an iconic medieval fortress. Perched on the White Cliffs of Dover, the castle and its grounds have served as a strategic outpost for centuries, and as recently as World War II.
We began our visit with a tour of Dover’s secret wartime tunnels. Here, we experienced what it was like in World War II England as Nazi forces spread across Europe leading to Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of 338,226 Allied troops from Dunkirk, France.
Our boys, who were six and eight at the time, really enjoyed this tour. With orders being barked at us over a loudspeaker and key information projected on the walls as we moved through the tunnels between briefing rooms, it felt like we were part of the military operation.
From there, we moved to the Great Tower which was built by King Henry II from 1180-1189. Upon entering the castle, you really feel like you’ve just stepped back in time 800 years. You can tour the kitchen, bedrooms, the great hall, dining room, and even get up on the roof. This was really cool. When you imagine an iconic medieval fortress, you’re thinking about the Great Tower.
Before leaving, we also toured the castle grounds and the World War II underground hospital; however the medieval tunnels were closed for renovations. You can easily spend half a day at Dover Castle and not see everything.
Only a few miles from Dover Castle are the White Cliffs of Dover. Although we didn’t do this on the same day as Dover Castle (mostly because we didn’t know it was an option), it is very doable in one day and would’ve saved us some driving.
Here, you can walk miles of trails along the coastline amidst sheer white cliffs dropping hundreds of feet into the sea below. We’d recommend packing a lunch and having a nice picnic during your hike.
The kids had a blast running through the fields and climbing the hills. Best of all, it was free!
Less than a mile walk from where we stayed, along a beautiful pebble beach, was Walmer Castle. This castle was extremely different than Dover Castle and decorated with much more of a modern feel. Originally built by King Henry VIII, it later became a retreat for dignitaries including the Duke of Wellington.
For us, the highlight of this visit was the magnificent gardens surrounding the fortress. And since we came during the offseason, we had the entire place practically to ourselves.
Deal Castle was also nearby, about a half mile from our cottage in the opposite direction of Walmer Castle. We walked by it, but didn’t get a chance to actually go inside.
In all, we enjoyed our visit to Deal and would love to return to the area another time, preferably in the summer when the weather is a bit warmer! It’s location makes for a perfect weekend getaway or an easy day trip from London.