Packed with history, the White Cliffs of Dover is a famous sight for people traveling between England and France. Even if you won’t be traveling between these two countries, you can still visit the chalky cliffs in England. In this post, we’ll give you tips for visiting the White Cliffs of Dover as a wheelchair user.
A brief geology lesson
The White Dover Cliffs are beautiful but knowing how they were formed will make your visit all the more meaningful.
Millions of years ago the cliffs were underwater. The bottom of the sea was made up of a white mud formed by algae called coccoliths. Over the years, the coccoliths piled up on top of each other and formed the substance that we know as chalk.
They say it’s possible to see marine fossils in the chalk. However, this is more for able-bodied people who are able to wander in the grasslands.
But we’re jumping ahead of ourselves here.
While the White Cliffs of Dover is stunning, it’s not the only area home to chalk cliffs. Another noteworthy area is the Seven Sisters Cliffs in Sussex. Unsurprisingly to the geologist-oriented, the coast of France facing the English Channel also has chalk cliffs.
How to get to the White Cliffs of Dover
The White Cliffs of Dover can easily be visited as a day trip from London or by nearby towns such as Canterbury. Driving or taking the train are the two most popular ways to arrive at the cliffs.
Let’s take a look at both options.
Driving to the White Cliffs of Dover
Driving is by far the easiest way to arrive to the White Cliffs of Dover. Once you arrive to the town of Dover, follow the brown signs to the National Trust. You’ll know you’re in the right direction if you’re heading uphill towards the Dover Castle.
There isn’t an entrance fee for visiting the White Cliffs of Dover. However, upon your arrival to the entrance of the National Trust, you’ll need to pay a parking fee. Below are the prices as of December 2019:
After passing through the entrance, you may be enticed to park in the first section you come to, as the accessible parking faces the coast. While a nice introduction on what’s to come, plan on making a brief stop at most, since this parking spot is farther from the main viewing area.
The best place for wheelchair users to park at the White Cliffs of Dover is at Level 1 of the Visitor Center. In fact, they have a sign specifically stating that parking there is for wheelchair users.
Beware- it’s not immediately obvious where the accessible parking spaces are located. You’ll need to look for a wheelchair symbol on short, wooden posts. This is what you’re looking for:
From the Visitor’s Center, there’s a direct wheelchair accessible path to the main viewing area for the White Cliffs of Dover.
Taking the train to the White Cliffs of Dover
If driving to Dover isn’t an option for you, taking the train is a fine alternative.
You’ll be able to travel from downtown London (St. Pancras Station) to Dover in just over an hour. Note that the train station in Dover is called Dover Priory.
The Dover Priory Station is small and wheelchair accessible. It has an elevator to get you to the various platforms.
Once you exit the train station, it’ll take you less than ten minutes to arrive to downtown Dover. The stroll starts out on a bit of an incline and then flattens out. Wide sidewalks with dropdown curbs are available the entire way.
The only wheelchair accessible path to the White Cliffs of Dover is by means of the road. It’s a steep climb without sidewalks in some areas. Therefore, we recommend hiring a cab or booking an accessible van.
Regardless of how you arrive to the White Cliffs of Dover, your starting point for exploration will be the Visitor Center.
Wheelchair Accessible areas at the White Cliffs of Dover
From the Visitor Center, there’s a 400 meter path that leads up to the main viewing point over the White Cliffs of Dover. It’ll take you around 15 – 20 minutes to get there. Manual wheelchair users may need assistance as there’s an incline the entire way up.
The terrain along the way is tightly packed gravel held in place by plastic netting. This is the only area of the Dover Cliffs that isn’t dirt, so you won’t have to worry about getting your chair muddy.
Once at the viewing area, you’ll get to enjoy views of the white cliffs through the large spaces of a wood fence.
Travel Tip: Keep an eye out for ponies! They’ve been put in the area to help control the height of the grass.
The viewing area is the most popular part of the White Cliffs of Dover. Since many visitors only go to that point and the area is fairly small, it can feel crowded at peak times.
Keep in mind that this area can get muddy and water pools in spots if it’s rained recently.
Technically, wheelchair accessibility is supposed to end at the viewing area. However, smaller wheelchairs will be able to fit through the gate leading to a dirt path on the White Cliffs of Dover.
Passing through the gate to the cliffs
The gate is set up in classic English country style with a swing door that allows one person to pass through at a time. When you open the gate, you’ll need to wheel into the rather spacious box area. Then, you’ll move the gate in the opposite direction so that you can exit the other side.
It sounds like a more complicated process than it is. Below is a photo to help you visualize:
Once you’ve passed through the gate, you’ll be on dirt terrain. Careful, since it can get slippery when wet.
From your new spot, you’ll get to take in slightly different views of the cliffs, including a better view of the grassy cliffs directly below you. We found that a lot of people who weren’t planning on going further only stayed at the formal viewing area, so passing through the gate freed up some viewing space.
Unfortunately, accessibility at the White Dover Cliffs ends here.
From this dirt viewing area, narrow dirt paths lead in various directions on top of the cliffs. There are also steep inclines and/or stairs in areas.
Nonetheless, the viewing area offers some of the best views of the cliffs, as most of the walk for able-bodied people past that point doesn’t offer a good vantage point of the coastline.
Should you be traveling with able-bodied people who’d like to explore the inaccessible paths, a walk to the lighthouse- a common route for able-bodied visitors- takes around 50 minutes each way. These are some views that they’d see:
Accessibility at the Visitor’s Center
The White Cliffs of Dover Visitor Center is wheelchair accessible. There’s an accessible restroom behind the building with entrance from the outside. There’s also a cafe inside where you can grab a coffee or bite to eat.
White Cliffs of Dover Access Statement
The National Trust has put together a comprehensive access statement for the White Cliffs of Dover. It includes a map of the area, to give you a visual of what we’ve talked about in this post.
Click here to visit the White Cliffs of Dover Access Statement.
Other accessible activities to do in Dover
While you’re in Dover, you’ll likely be inclined to explore beyond the cliffs. Below are some suggestions for wheelchair accessible things to do in Dover.
1. Visit the coast
A wide, paved pedestrian path follows the coast of Dover. You can get there either via a short stroll by sidewalk from downtown or by the parking spaces that line the boulevard.
In either case, this is one of the best accessible activities to do in Dover and it offers the opportunity for a close-up view of the cliffs from below.
Make sure to bundle up as the wind coming off the coast can feel brutal even on the sunniest of days.
2. Take a boat ride
The White Cliffs of Dover are pretty from the viewing area, but there’s no doubt about it- the very best way to take in the full scope of the cliffs is via a boat ride.
Dover Sea Safari offers a variety of boat tours and caters to wheelchair users. They also offer a discount for those with a registered disability.
Unfortunately, we visited in the winter when the boat tours weren’t running, so returning for a boat ride is on our bucket list. You can read about Dover Sea Safari’s accessible boat tours here.
Keep in mind that Dover is a launch point for crossing by ferry to France. Therefore, if you’ll be traveling to or from France via Dover, you’ll have the opportunity to see the cliffs from your ferry (weather permitting, of course).
3. Dover Town
With so many charming English towns to choose from, Dover wouldn’t make the list if it weren’t for its cliffs and port. However, if you have time to spare and/or will be coming in on the train station, taking a quick loop around Dover is a nice option.
Downtown Dover is small, so it’s easy to get around. Biggin Street runs through the center and offers some cafes and pretty architecture. The streets in downtown have sidewalks with dropdown curbs.
4. Dover Castle
The White Cliffs of Dover are beautiful, but since they can only be seen from set, limited viewpoints, it’s the Dover Castle that steals the scenic show in town. Whether you’re up on the cliffs or down in the town, it’s impossible to miss the beautiful castle perched on a hill.
We didn’t have time to visit the Dover Castle ourselves, but the castle is partially accessible. You can read about its accessibility here.
The White Cliffs of Dover are a fascinating, natural landscape in England. Although not fully accessible, you’ll still get to enjoy views of the cliffs from the main viewing area, the oceanfront boardwalk, and by boat.
Do you have questions about wheelchair accessibility at the White Cliffs of Dover? Leave us a comment and we’ll be happy to help. If you’ve already traveled to the cliffs as a wheelchair user, we’d love to hear about your experience.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.