My relationship with Brussels is quite a roller-coaster ride, but one thing always adds to the up-rides: ‘Brussels is the center of Europe’. Of course not geographically, because that would be Budapest ( 🙂 ), but in terms of accessibility. From day one I love that London, Paris, Amsterdam are just 2 hrs away; but going beyond the obvious, thousands of little gems also came to arm width by living here.
Though, there are countless list of travel blogs, I hardly find inspiring sources once you made the obligatorily evident circle of Brussels, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp Bruges, Gent, Namur, Liege. Each time when I call up our best research buddy as to ‘what to see in Belgium’ / ‘what to see around Belgium’, the above formed list jumps up from millions of different url bases.
The list is certainly appealing but what if we have done that all? What if we want to explore more? 🙂
Ever since I am living here, when someone decides to visit me I make one condition: ‘You must pick an other city than Bruges’ 🙂 and I continue to dig further, look for exciting destinations within and out of the country.
Therefore, I have decided to share with you (slowly but surely) all the little trips I discovered and continue to do so from the center of Europe, from Brussels.
A day trip to Dover (UK)
Trust me, it is not a simple day trip, it is a trip to heaven, or if you have ever followed my so-beloved child series, Road to Avonlea, then this trip is a time-travel to Prince Edward’s Island, just in England (not to travel so much).
What you need to prepare for the trip?
- check weather forecast and pick a sunny day. No need for 30 degrees, 20 is just perfect, but the chance of rain should be minimized
- once you have a day, you will need to arrange transportation(s) (more in a bit)
- you will need some comfortable hiking shoes, no, flip-flops will not make it. Me, who have wondered in forests on high-heels in my peak times, I am warning you: get a comfy shoes.
- and you will need a jumper even if it says warm,warm,warm,
Thats about this! Once ready with this short-smooth checklist, let’s go and get some moments from Heaven.
Where are we going actually?
Dover, is a town in Kent county in South East England. If you have ever starred the views from France towards the Island then this is the first (and only) thing you can spot in a clear day. Dover, a once military hub and major ferry port, is the narrowest part of the English Channel that today attracts tourists from close and far alike. The city, whose name derives from the the crossing River Dour, has been inhabited since the Stone Ages and currently lived by 28,156 people.
Due to its location, Dover had an important role during the WWII since this was the closest point to Continental Europe, therefore, the closest point to danger. Since 2007 the military barrack was closed down and the city’s main income resource is built around tourism. Though the city has several schools and great features, its only hospital is threatened with closure and besides M&S food retail hardly any chains invest in their presence.
What might be a struggle and challenge for the locals it is a fresh air for us, visitors: peace land that lacks any commercial faces. Here you will not be tempted to check out the last sale, have a burger, ice-cream, another coffee at each corner, you will not even be invited to visit a museum at each point of interest (unless you wish to get lost in the Dover Museum, the Dover Transport Museum, or the Roman Painted House).
Here, you will be surrounded by nature and peace (incl. bugs, birds, bees, flowers and sea).
I hope that by know you know if this trip is for your taste or not so much.
If you decide to skip this trip I hope you visit me later, but if you feel as enthusiastic as I did, then stay with me and let’s see some details.
Let’s assume that your starting base is Brussels (as for me). Then officially you have two options: either to go to Dunkerque or to Calais; the two closest points with a ferry harbor. Though Dunkerque is 50 km closer than the French ferry port, I opted for the last one.
Brussels-Calais is approximately 200 km so about 2 hours. Evidently, if you have a car it is an easy drive, however if not, then just check out the train schedule from Midi station and you will find plenty of options (Calais via Lille to Brussels – cost is around 50EUR) or travel by bus to Lille and then by train to Calais. As you see, nothing should stop you from get going 🙂
Ferry port, Calais (FR)
Once you arrive to Calais, if you are with car make sure you park at P6, which will cost you 5 EUR for the whole day, as opposed to the parking just beside it that will take 60 EUR out of your pocket, only because you did not know that 2m further you can park for the price of a coffee. So pay attention!
Once this part is secured, if you have a ticket you can go directly to check-in (inside the building to the left) or go to the ticket office (just in front of you as you enter).
Though, I was a prepared visitor and booked my ticket the night before, I had those mornings, you know, when the alarm just does not ring. So I pretty much overslept, leaving me with doubts whether I can actually make it to the other side of the Channel or I need to swim across. I missed my ferry by an hour but the lady at the front desk changed by ticket without a note or any addition fee (though it clearly stated: non-refundable). So either way you do, you will make it. Ticket cost around 25EUR both ways.
Going through the quick and efficient check-in, you can start lying back and relax. From this point on everything is taken care of. You will be asked to stand up, take the bus, walk up to the ferry, walk down from the ferry, take the bus and start your Dover discovery.Smooth and well-organized.
Yeah, before we arrive to Dover, I need to talk about the ferry itself. If you have ever had the chance to take a cruise, surely it will not surprise you, but for me, this was the first time to experience a floating shopping mall. As you enter you will find money exchange places, coffee and food corner (including Starbuck’s), perfumery, casino games and leather cushioned armchairs. Are you ready yet? 🙂
First glimpses of Dover
The ride takes 90 min, so once you feel that you have passed an hour, please walk up to the open decks and look the way of the course: you will be welcomed by the first friendly but respectable glimpses of Dover’s main attractions: the White Cliffs. (you can make – the first- amazing pictures from the Island)
Welcome to Dover
Arriving to Dover you have options to choose from. The main things to see section covers the White Cliffs, the Dover Castle and the South Foreland Lighthouse. No, it is far from being the full list, since there is the Dover Beach, The Pines Garden, Samphire Hoe, Secret War Time Tunnels and many more, but if you have one day then the carefully choice would be any of the named three.
I arrived at 12pm and my ferry back was leaving at 19:15 (must be there 45 min prior!) that left me with 6 hours to fulfill. My original plan was quite ambitious: walk from Dover to Deal (the next little gem in Kent) and then come back by bus to the port. However, starting to climb the steep, narrow walking routes made me realize I need to lower my aims if I wish to remain in one part by tonight and want to enjoy this place.
So the plan was altered to wonder around UK’s best coastline and enjoy the beautiful cliff-top walks on the White Cliffs of Dover, stop at the most tempting spot for a picnic (yeah, I prepared it all, plaid, cooling bag and all), hike until the Lighthouse and descent back to the port.
Let me tell you, I think this is the most amazing (and realistic) day plan you can create. You will start your hike at the bottom of the cliffs, where your adrenaline level will easily make you climb up to the first view point. That is the (first but not last) moment, when you will astonishingly stop and stare the view for minutes. The stunning pictures of the Harbor to the right and the magnificent cliffs on the left will explain everything why this day trip is a must on the Best trips from Brussels named bucket list.
I will stop poring my endless rain of words on you and instead scroll down till the end to see some of the picture that might be inspiring for you.
Some technical info
- ferry ticket cost: 25 EUR (Calais-Dover return)
- walking through the cliffs is FREE 🙂
- there is a little coffee on the way & restroom
- lighthouse entrance ticket: 5£ (includes a 30 min lovely tour)
– there is an authentic teahouse by the lighthouse (don’t miss it out)
– from the port to the lighthouse it takes 1.5 hour walk (without stopping, siting down, picnic, taking pictures ) – keep in mind if you have a ferry to catch
- last ferry taking passengers (without vehicles) is at 8 pm (if you miss you can sleep on the cliffs)
- Don’t forget your PASSPORT!
- be at the ferry port 45 minutes before your scheduled ferry
- My trip started with a 7.30 am wake up shock, arriving to Dover at 12 pm and going to sleep at 1 am. Just to have an idea of what to expect 🙂
Some further ideas
Evidently one day was not enough to say: ‘Yes, I know Dover’, therefore, I will be back and if so, I will definitely visit the Castle (largest castle in England) , go down to the sea by the wreck (along the way to the lighthouse), visit the Secret War Time Tunnels and rent a bicycle to ride to Deal or Sandwich.
Should you try all these before me, please tell me how it was 🙂
Hope I could pass on my enthusiasm and you will enjoy Dover a much as I did. 🙂