8 Historical Places to Visit in Kent

Kent’s coastline has seen warfare and drama spanning over 2,000 years. Discover castles erected by kings, the home of Charles Dickens, and ruins from Roman and Norman conquests.

May 31, 2024By Katie Parr, LL.B. Law

historical places visit kent


The county of Kent may be bursting with greenery, but there is plenty of evidence of the skirmishes that took place over the years. This article explores some of the best historical places to discover in Kent, from pristinely kept castles and medieval churches to the quaint Victorian home of Charles Dickens and the booming industry of TNT in the town of Faversham. Of the many magical places in Kent, these are the top eight historical locations that are worth a visit on an English summer’s day.


1. Learn About the Role of Dover Castle in Britain’s Military & Royal History

kent dover castle
Dover Castle, 2022. Source: Herman.vandenbroeck, Wikimedia Commons


This magnificent castle sits high above Britain’s famous White Cliffs of Dover. Built shortly after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, in which the Norman-French army beat the English army, this castle has seen many wars, sieges, and remarkable moments in history. The castle played a vital role in both the First World War and the Second World War as headquarters to the local garrison in both wars and headquarters to the Royal Navy in the later war. The castle also played a critical role in “Operation Dynamo,” during which 338,226 British and Allied troops were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk to evade German capture or worse.


kent dunkirk evacuation
British troops line up on the beach at Dunkirk to await evacuation, circa May 26-29, 1940. Source: Imperial War Museum


The castle commands the shortest sea crossing between England and Europe, known as the Strait of Dover. The present-day castle was first built around 1180 by King Henry II. Prior to these works, the area served as a hill fort in the Iron Age (800 BCE-43 CE), and then sometime after the Roman invasion of England, construction works at the mouth of the river Dour began. Plans were to build a fort for the Roman fleet patrolling the eastern Channel. The fort was later demolished in 215 CE and rebuilt in 270 CE. A lighthouse (pharos), built in an interesting octagonal shape by the Romans, stands next to a church called St Mary in Castro that dates back to 1000 CE.


dover castle keep
Dover Castle Keep, 2013. Source: Michael Garlick, Wikimedia Commons

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Of the 80 acres of grounds featuring incredible infrastructures, the medieval castle is packed full of history, telling stories of lavish construction by Henry II and the castle’s resistance of two sieges (1216 and 1217) during the First Barons’ War. The castle would eventually become one of the most expensive castles in Europe following further expansion efforts by Henry III.


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Dover Castle Aerial Panorama, 2017. Source: Chensiyuan, Wikimedia Commons


Although there are periods of no recorded history of the castle, it is known that it played a vital role in the lives of Royalty up until 1625. Graffiti can be visibly seen in many areas, left by French prisons during the Nine Years’ War (1688-97) and Spanish prisoners held captive during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14). The castle is open to the public, and there is plenty to discover.


2. Step Back in Time at Godinton House and Gardens

kent godington house
Godinton House & Gardens, 2018. Source: Oast House Archive, Wikimedia Commons


Godinton House and Gardens date back to the 14th century. Today, the property has undergone restoration and is presented as a house, not a museum, so it’s easy to imagine life as an inhabitant of the estate 600 years ago. Situated in the heart of the county, Godinton House boasts a fascinating collection of art, furniture, and miscellaneous historical items.


Set in a working estate, it is possible to walk among the gardens and discover the famous yew hedge and walled gardens that have been kept so as to reflect the original designs created by Reginald Blomfield in 1898. A visit to the estate will be a dive into British history spanning Medieval times, the Jacobean years and finally into the Victorian era.


3. Roam the “Rounds” at Deal Castle

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Deal Castle from the South, 2018. Source: DeFacto, Wikimedia Commons


Set in the seaside town of Deal, this Tudor artillery castle was built in 1540 and stands in excellent condition to this day. Under the instructions of Henry VIII, this was one of three castles built to defend against invasion from the French and the Holy Roman Empire. The castle has a moat, along with 66 firing positions for artillery that defend its keep and six inner and outer bastions.


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Deal Castle Aerial View, 2011. Source: Lieven Smits, Wikimedia Commons


Deal Castle was decommissioned in 1904, and despite suffering some destruction from German bombing in the Second World War, the iconic style and shape of the castle were not impacted. Seen from above, the castle has a distinctive outline, the majority of which can be explored today. It’s also possible to roam the “rounds,” which are the underground tunnels, view artifacts, and learn more about Henry VIII’s influence on England’s plans for defense during his reign.


4. Wander Among the Remains of Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre

richborough roman fort
Richborough Roman Fort, 2008. Source: Midnightblueowl, Wikimedia Commons


In 43 CE, the Romans arrived in Britain, and the area of Richborough became a pivotal trading point situated at the very entrance to what was now “Roman Britain.” Further along in history, the area would be home to a Saxon Shore fort (built between 277-285 CE) on the cusp of the late Roman Empire (284-641 CE). Today, it’s possible to walk along the Roman gateway (a replica of the original) and wander along Roman amphitheater remains, which would have once been the home to bloody clashes between gladiators, criminals, and wild animals in the name of entertainment for 5,000 spectators.


Look out for ditch defenses built for the Saxon Shore fort, which had huge walls, was five acres in size, and built into a near-perfect square. There are also the remains of a triumphal arch, one of the largest built in the entire Roman Empire, erected in 84 CE after the victorious Battle of Mons Graupius, which likely took place in present-day Scotland and signified the total conquering of present-day United Kingdom.


5. Tour the Home of Author Charles Dickens at the Dickens House Museum

kent dickens house
Dickens House, Broadstairs, 2012. Source: Rob Farrow, Wikimedia Commons


Take a break from the bloody history of Britain’s past with a stop at Dickens House in Broadstairs, Ramsgate. Home to the infamous author Charles Dickens, who was widely considered the best novelist of the Victorian era, his famous works include Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, and The Adventures of Oliver Twist.


Dickens was made famous by his wonderful assortment of fictional characters, along with his astute depiction of the hardships faced by those living in London poverty in the Victorian era. At Dickens House, learn about the Dickens family and see where the author wrote many of his masterpieces at his writing desk. The museum offers a Housemaid’s Tour that transports visitors back to 1838 and allows them to follow the Dickens household maid as she explains how the family would have lived nearly 200 years ago.


6. Visit the Twin Towers of Reculver & the Roman Fort

kent reculver towers
Aerial of the Reculver Towers & Roman Fort near Herne Bay in Kent, 2018. Source: John Fielding, Wikimedia Commons


Set along the English coastline, the Reculver Towers are twin towers of what once was a large medieval church founded in 669 CE. The twin towers were visible to ships at sea and used as a navigation point. Unfortunately, the church suffered significant damage due to vandalism and coastal erosion. The ruins now depict the outline of where the church would have stood. The current towers were rebuilt in the 12th century, and today, a major restoration project is underway.


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Watercolour of Reculver Church by L Sullivan, 1755. Source: Wikipedia


The towers are named after the village of Reculver in which they are located, close to Herne Bay. This site also boasts the remains of one the earliest forts built by the Romans to fend off the violent Saxon raids. In fact, the area has an extensive historic footprint, with Stone Age flint tools and a Mesolithic tranchet ax found in the area. Bronze Age (2500 BCE to 800 CE) and Iron Age (800 BCE to 43 CE) ditches suggest human settlements during both periods.


The ruins of the Roman fort give some idea of how imposing the structure would have been 2000 years ago. Remains of fort walls jut squarely out of the ground. In their full glory, the fort walls would have been three meters thick at the base and would have stood at just under five meters tall. You can find the ruins by exploring the local roads surrounding the Twin Towers.


7. Discover an Explosive History in the Town of Faversham

kent faversham guildhall
Faversham Guildhall, 2017. Source: Marathon, Wikimedia Commons


The market town of Faversham offers a typical English market town experience, with plenty of historical touches to transport you back to the old town of “Fefresham,” as attested in 811 CE. The name Faversham is thought to refer to Roman craftsmen or smiths, with the lost Old English word “fæfere” meaning “smith” and the Old English word for “settlement” being “hām.”


faversham maison dieu
Maison Dieu, circa 1900. Source: Faversham Society Museum Archives, Wikimedia Commons


One of the most gorgeous and fascinating buildings is “The Maison Dieu,” meaning the “House of God.” It can be found just southwest of Faversham’s town center and was built in 1234. The building was commissioned by Henry III as a Royal lodge. It has since served as a working hospital and monastery before becoming a hostel and retirement home. The building is managed by the Maison Dieu Trust and now contains a small museum with Roman artifacts that have been collected from Faversham and the surrounding villages.


The town itself has a fascinating history, including its role in the explosives industry. Faversham established a gunpowder plant in 1573, which was eventually called the Home Works and nationalized in 1759. By the 17th century, the explosives industry was booming, and Faversham had six explosive factories, making it the center of the industry between 1874 and 1919. One of the explosive works opened in the village of Oare, just northwest of Faversham, and it has now been transformed into a visitor center that details the history of the gunpowder industry in the area.


kent oare gunpowder
Visitor Centre at the Oare Gunpowder Works, 2022. Source: Doyle of London, Wikimedia Commons


Unfortunately, working with explosives was extremely dangerous, and many people suffered life-altering industries and lost their lives. The most serious incident happened in 1916 when 150 tons of explosives were ignited in a factory and killed over 100 people. The explosives industry began to decline, with the last factories forced to close in 1934 in light of the Second World War.


Faversham focused its efforts on hop-growing and beer brewing, which was already a growing trade in the town. The famous Shepherd Neame Brewery was officially founded in 1698 in Faversham, and brewing had begun long before this date. Faversham also took up traditional shipbuilding in 1916 with the establishment of the shipyard by James Pollock & Sons (Shipbuilders). Visit the little town to wander the cobbled streets and discover more charming little titbits of history.


8. Watch the Sun as it Sets over St Leonard’s Tower

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St Leonard’s Tower, West Malling, 2014. Source: Poliphilo, Wikimedia Commons


This large square tower is thought to have been built between 1077 and 1108 by a Norman monk who went by the name Gundulf and held the title of the Bishop of Rochester for that period. During the English Civil War, the tower suffered substantial damage, most likely to make it inoperable from a military standpoint, a process called “slighting.” Among various interesting historical facts is the rather amusing story of the missing key. In 1973, a large brass key that gave access to the tower disappeared. It was returned several decades later in 2020, along with a note apologizing for the delay. The note was anonymous, and by that time, the locks had been changed.


Today, it is managed by the English Heritage Trust, and although it is not possible to enter the tower, you can walk around it. This location offers a beautiful last stop to watch the sunset against the walls of a tower that has stood for nearly 1,000 years.

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By Katie ParrLL.B. LawKatie holds a First Class Law Degree LL.B. from the University of Kent, Canterbury. She is a professional writer and owns a small copywriting business. When she’s not creating content for different projects, she’s planning her next travels. She has a keen interest in history and culture of both Great Britain, where she is from, and abroad. She enjoys exploring old bookshops, visiting new places, and walking her dog.