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Driving from Salisbury to Canterbury through Southern Route

I will be traveling with my family from Salisbury to Canterbury this summer--during the latter half of our England trip. We will have already spent 4 nights in London and 1 night in Salisbury (and will be viewing Stonehenge with early access before leaving). We will then stay two nights in Canterbury before returning to London for one night. For the Salisbury to Canterbury portion I had planned to drive the southern route so that we can stop at a few places along the way, like Hastings and Seven Sisters. We do like hiking and scenery, so I was thinking South Downs National Park would be a great stop. I can't find an accurate estimate on how long this drive will take. Does anyone have suggestions regarding this road trip?

Posted by
33336 posts

it will take a lot longer than it looks. If by "Southern Route" (we don't really have one, but I think I know what you mean) you are talking about along the coast, and it will be in summer, you will probably run into a lot of traffic, you will be stopping to look around or you would use the motorway network, and the road is not a fast one.

That's quite a long trip...

Depending on what you want to see and do, a couple of days should do.

Posted by
10 posts

Nigel, I had planned to do it in one day, with our stopping point in Canterbury. We will be traveling on June 11, a Sunday.

I am okay with driving directly to Seven Sisters, etc. and do not need to drive entirely along the coast. I would only include a few stops, so when I say "Southern route," I just mean that I would not take the direct route to Canterbury in order to stop at Seven Sisters.

But I am worried about the length of time it will take to get there and the time it will take to go to Canterbury since it's not a direct route on smaller roads. Do you know how long it would generally take to get to Seven Sisters?

Posted by
6113 posts

If the weather is nice, being a weekend, your journey time could be doubled if heading anywhere near the coast and you may struggle to park. It’s a 3 hour drive from Salisbury to Birling Gap (the Seven Sisters) without traffic. I have experienced fairly regularly Brighton to Birling Gap (only 20 miles) taking over an hour to drive.

Hastings itself isn’t particularly exciting. The small Old Town has charm, but forget the rest of the town, as it’s dreary.

Birling Gap to Canterbury would be a further 2.5 hours.

I would suggest that you either explore the New Forest then take the M3-M25 route to Canterbury or explore somewhere such as Winchester or Sevenoaks and walk around Faversham, Oare Marshes and Whitstable en route to Canterbury.

Posted by
7906 posts

Get ready for heavy traffic.

We have driven in that area and traffic is terrible. New Forest was interesting, but we could not find a parking place anywhere.

Winchester was great.

Posted by
33336 posts

Jennifer has given the numbers I would have done.

It is really a a super abundance of fabulous places to stop either along the way or nearby, so the world is really your oyster as they say. Then again if you want to push through you really don't have much time to stop, and certainly not diverge from the route along the way.

For other readers of this novel, among some of the places one could stop if one had a bit of time are

  • The New Forest
  • Brownsea Island for the red squirrels and the boat trip
  • Winchester, and just nearby Chawton, for Jane Austen (and the preserved steam railway)
  • Portsmouth and all the old ships and shipyard, and Isle of Wight (a very short journey on a hovercraft which connects at the end of a pier and connects with very old London Underground trains which take you to Shanklin for a paddle)
  • Bognor Regis (bloody Bognor) because, well just because you can
  • Worthing (A Handbag?!?)
  • the South Downs
  • Brighton (unmistakable)
  • Lewes
  • the Bluebell Railway, preserved steam railway in a gorgeous setting
  • Sheffield Park and the beautiful gardens and lakes and trees, also has a stop on the Bluebell Railway

Not to rub your nose in it but to help others who might visit that beautiful part of the country....

Posted by
10 posts

Oh my, Nigel! You have me rethinking my trip! Maybe I can try to move a few things around so I can at least stay one night en route to Canterbury. You've given me a lot to think about!

Posted by
6113 posts

I have visited the New Forest dozens of times. If you avoid trying to park in the centre of the villages, there is always somewhere to park. There are plenty of good walks.

There are plenty of interesting places to visit between Salisbury and Canterbury that you could easily fill a week or more.

Posted by
2494 posts

WINCHESTER is well worth a stop on your way east from Salisbury. I also liked ARUNDEL but did not have time to go in the castle.
I have never been to see the SEVEN SISTERS but know that the best view of the cliffs is from the west. It looks to me like you should head to SOUTH HILL BARN CAR PARK by the SEAFORD HEAD NATURE RESERVE & then walk SE towards the coastguard cottages. (I have set Google Maps to show you where this is so click and then zoom to find location),

You might also like to visit BODIUM CASTLE and the quaint town of RYE. All this is a tall order for a day run from Salisbury to Canterbury.

Posted by
5428 posts

New Forest was interesting, but we could not find a parking place anywhere.

For New Forest parking it's worth taking a look at a map of the many cycle and walking routes throughout the park, many are located close to public car parks which should offer plenty of parking options. Finding somewhere to park in Lyndhurst, Lymington etc is more of a challenge but not insurmountable.

Posted by
4305 posts

We did this drive in September but spread the route over 2 weeks as we had a long list of sites we wanted to see. Great idea to do the early access at Stonehenge, it's well worth the money to be right underneath the stones. At 7 Sisters, we spent about 3 hours hiking the paths around the area. When you mention a stop at Hastings, are you thinking of the Battle of Hastings Historic Site? Because It's not in Hastings, but about 20 minutes north. We spent about 3 hours there as well. That will be a long day if you want to make it to Canterbury that day. If you do make adjustments, count me as another that recommends Bodiam Castle which is about 20 minutes north of Battle of Hastings.

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you, Allan. I am now thinking of leaving Salisbury and heading to Beachy Head/7 Sisters as a halfway, overnight stop. Hiking and seeing the 7 Sisters is on my bucket list. The following morning, we would possibly head to Dover Castle for the day and stay overnight in Canterbury 1-2 nights. Would you recommend Bodiam over Dover? My boys are 15 and 14 years old. I liked the idea of the history and war tunnels in Dover...but maybe going from Bodiam to Canterbury is better (skipping Dover). What are your thoughts? Now I wish I had made a longer vacation! Too much to see and do!

Posted by
585 posts

Another castle to consider is Pevensey, it’s a 2,000 year slice of. British history, With remains of Roman fortifications, medieval keep, nearby Martello towers from the Napoleonic War, anti-aircraft emplacements from WWII. A friend and I spent an afternoon exploring the castle. Pevensey village is quite nice with a pub for lunch.

The Hastings battlefield site is accessed from the town of Battle.

Posted by
4305 posts

AimeeB, Bodiam is a castle ruin and a beautiful photo op, and can be seen in an hour, some will love it, others will be unimpressed because it's a ruin, but you can climb one of the towers. I'm the wrong one to ask about Dover Castle. It can be turned into a day long visit but we left after an hour and a half, frustrated and underwhelmed. If you have some time here's my Trip Report. https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/trip-report-the-south-of-england Day's 9, 10 and 11 talk about Seven Sisters, Bodiam and Dover.

Have you driven in England before? The secondary highways including the one to Bodiam is narrow and curvy. When planning your route, I'd recommend you look at getting to the primary roads as quickly as possible.

Posted by
33336 posts

Would you recommend Bodiam over Dover?

really a case of apples and oranges.

Bodiam Castle really looks and feels like the castles people have grown up reading about, and the ruinedness adds to the atmosphere. It hasn't been a working castle for around 500 years but it is seriously impressive. Pictures and visitor information at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/sussex/bodiam-castle

Dover Castle is very impressive from its absolute bulk. It is so huge that tunnels aren't even noticed. It was of immense importance in the two World Wars and for long before. The medical wing and tunnels is very interesting and just as it was. All the history is there to see. I don't know how seeing it would register as a medieval castle - more of a highly fortified defensive position - although the castle and the tunnels are medieval and they even have a Roman lighthouse. The information is at https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dover-castle/

If you are a member of either English Heritage or National Trust, Bodiam Castle is National Trust; Dover Castle is English Heritage. The White Cliffs of Dover are National Trust. Birling Gap and much of the Seven Sisters is National Trust but open to all without charge. There is a charge at the Birling Gap carpark, it is free for members.

Bodiam Castle also has the nearby preserved steam railway.

One better than the other? Not in my mind. I have visited both and very much liked both. You would probably spend more time at Dover Castle, but Bodiam Castle is exquisite.

I wouldn't be able to rank them - I like both very much.

Time for you to start planning for the return visit I think...

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you, all, for your advice. I have decided that I had way too much planned and needed to scale back. I plan to cancel the Canterbury/Dover portion of my trip. That leaves me with the itinerary below. Does this look like a solid plan?

  1. London 4 nights
  2. Train to Salisbury 1 night; pick up rental car; visit Stonehenge for early access sunrise after staying in Salisbury
  3. Drive towards Seaford/Birling Gap, stopping in Winchester, possibly Arundel along the way.
  4. Stay 2 nights near Beachy Head/Birling Gap...explore area
  5. Train from Eastbourne to London for one night.
  6. Depart from St. Pancras to Paris
Posted by
4305 posts

Are you dropping off your car in Eastbourne? What day will that be? Check the hours for the car rental place, it might be different in the summer, but Saturdays can have limited hours and closed Sunday.

Bodiam Castle is only 50 minute drive away from Eastbourne if you have time during your stay there.