The cliffs of Dover were mentioned by Julius Caesar in his account of the Roman invasion of Britain in 55 BC. Shakespeare too makes reference to them in 'King Lear' and the lines beginning "There is a cliff, whose high and bending head looks fearfully on the confined deep" are commemorated by Shakespeare Cliff to the west of the town.

Throughout the centuries, the chalk cliffs have been a symbol of home to Britons abroad and coupled with bluebirds in the popular song of World War II, they provided a world-wide symbol of peace. Although any visitor hoping to see the bluebirds will be disappointed as they were artistic licence on the part of the song writer - obviously bluebirds sounded more romantic than sea gulls!

The cliffs were formed in the Cretaceous Period (Mesozoic Era), which commenced about 136,000,000 years ago, and are essentially marine in origin, probably originating in deep, open sea. They consist mainly of upper, middle and lower chalk, i.e. white, soft pure limestone composed ofcountless shells. The top of Shakespeare Cliff for example, consists of nodular upper chalk with flints, the centre of middle white and nodular chalk and the bottom of chalk (glauconitic) marl and grey chalk on a base of gault and greensand.

Numerous fossils have been discovered in the chalk, ranging from shark's teeth, ventriculites, micrasters and many sponges in the upper chalk, to large pectens, palatal teeth oysters, ammonites, remains of saurians and brain corals in the middle and lower chalk.

A large area of cliff-top to the east of the town, known as Langdon Cliffs, is now owned and managed by the National Trust.