Enjoy a family day out at the Historic Dockyard Chatham – read our full review here…

Historic Dockyard Chatham Review

by take-a-break |
Updated on
The Historic Dockyard Chatham

In summary: Explore more than 400 years of history, spread over 80 acres, at this maritime heritage destination in Kent. Immerse yourself in Chatham's ship building heritage, walk in the footsteps of the master ropemakers, peer through the periscope of a Cold War submarine, ring the ship's bell on the deck of a Victorian sloop, or command the bridge of a WWII destroyer. The Historic Dockyard Chatham is a great day out for family members of all ages.

When do we visit?

I visited last year during the Easter holidays with my husband and two sons, Odhran, aged 7 and Reuben, aged 4. It was a windy and rainy day in spring. But luckily, most of what there is to enjoy at the Historic Dockyard is sheltered or indoors.

What is there to see and do?

The Historic Dockyard Chatham
HM Submarine OCELOT

HM Submarine OCELOT

Launched in 1962, HM Submarine OCELOT was the last warship built at Chatham for the Royal Navy, and served during the Cold War in the Arctic, Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. It's an impressive size, and was one of the highlights of our visit to the Historic Dockyard. We took part in one of the timed tours that run daily and can be booked on arrival. We loved swinging through the hatches and exploring the submarine's interior and getting a sense of what life onboard was like for the vessel's crew. Children will love peering through the periscope, checking out the dials and controls and pretending to be on a secret underwater mission. For little fans of the cartoon Octonauts, this is an opportunity to allow imaginations to run wild and to pretend to be on a deep sea adventure with Kwazii, Dashi and Captain Barnacles.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham


Launched in 1944, HMS CAVALIER is a CA-class destroyer. It's huge and we enjoyed exploring it at our leisure. The boys were impressed by the huge guns on deck, and it was fascinating to see the small beds the crew slept in, and the general confines of their living space.


A sloop of the Victorian Royal Navy, HMS GANNET was built on the River Medway in 1878. She was designed to patrol the world's oceans, and fly the flag protecting British interests. We were free to explore the vessel on our own time, but there was a very knowledgable member of staff on board, who pointed out lots of features and told us about the ship's history. The rain didn't put the boys off enjoying exploring the deck and ringing the bell.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham

The Ropery

Rope has been made at Chatham Dockyard for more than 400 years, and has rigged some of the mightiest vessels. Today, Chatham is the only one of the original four Royal Navy Ropeyards to remain in operation. The ancient craft of rope making still takes place daily, using traditional techniques mastered centuries ago. I wasn't sure I could sell the idea of watching rope being made as something of interest to my young sons but they really enjoyed the tour, which is included in the entry fee and bookable on arrival. The guide was funny and knowledgable, and told stories that captured the imagination and helped us to feel transported back in time. The boys were also engrossed in the live rope making demonstration.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham

RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection

This is the UK's largest collection of historic lifeboats, and you can explore how lifeboats have changed over the last century through interactive displays, archive film and audio clips.

No. 1 Smithery

Paintings, detailed ship models and artefacts reveal maritime stories of prisoners of war, shipwrecks and heroic actions at sea. No. 1 Smithery is home to the Historic Dockyard's temporary exhibition gallery, which hosts a programme of changing exhibitions throughout the year.

3 Slip The Big Space

Built in 1838, this huge covered slip - a parking space for boats - was, at the time, the biggest wide span timber structure in Europe. Here you'll find vehicles, weaponry and heavy machinery from the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, Royal Engineers Museum, Library and Archive and Imperial War Museum collections.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Commissioner's Garden

Created in the 1940's, Commissioner's Garden was originally intended for the private enjoyment of the Dockyard's resident Commissioner - the most senior official in the Dockyard. See the Edwardian glasshouse, an 18th century ice house, and a 17th Century mulberry tree, and enjoy views of Rochester.

Command of the oceans

These galleries reveal the full dockyard story. Discover how ships, including HMS VICTORY, were designed and built and learn how Chatham Dockyard and its people helped lead Britain to worldwide influence. There are also maritime archaeological discoveries to explore.

Play areas

During a break in the rain, the boys enjoyed a run around the lovely little outdoor playground. They could have spent longer playing here but we had a tour of The Ropery booked in. There's also an indoor soft play area next to the cafe.

What about food and drink?

There's a restaurant by the entrance/exit and a café next to the soft play area. The Mess Deck restaurant offers sandwiches, jacket potatoes and other hot meals including beer-battered fish 'n' chips. There are also sweets treats, and kids hot meals are available for £5.95. At The Wagon Stop Canteen you can enjoy panini, pizza, baked potatoes, cakes and Kentish ice cream. But you're welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy at one of picnic tables around Commissioner's Garden or the Tennis Court Lawn.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham

How long does it take to go around the Historic Dockyard Chatham?

We arrived around 10.30am and left at 5pm. We could have stayed longer, as we wanted to spend more time exploring HMS CAVALIER, but it was closing time. It's hard to fit in enjoying everything at your leisure in one day out at The Historic Dockyard.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham

What age is it most suitable for?

The Historic Dockyard Chatham is a great family day out for all ages - children, parents, grandparents.

How much does it cost?

General admission costs £28.50 online or £32 on the door. A child ticket costs £18 online or £20 on the door. A family ticket (two adults and up to four children or one adult and up to five children) costs £77 online or £85 on the door. If you want to add an additional child to a family ticket this will cost £14 online or £15.50 on the door. Disabled visitors enter at normal price and one carer (with ID) can enter free of charge. But a brilliant thing about a visit to The Historic Dockyard Chatham is you pay for one day but can then visit free as many times as you like for one year.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham

How to get to the Historic Dockyard Chatham

If travelling by car you're advised to use the postcode ME4 4TY. There are plenty of parking spaces and when we visited, parking was free of charge.

The nearest train station is Chatham Station, which is regularly served by Southeastern from London St Pancras, as well as regular services from London Victoria and Charing Cross. Google will suggest that walking from the station is a 25 minute walk. But this is not the correct entrance. Visitors will need to continue along the A231, then follow Dock Road down the hill and turn left at Western Avenue and left again at Main Gate Road to arrive at the visitor car park and entrance. This will take between 35 and 40 minutes. But there are a number of local bus routes. Visit Arriva's website and enter 'Chatham Historic Dockyard' as your destination. A taxi from the station to The Historic Dockyard will take around five minutes.

Tips for visiting the Historic Dockyard Chatham

  • Book tickets online to get the best price

  • Arrive early - from 1 April to 25 October it's open from 10am to 5pm. But at other times of the year it closes at 4pm. There's a lot to see and do so arrive at opening time to make the most of your day.

  • Plan your day - alongside all The Historic Dockyard already has to offer, it also hosts regular exhibitions. So you might want to check what's on before you visit to make sure you don't miss out and have time to squeeze in what you most want to do on your day out. When we visited, there was fantastic sculpture made from tape, which we were able to climb inside of. At the moment the RNLI 200: The Exhibition is not to be missed. It's a brand-new exhibition to celebrate this lifesaving charity's 200th anniversary. Discover the heroic tales of the men and women who have risked their lives to save others. The exhibition will run until 1 September 2024. This is included in your entry ticket cost.

  • Check what events are on - Until 6 May, children can take part in Stormy Stan's Challenge to help round up lifebuoys scattered throughout The Historic Dockyard. This is included in your ticket price. But The Historic Dockyard hosts other events throughout the year, which are not included in your annual ticket, such as Medway Gaming Festival and Salute to the 40s. The Call the Midwife Official Location Tour is also a separate ticketed event.

Take a Break's verdict

The Historic Dockyard Chatham is a unique day out for all the family with so much to see and do. The staff and tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable, and what's better than a day out with the kids where they're learning lots but in a really fun and engaging way? And as it's pay for a day, visit for a year, it really is great value for money. We rate it a 5/5 star attraction and highly recommend a visit.

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