This is what the M2 always wanted to be, the main road from London to the Channel Ports, and one of the principal radial routes from the capital, the M20 is not just the road to Kent but also the road to Europe. So why is the important-sounding M2 still just a bypass, and the M20 the main road?

It dates back to the 1950s when direction signs pointing to the continent had a special white-on-green colour scheme (standing out from the otherwise entirely back-on-white signs). These were used for traffic heading to the Channel Ports and also Harwich in Essex. In Kent, even then, the green signs were sending port traffic down the A20, avoiding the Medway Towns.

Over time, more of the A20 was bypassed and the fragments joined to become the M20. Even so, the Department of Transport saw no reason to finish the route, and the section between Maidstone and Ashford was missing for many years.

In the early 1990s it was realised that most people coming through the Channel Tunnel would be driving off (certainly at this side, where the onward rail link has only just been finished to much fanfare). The answer was to connect up the bits and form the M20 we know and love today. The M2 was left as a short bypass while the M20 was extended and upgraded by the good fortune of being the road to Folkestone.

The M20 now runs from London all the way to Folkestone, with an extension of motorway-standard A20 to Dover. It's a very stereotypical motorway too, with three lanes all the way to Folkestone through rolling green fields and not a lot else happening. Beware the newest 1990s sections for their noisy concrete surface.

Start
London
End
Folkestone
Passes
Maidstone, Ashford, Channel Tunnel
Connects to
Length
52 miles
Open Junctions Section
Dec 1960 J5-7 Maidstone Bypass West Opened as A20(M)
Sep 1961 J7-8 Maidstone Bypass East Opened as A20(M)
Dec 1971 J3-5 Ditton Bypass
May 1977 J1-2 Swanley → West Kingsdown
Feb 1980 J2-3 West Kingsdown → Wrotham
Oct 1981 J11-13 Sellindge → Folkestone
Dec 1981 J9-11 Ashford → Sellindge
May 1991 J8-9 Maidstone → Ashford

Exit list

Junction   Londonbound               Coastbound  
1
28.5 km
The NORTH (M1 Link, M11 Link)
Dartford Tunnel
The WEST
M25 Link
Swanley B2173
London A20


B2173

M25

A20
LONDON
A20


M25
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
11 miles, 3 lanes 7 miles, 3 lanes
2
40.5 km
A227

A20
A20

A227
Paddock Wood
Wrotham
A20 (B2016)
Gravesend
Tonbridge
(A227)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
   
3
45.5 km
Gatwick (M23 Link)
Heathrow (M4 Link)
Sevenoaks (A25)
M26 Link (M25 Link)
M26
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 3 lanes 6 miles, 3 lanes
4
50 km
West Malling
Rochester
Tonbridge
A228
A228 A228 West Malling
New Hythe
Rochester
A228
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
5 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
5
54 km
Aylesford
(A20)


(A20)
Maidstone (W)
Aylesford
(A20)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
2+3 lanes 2 miles, 2+3 lanes
6
56.5 km
Maidstone
Chatham
A229
A229
A229
Maidstone (C)
Chatham
A229
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
2 miles, 4 lanes 2 miles, 4 lanes
7
59.5 km
Maidstone
Sittingbourne
Sheerness
A249
A249 A249 Maidstone
Sheerness
Canterbury
Ramsgate
A249
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
4 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
8
65 km
Maidstone (E)
A20
Services Maidstone
(A20) Lenham
A20
Services Maidstone
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
13 miles, 3 lanes 13 miles, 3 lanes
9
86.5 km
Ashford (W)
A20
Tenterden
Canterbury (A28)
Faversham A251
A20
(A28)
A251 Ashford
A20
Faversham
A251
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 3 lanes 2 miles, 3 lanes
10
90.5 km
Ashford
A292
Brenzett
A2070
A292

A2070
B2164

A20
Ashford
A292
Brenzett
A2070
Canterbury
(A28)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
7 miles, 3 lanes 7 miles, 3 lanes
11
101.5 km
Canterbury
B2068
Hastings (A259)
Hythe (A261)
Folkestone Race Course
Services Westenhanger
B2068
(A20)
(A259)
(A261)
B2068 Canterbury
B2068
Hastings (A259)
Hythe (A261)
Folkestone Race Course
Services Westenhanger
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
4 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
11A
106 km
Channel Tunnel
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
  1 mile, 3 lanes
12
107.4 km
Cheriton
Channel Tunnel
A20
A20 A20 Cheriton
Channel Tunnel
A20
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
1 mile, 2 lanes 1 mile, 2 lanes
13
109.4 km
A20

A259






A20
COAST
Dover
Canterbury
Ramsgate
A20
Folkestone
A20
LanesLanesLanesLanes Signs LanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
Routes

Picture credits

With thanks to James Harland, Alan Cottage, Paul Dawson, Scott Woodrow, Ritchie Swann, Andy Emmerson, James Armitage and Tom Sutch for information on this page.