The A256 is an important route along the east Kent coast.
Dover – Sandwich
The road leaves the A20 near Dover seafront and plunges through the town as a non-primary dual-carriageway, (part of the old A2 route). It is then part of a one-way system as it passes by shops until meeting its other half (which runs parallel to the outbound A256, eventually reaching the A20 considerably further east) and climbs gently out of the town. At Kearsney roundabout it takes a sharp right (this is the original southern end of the A256; the former A2 ahead is now unclassified) and climbs steeply to join the A2 at Whitfield roundabout, where it multiplexes eastwards for half a mile. Now primary – and heavily upgraded – the A256 leaves the A2 and gently descends as a fast dual-carriageway through open fields. It eventually singles at the roundabout where the Eastry village bypass starts and narrows for the last quarter of a mile to Sandwich.
Cable laying at Ebsfleet Turning
The Sandwich bypass is a long slow single-carriageway semi-circle to the west of the town. It starts at the roundabout junction for the A258 to Deal. No provision was made to upgrade this part of route to dual carriageway easily when it was built in the 1980s. There is a roundabout roughly halfway along for the A257 to Canterbury and former A257 route into the centre of Sandwich. After crossing the River Stour onto Thanet, the dual-carriageway commences again just before the roundabout for Monk's Way, the route to the Pfizer complex. The bypass finally ends at the roundabout where the A256 meets its original route from Sandwich again.
Sandwich – St Peters
The A256 then passes the site of the former Richborough Power Station, not much of which is left now that the cooling towers have gone. The dual-carriageway continues on, passing a roundabout marking the start of the bypass of Pegwell Bay, and reaching the A299, also a new section of road. This marks the start of a multiplex (which includes a tunnel under a railway level crossing) to the next roundabout with the unusual name of Lord of the Manor. The original route from Pegwell Bay is met again here and the A299 carries on heading east. The A256 breaks away heading north along a short D2 section across the railway line (marked on some maps as a primary spur) to meet the old A299 route at the next roundabout and surrender its primary status. It now heads along a mix of original route and new sections/roundabouts as it passes a mix of semi-urban housing, office parks, rural cabbage fields, and retail complexes to meet the A254 at Westwood. Continuing via a series of roundabouts past modern out-of-town shopping, it ends at the roundabout with the A255 at St Peters, just outside Broadstairs.
The basic route of the A256 has remained unchanged, but most of it now run on a completely different alignment.
The Sandwich Bypass opened in 1981. Prior to this, the A256 ran into the middle of the town and across the Grade II listed Sandwich Toll Bridge. The bridge is single track and was a significant cause of congestion. In 2019-2020, parts of the bypass were closed which reintroduced this bottleneck; since then the Sandwich Toll Bridge has also had to be closed.
In the early 21st century, the road was substantially upgraded as part of the East Kent Phase II access. This included the multiplex with the A299 bypassing Cliffsend, and the severing of the former B2048 near Ebbsfleet, turning that road into two dead ends.
The junction with the A299 (former A253) at the Lord of the Manor has changed several times. Originally a simple crossroads, it was converted to a double roundabout in the 1990s, and to a more complex junction when the East Kent Access Phase 2 work was completed.