The A256 is a key road running north-south through East Kent which connects the Thanet towns to Dover. It is operated by Kent County Council as a primary route, and has seen investment in the past to connect traffic to the Port of Ramsgate, and to the Pfizer research centre in Sandwich.
The road begins in the outskirts of the Thanet town of Broadstairs, at a roundabout with the A255 where it heads westwards through the Westwood Retail Parks via "Westwood Road".
The A256 then passes 2 roundabouts with residential estates on the left before arriving at a couple of smaller roundabouts with exits to the left and right into the various retail parks. Most of these parks were built during the early 2000s. Also in Westwood, the A256 meets a large roundabout with the A254 Margate Road. Here the A256 heads south-westwards, called 'Haine Road', passing Westwood Cross shopping centre on the left (built on the former Haine Hospital site) at a roundabout with Manston Court Road (on the right). The A256 then briefly bypasses the village of Haine, along New Haine Road, constructed in early 2009, which heads southeastwards alongside Westwood Cross shopping centre, before heading southwestwards after another roundabout, and passing The Marlowe Academy. At the next roundabout, with the Euro Kent Business Park situated on the left, the A256 then rejoins its original route along Haine Road.
Here, the route of the A256 takes a more southerly direction, travelling in the direction of Sandwich. The three cooling towers of Richborough Power Station could once be seen in the distance, before they were demolished in March 2012. Further along Haine Road the A256 becomes dual carriageway for about 300 metres (0.2 miles) with its junction with the B2050 Manston Road.
Approximately 600 metres (0.4 miles) after this junction, the A256 encounters a double roundabout junction, known as the "Lord of the Manor" roundabout, named after the pub on the junction. At the first junction there are exits for the A299 (formerly A253) towards London and Canterbury, and for the (joint) A256/A299 towards Ramsgate and Dover. A railway line separates the two roundabouts and passes underneath the main dual road A256/A299, with high white concrete walls on both sides of the road. At the second roundabout there are exits for the A299 travelling towards Ramsgate and the A256, travelling southwards, towards Sandwich. It is here where the A256 becomes a primary route.
Shortly after the Lord of the Manor roundabout, the A256 Sandwich Road bends to the right, now facing a more south-westerly direction as it enters the village of Cliffsend. The majority of the built-up area of Cliffsend is on the western side of the road. The land to the south of the village is relatively flat and low-lying (just 3 metres above sea level). It previously formed the Wantsum Channel which used to separate the Isle of Thanet from mainland Kent. The famous Viking Ship 'Hugin' sits on the east side of the A256, separating the road from the sea. St Augustines Golf Club is situated next to the A256 south-west of Cliffsend. Cliffsend also forms the boundary on the A256 between Thanet District Council and Dover District Council.
The single road then travels through low and flat land, passing Richborough Port, Castle, and disused Power Station. A Subway and petrol stations are also situated on the left-hand and right hand sides of the road, in between the road and Sandwich Bay. The River Stour, which previously formed part of the Wantsum Channel, runs parallel on both sides of Ramsgate Road. At the next roundabout, the original A256 Ramsgate Road leaves the new bypass, and heads towards Sandwich town centre. The bypass itself continues the route of the A256 in a slow semicircle to the west of the town of Sandwich. The bypass is composed of four roundabouts; the second roundabout has three more exits – the A257 Canterbury Road heading towards Canterbury, a minor road travelling towards Sandwich town centre (previously the A257 before the bypass was built) and the A256 bypass travelling southwards towards Dover. At the third roundabout of the Sandwich bypass, there are three more exits – the former A256 towards Sandwich, the A258 (which actually continues the Sandwich bypass for a further 0.3 miles) towards Deal, and the A256 Sandwich Road towards Dover. Here the A256 changes to a south-westerly direction, briefly bypassing the village of Eastry for approximately 1.4 miles (2.3 km). Note there are two filling stations (Total & Texaco). There is another petrol station which is Jet nearby. All of them had car washes.
The Eastry bypass ends with a roundabout where the former A256 rejoins the current route known as "Dover Road" onto a dual carriageway. However, as the A256 continues to travel southwards, about a mile further south the old A256 Dover Road leaves the new bypass and passes through the village of Tilmanstone, whilst the current A256 dual carriageway diverts on a more easterly journey. Approximately 1.8 miles (2.9 km) further south from this junction is a roundabout where the old A256 one again rejoins the dual carriageway – there is also a minor road on the left heads towards East Studdal.
Shortly after this roundabout, the A256 splits once again and continues on a dual carriageway bypass whilst the former A256 Sandwich Road travels through the village of Whitfield before arriving at a large roundabout south of Whitfield, with the A2. The current A256 dual carriageway actually arrives at a junction with the A2 dual carriageway a further 0.4 miles (0.64 km) to the east, where the A2 and A256 merge and travel westwards for 700 metres until the roundabout at Whitfield.
This is where the A256 loses its primary route status and also becomes a single road, travelling south westwards briefly for (approximately) 0.6 miles, before turning left onto London Road, heading towards Dover town centre in a south-easterly direction. Roughly 0.6 miles (0.97 km) along London Road and the A256 enters the built up area of Buckland and travels downhill towards Dover.
Soon after passing underneath a railway bridge, a one-way system is encountered where the road number A256 is given to both Buckland Avenue and London Road which form part of the one-way system. Eventually, after meeting the A258 once again on the downhill part of the one-way system, the A256 terminates on the A20 Townwall Street, which runs parallel to the coastline, north-eastwards towards the A2 Jubilee Way and south-westwards towards Folkestone and the M20 motorway.