For major parts of the Palaeolithic substantial areas of the current southern North Sea and what later became the English Channel were dry land. Those areas, now covered by tens of metres of sea, were occasionally core areas for large herds of herbivores and the animals that preyed upon them, including Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers. This is demonstrated by the large amounts of Pleistocene mammal fossils, artefacts and a Neanderthal fossil recovered during the last one and a half centuries. Any consideration of the Pleistocene occupation history of northwest Europe needs to deal with the fact that a major part of the landscape available to Pleistocene hunter-gatherers is currently submerged under the waters of the North Sea, one of the most prolific Pleistocene fossil-bearing localities world-wide. One also needs to take into account the complex landscape evolution of the southern North Sea basin, with geographically varying successions of marine, lacustrine, fluvial and glacial sedimentation and erosion. This paper gives a short overview of the occupation history of northwest Europe, from its earliest traces at the very end of the Lower and the beginning of the Middle Pleistocene up to the middle part of the Upper Palaeolithic, when this part of Europe became deserted for a period of about 10,000 years. Tentative interpretations and questions raised by the overview will be situated in the context of the information potential of the deposits in the southern North Sea and the Channel area.