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Make a Multi-Level CSS Dropdown Menu in Dreamweaver CS4

Menu Preview
Menu Preview
Dreamweaver CS4Traditionally, multi-level dropdown menu navigation has been done in JavaScript. These kinds of menus can be very confusing to code, and more confusing to go back and edit later. Do it better and more beautifully with CSS and Dreamweaver CS4.

For this tutorial, we’ll be making a horizontal navigation bar for a zoo. It will have dropdowns and a couple of items will have flyouts to the right. We’ll simplify it the navigation by pretending our zoo has only four animals. I guess we can’t expect too many paid admissions. Luckily, after you’ve completed this tutorial you should be able to adapt this technique for any site.

Preview our menu here.


Step One: Plan Your Nav

It’s really important to get organized before you code. The BluLob Zoo needs three first-level navigation items: Home, Visit Us and Animals. Visit Us will need three second-level items: Hours & Pricing, Maps, and Calendar. Animals will have two second level items – Birds and Beast, and each of these will feature two animals at a third level (Kookaburra and Hammerkop for Birds; Wolverine and Wombat for Beasts).

It will help to create an outline of how we want our navigation organized. This can be done on the computer, but I often find myself sketching things up on Post-It notes or sheets of scratch paper. Here’s my sketch:

Sketch of Navigation Organization
Sketch of Navigation Organization

An alternate outline would look like this:

  • Home
  • Visit Us
    • Hours & Pricing
    • Maps
    • Calendar
  • Animals
    • Birds
      • Kookaburra
      • Hammerkop
    • Beasts
      • Wolverine
      • Wombat

Both of these outlines together will help us visualize how our navigation will be built. Let’s go!


Step Two: Build the HTML

Our navigation bar has two components: the HTML on the web page, and the CSS styling which will be in an external CSS style sheet that can control every page on our site. We’ll start with the basic content in HTML without any styling. Take a look at that second outline above. We need to recreate that in Dreamweaver. Remember to save your file frequently!

  1. Create a new HTML page in Dreamweaver (File > New). Then select Blank Page and HTML. Choose (none) for the layout, and set XHTML 1.0 Transitional as the Doctype. Click Create.
Create a new HTML page
Create a new HTML page
  1. Save the file as menu.html (File > Save As). Click on the Design button in the Document Toolbar.
Save As and Design button
Save As and Design button
  1. Navigation is really just a type of list, so we’ll make our menu a list. In the Property Inspector, click on the Unordered List icon. If you cannot see the Property Inspector, go to Window > Properties.
Unordered List icon
Unordered List icon
  1. Type out your first level navigation: Home, Visit Us and Animals. Press Enter (Mac: Return) after each item. Don’t worry that we appear to be going down rather than across. We will finesse that in the CSS.
First Level Navigation
First Level Navigation
  1. Click with your cursor just after the s in Visit Us. Press Enter/Return and then press Tab. The list should indent and the bullet type should change. This will be for our second-level navigation.
Second-level navigation
Second-level navigation
  1. Type in Hours & Pricing and press Enter/Return. Type in Maps and press Enter/Return. Type in Calendar.
Subnavigation for Visit Us
Subnavigation for Visit Us
  1. Click after the empty bullet at the bottom of the list and press Tab. Type in Birds and press Enter/Return. Type in Beasts.
Subnavigation for Animals
Subnavigation for Animals
  1. Time for our third-level items. Click after the s in Birds. Press Enter/Return and type Kookaburra. Press Enter/Return and type Hammerkop.
Subnavigation for Birds
Subnavigation for Birds
  1. Repeat for beasts: type in Wolverine and Wombat.
Subnavigation for Beasts
Subnavigation for Beasts
  1. Finally, we need to set up each item as a link. We don’t have pages to actually link to yet, so we’ll put in a pound sign (#) which is a sort of link placeholder. Select the word Home. In the Property Inspector, type # in the Link box and press Tab.
Add a link placeholder
Add a link placeholder
  1. Do the same for all the other navigational items.
Add link placeholders
Add link placeholders

All of our basic HTML scripting is done. Now we need to tell Dreamweaver what CSS classes and IDs to use in the HTML. And we need to set up all of our style rules in an external CSS file.


Next: Step Three: Start Building the CSS

79 replies on “Make a Multi-Level CSS Dropdown Menu in Dreamweaver CS4”

Hello! Thank you so much for the article. The only thing I am having trouble with is centering the menu. You can go to my site and see what I mean. Could you please help me with this?

Try this, Cory.

Edit the .dropdown class and add the following two settings in the Box category, Margin subcategory (uncheck “Same for all”):

Right: Auto
Left: Auto

The CSS code then will look like this:

ul.dropdown {
background-color: #cccccc;
padding: 0px;
float: left;
list-style-image: none;
list-style-type: none;
position: relative;
z-index: 597;
margin-top: 0px;
margin-right: auto;
margin-bottom: 0px;
margin-left: auto;

Sorry! Wrap the navigation list with div with its ID set to “nav”. Then create an ID-type CSS rule called #nav, with the margin-left and margin-right set to “auto” as above. You will need to tell it a specific width too for this to work. For your particular menu, the width is 974px.

<div id="nav">
<ul class="dropdown">

#nav {
margin-right: auto;
margin-left: auto;
width: 974px;

Awesome tutorial
nice step by step detail tutorial which are so much useful
I learn a lot
Thanks so much for posting valuable tutorials for us
thanks for your kind effort
Keep up good work
God bless you

very nice.
I have a couple questions:

any way to make it more visually appealing without having to do anything too drastic?

and how do you apply the bar to multiple pages? (this may be a dumb question) but i am a novice college student still learning. your help is greatly aprreciated!

Hi Jordan!

Check out “Changing the Font or Colors” and “Adding a Background Image” on page four of the tutorial.

To apply the bar to multiple pages, you need to put the HTML code onto those pages. In Dreamweaver, you can use the Templates feature to do this (which takes some time to learn but is worth the effort if you work in Dreamweaver a lot).

Thanks for a great idea, Dani. That can be accomplished with background images.

A down-pointing arrow should go on the background image for the first level rule: ul.dropdown.

A right-pointing arrow should go on the background images for the second level rules: ul.dropdown ul and ul.dropdown li:hover.

A plain background image with no arrow should be used for the third level rule: ul.dropdown ul li.


I have tried to create a dropdown menu twice, and still cannot get it to display properly.

When I view (F12) the bar as the menu.htm it appears perfectly, complete with dropdown menus, but when I inseret this into the the main page the dropdowns no longer appear.

Can you suggest a solution to this?

Hello Dawn

Yes I have added the CSS file for the navigation bar to the main html. (does it matter where on the tree it appears?)

Is it a problem, because the file I am adding it to is a template? (dwt) or could it be something to do with the width?

Sorry I’m just really unsure how to fix this problem.

Thank you for your assistance

Hi again! I can’t really diagnose the issue without seeing the files. If you can zip up your site folder (include HTML and CSS file in their respective locations – you can leave out other files), I can try to determine what’s up. If it takes me just a few minutes, I’ll do it for free. Email me at [email protected].

Thank you very very much.. i’d really appreciated it.. and also thanks for the background button image.. very usefull and nice look. have a great day.. 😀

I have made my menu and it’s drop down menus. What I am having problems with is the centering of all 3 main buttons, HOME, PRODUCTS, CONTACTS. I did what you suggested to Cory, but it is not stretching the 3 main categories for the full width of 780px. Suggestions??

Ohterwise, I couldn’t have gotten as far as I have just today! WONDERFUL!!!!!

Hi there,
I have a tiny problem. Menu is working fine, looks really nice… but only in Mozilla. Checked today in Explorer… and nothing. Dropdown is not working at all. Is there any solution?

Most importantly, thank you very much for the CSS tutorial, I had been hunting all over for a really nice looking dropdown bar. I was wondering if you could please help me figure something out. When I view my page in DW (CS4) my last two heading are shown horizontally and not across the page. I know yours does too but my subheadings don’t show, should I keep trying to ignore it since it is functional? I did notice when I add color to the main dropdown head there is a square on the right side that is not colored kinda like the bar is not going all the way over.
Can you please help me with this?

Hello! I need your help. Right now I have everything working except one thing. I have all 4 main headings stacked on top of each other vertically. I would like to have them next to each other horizontally; therefore, the dropdown menus will appear correctly. Can you please help me with this?

Thank you!!

Great article! I’m also still learning how to create websites. I have my css all built and when I put the code in the page it works but isn’t there a way to reference the css so that I don’t have to put the code in on every page?

Very useful post. I’m still learning my way around and have struggled with centering my menu. Now it is right where I want it, even on IE!

This is a wonderful tutorial – works like a dream! One problem – the drop down blocks are set to a red color, but the text on the page underneath it shows through, as if the red is transparent. I can’t distinguish the menu items. I did set the text div to a lower z index, but it does not help. Can you help? Thank you.

I am answering my own question because I figured it out. I had nested div tags. Even though the z indexes were set – it made a difference to just list each div individually, and set each z index appropriately.
Hope this helps someone else…

What a great tutorial – you are awesome. I’m setting this up for a site as a way to “crash course” myself into DW and I’ve learned so much.

Again, thanks for the great tutorial.


Thank you SO much for this tutorial; it is very helpful. I have one problem, which is that my dropdown menu works perfectly in CS4 and displays properly under the “Live View”, but does not display anything but basic links in IE [and I downloaded version 8 hoping that was the issue]. Do you have any idea why they aren’t displaying? Thank you!

Hi Dawn
i really like it and it is really very good tutorial step by step
But i have one problem with this menu
it is work fine in Firefox but it has problem in IE6 please send me solution for this
on my email address
[email protected]

as well as other can also send solution if u have thanks in advance.

I have found your info on creating drop down menus to be incredible – I have spent over two days trying to get this information and you have it clearly and concisely. Every other website (and I’ve been on dozens) either has complicated code with no step-by-step instructions or else the code is “For Sale” Infuriating! Many thanks for your site. Everything so far has worked brilliantly, however I do have one issue. My second level items are never hidden. I have re-entered the info in Menu Magic 2, but they are still visible. Any idea why?

Dawn – I emailed you before regarding hidden 2nd level copy – it’s fine now. One thing though: how do I take this nav bar and put it into a webpage on Dreamweaver? Do I need another bit of code for the ‘table’?
Many thanks.

I have grown in my talents as a web designer after starting in a small communications dept., but have little support and gain training as I can.

I loved and appreciated your tutorial, but wondered if there was a way for me to center the text of each “button” on the initial view. Also, is there a way to have the hover state’s text color change when you go over the top level button and stay that color instead of just changing when you move over the secondary navigation?

Hello, I just want to say thanks for the no nonsense descriptions on how to create a dropdown menu. I was wondering how do I add a sound to the links in this menu? Your assistance is very much appreciated.

I need your help….
actually i m developing a website…
so can u explain me how can i make multilevel dropdown menu which will not be hidden by background image of webpage……
I have tried but the list items of menu becomes hidden by background of my webpage….
so please support me……

Hi Dawn

Fantastic tutorial, really easy to understand and implement.

I was just wondering how to put a transparent colour on the dropdown menu?

Is it adding it as a background image?

Many thanks again


Redoing this site and the only problem I am having is that the dropdown menu under the titles don’t appear. It doesn’t show the dropdown list under About Us, Ministries and Media. Thanks!

I have one problem is that, shall we use this HTML Drop-down code for Make dynamic multi-Level CSS Drop-down Menu.

hello , can you please help me , i`m stuck at making the second , and third level dropdown, i did exactly as you did , except that my list has more items,but everything i do my 2nd and 3rd level wont show , not even in Live View … i don`t know what to do please help me , thanks

great article….thanks…..if you have any info at all on how I can create a multi column drop down menu similar to the one at where I can put both images, links and text in the drop down menu.

Thanks in advance….I really appreciate it!

Excellent tutorial! How do I get the space to the sides of the drop down text links, to also be linkable? Right now only the text is linkable, not the entire 150px wide box.
Thanks in advance.

AWESOME tutorial!!! One thing though, and I am certain it is something that I have not done correctly. Your examples show that when you hover over “beasts”, the “animals” link shares the hover state. When I select a subcategory link, the main navbar link reverts back to the original link state. Do you have any ideas of where I went wrong?? Thanks!

Thx Dawn for wellwritten tutorial. However i miss being able to see the actual HTML-code after finishing step 11 in “design-mode”. Since HTML is what we actually are doing. And because my somehow is not working properly in DW; have to write it with to get indents. As a result im not sure i end up with same code as you..

Thank you so much for this very easy to follow tutorial. I love CSS. I have been wanting a nice, clean, simple drop-down menu and this does it. It beats JavaScript all to heck.

Thanks for the post, been having trouble with it for a quite a long time. Although I can’t get the 2nd and 3rd sub menus to appear in the browser and I did it all. Any help would be appreciated. 🙂

that is really a lot of unnecessary steps to add a basic dropdown menu bar. I thought this tutorial was showing hoe to add sound to the navigation links.

This is a very helpful article. But, when I go to the CSS Rule box, the Selector Name: does not include ul.dropdown. What am I missing?

HI, I am sorry but I tought the script was awesome and I still think it is but it doesn’t work in internet Explorer 9. could someone help me, I haven’t seen a post from Dawn for a while now …

Hello Brother! I really appreciate your work on this marvellous tutorial. You have been of great help to me.




hello i made ur navMenu. but wen i put on my original Dreamweaver site made by photoshop the Navbar isnt lined up with the banner and doesnt extend all the way with the width of the site.i’ve been messing with it a while but cant seem to get right settings put in

I tried the Spry Menu in Dreamweaver for a new site I’m creating, but could not get it to work after repeated attempts. Fortunately, I found your wonderful tutorial for which I am very grateful. I just had one problem with it. On page 4, in the section, “Incorporating the Menu into a Page” copying the code with this method didn’t work for me. I went over everything repeatedly, but step 5 was the problem. Only titles copied when I tried the menu.css button below the document tab.
Is it possible for you to show us where to copy the codes for both menus directly into our code views? Thanks so much for this great tutorial!

Thanks for the tutorial, I have repeated this tutorial several times from scratch, I keep missing something out but cannot work out what. The main navigation bar looks fine but the text only changes color when directly over the text not the button. Then the sub menus in normal state do not have a background color until hover when the #ccc shows. The same issue carries through to the 3rd menu.

Could you advise as to which part of the css I should be checking as I obviously missed something important.

Thanks again

i love the tut but have a major problrm. when I click on a link and try to click on the link back it doesnt take me to the same place. for example if i click on my about us page but click on the home page it doesnt have the same path as the first time. Please help


I just want to ask how to make the third level. Im doing a dropdown menu but I can find how to make the third level in a vertical way. I hope u can answer me. I really desperate!

Thank you for this tutorial.
Its was a great help.
But i have one question..
How to attach this file with

I followed the instructions and things seemed to work. However, on my new website that I am developing (I am a student) I have an image as the top banner and used image maps for the HOME | ABOUT | PORTFOLIO | CONTACT links. I wanted the drop-down menu for items under the PORTFOLIO link. I am using DW4 and CSS.

Not sure if Dawn is reading this anymore… but I also cannot ‘unhide’ the second level items. I did it as per the instructions, but setting visibility to visible doesn’t do anything, not even if I make it ‘important’ to override other things. Only thing I did differently to the article was changing settings as I went to make it look like I need for my site – colours etc. but I’ve been through all the previous commands looking for things to do with visibility or placement in the hope of finding the problem, but to no avail.

I have a web site that I wrote in JavaScript and now I want to rebuild it using DW. I am testing this menu system but I have set borders to 4px width. It turns out that the bottom border of a top box and the top border of a first drop down box overlap leaving everything misaligned. I would have liked to attach an image of it but I can’t do that here, can I? What could be the cause of this?

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