Hello fellow travellers! Are you keen to explore an ancient city which is jam-packed with culture and history, but also home to cosy cafes and lively bars? If so, you’ll love Canterbury!
Canterbury is in the heart of Kent, about an hour’s drive from the edge of London and half an hour from the Kentish coast, which runs along the English Channel. Don’t confuse Canterbury, England with Canterbury, New Zealand, the district which contains Christchurch.
These walls could tell some Canterbury Tales!
The settlement has existed from prehistoric times. Canterbury takes its name from the Celtic Cantiaci tribe who resided there at the time of the Roman invasion in 1 AD. After the Romans withdrew in 410 AD, there was a period when the city was more or less abandoned, before Anglo Saxons began to populate the area. Canterbury’s religious roots go back to the end of the sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great sent missionaries to persuade the Anglo Saxons to convert to Christianity. Bertha, the wife of the King of Kent was a Christian and asked the pope to send the mission. Pope Gregory sent the celebrated Augustine as the first Bishop who built the first cathedral. The city has remained the religious heart of the nation ever since.
The most famous Archbishop of Canterbury was Thomas Becket. Although previously his friend and confidante, Becket fell out with King Henry II and was exiled for some time. On 29 December 1170, four knights murdered the churchman in Canterbury Cathedral after mistakenly thinking the King wished for him to be “removed”. Miracles were soon attributed to the relics of the fallen church leader and he was sainted with Canterbury Cathedral becoming a place of pilgrimage.
Canterbury will be the ruin of me!
There is no airport in Canterbury; the nearest are London City Airport, London Gatwick and London Stansted. Taxis are pricey, however, at over £100 from these airports. The train is a good option. From Gatwick, travellers can take a train direct to St. Pancras station and then change trains to Canterbury. The same for London City, but the trains aren’t non-stop. The train journey requires about two hours but passes through both the City of London and gorgeous Kentish countryside. From Stansted, travellers would catch the train to London Liverpool Street, hop on the tube to London Pancras International, and then take a train to Canterbury from there. Average journey time is 2.5 hours. Canterbury is a small city and is easily walkable. However, buses run throughout the centre and to nearby Kentish towns and villages, and there are plenty of taxi firms. Uber and other ride-sharing apps do not operate in Canterbury.
Here’s a Pro-tip: There are two stations in Canterbury – Canterbury East and Canterbury West – and they operate on different lines. This means that it is essential to know which station is nearest to your accommodation before you book your train ticket.
There is much to see and do in Canterbury but don’t miss the following:
- Experience Canterbury’s religious significance by exploring the three establishments that makes it a World Heritage Site. Canterbury Cathedral was founded in 597, and fully rebuilt in the 11th century. Check out the cloisters and see the ruins of the Abbey that once stood there, as well as the stained glass windows and Gothic features of the interior and exterior.
Give the Old Weaver’s House the Punt!
- Outside the city gates are the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey, which operated as a Benedictine monastery from the sixth century until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. The last World Heritage attraction is St Martin’s Church, the oldest continuously operating church in the country.
- The River Stour – running through the heart of Canterbury, the River Stour is great for punting, or for seeing the city’s sights on a guided boat tour.
- Roman Museum – this interactive exhibition takes visitors back to Canterbury’s founding through various temporary and permanent galleries.
- Westgate Tower – thought to be the last remaining Medieval entrance to the city, Westgate Tower is part of Canterbury’s ancient walls. There is a small museum and you can visit the viewpoint for a scenic view over the city.
- St John Boys House – there are lots of impressive old houses throughout Canterbury city centre, but the 17th century St John Boys House is perhaps the most intriguing, due to its crooked lower level!
- Eastbridge Hospital – this building now operates as an alms-house but used to be used as accommodation for pilgrims visiting the shrine of Thomas Becket. Visitors are welcome to enter and learn about its dynamic history.
- Hiking in Kent – When you need a break from history, why not walk on some of the most picturesque trails in England? The Great Stour Way, Blean Woods Black Trail and the Goodnestone trail are all close to Canterbury and offer a relaxing way to experience nature at its finest.
- Punting – Canterbury is surrounded by water. You can take a relaxing punt up and down the River Stour and even reach the North Sea if you punt east far enough!
Another Pro-tip: While there are some incredible attractions in Canterbury, my favourite part of visiting the city is wandering around the centre, admiring the buildings, and losing myself in the historic backroads. I love wandering around Butchery Lane, which has an imposing view of the cathedral at one end, and Mercery Lane with its overhanging buildings.
Fancy a bite to eat after all that sightseeing? There are some great restaurants in Canterbury that offer delectable British and international dishes.
- The Old Weavers House is in a scenic location along the River Stour. This historic half-timbered building offers a range of European cuisine.
- Tiny Tim’s Tea Rooms is a quintessentially British tea house offering more than 30 types of tea and coffee, as well as snacks and lunches.
- The Corner House is located in a 16th century refurbished coach house and serves up creative meals with seasonal, local produce.
Anyone can roast pork but how many can pea soup?!
If you’re after some post-dinner drinks, check out the following cool places:
- The Lady Luck Bar is acclaimed to be ‘Canterbury’s Rock n Roll Bar’. It’s really fun – especially on summer evenings.
- I love Bramley’s Cocktail Bar for a chilled out vibe. You are sure to relax with an interesting concoction.
- If you want a dance, check out Cuban or Canterbury’s biggest club, Chemistry. You’ll have a great time!
Keeping in with Canterbury’s historical theme, there are some charming places to stay in the city centre:
- Once used by pilgrims, Cathedral Gate dates back to 1438 and now has rooms available for modern-day tourists.
This place comes alive at Knight!
- Broome Park Hotel is a Grade-I listed building, situated about six miles from downtown Canterbury, which is set on a rural estate and has gorgeous gardens along with a swimming pool and sauna.
- For a comfortable and modern hotel right in the centre of Canterbury, visit the ABode Canterbury which is owned by the British actor Michael Caine. The hotel is welcoming and is attached to the Old Brewery Tavern which has excellent food and drinks.
Whether you like history or relaxing in a vibrant village, you’ll love Canterbury. Every time I visit, I make a new “Canterbury Tale”, and I can’t wait to return!