Welcome to Canterbury, a charming city located in the southeast of England. Steeped in rich history and cultural heritage, Canterbury is a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts, nature lovers, and those seeking a quintessential English experience. Known for its iconic Canterbury Cathedral, the city offers a wealth of attractions, from ancient ruins and cobblestone streets to picturesque gardens and fascinating museums.
With its close proximity to London, Canterbury makes for an ideal day trip or a weekend getaway. Whether you’re a fan of medieval architecture, a follower of literary history, or simply interested in exploring the natural beauty of the English countryside, Canterbury has something to offer for everyone.
As you embark on your journey to Canterbury, get ready to step back in time and immerse yourself in a city that has witnessed centuries of remarkable events. From the arrival of the Romans to the pilgrimage of Thomas Becket, Canterbury has played a pivotal role in shaping England’s history.
In this guide, we will take you on a virtual tour of Canterbury, highlighting the must-see attractions and providing useful tips to make the most of your visit. Join us as we delve into the fascinating history, awe-inspiring architecture, quaint streets, and delectable cuisine that await you in this enchanting city.
History of Canterbury
The history of Canterbury dates back over 2,000 years, making it one of England’s oldest and most significant cities. Originally known as “Durovernum Cantiacorum” during the Roman era, Canterbury was a thriving settlement and an important trading hub.
However, it was during the Anglo-Saxon period that Canterbury truly came into prominence. In the 6th century, St. Augustine arrived in England as a missionary and established the Canterbury Cathedral. This event marked the birth of Christianity in the country and solidified Canterbury’s position as the religious center of England.
One of the most significant events in Canterbury’s history is the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170. Becket, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered inside the Canterbury Cathedral by knights loyal to King Henry II. This event not only turned Becket into a saint but also made Canterbury a major pilgrimage site. Chaucer’s famous work, “The Canterbury Tales,” immortalizes the pilgrimage tradition of the city.
Throughout the medieval period, Canterbury continued to flourish as an important religious and cultural center. The Canterbury Cathedral underwent various expansions and renovations, resulting in the awe-inspiring Gothic structure that stands today.
During the Reformation in the 16th century, Canterbury experienced significant religious upheaval. The dissolution of the monasteries and the establishment of the Anglican Church led to the wealth and power of the Archbishop of Canterbury being diminished.
Despite this, Canterbury remained a vital city and played an integral role in the development of England. Today, it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts millions of visitors each year who come to explore its intriguing past and marvel at its architectural marvels.
Immerse yourself in the history of Canterbury as you visit its historic landmarks, wander through its ancient streets, and appreciate the stories that have shaped this remarkable city.
Getting to Canterbury
Getting to Canterbury is convenient and easily accessible from various parts of the UK. Whether you’re traveling by car, train, or bus, there are several options to choose from.
By Car: If you prefer the flexibility of driving, Canterbury is easily reachable via major roadways. From London, take the M2 motorway and follow the signs to Canterbury. The journey takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic conditions. There are various parking options available in the city center, including parking garages and street parking, although it is advisable to check for any parking restrictions or charges beforehand.
By Train: The train is a convenient and scenic way to travel to Canterbury. Direct trains run regularly from London Victoria, London St. Pancras, and London Charing Cross stations. The journey takes approximately 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on the train service. Canterbury has two train stations: Canterbury West, which is closer to the city center, and Canterbury East, which is situated a short walk away.
By Bus: National Express operates regular coach services to Canterbury from various cities in the UK. The bus station is located near the city center, making it a convenient option for travelers. The journey times vary depending on the departure location but typically range from 2 to 3 hours.
By Air: If you’re coming from further afield or internationally, the nearest airports to Canterbury are London Gatwick and London Heathrow. From the airports, you can take a train or coach to reach Canterbury.
Once you’ve arrived in Canterbury, the city center is compact enough to explore on foot. Local buses and taxis are also available for those who prefer not to walk.
Take your preferred mode of transportation and embark on a journey to Canterbury, where a world of history, culture, and natural beauty awaits.
Exploring Canterbury Cathedral
One of the most iconic landmarks in Canterbury is the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral. As the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, it holds immense religious and historical significance.
Approaching the cathedral, you’ll be in awe of its impressive Gothic architecture, soaring spires, and intricate stone carvings. Step inside, and you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of beauty, spirituality, and centuries of history.
The highlight of your visit will undoubtedly be the stunning nave, the central part of the cathedral. Marvel at the grandeur of the towering columns and the intricately designed stained glass windows that let in a kaleidoscope of colors. Admire the works of art and historical artifacts on display, including the tomb of the Black Prince and the awe-inspiring shrine of St. Thomas Becket.
For an even more memorable experience, climb the narrow, winding staircases to the cathedral’s rooftop. From here, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of Canterbury and its surrounding countryside. Take a moment to soak in the beauty and appreciate the architectural masterpiece that is Canterbury Cathedral.
Guided tours are available to enhance your visit and provide a deeper understanding of the cathedral’s history and significance. You can also attend a service or join in the beautiful choral music that fills the cathedral during worship.
Before you leave, make sure to visit the Cathedral Shop, where you’ll find a range of souvenirs, books, and religious items. Additionally, the Cathedral Lodge offers comfortable accommodation for those who wish to extend their stay and fully immerse themselves in the cathedral’s ambiance.
A visit to Canterbury is incomplete without exploring the splendor and spirituality of its magnificent cathedral. Prepare to be captivated by the grandeur, history, and sheer beauty that await you at Canterbury Cathedral.
Strolling through the Canterbury Historic Centre
As you venture beyond the walls of Canterbury Cathedral, you’ll find yourself stepping into the charming and picturesque Canterbury Historic Centre. This area is a treasure trove of quaint streets, medieval architecture, and a delightful mix of shops, cafes, and cultural attractions.
Start your exploration at the bustling high street known as Burgate, where you’ll find a variety of shops, ranging from quaint boutiques to well-known brands. Take a leisurely stroll through the narrow lanes and alleyways that lead off from the high street, such as Mercery Lane and Sun Street, and discover hidden gems, charming tea rooms, and curious antique shops.
Don’t miss a visit to the Westgate Towers, a medieval gatehouse that stands as a reminder of Canterbury’s defensive past. Climb to the top for panoramic views of the city and the surrounding countryside. The Canterbury Roman Museum, located nearby, offers a captivating glimpse into the city’s Roman history with its impressive collection of artifacts.
Continue your walk along the River Stour, where you can enjoy the tranquility of the scenic riverbanks and picturesque bridges. If you’re feeling adventurous, consider taking a boat tour along the river to enjoy a different perspective of the city.
For art enthusiasts, a visit to the Beaney House of Art & Knowledge is a must. This Victorian museum and art gallery houses a diverse collection of artwork, artifacts, and exhibits that showcase the city’s rich cultural heritage.
As you meander through the historic center, you’ll come across remnants of the city walls and fortified gates, providing a glimpse into Canterbury’s medieval past. Make sure to also explore the charming Greyfriars Gardens, a serene oasis of greenery and tranquility, perfect for taking a break and enjoying a picnic.
Throughout the year, the Canterbury Historic Centre hosts various events and festivals, bringing the streets to life with music, food stalls, and vibrant celebrations. Check the local calendar to see if you can join in the fun and festivities during your visit.
Immerse yourself in the history, charm, and vibrant atmosphere of the Canterbury Historic Centre as you stroll through its cobbled streets and uncover the secrets of this captivating part of the city.
Visiting St. Augustine’s Abbey
Located just a short distance from Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s early Christian history. Founded in the 6th century by St. Augustine himself, this abbey was the burial place of the Anglo-Saxon kings and played a crucial role in the spread of Christianity in England.
As you step onto the grounds of St. Augustine’s Abbey, you’ll be transported back in time. Explore the beautifully preserved ruins of the abbey, including the impressive Abbey Church. Admire the intricate stonework and imagine the monks who once lived, studied, and worshipped within these walls.
Take a leisurely stroll through the captivating gardens, which now occupy the former cloister. As you wander among the ruins, enjoy the peaceful ambiance and take in the beauty of the surrounding greenery and vibrant floral displays.
Be sure to visit the modern museum and exhibition center, which provides a detailed insight into the history and significance of the abbey. Learn about the influence of St. Augustine and the role of the monastery in the religious and cultural life of medieval Canterbury.
For a deeper understanding of the site, it’s highly recommended to join one of the informative guided tours led by knowledgeable staff members. These tours offer valuable insights and stories about the abbey’s past, enriching your experience and bringing the history to life.
St. Augustine’s Abbey also features a gift shop where you can find unique souvenirs, books, and religious items. There is also a tearoom where you can enjoy a cup of tea or indulge in some delightful treats while taking in the serene atmosphere.
Immerse yourself in the tranquil beauty and historical significance of St. Augustine’s Abbey, and marvel at the enduring legacy of this important religious site in Canterbury.
Discovering the Canterbury Tales
Step into the world of Geoffrey Chaucer’s literary masterpiece by visiting The Canterbury Tales, an immersive museum that brings his famous tales to life. Located in the heart of Canterbury’s historic center, this unique attraction allows visitors to embark on a captivating journey back to medieval England.
As you enter the museum, you’ll be greeted by costumed guides who will take you on a simulated pilgrimage. Join a group of fellow travelers and prepare to be entertained and enchanted by the tales of Chaucer’s memorable characters.
Each room within the museum represents a different story, complete with lifelike animatronic characters, intricate sets, and atmospheric lighting. Experience the tales of the Knight, the Miller, the Pardoner, and many others as their stories come to life in a truly immersive way.
During the interactive tour, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with the characters, ask questions, and even participate in medieval games and activities. The lively and humorous guides will ensure an engaging and entertaining experience for visitors of all ages.
As you progress through the museum, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of Chaucer’s writing, the social dynamics of medieval society, and the challenges faced by the pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral.
After the tour, take the time to explore the museum’s exhibition area, which showcases artifacts and displays related to Chaucer’s era. Uncover fascinating insights into the language, culture, and customs of the medieval period.
Before you leave, be sure to visit the gift shop, where you can find a selection of Chaucer-related books, souvenirs, and medieval-themed merchandise to take home as a memento of your experience.
Whether you’re a fan of Chaucer’s work or simply curious about the medieval world, The Canterbury Tales museum offers a captivating and immersive journey that brings history and literature to life.
Enjoying a Traditional English Lunch
No visit to Canterbury is complete without indulging in a traditional English lunch. The city is home to a plethora of charming eateries, ranging from cozy pubs to quaint tearooms, where you can savor classic dishes and experience the warmth of English hospitality.
For a truly authentic experience, head to one of the traditional pubs in the city center. These establishments exude history and charm, with their wooden beams, cozy fireplaces, and hearty meals. Feast on classic British dishes such as fish and chips, bangers and mash, or a succulent Sunday roast. Pair your meal with a pint of locally brewed ale or a refreshing glass of cider for the perfect complement.
If you’re in the mood for something a bit lighter, Canterbury is also known for its delightful tearooms. Step into these charming establishments and treat yourself to a traditional afternoon tea, complete with finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and jam, and a selection of fine teas. Bask in the peaceful ambiance as you savor each bite and sip, taking a moment to relax and soak in the quintessential English charm.
For those with specific dietary requirements, Canterbury offers a range of options, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free choices. Many eateries cater to various dietary preferences, ensuring everyone can enjoy a delicious meal while exploring the city.
Whether you choose a pub, tearoom, or a restaurant, dining in Canterbury provides the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culinary culture and sample the flavors of traditional English cuisine.
As you enjoy your meal, take the time to soak up the atmosphere and the camaraderie of fellow diners. Engage in friendly conversation with locals and travelers, and perhaps even swap stories of your Canterbury adventures.
Indulging in a traditional English lunch is not just about nourishing your body, but also embracing the customs and traditions that have shaped the culinary landscape of England. It’s a chance to experience the heart and soul of Canterbury’s food culture while creating lasting memories of your visit.
Shopping in Canterbury
When it comes to shopping, Canterbury offers a unique and diverse retail experience. The city is brimming with independent boutiques, quirky shops, and well-known brands, offering something for everyone.
Start your shopping adventure at the bustling high street, which is dotted with a mix of popular retailers, fashion boutiques, and specialty stores. Explore the well-known brands and find the latest fashion trends, or delve into the smaller independent shops that offer unique and one-of-a-kind items.
For those seeking a taste of local flavor, Canterbury is home to an array of artisanal and craft shops. Browse through the charming shops selling handmade jewelry, ceramics, textiles, and other locally crafted goods. These stores offer the perfect opportunity to find a special souvenir or gift that captures the essence of Canterbury.
To delve into Canterbury’s rich history, visit the Old Buttermarket, a historic building that houses several shops. Here, you can explore vintage boutiques, antique stores, and bookshops filled with old tomes and literary treasures.
Take a detour from the city center and venture into the narrow lanes and alleys of Canterbury, such as Palace Street and Beer Cart Lane. These hidden gems are lined with quirky independent stores, where you can discover unique clothing, handcrafted goods, and artisanal treats.
For food enthusiasts, a visit to the bustling Canterbury Farmers’ Market is a must. Held every Wednesday and Friday, the market offers an abundance of fresh produce, local delicacies, and artisanal products. Pick up some locally sourced ingredients and create your own culinary masterpiece back home.
Additionally, don’t miss exploring the elegant Whitefriars Shopping Centre, which houses a mix of big-name brands and independent stores. Here, you can find everything from fashion and beauty to home goods and electronics, all under one roof.
As you shop, take the time to soak in the charming ambiance of Canterbury’s historic streets, with their timber-framed buildings and vibrant atmosphere. Pause for a cup of tea or coffee in one of the many inviting cafes and watch the world go by.
Whether you’re looking for designer fashion, unique souvenirs, or locally crafted goods, shopping in Canterbury provides an enjoyable and rewarding experience that will leave you with treasured memories and perhaps a few bags of delightful finds.
Canterbury, with its rich history, captivating architecture, and enchanting atmosphere, is a city that truly captures the essence of England. From the awe-inspiring Canterbury Cathedral to the winding streets of the historic center, there is no shortage of experiences to indulge in.
Immerse yourself in the ancient world as you walk in the footsteps of pilgrims, explore the ruins of St. Augustine’s Abbey, and soak up the atmosphere of the Canterbury Historic Centre. Discover the stories of Chaucer’s pilgrims at The Canterbury Tales museum and indulge in a traditional English lunch at a cozy pub or tearoom.
Whether you’re a history buff, a literature lover, or simply seeking a captivating getaway, Canterbury has something for everyone. The city’s charm and beauty will transport you to a bygone era, allowing you to experience the legacy of the past while enjoying the comforts of the present.
As you explore Canterbury’s enchanting streets, take a moment to appreciate the intricate details of the architecture, the welcoming faces of the locals, and the vibrant atmosphere that fills the air. Engage with the city’s history, immerse yourself in its cultural offerings, and savor the flavors of traditional English cuisine.
Whether you’re embarking on a day trip or planning a longer stay, Canterbury promises an unforgettable experience that will leave a lasting impression. Let this historic city cast its magical spell on you with its stories, traditions, and timeless beauty.
So, pack your bags, prepare for a journey through time, and get ready to create cherished memories as you explore the captivating city of Canterbury in all its glory.