Canterbury, Kent is a cathedral city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city lies on the River Stour and has a rich history and culture, making it a popular tourist destination. This ancient city is less than an hour’s train from St Pancras, and with its beautiful architecture, charming little streets and lush green spaces, there are plenty of interesting things to do in Canterbury.
The city is best known for its UNESCO World Heritage cathedral. Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and is one of the oldest Christian structures in England. The cathedral dates back to 597AD when the monk Augustine arrived in Canterbury to spread the word about Christianity. There isn’t much remaining of the original cathedral, and the cathedral that we see today is a combination of extensions and renovations carried out over the last 900 years. The architecture of the cathedral reflects the attitude towards religion in the 12th century – grand, extravagant buildings that towered up towards the heavens.
The cathedral is perhaps best known as the site of the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop who was killed by King Henry II’s followers in 1170. This made the cathedral one of Europe’s most esteemed pilgrimage sites, and today you can even stand in the exact spot he died. Other highlights of the cathedral include a Romanesque crypt from the 11th century, a Gothic Quire from the 12th century, and a Perpendicular Nave from the 14th century. You can trace the footsteps that pilgrims made by joining a guided tour, or explore at your own pace with an audio tour.
Things to do in Canterbury
Boat tour on the River Stour
A boat tour is a great way to discover Canterbury from a unique point of view. Glide down the River Stour and admire the city’s landmarks, including Greyfriars Chapel, Eastbridge Hospital and the Dominican Priory. The Canterbury Historic River Tours is an award winning company known for their entertaining and humorous interpretation of Canterbury’s history, and have been running since 1932.
The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge
Canterbury’s central museum, library and art gallery is set in a beautiful Victorian building in the city centre. There is so much to discover at the museum, including sculptures, mosaics, jewellery, glassware, pottery and much more. Some of the items have been excavated from local soils, such as archaeological collections dating back to Anglo-Saxon Kent. There are also Ancient Egyptian and Greek antiquities, including a mummified cat. The museum is also known for its vast collection of paintings by local artists including Thomas Sidney Cooper. Visitors can take part in a range of events and activities for the whole family, such as creative workshops and health and wellbeing programmes for visually impaired adults.
Canterbury’s leading performing arts venue was named after Christopher Marlowe, a playwright who was born in Canterbury in the mid 1500s. During its closure from 2009 to 2011, the theatre underwent a massive redevelopment, and has since reopened with a huge programme of concerts, dramas, musicals, contemporary dance shows, ballets, operas, comedy shows and children’s performances. The venue is also frequently used by esteemed companies such as the National Theatre, Northern Ballet and the Glyndebourne Opera. Seating up to 1,200 people, the theatre has classy decor, comfortable seating, and a cafe and terrace.
Despite being a busy city, Canterbury isn’t short of green spaces. The Westgate Parks are four different landscape areas forming a huge space of recreational land alongside the River Stour. Start at Westgate Towers which are surrounded by the beautifully manicured Westgate Gardens which has been open since Medieval times. Toddlers Cove is a children’s play area which was once the site of a Roman occupation. Make your way through Tannery Field, a lush riverside meadow, or head to the woodlands of Bingley Island to see where Stone Age people once lived.
Canterbury Roman Museum
In 1868, construction men were digging up the streets when they discovered a Roman floor mosaic. Further discoveries after WWII found out that the site was in fact the remains of a Roman town house. The museum was established in 1961 to preserve these Roman discoveries. Today, you can learn about what life was like back in the Roman times, and come face to face with rare finds. Check out artefacts like pottery, glassware, silverware, jewellery and figurines. Admire the mosaics on a corridor that dates back to 300AD, or take a look at the reconstructed Roman house and marketplace.
Places to Stay
House of Agnes
House of Agnes was mentioned by Charles Dickens in David Copperfield. This centrally located B&B has bedrooms ranging from the traditional English ‘Canterbury room’ to the exotic ‘Marrakesh Suite’. It benefits from a large Victorian garden that guests can use.
Canterbury Cathedral Lodge
Set in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral, this lodge offers comfortable, modern rooms with views of the cathedral. The private Campanile Gardens surround the lodge, offering an outdoor space to relax in, and hotel residents also have free access into the cathedral.
The Falstaff in Canterbury
Set in a building that dates back to 1403, the Falstaff still has period features in its superior bedrooms, including wood panelling and original fireplaces. The hotel also has a pizza kitchen and a cocktail bar with Italian inspired drinks.
Places to Eat & Drink
This is a cosy, rustic Italian restaurant in the heart of Canterbury. The authentic regional dishes are freshly prepared and cooked, and range from pastas and soups, to steaks and seafood.
Oscar & Bentleys
This is a modern bistro set in one of Canterbury’s historic buildings. It serves classic and seasonal European dishes, and the entire menu is gluten free.
The Old Weavers House
One of the most beautiful old buildings in the city, this quaint restaurant overlooks the River Stour. It serves a range of dishes including pasta, homemade pies, meat and seafood dishes, and light lunches.