Tucked away in the south-east corner of England, you travel through the pastoral countryside of Kent, ‘the garden of England’, to reach the charming small city of Canterbury. A place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years due to its famous Cathedral, there’s plenty more on offer with its medieval lanes, city walls and pretty gardens, as well as a good selection of places to eat and drink. The compact city centre is best explored on foot so carry on reading for our tips for making the most of your trip if you only have one day in the city.
The city’s stand out attraction is undoubtedly the magnificent Cathedral. It’s right in the centre of the city and well signed so you shouldn’t have any problems tracking it down! Spiritual home of the Church of England, the Cathedral dates back as far as 597AD when St Augustine established his seat (or ‘Cathedra’) in the city.
The Cathedral has long been an important site in English history and, infamously, in 1170, Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral (the exact spot is marked with a striking modern alter). Ever since, the Cathedral has attracted thousands of pilgrims, as told famously in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In more modern times, the Cathedral and Precinct (along with nearby St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church) have been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Buy your ticket at the huge arched entrance way leading into the Cathedral Precinct – the vision and sheer scale of the building’s architecture and craftsmanship is extraordinary. Inside, you can marvel at the huge vaulted nave, lose yourself in the intricate scenes played out in 800 year old stained glass, view the tombs of King Henry IV (who died in 1413) and the Black Prince (who died in 1376), and see the spot where Becket was murdered. Down in the crypt, well-preserved carvings and early Christian paintings sit atmospherically alongside modern sculptures.
The Goods Shed
The Cathedral and surrounding cloisters can easily take a couple of hours to explore fully so, once you’ve finished, it’s probably time for some refreshments. An excellent spot for picking up lunch is the Goods Shed, just on the edge of town by Canterbury West railway station. The converted railway goods shed is permanent farmers market combined with food hall and restaurant. There’s a great range of local artisan producers and shops on show – a bakery, cheesemonger, charcuterie stall and a specialist beer shop, along with traditional butchers and fishmonger. It all makes a great ‘foodie’ venue to pick up some local produce and make up a picnic lunch. If looking for something a bit more formal, head into the excellent on-site restaurant to settle in for an up-market meal (and most of the produce will have come from one of the stalls downstairs so no need to worry about missing out on the farmer’s market experience!).
Head back into the centre of town through the city walls at Westgate. This medieval gatehouse is the largest surviving city gate in England and was originally built in 1380. It is the last surviving of Canterbury's 7 medieval gates (although some of the ancient city walls still surround the city) and you can take in the views over Canterbury’s rooftops towards the Cathedral from the battlements viewpoint. Downstairs, stop for a drink in the Pound Bar & Kitchen, set within the atmospheric former city gaol (dating from about 1830), gaoler's house and police station, which were all extensions to the gatehouse.
If looking for some retail therapy, there’s a great range of shops up and down the high street and in the nearby lanes. From all the major high street clothing brands to more individual boutique shops and larger department stores. For history fans (or to keep the children busy!), look into the Roman Museum. Head underground to view an excellently reconstructed Roman Canterbury which has been built around the remains of an original Roman town house (with original mosaics and under-floor heating). The informative exhibits guide you through how the town (known as ‘Durovernum’ to the Romans) was built, you can stroll through the marketplace, and there’s plenty of artefacts on show.
The Canterbury Tales Attraction is another family favourite. Chaucer’s famous Canterbury Tales were written towards the end of the fourteenth century and tell the stories of pilgrimages to Becket’s tomb. The modern day attraction recreates the sights, sounds and smells of medieval life. Costumed guides prepare you for your journey around some of Chaucer’s most famous tales.
There’s also plenty of spots for settling in for relaxing over a coffee – if stuck, you can’t go far wrong with Café Turquoise. Just a couple of minutes from the Cathedral on cute Butchers Lane, this Turkish / Italian fusion has a great range of cakes and macarons to accompany your coffee.
If staying in the evening, see what’s showing at the Marlowe Theatre. It’s one of the country’s leading regional theatres with a wide and varied programme that includes the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Glyndebourne Touring Opera, and the Philharmonic Orchestra.
For dinner, try to get a reservation at Deesons – widely considered Canterbury’s top restaurant. They pride themselves on using the best produce that Kent has to offer to create British dishes. Much of their produce also comes from ‘The Bunker’, their own five acre smallholding situated on the outskirts of Canterbury. Over the road, La Trappiste is a bit more casual and, as you would expect from the name, has a distinctly Belgium flavour and given the lengthy beer ‘menu’ you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d just hopped across to the continent for the evening!
If you would like any help in planning your trip to Canterbury or would like us to create a tailor-made itinerary for your holiday in Britain, please get in touch.