When people ask me “What is there to do in Canterbury?”, I’m always quite bewildered. As a World Heritage Site and home to the oldest Christian cathedral in the country, Canterbury is bursting at the seams with things to do, see and discover. Don’t believe me? Here’s my rundown of the perfect day trip to this famous historic city that will have you taking selfies, Instagram-storying and Facebook-liking all day long.
How to Get to Canterbury
Canterbury is easily accessible from London whether you choose to drive, take the train or ride on a coach so it’s perfect for a day trip out of the capital. Whichever transport you opt for, they will all get you to the medieval city wall of Canterbury within two hours. I took the Golden Tours coach (who would say no to air con?) for my adventure to the southeast – ‘the garden of England’.
When we arrived, I went off to explore. As a native Canterburian having grown up in this little cobbled city for eighteen years before moving to ‘the big smoke’, I know my way around better than any London street. I set off to the Canterbury Tales, remembering my visit to this secret cove in the heart of the town centre on a school trip many years ago. Like most fourteen year olds, I took more interest in the salty smells of the next door chip shop than this fascinating storytelling of Canterbury’s gory and terrifying history so I pledged to come back and experience it properly.
The Canterbury Tales
If you’ve never heard of Geoffrey Chaucer, firstly, how and secondly, get Googling! As one of the most famous English writers of all time, Chaucer’s tales of Canterbury are played out with live actors and the sights, sounds and smells of old England in this dungeon-like literary experience. As I ventured into the darkness of the Canterbury Tales, I wasn’t sure what to expect other than apparently I was about to embark upon a pilgrimage to Canterbury with some of Chaucer’s pilgrims as company! As we walked through each scene, actors were there ready to retell old Canterbury in all its fantastic and gruesome honesty and I, for, one loved it. It was a time-travelling adventure without having to hop into any strange disc-shaped machine ready to zap me into the unknown – a must-visit.
No trip to Canterbury would be complete without a trip to its centrepiece – Canterbury Cathedral. Set in the middle of the city centre and surrounded by the cobbled streets, quaint cafes and independent boutiques, the Cathedral is walking distance from both the train stations (Canterbury East and Canterbury West), the coach station and all of the most used car parks in the city. If you’re worried that parking prices may break the bank, don’t worry, tickets to Canterbury Cathedral are reasonably priced at £12.50 for an adult and £8.50 for children.
I ventured into the Cathedral that I could once see from my bedroom window only a few streets away and was blown away by the sheer magnitude of the building. It’s no great surprise that this tremendous Christian Cathedral is that of the Archbishop’s of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England.
One of the highlights of this huge Cathedral was the exquisite stained glass windows that shone multi-coloured rays onto the medieval floor. That paired with the Trinity Chapel and the Shrine of Thomas Becket were an absolute gem and a memory that I took back to London with me.
St Augustine’s Abbey
I walked past this World Heritage Site every day on my way to school from the age of eleven, not paying much attention or giving much thought to what it represents. So as I left the Canterbury town centre and walked the ten minutes up to St Augustine’s Abbey, I was ready with an open mind and a notebook at hand to discover what I’ve been missing all these years.
If you want to really experience history at its best, what could take you back in time more than an Abbey founded in AD 597. Once an ancient burial ground for Anglo-Saxon Kings, this Abbey takes you on a journey through the ruins of the Abbey as well as the 16th century monastery (definite favourite) and the Abbey museum. Here, you’ll see the remains of the Abbey’s inhabitants, experience the history of the many monks that stayed and the Kings that were buried here. St Augustine’s Abbey was a true historical delight that is often not highlighted enough.
The Westgate Towers
After my visit to St Augustine’s Abbey, I walked back into the town centre, through the underground subways adorned with mosaics of old Canterbury, until I reached the bottom of the high street. Here stands the famous Westgate Towers, the historic medieval gatehouse. Built in the 14th century, it’s the biggest city gate in England that still stands and is a Grade 1 listed building. With a museum taking you on a journey of the gatehouse’s history including the use of the gunloops and artefacts dating back hundreds of years including the Civil War soldier armour.
Once I’d explored the museum that most Canterburians don’t even know exists, I walked across to the Westgate Gardens. Known in the city as the most beautiful area of grassland in Canterbury, its blanketed with flowers and blooming willow trees that descend into the trickling water of the River Stour. It’s the perfect picnic locations in the summer months or an idyllic winter’s walk (when you have your scarf and gloves at the ready!).
Canterbury Historic River Tours
Once my feet had started to hurt from all my adventuring across the city, I thought it might be nice to settle down on a river tour through the heart of Canterbury. Having ignored the chance to do this when I lived here, I was intrigued at the journey it might take.
I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped into the gorgeous little boat and was rowed down the River Stour as a guide commentated on the city’s history (much of which, I still didn’t know!). The sights were picturesque and the storytelling was a riveting accompaniment to my Canterbury exploration – a great addition to a day trip to the city.
Shopping in Canterbury
If you have some leisure time in Canterbury, you’re in luck. The city centre is not short on shops, from your favourite high street brands to independent boutiques, there’s hundreds of places to pick up a bargain before stopping off at one of the many bakeries, cafes or mainstream restaurants that line the cobbled high street. If you have a cheeky sweet tooth, I will let you in on a secret that only Canterburians know about – The Fudge Kitchen. This heavenly shop is home to the best fudge (or at least the top 3) that you’ll ever taste, so much so that I still fantasise about it ten years on!
Whatever your age, a day trip to Canterbury has so much to offer. From hours of shopping to an adventure back to medieval times, it’s a must visit for everyone.