Canterbury's place as Kent's most prominent city goes back as far as the county itself. The city has been important to every population to control it, Celt, Roman, Dane, Norman and Englishman alike, with each adding to its dynamic architectural style. Canterbury is to this day one of the most visited cities in the United Kingdom and with good reason as all interests are extremely well catered to. It is situated only an hour from London by train and there are also bus services to the city.
As my hometown is only 20 minutes by car away from Canterbury, I have grown up visiting the city often, be it with family, friends or even on school trips. As I've gotten older my appreciation for Canterbury has only grown and I could easily flood this page with extremely fond memories that I would implore others to make for themselves, however in an effort not to go on, Caitlin and I have picked out the things to do and places to see that epitomizes the beautiful walled city.
Without a doubt, the most impressive place to see on your visit to Canterbury has to be the majestic Canterbury Cathedral. This towering Romanesque Cathedral is my favorite in the country, and its place as the most important religious building in the Anglican Church is obvious as soon as you see it. The cathedral dominates the skyline of the city and provides a beautiful point of orientation no matter which cobblestone street you happen to be in. The Cathedral itself costs a little to enter (£12.50 for an adult) but I think the cost is easily justified, and there are many discounts available to concessions, children, students and families. The Cathedral is big enough to get lost in, which I think only adds to the experience. Follow in the footsteps of Henry II's knights took when seeking and executing Thomas Beckett in the late 12th century. The Black Prince's suit of armour can be found hanging in the cathedral as well as a great deal of medieval graffiti in the crypt. At times the choir can be heard practicing in the cathedral which is a particularly surreal experience. Weather permitting, walk the grounds of the Cathedral and enjoy the medieval gatehouse to the grounds too. The staff are particularly helpful and informative, don't be shy to shoot any questions you have at them! If you don't do anything else in Canterbury, visit the Cathedral at least, you will not be disappointed.
The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge
The museum located on the main street in Canterbury is more a house of curiosities than it is a place of Art and Knowledge. Perhaps one of the most quirky museums I've ever been to in the world, this museum sums up everything strange about Victorian collections. As with any British collectors house of the Victorian era, the Beaney house is filled with artifacts of the Imperial Age. Some of the main exhibits showcase Indian, Chinese and Persian curiosities. Its free to visit and well worth checking out!
The Historic Parade
Canterbury, like almost all cities and towns in the UK, is built around a main street where many of the shops and eateries are. What is special about Canterbury's, endearingly called 'The Parade' is that many of the buildings on it date from the 12th through to the 14th centuries. It's a great chance to see modern England mingled with remnants of the past as shops like Pret-a-Manger are in 600 year old buildings with exposed black wooden beams and walls that lean over the street. One of my personal favorite places to stop on the Parade has to be the Eastbridge Hospital (founded in the late 11th century). While the hospital is very small, at only £3 to enter (2 for students) its worth checking out as you make you way down the street. Immediately after the Hospital, you encounter a bridge over the river Stour.
A peaceful river tour
If you happen to visit the city in a patch of good weather, I would thoroughly recommend you hop on a river tour. Caitlin and I have been on them twice now, and each time had a great experience. The guides are always so informative and full of such positive energy, which really compliments the relaxing trip up and down the river. There is so much history to be found on the river, that simply walking the Parade doesn't show you. The old witch dunking stool, the Franciscan Island, Greyfriars chapel, the 16th century weavers house (seen below right) and many other unique sights. While the tour is £11 per person, Caitlin and I agree it fully justifies the price, and there are concessions available. Just make sure it's a nice day when you go!
Westgate Towers Museum
Once you have finished relaxing on the row boat on the River Stour, continue down to the end of the high street where you will find two of Canterbury's most scenic spots, Westgate Tower and Westgate Gardens. As the name suggests, the gate used to be the main west facing entry point to the medieval city, and although the surrounding wall has been largely removed, the gate still stands with pride. In more recent years it has been converted into a museum, which details the history of the city well, with emphasis on its medieval importance, its role in England's civil wars and its usage as the local police headquarters and jailhouse. The history aside, the view from the top of the gatehouse is spectacular, you are able to see the city of Canterbury at a full 360 degrees, including Westgate gardens and the high street itself. The best part is, it's only £4 for adults and £3 for students. Westgate Gardens are adjacent to the gatehouse and in my opinion there isn't a better place in the city to relax. In spring and summer the flowers are in full bloom, the grass is luscious and the river calm and peaceful. Westgate gardens is one of those places its impossible to take a bad picture of, an instagramers dream if you are that way inclined.
There is just so much to do and see in Canterbury on a budget its hard to pick my favourites, as such here are a few more options that could be worth a visit if you have the time.
2. The bluebell fields at the University of Kent
If you visit Canterbury in April or May, be sure to take a short bus journey to the University of Kent's campus to see the gorgeous bluebell fields in all their glory. An added bonus of seeing the bluebells would be you are guaranteed to be greeted off the bus by rabbits. To get there: simply get off at the Keynes College bus stop and walk across the street to the small woodland.
3. Howletts Animal Park
While not strictly speaking in Canterbury Proper, Howletts is only a short drive or bus journey from the city and is easily my favorite animal park I've ever visited. Howletts is a conservation charity as opposed to a traditional 'Zoo' and the care they give to their animals is obviously at very high level. Caitlin and I last visited a few years ago on a typical wet English afternoon and was lucky enough to see every animal, without the noise and bustle of crowds. Save 20% online and remember to take advantage of GiftAid if you can.
4. Canterbury's Roman (and medieval) Walls and Dane John Mound
If you arrive into Canterbury by train into Canterbury East station, as I usually do, you are 100 feet away from the cities huge ancient walls. The walls are now used as scenic pathways that link the train station to the Parade. In the middle section of the walls, you are able to access Dane John Mound, a small hill with a monument atop it. This is another great place to take a picture from above the city.
5. Canterbury Castle
Canterbury Castle is located at the western end of the city wall. The stone fortification is in total ruin, which I think adds to its personality. The castle is free to enter and look around and is open during daylight hours. The castle is free to look around and to climb its 700 year old staircases. Rather unhelpfully, the castle is sporadically under maintenance and as such it can be a hit and miss as to whether or not it will be accessible. Still, thanks to its location and free admission, its worth checking when you visit.
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