If you are looking for an idea for a day escape from London, then Canterbury is the perfect choice! The medieval town features picturesque cobbled streets, impressive architecture and a fascinating history. There is one of the most magnificent British cathedrals, it is designated as the spiritual center of England and it is the birthplace of Hollywood actor Orlando Bloom…
Where is located and how to get there
Canterbury is located in the south-east of Great Britain, crossed by the River Stour (Great Stour) and is among the largest cities in the county of Kent. 28 km away is the port of Dover, where it is the narrowest part of the English Channel (Pas de Calais / Strait of Dover), and the capital London is around 100 km away.
Getting to Canterbury from London is definitely not difficult. The options are car, train or bus. We stopped at the latter, using National Express. We caught a bus at 08:30 from Victoria station which arrived in 2 hours. In the opposite direction, there is a timetable until around 20:00, but we stayed in the city until 17:00. Our tickets cost us around £6 each way. For specific timetables, prices and advance online purchase (for which I advise you), you can visit the company’s website – HERE.
See places to stay in Canterbury
We start with coffee and dessert
We hadn’t had a drink coffee yet and quickly headed to Eleto Chocolate Cafe to change that. The cafe has a very cozy atmosphere, and we decided to go up to the second floor… for a more interesting view of the street! Ordering to the waiter, we were slightly surprised when in great Bulgarian (our native language) he asked us to speak more slowly. It turned out that not only is he from Bulgaria, but we are also from the same city – Burgas. We talked, laughed and ended up enjoying a cappuccino and a great chocolate brownie…
More about Canterbury
The history of the city dates back to Roman times. It was here in 597 AD. Pope Gregory the Great sent St. Augustine (of Canterbury) to rebaptize the Anglo-Saxons and thus he became the founder of the Church of England and the first Archbishop of Canterbury. One of the most popular ancient pilgrimage routes leading to Rome – Via Francigena – starts from the city.
Subsequently, Canterbury has always been among the most popular cities on the island and home to poets, dramatists as well as inspiration to English writers. One of them is Geoffrey Chaucer, who is the creator of the famous work “The Canterbury Tales”, considered key in legitimizing the English language at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were French and Latin. And there is no evidence that he ever set foot in the city…
On the main street – High street
Closed to cars, the High street provides a walk with a wonderful urban atmosphere! Despite the presence of popular establishments such as Pret a Manager, Caffe Nero, Nando’s and others, the charming old-time look of the town has managed to be preserved! Its symbolic beginning marks the tower of Saint George, passes through several small squares to end at the medieval gate Westgate Towers.
The Old Weaver’s House
Somewhere in the middle of the high street is Canterbury’s most iconic sight – the former Weaver’s House (The Old Weaver’s House) in exquisite white-black colors and the river passing by it… For a moment we felt like we were in Strasbourg! We were not far from the truth, because French Protestants who fled their lands because of religious persecution have lived here. Today it is a restaurant where you can sit in a relaxed atmosphere in the courtyard around the water, right next to the mooring boats…
The fortress gate – Westgate Towers
With its imposing dimensions, Westgate Towers is the largest surviving city gate in all of England! The medieval building dates back to the 14th century and today houses the museum of the same name, which allows you to learn the history of the towers over the centuries and climb the steps to the top (ticket £4). The street continues beyond the old part and leads all the way to the popular local university – University of Kent.
Westgate Gardens Park
In the immediate vicinity are the wonderful gardens named after the gates – Westgate Gardens. They are among the oldest English parks! An ideal place for a leisurely stroll around spacious meadows, colorful alleys and ancient stone buildings. And the creek passing through it and the possibility of meeting a squirrel, duck or other animal complete the picturesque environment. Take a look back too for a perfect view of the gate… well worth it!
Greyfriars Gardens Park
We left the park just before the main Rheims Way so we could cross the housing estate through some secret alleys and reach Greyfriars Gardens (Franciscan Garden). There are almost no tourists here, and around the only remaining building from the former Franciscan monastery, real peace and quiet reign! The boats used for the tourist tours along the river are also parked right here…
Wandering through the side streets
The best way to get to know and explore Canterbury is to wander the narrow side streets! The most interesting of these are Guildhall St, Palace St, Borough St, St Margaret’s St, Sun St, Best Ln, Mercery Ln, Butchery Ln. There you will find small shops, restaurants, pubs and above all a great authentic atmosphere. Among them are many ancient buildings, built in the popular Tudor style for the region.
Make sure you get to The Crooked House! This 17th century building looks extremely unstable, but it has become one of the attractions of the city. Charles Dickens described her as leaning forward, trying to see passers-by on the narrow pavement below… Today it houses a bookshop, and just opposite you’ll see a red phone booth nestled against the stone walls of one of the oldest schools in the world – the King’s School.
Pass St Margaret’s Church, where Chaucer’s famous work comes to life. From there, a 40-minute animated tour with costumed guides takes the group through the streets of the city and presents some of the stories in a fun way.
Also take a look up at the extremely interesting signs hanging over the heads of passers-by… Be sure to peek over to Butchery Ln for a shot of the narrow laneway lined with metal signs and the cathedral in the background…
Time for lunch
For lunch we headed to a great burger and beer place – Pork & Co. They rely on good quality products, specially smoke the pork and keep great prices! We tried some of the popular burgers and weren’t disappointed… Some of the tastiest we’ve had on all our visits to the island.
💡Unfortunately, the Canterbury site closed in 2023 and is more or less permanent for now. The site has more information about them and currently operating facilities – HERE.
The Canterbury Cathedral
The undoubted highlight of a visit to Canterbury is the cathedral (Canterbury Cathedral)! It’s one of the most important cathedrals not only in the history of Great Britain, but also of Europe… Over the centuries, she underwent various reconstructions, almost burning down in the 12th century and managing to avoid damage during the Second World War. The current appearance combines two styles – Romanesque and Gothic.
You can buy a ticket online in advance (HERE) or on the spot. The price for an adult is £15.50 and can be used repeatedly over a period of one year. The entrance to the cathedral is through a beautifully decorated 16th-century gate (Christ Church Gate), set in a cute little square known as the Butter Market. An interesting fact is that it was once called the “Bull Market” because bulls were kept there for events… That’s right, this Spanish-related bull tradition was an also English custom in the Middle Ages…
The history of the cathedral begins with the arrival of St. Augustine so that in 1988 it could officially enter the UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s surrounded by a pleasant yard for a walk, and a large part of the facade was under restoration. It’s extremely impressive and respectable inside! Stroll through the spacious corridors, see the amazing stained glass windows used to teach lessons to the villagers who couldn’t read and immerse yourself in the pilgrim atmosphere around the tomb of Thomas Becket.
💡 Thomas Becket is the most famous Archbishop of Canterbury, appointed to this post by his good friend King Henry II and, as misfortune of fate, died precisely by his knights. In his anger at yet another of the priest’s highhandedness, the king utters words that are taken by some of the more foolish knights as a call to kill Becket. So on December 29, 1170, they smashed his skull, spilling his brains on the floor of the cathedral…
A walk along the city walls
Our walk around Canterbury was coming to an end, and with minutes to go until the bus we decided to walk around the park to the bus station. The city was surrounded by Roman fortress walls, on the remains of which new ones were built in the Middle Ages, which stay to this day… A great end to a day trip to this charming city!
💡 If you have a bit more time, you can pop over to St Augustine’s Abbey and the oldest church in England – St Martin’s Church.