A busy market town with much of its medieval character intact, Canterbury is famous as the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Head of the Anglican Church. Considered the cradle of English Christianity, it was here that St. Augustine made his first converts among the pagan Anglo-Saxons and became the first bishop in 597. His burial place in St. Augustine’s Abbey , just outside the city walls, was a much revered shrine to the building of neighboring Canterbury Cathedral .
Designated as one of Britain’s Heritage Towns, Canterbury is also a cultural and entertainment destination with plenty of things to see and do. Shoppers will want to check out the historic streets of the King’s Mile, with its specialty shops, galleries and cafes. Must-dos include The Canterbury Tales , with its recreation of the sights, sounds, and smells of Chaucer’s medieval England, and the Canterbury Roman Museum , a fascinating glimpse into the city’s Roman roots. Sports enthusiasts should check out the schedule of the Kent County Cricket Club’s Spitfire Ground in St. Lawrence, widely regarded as one of the finest cricket grounds in the country.
1 Canterbury Cathedral
The striking Canterbury Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reflecting components of different architectural styles from different centuries. A must-visit in Canterbury, it is famous for being the site of Archbishop Thomas Becket’s assassination in 1170. Becket had crossed paths with Henry II, the knights of whom misinterpreted a comment he wished the Archbishop “gone” as command to kill him. Nearly 900 years later, it is still shuddering to stand on the exact spot in the transept where this heinous crime was committed.
Another interesting place to check out is the choir. With a choir screen dating from 1411, the beautiful stone work is decorated with angels with shields and the crowned figures of six monarchs : Henry V, Richard II, Ethelbert of Kent, Edward the Confessor, Henry IV and Henry VI.
For a truly unique experience, plan a stay at Canterbury Cathedral Lodge . Owned by the Cathedral, it combines stunning views of beautiful gardens with stunning views of the Cathedral, as well as exclusive access to the Cathedral Precincts. Another must-do is a guided tour (opt for the longer 60 minute version covering the Great Cloister and Chapter House, well worth the investment of time). The cathedral is also famous as part of the Pilgrim’s Way , a route for pilgrims from Winchester and Rochester.
Adres: 11 The Precincts, Canterbury
Official site: www.canterbury-cathedral.org
2 Cathedral Precincts
The area around Canterbury Cathedral – Cathedral Precincts – is also worth exploring. The most interesting buildings are to the north of the cathedral and grouped around Green Court . A highlight is the covered Norman staircase leading up to King’s School Hall . One of the oldest schools in the world (founded around AD 600), King’s School has produced many a famous Englishman, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and William Somerset Maugham. Also of interest is the Norman Water Tower, once part of an ingenious water supply and sewage system that made epidemics virtually unknown in the Close.
3 St Augustine’s Abbey
St. Augustine’s Abbey (1846), an English Heritage estate just outside the city walls, is home to the remains of the abbey founded by St. Augustine in 604. St. Augustine’s Gate and the Cemetery Gate date from the 13th century, and are where the foundations of the old abbey church and the tombs of St. Augustine, King Ethelbert and his wife Queen Bertha have been found. There are also excavated remains of the early Saxon church of St Pancras, including rare Roman artifacts.
Location: Longport, Canterbury
Official Site: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/st-augustines-abbey/
4 The Old Town
The pedestrian area of Canterbury’s Old Town is home to numerous historic half-timbered houses. An unbroken row of particularly fine houses with typical overhanging upper floors can be seen in close Mercery Lane , many of them pre-dating Queen Elizabeth I. A notable survivor is the guest room of the Tudor Queen Elizabeth, noted for its attractive plasterwork. In the corner of Mercery Lane is The Checker of the Hope , successor to the Pilgrim’s Inn, mentioned by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales. Another High Street landmark worth a visit is the 12th century Eastbridge Hospital .
Location: Stour Street, Canterbury
5 Canterbury Heritage Museum
Tourists interested in learning more about the history of Canterbury and the surrounding area should visit the Canterbury Heritage Museum. In an impressive medieval building on Stour Street, the museum includes the old Poor Priests’ Hospital , with its beautiful beamed ceilings. Displays include Anglo-Saxon treasures, rare Tudor painted plaster and the historic Invicta steam engine built by Robert Stephenson. The museum also houses the stunning Bagpuss and Rupert Bear exhibit, a tribute to two of the UK’s most iconic TV characters.
Another museum worth visiting is the interesting Kent Museum of Freemasonry in St Peters Place, with its exhibits depicting the history of the movement from its earliest days. Those interested in cultural pursuits should check out the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge . Part museum, library, and art gallery, the facility has an excellent collection of paintings, engravings, and prints, along with European ceramics, Asian porcelain, and Anglo-Saxon jewelry.
Official site: www.canterbury.co.uk/museums/heritage-museum/
6 The Canterbury Tales
A visit to The Canterbury Tales attraction on St Margaret’s Street is a must. As the name implies, the museum is dedicated to the life and times of the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer . Credited by scholars as the “Father of English Literature” (he lived about 200 years before Shakespeare), Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales come to life in an interactive mock 14th-century pilgrimage from London to Canterbury. If possible, time your visit to Chaucer Festival , an August celebration that pays homage to the author’s work.
Location: St Margaret’s Street, Canterbury
Official site: https://canterburytales.org.uk/
7 Canterbury Norman Castle
Although only a small part of this once great fortification remains, Canterbury Norman Castle is one of Britain’s oldest castles. Begun by William the Conqueror around 1070, it became a prison for a period before being abandoned. You can explore parts of the remains, including one of the towers and the ground floor of the keep. The castle is a landmark in the City Wall Trail attractions such as the Dane John Gardens , with their bandstand, fountain, tea room and children’s maze.
Location: Castle Street, Canterbury
Official Site: https://www.canterbury.co.uk/thedms.aspx?dms=3&venue=3030599
8 Saint Martin’s Church
Just because you’ve seen the cathedral doesn’t mean you’re visiting the many historic religious sites in Canterbury. Outside the center of town beyond St Augustine’s Abbey is St Martin’s Church, considered the ‘Mother Church of England’ as it is the oldest surviving church in the country. Probably built for Queen Bertha, it still contains much older Roman stone incorporated into the Anglo-Saxon chancel.
Locatie: St. Martin’s Hill, North Holmes Road, Canterbury
Official site: www.martinpaul.org
9 Canterbury Festival
The annual two-week Canterbury Festival , held each autumn, is one of the most important cultural events in South East England. Attracting audiences of up to 70,000 people, the festival features as many as 200 things to do, including classical music, contemporary dance, comedy, world music, theatre, readings and visual arts. The venues are as impressive as the events, including Canterbury Cathedral and the Marlowe Theatre. Another festival worth checking out is Stour Music , a 10-day event held every June that includes opera, choral and chamber concerts, as well as recitals.
Locatie: The Friars, Canterbury
Official site: www.canterburyfestival.co.uk
10 Canterbury Roman Museum
Built around the remains of an original Roman mansion, Canterbury Roman Museum is a must for anyone wanting to learn more about Britain’s Roman past. As well as a beautiful 2,000-year-old mosaic, the museum contains important Roman finds and a fun interactive timeline that traces the journey back in time from present-day Canterbury to the original Roman settlement. Along the way, learn how the city was built, visit an authentic Roman marketplace, and process replica dishes in the redecorated Roman dining room.
Locatie: Butchery Lane, Canterbury
Official site: www.canterbury.co.uk/museums/roman-museum/
11 Westgate Towers Museum & Viewpoint
Situated, as the name suggests, on the westernmost point of the old town’s boundary, Westgate Towers Museum & Viewpointis housed in the country’s largest surviving medieval gatehouse. Built in 1380, the Westgate was one of seven structures built to defend the points of entry into the city. Today, this impressive building houses a fascinating museum detailing the city’s history and storied past of its own. A highlight for most is the opportunity to visit an original “felon’s” cell from the early 1800s (the building once served as a prison and police station). And of course there is the view. The roof of the Westgate, over 60 feet high, offers spectacular panoramic views over the historic city and old medieval center as well as the surrounding parks and gardens bordering the River Stour.
Adres: 1 Pond Lane, Canterbury
Official site: www.onepoundlane.co.uk/westgate-towers#the-guard-chamber-1-1
12 Chilham en Chilham Castle
The beautiful village of Chilham, just seven miles southwest of Canterbury, has one of the most picturesque village greens in England. Known as The Square , it is surrounded by numerous old half-timbered houses and is the site of the annual May Day Village , where you can experience traditional activities such as Morris Dancing. St Mary’s , the parish church, contains some beautiful tombs.
The grounds of 17th century Chilham Castle – laid out by Capability Brown – are well worth a visit. Highlights include a visit to the extensive terraces, the Elephant House, the bowling alley and the beautiful gardens. Time permitting, be sure to opt for one of the fantastic house tours (there is also a garden option). Along the way you will have the opportunity to view the fascinating history of the castle and take a look at the luxuriously appointed main hall and stairwell, study, library and dining room.
Locatie: Chilham Castle, Canterbury
Official site: www.chilham-castle.co.uk
Where to stay in Canterbury for sightseeing
We recommend these convenient hotels in Canterbury, close to top attractions such as Canterbury Cathedral:
- ABode Canterbury: 4-star luxury, central location, professional staff, traditional room design, modern bathrooms.
- Canterbury Cathedral Lodge: mid-range pricing, with cathedral views, free English breakfast, pretty garden, library and lounge.
- Best Western Abbots Barton Hotel: affordable rates, expansive grounds, old-world style, jacuzzis.
- Premier Inn Canterbury City Center Hotel: budget hotel, modern decor, comfortable rooms, multilingual staff.