10 good reasons to visit Canterbury
History, culture, art and the most visited place in England, all in one small but perfectly formed city. What's not to love?
10 good reasons to visit Canterbury
The most visited place in England
An absolutely sensational, mind-blowing experience to see, Canterbury’s Christ Church Cathedral, is a working and living church with fantastic architecture and a tremendously uplifting atmosphere. Forming part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site (see below), it is Kent’s largest tourist attraction and the most visited place in England. What’s more, its fantastic atmosphere and acoustics make it the perfect setting for concerts and performances, particularly at festival time (October). There are guided and audio tours, and a splendid shop with plenty of publications, souvenirs and gifts. In 1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral and ever since then this wonderful place has attracted thousands of pilgrims.
Forget your mobile phone
And step back in time to experience the sights, sounds and smells of 14th-century Canterbury at The Canterbury Tales Visitors Attraction (01227 479227) in the atmospheric converted premises of historic St Margaret’s church. You’ll find a number of tableaux with rivetingly lifelike waxwork figures and medieval scenes, recreating the pilgrims’ journey from the Tabard Inn in London to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury, and their adventures on the way are brought to life with five of Chaucer’s tales broadcast on the audio handset. There are ramps, lifts and adapted toilets for the disabled and a great gift shop.
Peace and quiet in medieval surroundings
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Eastbridge Hospital (01227 471688) in the High Street, is a medieval building founded following the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, as accommodation for poor pilgrims visiting his tomb. Still a focus for modern-day pilgrims, you can see the fascinating undercroft, refectory (with 12th-century wall paintings) and the two chapels, restored to how they would have looked in Chaucer’s day. Nearby you’ll find the lovely Greyfriars chapel, set within its exquisitely peaceful Franciscan garden; this is the only building remaining of the first English Franciscan Friary, dating back to the 1200s, and there’s an exhibition on the lower floor of the chapel. Anglican Franciscan monks returned to Canterbury in 2003, after four centuries, and you can join them in a service at Greyfriars each Wednesday at 12.30 pm.
Get your hands on history
The Roman museum (01227 785575) is an underground museum displaying parts of a Roman house, including some beautiful mosaic floors. There is an onscreen tour via computer of the house as it was in those days. Also there is a computer-aided ‘touch the past’ area, where you can ‘hold’ Roman objects and be an archaeological detective, and you can also see a reconstruction of a Roman market town, with excavated artefacts. Westgate Towers museum (01227 7898576) has armaments dating from the civil war, guns, armour and brass rubbing facilities. The museum of Canterbury with Rupert Bear museum (01227 475202), is housed in the former 12th-century Poor Priests’ Hospital, and has exhibits dating from pre-Roman times; the Rupert Bear museum celebrates the bear’s creator, Mary Tournel, who lived in the town.
Art for art’s sake
The Royal Museum and Art Gallery (01227 452747) has art collections from Van Dyke to modern pieces, and incorporates Buffs Regimental Museum, which tells the story of one of England’s oldest infantry regiments, and has an extensive collection of medals. The Sidney Cooper Art Gallery is a splendid gallery space where students from Canterbury Christ Church University, plus national and local artists exhibit throughout a varied yearly programme. All exhibitions are free and are normally accompanied by lectures and workshops. Upcoming shows include: ‘The Improbable Curve, the Creative Campus Initiative’ (26 March – 2 April), and ‘London and New York Flowers Editions’ (9 – 30 April).
River tours, walks and talks
Canterbury Historic River Tours (07790 534744), departing from the quayside beside the Old Weavers Inn, is an exciting way to see ‘hidden’ Canterbury, because the river runs at a lower level than many of the streets; our guide shared some fascinating anecdotes and little known stories about the town. There are daily walks with the Canterbury Guild of Guides (01227 459779) twice daily between July-September. There’s also a ghost tour every Friday and Saturday evening at 8pm (0845 519 0267: meet outside Alberrys wine bar, where ghost hunter/actor and author John Hippisley will take you on a tour of the ghostly parts of town.
The Marlowe Theatre is being rebuilt and the fantastic new structure is due to open in September. In the interim Marlowe Theatre productions are being staged at several venues in town. The Marlowe Comedy Club presents Tom Deacon and Chris Ramsey (4 April) at the Bramley Bar in Orange Street, and Shirley Hall is the venue for Top Choir Kent 2011 (16 April) and Freddy Kempf (28 May). The Gulbekian Theatre is on the University of Kent campus and is a theatre, cinema and caf�. It is hosting comedy: Terry Alderton (1 April), Count Arthur Strong (7 and 8 April), music: Steeleye Span (2 April), The Searchers (30 April), Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams (14 April), Ballet central 2011 (28 April) and the Railway Swing Band (20 April).
Churches and ruins
St Augustine’s Abbey Gardens (01227 767345), along with St Martin’s church and Christ Church Cathedral form a UNESCO World Heritage site. The huge majestic Abbey ruins date back to 598 AD, and you can explore these, while comparing them with computer graphics that recreate the Abbey’s original appearance, and there is a museum with marvellous artefacts. The stones are set in spacious and atmospheric gardens, which are the burial place of the Kings of Kent. St Martin’s church (01227 462686) is the oldest parish church in England, while St Peter’s church, set back from the High street, is medieval but likely to have been built on top of a Roman church, rebuilt by St Augustine in the late 6th century – its tower incorporates sections of Roman tile, with Saxon cornerstones.
Gardens galore and beautiful Buttermarket
The quaint Buttermarket is a pedestrianised square just behind the High Street, with a beautiful central war memorial. Two sides are bounded by shops and the old Buttermarket pub, while opposite is the elaborately sculptured Christ Church Gate, leading to the cathedral. Dane John Gardens (01227 378100) is a large, attractive area with a central fountain, bandstand with summertime concerts, the Marlowe memorial and a children’s maze and tearoom – the Dane John Mound was originally part of a Roman cemetery. Westgate Gardens are terrific landscaped gardens bordering the beautiful river Stour, where you’ll find a 200-year-old plane tree.
Paradoxically for such a historic town, Canterbury has a plethora of modern shops, as well as interesting quirky independents. The King’s Mile, comprising Guildhall Street and Palace Street, starting at the junction of the High Street with the former, has an avant garde, Parisian Left Bank kind of feel. You will find over 100 shops and businesses of all kinds, especially those dealing in antiques, arts and collectables, plus art galleries, jewellery stores and bright friendly restaurants and caf�s. The High Street is packed with a mixture of larger stores and independents, and the Whitefriars shopping quarter has all the main High Street names, including a fabulous Fenwick (01227 766866) The Goods Shed (01227 459153) is Canterbury’s permanent Farmers’ Market, situated inside a renovated railway goods shed; it has fresh produce delivered daily from local farms, and there’s even an impressive on-site restaurant.
Canterbury is near to the M20 and M2 motorways and approximately 61 miles from London. There are two mainline stations linking the town with London and other Kent towns and a coach service. Traveline 0871 200 2233 for public transport enquiries. Satnav postcode for the town centre is CT12 2UD.