10 reasons you should visit Canterbury

Canterbury Historic River Tours offer rowing boat trips up and down the city's narrow River Stour

Canterbury Historic River Tours offer rowing boat trips up and down the city's narrow River Stour - Credit: Archant

One of Kent’s top tourist attractions, with an iconic World Heritage Site, exciting cultural scene and great shopping and dining, there’s little to rival the ever-popular Canterbury

Canterbury Cathedral dates back in parts to the 11th century

Canterbury Cathedral dates back in parts to the 11th century - Credit: Archant

1. Ancient buildings

Canterbury is one of the most beautiful historic cities in the country and, as home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracts history lovers from all over the world. It’s something that you probably take for granted if you live or work there but a relaxed stroll through the streets reveals all sorts of historic buildings of note. Westgate Towers, for example, is the one of the main gates to the ancient walled city and, at nearly 640 years old, is England’s largest medieval gateway. In the heart of the city is Eastbridge Hospital, a former pilgrims’ hostel with incredible architecture dating from 1190. Going back even further still, the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey - now managed by English Heritage - in part date back to 613 AD.

Dane John Gardens were once part of a former Roman cemetery

Dane John Gardens were once part of a former Roman cemetery - Credit: Archant

2. Stunning cathedral

The most impressive of all Canterbury’s treasures is Canterbury Cathedral. With parts dating from the 11th century, it has long stood watch over the city and has been visited by millions, from mediaeval pilgrims to modern day tourists. At some 236 feet tall at the highest point, and with stunning architecture ranging from Norman to Romanesque and Gothic, it is an awe-inspiring building and is still Canterbury’s number one visitor attraction. It is well worth the entry fee for a walk around what Anglicans refer to as their ‘mother church’, but as a working church still, there are frequent closures so be sure to check before you set off. Visit www.canterbury-cathedral.org

The King's Mile boasts tempting independents like master jeweller Ortwin Thyssen

The King's Mile boasts tempting independents like master jeweller Ortwin Thyssen - Credit: Archant

3. Shopping and eating

A visit to Canterbury may feel like stepping into the past but if shopping is your priority, this city offers a thoroughly modern shopping experience too. Whitefriars is an open-air shopping centre with everything from Zara and Next to Primark and M&S. A flagship Fenwicks store is the heart of the centre and with the town’s busy bus stop just behind it, it makes nipping in to the shops a lot easier.

But the city also boasts numerous independent shops and businesses - the majority of which can be found in the King’s Mile area. Foodies are extremely well looked after here too, with every kind of chain restaurant and independent eatery. Some to try include Café St Pierre, Tiny Tim’s Tearoom, The Ambrette and Café des Amis. For cocktails in a unique setting try The Pound Bar & Kitchen in what was once the city goal and outside of the city head to The Tyler’s Kiln gastropub in the tiny village of Tyler Hill.

Whitefriars is the modern heart of shopping in this historic city

Whitefriars is the modern heart of shopping in this historic city - Credit: Archant

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4. Celebrate the arts

As you would expect in such a cultural city, the arts feature heavily among Canterbury’s attractions. The Marlowe Theatre was rebuilt in 2011 and now boasts an eye-catching contemporary design in the city centre. Named after the area’s most important playwright, Christopher Marlowe, it seats 1,200 and plays host to all sorts of exciting shows, plays and concerts. This month sees shows including The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (6 - 11 March) and The Commitments (20 - 25 March). Another theatre is set within the University of Kent. The Gulbenkian is open to the public and features a 340-seat theatre, a 300-seat cinema and a café. This month sees music from indie band Turin Brakes (3 March) and comedy from Chris Ramsey (15 March). Visit www.marlowetheatre.com and www.thegulbenkian.co.uk

The Marlowe Theatre

The Marlowe Theatre - Credit: Archant

5. Learn about the pilgrims

One of the city’s best loved attractions, The Canterbury Tales is an interactive exhibition featuring waxwork models and a combination of live and recorded storytelling. Regaling visitors with some of the stories from Chaucer’s famous collection of tales, the attraction brings to life medieval pilgrims on their journey to Canterbury Cathedral - the scene of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom. Having been updated over the past couple of years, the attraction, which has been operating since 1988 and has won numerous awards, goes to great lengths to make sure visitors are fully immersed in the sights, sounds and even smells of the city’s past. Visit www.canterburytales.org.uk

6. Step back in time

In a city so steeped in history, it’s no surprise that Canterbury boasts some wonderful museums. The Canterbury Roman Museum explores the influence the Romans had over the city and is built around the remains of a Roman townhouse. Meanwhile the Canterbury Heritage Museum is set in a former medieval Poor Priests’ Hospital and exhibits items including props from the local creators of children’s TV shows Bagpuss and The Clangers, as well as items belonging to another former Canterbury resident, writer Joseph Conrad. Finally, the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge features state-of-the-art galleries, a library and excellent learning facilities. Visit www.canterbury.co.uk/museums

7. Tempting tours

A popular tourist city, there are several tours on offer to its many visitors. A couple of our favourites include the award-winning Canterbury Historic River Tours, which operate in the warmer months and offer rowing boat trips up and down the city’s narrow River Stour, and Canterbury Ghost Tour. A quirky yet informative way to see the ancient city at night, the ghost tour is a popular 75-minute guided tour of the city at night, with a few chilling tales thrown in along the way. Visit www.canterburyrivertours.co.uk and www.canterburyghosttour.com

8. Peaceful green spaces

At one end of the city is Dane John Gardens, once part of a former Roman cemetery. The raised mound that dominates the gardens is thought to be a remaining burial mound from the 1st or 2nd century. To the other end of Canterbury are the much loved Westgate Parks - made up of Westgate Gardens, the Toddlers Cover play area, the riverside meadows of Tannery Field and the wooded Bingley Island. A great place to let your little adventurers explore, these parks are always very popular with families.

9. Wild animals

There can be few people in Kent who haven’t visited the famous Howletts Wild Animal Park at least once. Along with its sister park Port Lympne, Howletts is one of Kent’s most popular attractions. With a strong focus on conservation these days, it has shrugged off the term ‘zoo’ and is a successful breeding sanctuary for some of the world’s most rare and endangered animals. It’s less well-known but equally wonderful neighbour is Wingham Wildlife Park. A smaller operation specialising in exotic birds and small animals, there are a few larger surprises too for animal lovers great and small. Visit www.aspinallfoundation.org and www.winghamwildlifepark.co.uk

10. A treat for tots

If it’s more animal magic you’re looking for, then try Druidstone Park in Blean. The 12-acre site features woodland walks, adventure play areas and a whole host of friendly farmyard animals which are bound to delight young children. A relaxing day out which won’t break the bank, it’s a little hidden gem of a place that is often overshadowed by some of Canterbury’s more impressive attractions. Visit www.druidstone.net

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