Spotlight on: Canterbury
- Credit: Archant
Consistently one of the most-visited cities in the UK, Canterbury is glorious in any season, oozing history and with a great choice of places to eat and shop
1 Canterbury Cathedral
At 236 feet tall, the towering presence of Canterbury Cathedral (CT1 2EH) stands as a constant reminder of the city’s history. In parts 1,000 years old, pilgrims often walked hundreds of miles to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket, murdered here in 1170.
Today tourists still flock to the UNESCO World Heritage Site from every part of the globe. You can pay to enter the building and visit the 11th-century Romanesque crypt, the 12th-century Gothic Quire and the 14th-century perpendicular nave. Visit www.canterbury-cathedral.org
2 The King’s Mile
The labyrinth of medieval streets beneath the cathedral (including Sun Street, Palace Street and Northgate) are as characterful today as they were hundreds of years ago. Lined with cafés, restaurants and independent shops of every kind, from jewellers, florists art shops to old-fashioned sweet shops; the King’s Mile has it all.
Have a drink at the Jolly Sailor pub (CT1 1BA), a meal at Deesons (CT1 2HX) or Salt (CT1 2DZ) and get lost in the fab shopping experience of this independent quarter.
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3 An abbey and a church
Together with the cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey and nearby St Martin’s Church make up Canterbury’s important World Heritage Site. St Augustine’s (CT1 1PF) was founded in 598 as a Benedictine monastery but suffered in the dissolution and was partially dismantled. It wasn’t until 1848 that the ruins were protected. They are now under the care of English Heritage and open to the public. St Martin’s (CT1 1PW), the first church to have been founded in England, is the oldest church in the English-speaking world.
4 Shopping heaven
Canterbury has always been a great place for a shopping trip, but with the addition of the Whitefriars shopping centre and the independent area in the King’s Mile quarter, it’s a whole new experience. All the main high street names are here, along with the exclusive and the quirky boutiques, plus enormous department stores, including Fenwicks (CT1 2TB).
The Goods Shed (CT2 8AN), housed in an old railway goods shed at Canterbury West Station, has a daily farmers’ market and there’s an excellent vintage shop in St Peter’s Street called Revivals (CT1 2BG), where you can buy anything from Harris Tweed jackets to vintage wedding dresses.
5 River tour
For the most relaxing way to get a view of the city, climb aboard a rowing boat from Canterbury River Tours (CT1 2AT) and drift down the Stour. The guided tours take you through the city centre but from a vantage point like no other. A perfect way to escape the crowds, see the architecture and hear about the history of this important city in an informed but light-hearted way. Visit www.canterburyrivertours.co.uk
6 Ghost walk
For a unique look at Canterbury, join one of the Ghost Tours. With a blend of history, ghostly tales and a bit of humour, you’ll visit the tea room said to be haunted by the ghosts of a mother and child and find out about the witch hunts during the Civil War. It’s dark and creepy but all done in an entertaining way by ghost historian John Hippisley. Call 0845 519 0267 or just arrive outside Alberrys Wine Bar (CT1 2TY) at 8pm any Friday or Saturday.
7 Tales of the pilgrims
Chaucer’s famous 14th-century stories about a group of pilgrims en route from Southwark to Canterbury are still celebrated. The Canterbury Tales visitor attraction (CT1 2TG) lets you experience the sights, sounds and even smells of medieval Canterbury and learn about its famous literary connection (www.canterburytales.org.uk.) And just around the corner is a glimpse of the real thing; the 12th-century Eastbridge Hospital (CT1 2BD). Set up as a hostel for poor pilgrims, it has operated as an almshouse for the last 400 years. Today you can visit the Gothic undercroft, the pilgrims’ chapel and the refectory – which features 13th-century wall murals.
8 Marlowe Theatre
Named after one of Canterbury’s most celebrated residents, playwright Christopher Marlowe, the city’s theatre is a major centre for the performing arts. Having knocked down the ageing building in 2009 to make way for a new one, the contemporary Marlowe Theatre (CT1 2AS) reopened in 2011. Outside you’ll see a 19th-century statue of a muse, surrounded by small effigies of some of Marlowe’s characters. February welcomes The Levellers, Ross Noble, 10cc and Shrek: The Musical. Visit www.marlowetheatre.com
It’s easy to escape the busy city centre. Just a few steps from the High Street are several pretty parks and gardens, among the best of which is Dane John Gardens (CT1 2TN), enclosed by the ancient city walls and an avenue of lime trees. With a pretty fountain, bandstand and terrific views of the city from ‘the mound’, it’s an oasis of calm. Westgate Parks (CT1 2BQ) is a group of riverside recreation areas that includes Westgate Gardens, Toddlers Cove, Bingley Island and Tannery Field and offers formal gardens, picnic areas, a children’s play park and meadows for you to enjoy.
10 Café culture
With many of Canterbury’s tourists coming from the continent, it makes sense that the city has embraced a similar café culture. When it comes to independent coffee shops and eateries, you’re spoiled for choice. Duck down any of the ancient streets and you’ll find a hidden gem. Try Café St Pierre (CT1 2BG), Refectory Kitchen (CT2 8AF), Willows Secret Kitchen (CT1 2PH) or Water Lane Coffeehouse (CT1 2NQ). n