Canterbury, a busy market city in the county of Kent, has survived centuries of history while retaining much of its mediaeval character. This lovely city is also known as the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church.
It was here, as the cradle of English Christianity, that St. Augustine made his first converts among the pagan Anglo Saxons and where he became the first bishop in 597.
Until the construction of neighbouring Canterbury Cathedral, his burial place in St. Augustine’s Abbey, just outside the city walls, was a much-revered shrine.
Canterbury is one of Britain’s Heritage Cities and an important cultural and entertainment destination. It now has a plethora of things to do, as well as a wide range of historically significant attractions.
Shoppers will appreciate the historic streets of the King’s Mile, which are lined with specialty shops, galleries, and cafés.
A must-see is the Canterbury Roman Museum, which provides an intriguing look into the city’s Roman roots, as well as a historic river tour on the Stour.
Check out the Kent County Cricket Club’s Spitfire Ground, St. Lawrence, which is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the country.
Make sure to read through our list of the top attractions and things to do in Canterbury to ensure your Kent travel itinerary is jam-packed.
Canterbury Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known as the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It’s also one of the country’s most important (and oldest) Christian structures, with elements from various architectural styles dating back centuries.
This popular attraction is infamous for being the site of Archbishop Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170. It is a must-see while in Canterbury. Becket had met King Henry II, whose knights allegedly misinterpreted a remark he made about wishing the Archbishop “gone” as an order to kill him.
It’s still unsettling to stand in the exact spot in the Northwest Transept where this heinous crime was committed nearly 900 years later.
The choir is another interesting place to visit. The magnificent stone work, which dates from 1411, is decorated with angels carrying shields and the crowned figures of six monarchs: Henry V, Richard II, Ethelbert of Kent, Edward the Confessor, Henry IV, and Henry VI. Visit the crypt, which is notable for its fine decorative flourishes, and the cathedral shop, which is just around the corner on Burgate Street, for souvenirs.
Stay at Canterbury Cathedral Lodge Hotel for a truly one-of-a-kind experience. This magnificent luxury hotel, owned by the cathedral, combines superb views overlooking beautiful gardens with wonderful views of the cathedral, as well as exclusive access to the Cathedral Precincts.
Taking a guided tour is another must-do. If available, choose the longer 60-minute version that includes the Great Cloister and Chapter House, as it is well worth the time investment.
The cathedral is also well-known as a stop on the Pilgrim’s Way, a pilgrimage route connecting Winchester and Rochester.
Canterbury’s address is 11 The Precincts.
The Cathedral Precincts, which surround Canterbury Cathedral, are also worth exploring. The most interesting buildings are located to the north of the cathedral and are clustered around Green Court.
The roofed Norman staircase leading up to King’s School Hall is a particular highlight. King’s School, one of the world’s oldest schools (founded around AD 600), produced many famous Englishmen, including dramatist Christopher Marlowe and William Somerset Maugham.
The Norman Water Tower is also noteworthy. It was once part of an ingenious water supply and sewage disposal system that kept epidemics at bay in the Close.
Other attractions include a healing garden, which was once used to grow the herbs used by monks for medicinal purposes; the Chapter House, which was once used as a meeting space; and the attractive Christ Church Gate, which was built in 1517 and now serves as the main entrance to the Precincts and the cathedral.
St. Augustine’s Abbey, an English Heritage property just outside the city walls, houses the ruins of St. Augustine’s abbey, which he founded in 597.
The foundations of the old abbey church, as well as the graves of St. Augustine, King Ethelbert, and his wife Queen Bertha, have been discovered at St. Augustine’s Gate and the Cemetery Gate, which date from the 13th century.
Excavated remains of the early Saxon Church of St. Pancras, including rare Roman artefacts, are also on display.
On the site, an interesting museum has been built, with a variety of informative displays, artefact exhibits, and virtual-reality recreations related to the site’s long and rich history. Admission includes an audio guide. The opportunity for children to don a monk’s habit is a fun addition.
There is a gift shop on the premises, as well as a picnic area and lovely gardens with views of the cathedral.
Many historic timber-framed buildings can be found in the pedestrianised area of Old City Canterbury. In narrow Mercery Lane, there is an unbroken row of particularly fine houses with typical overhanging upper floors, many of which predate Queen Elizabeth I.
The Tudor Queen Elizabeth’s Guest Chamber, notable for its attractive plasterwork, is one notable survivor.
The Chequer of the Hope, on the corner of Mercery Lane, is the successor to Chaucer’s pilgrim hostel mentioned in The Canterbury Tales. Visit the 12th-century Eastbridge Hospital as well.
Those interested in culture should also pay a visit to the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. This fascinating facility – part museum, library, and art gallery – boasts an excellent collection of paintings, engravings, and prints, as well as European ceramics, Asian porcelain, and Anglo-Saxon jewellery.
The building itself is something of a tourist attraction, designed in an attractive Tudor-revival style and constructed in the late 19th century, and was completely refurbished and reopened in 2012 in what has become the city’s cultural hub (the Marlowe Theatre is also nearby).
Among the notable exhibits are works by European Old Masters, such as Van Dyck, as well as important sculptures and English ceramics.
Aside from its entertaining children’s workshops and educational programmes (which include the opportunity to dress up in period costumes), the museum has an exhibit that children will enjoy: a history of the beloved cat character, Bagpuss. There are guided tours available, as well as a good café serving light snacks and lunches.
Canterbury’s address is 18 High Street.
While only a small portion of this once-grand fortress remains, the Norman-era Canterbury Castle is one of Britain’s oldest.
It was built around 1070 as one of three “Royal Castles” by William the Conqueror and served as a prison for a time before being abandoned.
From a variety of vantage points, you can get a good view of the ruins; once it reopens, you’ll be able to explore parts of the ruins, including one of the towers and the ground floor of the keep.
The castle is a highlight of the City Wall Trail, a pleasant three-mile route that includes many of the city’s top attractions. In fact, the castle serves as a good landmark from which to start and end your stroll.
While war and ruin have destroyed approximately half of the original city walls, a number of sections have been faithfully restored, and traces of the original Roman walls can still be seen in places.
The sections that have survived, such as the Westgate tower, give an idea of how impressive these fortifications once were.
Canterbury’s address is Castle Street.
Dane’s attractiveness When walking the Canterbury City Wall Trail, don’t miss out on John Gardens.
Although it was established as a public green space in the 16th century, it was known to have historical significance as early as the 1st century, when the mound that still dominates the park was constructed here.
Today, the mound serves as a landmark for the city, providing spectacular views of the surrounding historic homes and sections of the old city walls.
The gardens were added later, around 1790, and are a joy to walk through, especially in the spring when the first blooms appear. There’s also a lovely path lined by a grove of lime trees, which provides the ideal canopy for a break or a picnic.
Other notable features include a bandstand, which is frequently used for concerts, a fountain, a children’s maze, and a snack kiosk.
Canterbury’s address is Watling Street.
Just because you’ve seen the cathedral doesn’t mean you’ve seen all of Canterbury’s historic religious sites. St. Martin’s Church is located just outside the city centre, a short distance beyond St. Augustine’s Abbey.
It is known as the “Mother Church of England,” and it is not only the oldest surviving church in the United Kingdom, but also the oldest church in the English-speaking world.
Built in the 6th century as a private chapel for Queen Bertha, it contains numerous even older Roman bricks incorporated into the Anglo Saxon choir, including remnants of a Roman tomb.
The graveyard is also interesting because it is the final resting place of Mary Tourtel, the creator of the iconic British fictional character Rupert the Bear.
Canterbury’s address is 1 N. Holmes Road.
The annual two-week Canterbury Festival, billed as “Kent’s International Arts Festival,” takes place each October and is one of the most important cultural events in South East England.
The festival draws up to 70,000 people and offers an impressive 200 activities, including classical music, contemporary dance, comedy, world music, theatre, lectures, and visual arts.
The venues are equally impressive and add to the overall experience. Canterbury Cathedral and the Marlowe Theater are among them, as is a massive marquee built specifically for such occasions.
Stour Music is another worthwhile festival to attend. Every June, this popular 10-day event includes opera, choral, and chamber concerts, as well as recitals.
Canterbury Roman Museum, built around the ruins of an original Roman town house, is a must-see for anyone interested in learning about Britain’s Roman past.
The museum includes significant Roman finds, including a horde of silver, as well as an interactive timeline that tracks the journey back in time from present-day Canterbury to the original Roman settlement, in addition to an exquisite 2,000-year-old mosaic pavement discovered after the city was bombed in WWII.
Along the way, you’ll learn about the construction of the town, visit an authentic reproduction Roman marketplace, and handle replica dishes in a recreated Roman dining room.
Guided tours for groups are available and must be reserved in advance; workshops and educational programmes for children are also available.
Another interesting museum to visit is the Kent Museum of Freemasonry. It is located in St. Peters Place and contains exhibits depicting the history of the movement since its inception.
Longmarket, Butchery Lane, Canterbury.