Canterbury is a small, historic city in the South-East of England. Situated in the heart of the British countryside, it’s the ideal country-break destination with the convenience of staying in a town.
I moved here in September 2017, ready to start a new life as a student at one of Canterbury’s universities. Although originally just a stopover for me, within two years it became my dream home and it’s where I’m hoping to stay after graduating. The city has many museums, heritage and historic sites to offer, but to give you a more rounded experience I’m going to share with you my seven tips on what to do on your next trip here!
Canterbury Cathedral from the high street
Look for Historic Buildings
While strolling down the streets of Canterbury, you’ll likely notice a few charming timber buildings scattered around town. These characterful ‘cottages’ provide a hint to what the city would have looked like hundreds of years ago – some dating as far back as the 14th century.
Old townhouses in Canterbury
Many of them are now home to restaurants, pubs and cafes, which means that you get to enjoy and experience them from the inside! Some of the most distinctive historical buildings to keep an eye out for are;
- Sir John Boys House, a 17th-century crooked house turned into a second-hand book store.
- Bishop’s Finger, a 16th-century, cosy alehouse near the Westgate gardens.
- The Old Weavers House, a 16th-century building sitting on the River Stour that is now a popular restaurant in the city centre.
Side view of The Old Weavers House on the River Stour
Oscar & Bentleys, a small bistro in the city centre
Get Immersed in the Arts
Canterbury has a lot to offer for the creative souls out there. Yes, we have a few beautiful galleries including The Beaney, but you don’t have to spend hours gazing at historical paintings to notice Canterbury’s creative spirit. Instead;
- Enjoy a cup of coffee at an interactive arts cafe, known as Expression. This little gem is a coffee place and an art studio in one!
- Join an art class at the Conquest House, where life-drawing sessions are held regularly.
- Visit The Canterbury Tales and watch one of Chaucer’s most famous tales come to life right in front of you.
- Explore quirky artisan and specialist stores run by the locals.
Relax in the Westgate Gardens
After a full day of exploring the city, pay a visit to the city’s public gardens. If you’re a nature lover like me, you simply have to make a stop here! The entrance is from the West end of the high street, near the medieval gateway. The gardens are a perfect place for a picnic, with its lush flower fields and buzzing wildlife. It can also be explored by the river, with summer punt rides.
View of the river in the Westgate gardens
Here, you can enjoy reading a book on the riverside, feed ducklings and spot some more historical buildings – such as the Victorian Tower House and a line of old Canterbury townhouses on the opposite side of the river. Your attention will likely be drawn to the unique tree with an enormous trunk in the park’s centre – it’s a 200-year-old Baobab Plane tree, one of seven here in Canterbury.
Summer punt rides in the Westgate gardens
Walk the Great Stour Way
One of the best things about Canterbury is how easy it is to step out of the city and surround yourself with nature. The Great Stour Way is a three-mile trail between Canterbury and Chartham along the course of the River Stour. It provides a relaxing and scenic walk with the views of the surrounding countryside. Along the way, you can explore the remains of an abandoned railway and walk among free-roaming sheep and cattle. It’s also the best place to view the sunset in the city.
Walking among the free-roaming animals, on a trail to Chartham
Go Wild Canoeing
This little gem is something that not many tourists know about, as it’s situated in a little village on the outskirts of the Canterbury district. Fordwich, the smallest town in England, is worth a trip for its canoeing and kayaking opportunities. The canoe trip takes about three hours to complete, or six hours if you choose to come back by the river too. The ride through the countryside is scenic and tranquil, with a restaurant at the end and a bus to take you right back into the city centre.
View of the river during the canoe ride
Visit the Christmas Market
There’s no greater time to discover Canterbury’s medieval charm than during the month of December when the city hosts its annual Christmas Market. The event is opened each year with a concert from the local performers and a Christmas light switch. During this time, retailers open up wooden market stalls along the course of the high street – selling festive treats, Christmas decorations, sweaters and gifts. People are carolling out in the streets and you can even visit Santa’s Grotto and attend a Christmas choir service at the cathedral. Even though it rarely snows here in the UK, Canterbury’s market has made every winter I spent here so far feel like an enchanting Christmas fairytale.
Don’t Forget the Canterbury Cathedral
The city is most famously known for its beautiful cathedral – the oldest in the UK, having been founded in the year 597 – and your trip wouldn’t be complete without making a stop here. The cathedral sits in the heart of the city and can be seen from most streets, peaking from behind other buildings. The gate in the Cathedral Quarter is an unmissable sight in itself, with a sculpture of Christ overlooking the cobblestone streets.
The Canterbury Cathedral
With its beautiful scenery, modern shopping scene and a charming, historical vibe, it’s no wonder that Canterbury ranks high among UK’s most popular tourist destinations. Follow these seven tips to exploring Canterbury on your next trip and the city will certainly live up to your expectations.