A Whistle-stop tour of Canterbury, possibly the best (in my opinion) city in the UK
A place very close to my heart for today’s post: Canterbury, set in Kent, the Garden of England. It’s a place that puts a smile on my face whenever I think about it, which I hope does the same for anyone who visits or plans to. It’s my uni stomping ground where I had the pleasure of living there for nearly 3 years (sadly cut short due to the pandemic). Within just an hour, you can easily get to Canterbury from London St Pancras via the high-speed train, perfect if you’re a tourist or have easy access to the capital.
Here I provide my top places to see if you’ve only got ONE DAY free to tour it, so you can do it justice. I visited again this summer and loved every moment – it helped that it was scorching hot too, so its beauty was only accentuated! But whatever the season, it’s just as perfect!
Even better, if you’ve a couple days in the city, you can pop on the train to Margate, Herne Bay, Broadstairs or Whitstable in no time! Or cycle to Chartham like I did in first year, in just under an hour.
Stepping out of Canterbury West Station, one of the first and unmissable bits of the city is Westgate Towers, which welcomes you next to the Great Stour, perfect for walking or cycling along, or to have your lunch by, like I did. (I must also mention the charities shops at this point – Pilgrims’ Hospice near the station has a great selection of very affordable books!)
Unlike some cities and towns, the High Street is buzzing with shops and little nooks and crannies you can explore, especially if you’re into taking some artsy photos. The place is often rammed on weekends with tourists and locals, but it still feels like a busy town and not an overwhelmed city.
A popular photo spot is down All Saints’ Lane – a dead end, but full of old-style wonky houses. There’s also the Marlowe Theatre where you can see a play, or head to the bridge nearby and embrace peace as you look down as see punting groups going up and down with the ducks.
Now, it’s obvious that I would include the Cathedral, but is it as good as you might think?
YES! I don’t know why, but I find such peace going there. Every time I go, on my own (Canterbury university students go free!), I sit there amongst a mix of people – old, young, bored, intrigued, sad, happy, mourning, loud, hushed – full of wonder of its history. It holds a dear place in my heart from when I graduated there, as well as when I went on my own and explored the mass gardens and rooms, the sun shining through its vibrant glass work. What people and their stories had looked at those same windows?
The school even sits on the grounds at the back – lucky students!
You can get tickets on the door on the day, however I’d recommend pre-booking in Summer to avoid mass queues, or even being turned away.
Back to the High Street, avoiding chains, I’d recommend the Old Weavers’ Inn (next to the Stour), or the Cherry Tree where you can grab an iconic Pigf*cker drink, a bright pink drink that’s super sweet yet no one knows the recipe (which also used to be sold with curly straws before they were rightly replaced with paper ones).
I’d recommend going down each alley you can as there are all sorts of quirky shops and food places, where you can see some old buildings remaining. Further down, there’s Whitefriars shopping centre, a new complete, and Fenwick – perfect for a free wee stop!
Everything in Canterbury is a favourite, although this end of town boasts a little more history in my opinion, where heading through Marlowe Arcade leads you to more of the backstreets, including coffee shops and pubs. I’d recommend Tiny Tim’s Tearoom, a super cute, old-school café with its classic rock cakes! If you fancy a tour or you’re a fan of Geoffrey Chaucer, head to The Canterbury Tales tour.
For a good lunch break, Dane John Gardens is the spot.
I was so relaxed on my day trip, like many people, that I laid on the lawn reading my book in the sun. Bliss.
Not only are there even more gorgeous, expensive properties around, but you can head up the Simmons Memorial for an insane view of Canterbury. Maybe don’t look behind; there’s an Aldi and Club Chemistry.
You can see the Cathedral in all its glory, the Marlowe Theatre, the rest of the gardens and the university at the top of the hill. I could happily spend a good while up there.
How could I forget the Chaucer book shop?! Think old. Think creaky. Think dusty. Yep, that’s the Canterbury Chaucer bookshop. Whilst it may look small from the outside, it’s like a wonderful experience of Mary Poppins’ bag, where shelves are lined with (mostly old) books, along the stairs and up through to another floor! It’s truly joyous. You can even smell the history when you’re in there. It’s my idea of heaven – although I might change up some of the oldies in there.
Unfortunately I haven’t experienced the pleasure of punting, which, quite frankly, looks very idyllic and very fitting for the city. Touring through more back streets, adjacent to the high street, it’s a distracting yet pleasant way to get to the Canterbury Punting Company.
Not many people know about it directly, as they mainly advertise on the high street. Here you can grab a drink whilst you wait, grab a coffee nearby and even walk a few steps to Greyfriars Gardens, which I’d say is a hidden gem of the city. Even though it’s close to the Westgate Towers gardens, this is a bit more closed off and much quieter as it can’t be accessed as easily, which is why I find it so special. There’s Greyfriars Chapel nearby, however from my experience it is closed off. Maybe you can find a way to access it?
By the end of the day, you will not doubt be ready to head back. Heading back to Canterbury West, I love strolling down St Peter’s Grove and Black Griffin Lane, very cute terraced houses that remind me of fisherman cottages. Again, it’s also a great photo hot spot. On your way back via Westgate Towers, you could even stop by Café des Amis. Whilst I haven’t been there, I’ve heard great things and it’s always busy inside. It’s also been there for many, many years – they must be doing something right!
The beauty of Canterbury is that whilst it is a city, you can easily get to the countryside within 15 minutes’ drive, whether the spaces are big or small, parks or rolling fields – maybe even vineyards! Kent really is beautiful. I’ll never get bored. It’s so diverse in its own incongruous way. From experiencing the markets, through to being a resident, a tourist, and even a student.
As always, I’m sad to leave Canterbury, watching the city quickly fade away as the train takes me back to London. But for sure, I’ll make this an annual solo trip! There’s still so much I want to explore, including Margate, Broadstairs, Dover and the nearby countryside where you can go on some beautiful walks or find some great cycle routes. Maybe even a guided tour to learn more about the city’s history.
What’s it like for a student? If you’ve read this far and you’re a budding student, let me know and I’ll happily write a post on it!
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