From ancient churches to historic pilgrimage sites, Canterbury has been mesmerising visitors for centuries. The setting of Chaucer’s classic work, The Canterbury Tales, the city is also known as the final resting place of Thomas Becket. And with astonishing architecture, Roman walls and some delicious local foodie traditions, this UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the south-eastern county of Kent, is a must for those dreaming of exploring Britain’s rich past.
From the Romans to the Saxons and into the medieval era, the rich tapestry of Britain’s history lies waiting to be discovered in Canterbury. Any planned itinerary for the city should include Canterbury Cathedral, one of the nation’s oldest churches. While the site dates back to the 6th century, much of its architecture was built in the 1070s, including striking high stone ceilings, palatial columns and stunning alters. Also within the historic cathedral walls is the very spot where Thomas Becket was killed – a corner known as the Martyrdom. A former Archbishop, Becket was canonised around two years after his death in 1170 by Pope Alexander III, resulting in many people travelling to the Cathedral to this day.
History fans wanting to whet their appetite for future travels can lose themselves on a 360-degree virtual tour, which guides viewers through astonishing areas such as the Nave, Quire and Trinity Chapel, while offering magnificent views from the top of the bell tower.
Hungry to travel deeper into Canterbury’s past? Visitors can look forward to exploring the area’s smaller churches, all packed with their own fascinating stories. Why not discover St Martin’s Church, England’s oldest still in use, or walk through 800 years of history at St Mildred’s, an ancient stone church with links to the Saxon era? Travellers can also visit St Dunstan’s church, where the head of Saint Thomas More, who was decapitated for defying King Henry VIII, is buried. For a taste of ancient Britain, walk among the romantic ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey, a burial place for Anglo-Saxon kings and once one of medieval England’s principal religious sites.
Surrounding many of these historical sites are the extraordinary city walls, which date back to Roman times. Used by the Anglo-Saxons and Normans for protection, many sections still exist and can be easily explored on foot, for a real-life walk into history.
Visitors dreaming of stretching their legs a little further can discover the wonders of the North Downs Way National Trail. Steeped in heritage, legends and postcard-pretty British countryside, this is an ideal way to experience Canterbury’s natural beauty on foot. Spanning more than 150 miles, the route follows a historic pathway from Farnham to the White Cliffs of Dover, stopping at Canterbury along the way. Dream of strolling past fascinating Neolithic sites such as Coldrum Long Barrow, Britain’s first monastery at Waverley Abbey, and impressive Norman Castles including the ruins of Thurnham Castle, as well as endless views across rolling countryside and quaint villages. Although this route can take 12 days to complete in its entirety, it can be easily broken up into shorter adventures, with many starting from Canterbury itself.
Longing for vast open space with a unique tale to tell? Why not take a wander along the Pilgrims Way, an ancient thoroughfare which retraces the footsteps of pilgrims from the 12th century who journeyed from Winchester to the shrine of St Thomas Becket.
Close to the lush greenery of the North Downs Way and under an hour’s drive away from the centre of Canterbury is Botany Bay. As well as striking views of idyllic white cliffs, this scenic spot offers visitors the chance to stroll among chalk stacks, search for fossils and explore fascinating rock pools when the tide is out.
Known as the Garden of England due to its abundance of orchards, hop farms and green spaces, Kent is also awash with locally brewed ales and regional delicacies. Imagine popping into Canterbury’s traditional Moat Tea Rooms for a slice of Gypsy tart, one of the area’s sweet treats which serves as well-deserved fuel after a day exploring the city’s historic sites.
Alternatively, why not get a taste of the area with the Kentish Huffkin? Dating back hundreds of years, legend has it that these light bread rolls were first created when an infuriated baker’s wife poked her thumb in every one of her husband’s dough balls for revenge. They subsequently became a handy snack for fruit pickers after King Henry VIII requested cherry trees be planted in Kent, with the indent used to hold the freshly picked cherries. These delicious bread rolls can still be enjoyed today in one of Canterbury’s quintessential English tearooms, such as Tiny Tim’s Tearoom.
Foodies looking to try the local tipple will find that Kent has a fantastic history for brewing beer. Just ten miles from Canterbury’s centre is Shepherd Neame, Britain’s oldest brewery, which has been pleasing palettes since 1698. Alongside enlightening brewery tours and a trip to the visitor centre to sample different brews, visitors should look out for the Bishop’s Finger, a beer named after the finger-shaped signpost along the Pilgrim’s Way which shows the direction to Thomas Becket’s shrine.
Visitors are encouraged to always check individual attraction websites for the latest information, as events and details are subject to change.
For more information contact:
VisitBritain Media Teampressandpr@visitbritain.org