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Feb 17 2015

Canterbury: Things to See and Do

I had wanted to visit Canterbury for such a long time, but somehow it never happened until last year when I was finally able to tick it off my list.  It’s so close to London that I didn’t have an excuse for not going.  You know what it’s like, though, you visit far-flung destinations, and forget about the places on your doorstep.  Well, I’ve been doing my best to rectify that over the past year.

I arrived at Victoria Station, having spent almost a month exploring the western islands and highlands of Scotland.  I decided that if I could book a bed for the night in a hostel in Canterbury, I’d go.  As I was able to, I went to the bus station and got the next bus to Canterbury.  That was it.

I’m so glad I went because it was really interesting.  The city is busting with history, it’s quaint, and easy to discover on foot.  Here’s a glimpse of the things you can see and do if you decide to visit, and I think you should.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral has long been a place of pilgrimage and is still the main draw for visitors.  I can understand why because of its history, and it is a magnificent structure.  I honestly don’t think it’s possible to take a bad photo.  It’s one of those very photogenic buildings that looks great from every angle.

Queen Bertha and King Æthelberht

Statues of Queen Bertha and King Æthelberht

This is where it all starts though, with Queen Bertha and King Æthelberht.  They are a very important part of Kent’s history.  Queen Bertha was pivotal in re-establishing the Christian church, and even the pagan king she married converted to Christianity.  Following this shift, Christianity, literacy, and European culture spread throughout the country.

St Martin’s Church

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St Martin’s Church has a long history, and is thought to be the oldest parish church In continuous use in the English-speaking world.  It started off as Queen Bertha’s private chapel.  When it got too small, Augustine was eventually given the go-ahead to build something bigger.

St Augustine’s Abbey

St Augustine's Abbey

Augustine was a Benedictine monk sent to England to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.  He wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of Queen Bertha and King Æthelberht.  The abbey was renamed St Augustine after his death.  It was an important religious establishment in the Kingdom of Kent for two centuries.

Old Hospitals (Almshouses)

Almshouses

Apparently, there are a few old hospitals or almshouses that were built to house poor people.  Eastbridge Hopsital of St Thomas the Martyr was built in the 12th century and was used to provide overnight accommodation to poor pilgrims heading to the shrine of St Thomas Beckett.  Another, from the 17th century, was built by a couple, John and Anne Smith, who weren’t residents of Canterbury, but they lived nearby and were so overjoyed after finally having a baby that they built a really cute-looking hospital (almshouse).

The Tower of St George the Martyr

Clock tower

Known locally as the clock tower, this is all that remains of the church, St George the Martyr.  It was badly damaged during the Second World War and had to be demolished.  However, they managed to save the clock tower, which still stands proud at the top of the high street.  Until that time, there had been a church on that site since at least the 12th century.

Canterbury Castle

Canterbury Castle

This Norman castle was one of three built in Kent, which included Dover and Rochester.  They were built on the old Roman road between Dover and London.  It might not look like much now, but in its day it helped to guard that all-important route.

Francisan Gardens and Greyfriars Chapel

Greyfriars

From Easter Monday to the end of September from 2-4pm, you can take a walk around the secret Francisan gardens.  They probably aren’t that secret, but it took me a while to find.  In fact, I ended up stumbling across it when I had all but given up on finding it.  Unfortunately, by the time I found the gardens, it was closing time, which was a real shame.  So, I didn’t get to see or enjoy them.  So, if you happen to be in Canterbury at the right time of year, you could see what I missed out on.

A Riverside Walk

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You can take a stroll down by the riverside, which I always find is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the main city streets.  You can carry on the Great Stour Way, and follow the pilgrim’s cycle trail.  I went as far as Chartham, which is a typical English village, with a village green, a Norman church, a pub (of course), and you can see swans relaxing by the riverside.

Highland cows

On my walk to Chartham, I saw something I was expecting to see – highland cattle.  The thing is, I was in the highlands and islands of western Scotland, and I didn’t see one until I got to Canterbury.  How strange is that!

The Milennium Mural

Millennium Mural

On the walls of the subway, which is underneath where the old market used to be, there is a mural that depicts Canterbury through the  ages.  It certainly brightens up what would otherwise be boring, grey walls.

Location

As you can see, there are a variety of things to see and do in Canterbury.  Here’s where it is on the map if your eager to get going.

Have your say

Is Canterbury on your list of places to visit as it was for me?  If you’ve been, is there anything you would add to the list?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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