Not only is Canterbury one of Kent’s most popular tourist destinations, but it’s also one of the UK’s most visited cities.
Despite being heavily reliant on tourism and largely populated by students thanks to the presence of two universities, Canterbury is a relatively quiet city. But don’t be fooled – there’s much to do and see in this historic part of the British Isles.
Canterbury’s story begins many years ago. The first recorded settlers in the area were the Celtic tribe, the Cantiaci. In the first century AD, the Romans captured, renamed and rebuilt the city. As was the norm with the Roman invasions, they reinvented the city in their own image, transforming it into a modern town, complete with public baths, a temple, a theatre and a forum.
The next significant chapter in Canterbury’s impressive history came in 597 AD when the city was converted to Christianity and chosen by Saint Augustine to become the centre for an episcopal. An abbey and cathedral were then promptly built, making the transition complete, with Augustine becoming the first Archbishop of Canterbury. In 978, the abbey was rebuilt by Archbishop Dunstan and renamed St Augustine’s Abbey. With the town’s new importance came a revival in trade, particularly in textiles, pottery and leather.
However, Canterbury’s good fortune was not to last. It suffered a series of misfortunes and losses in 842 and 851 and again in 991, during Danish raids. In 1011 the cathedral was burnt and Archbishop Alphege was killed.
But it was after the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket at the cathedral in 1170 that Canterbury became one of the most prominent towns in Europe, with Christians travelling from far and wide to visit the martyr’s shrine.
It’s this pilgrimage which inspired Geoffrey Chaucer’s collection of stories, the famous Canterbury Tales.
The cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church make up the World Heritage Site which has had pilgrims to Canterbury since the fourteenth century, all in search of salvation. .
Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest and most important religious sites and also the spiritual home of the Church of England, is a must see attraction. Among the many things to see is the Romanesque crypt with its carvings dating back to the eleventh century and the medieval stained glass in Trinity Chapel which depicts the life of Thomas Becket. Visitors can also visit the sixteenth century Christ Church Gate, the Cathedral Towers, the tomb of Henry VI and the effigy of the Black Prince.
For museum fans, why not pay a visit to Canterbury Heritage Museum. Treasures include: Oliver Postgate’s Thomas Becket story, the Tudors, the Blitz Gallery, Stephenson’s Invicta railway engine and even Rupert Bear and Bagpuss, amongst others. The museum has plenty of fun-packed activities for all the family to enjoy, from smelling medieval poo to trying on Elizabethan costumes.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would have been like to live during Roman times, the answers to your musings can be found in the Canterbury Roman Museum, where market places and Roman rooms have been recreated, and where you can discover Roman pottery, mosaics, tools, flasks and even jewellery.
For a change of pace, how about taking part in the Canterbury Ghost tour for a lively mix of history and hauntings. For 90 minutes visitors can experience the dark side of Canterbury with Kent’s award winning ghost hunter.
Aside from the city, Canterbury’s surrounding countryside has much to offer. From river and walking tours to shopping and eating, there is a little something for everyone. From quirky sea town Whitstable, with its famous oysters, fish markets, sports, history, shops and restaurants, to the seaside resort of Herne Bay with its beaches, Herne Bay Festival and water sports, Canterbury’s surrounding area is also worth a visit.
For some retail therapy, Canterbury offers a wide range of shops, from high-street names to specialist, independent retailers in Canterbury’s King’s Mile, St Dunstan's, West Gate and Northgate.
Alongside the historical architecture, the cobbled streets, the cathedral and the castle, are modern, luxurious hotels, lively nightclubs and local pubs, making Canterbury an eclectic mix of old and new, allowing visitors the chance to create their very own Canterbury Tales.
If some of your favourite ‘Canterbury Tale’ spots haven’t been covered here, just let us know!