Canterbury Tourist Guide
A guide to this historic cathedral city of Canterbury which has something for everyone!
World Heritage Site
This cathedral city, easily reached by road and rail, contains a UNESCO World Heritage site made up of the Cathedral, St. Martin’s Church and St. Augustine’s Abbey. The Cathedral was founded in 597AD by St. Augustine and the original now lies under the nave’s floor. The Saxon church which had first been constructed was destroyed by fire in 1067 and the Normans rebuilt it three years later. A few parts of the quire and some stained glass windows survive from the twelfth century.
Following the murder of Thomas Becket in the north-west transept in 1387 the cathedral became a place of pilgrimage and Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous Canterbury Tales was written about pilgrims making their way to Becket’s shrine. In 1982 Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, prayed together in the transept. In the Trinity Chapel are the tombs of Henry IV and his wife, Joan of Navarre, which were on one side of Becket’s shrine with Edward, the Black Prince, on the other. Becket’s shrine, however, was dismantled during Henry VIII’s reign. T
The cathedral’s other main features are the largest Norman crypt in Britain and the twelfth century quire with a fourteenth century screen. St. Martin’s Church is the oldest parish church in England where unbroken Christian worship has taken place. It is named after St. Martin, Bishop of Tours in France where Queen Bertha lived before marrying Ethelbert, King of Kent. St. Augustine’s mission of 40 monks came here before setting up a monastery nearby.
The third part of the UNESCO site is St. Augustine’s Abbey which was founded in 597AD. Today there are only ruins to see following the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII.
A brief history
There has been a settlement in this area since prehistoric times and Neolithic round barrows and Bronze Age relics have been discovered. It was called Durovernum before Roman times and was the most important settlement in Kent. Later the Romans named it Durovernum Cantiacorum. It lay at the junction of three roads from Reculver, Dover and Lympne on what came to be called Watling Street. The town became affluent under Roman rule and around 270AD a defensive wall was constructed against Saxon invaders. Today the city walls and one city gate remain.
In 1461 Canterbury became a county corporate, a small self-governing county. During the sixteenth century French Protestants settled in Kent introducing silk-making. In 1600, out of a population of 5,000, the Huguenots numbered 2,000. During World War 2 the city suffered heavy bombing in the Baedeker Blitz. Today it is a major centre for tourism with over 1.2 million visitors in 2001. Among its famous people have been Christopher Marlowe, Michael Powell, Sir Freddie Laker, Orlando Bloom and Rupert Bear!
The city today
Some of the medieval character of Canterbury has been preserved. Long stretches of the town walls remain, built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries on Roman foundations. There are tall overhanging houses in the lanes leading to Christ Church Gate which is the cathedral’s main entrance.
The King’s School, one of the oldest in England, has an unusual North staircase and the fourteenth century West Gate, the only survivor of the seven former gates to the city, has a museum of arms and armour. The Marlowe Theatre reminds everyone of the playwright Christopher Marlowe who was born in the city in 1564 and was educated at King’s. CanterburyCastle was built by the Normans in the 1080s and had replaced an earlier motte and bailey one put up at nearby Dane John. The stone keep constructed during Henry I’s reign (1100-1135) is one of three royal castles in Kent.
Greyfriars is the only remains of Greyfriars Friary - the chapel and house of the first Franciscan settlement in Britain. It is the oldest Franciscan building in this country. The DaneJohnGardens have been awarded the Green Flag and the Green Heritage Site Awards. The name probably comes from the French word ‘donjon’ which means castle keep. From the top of Dane John Mound you get a wonderful view of Canterbury. The University of Kent, founded in 1961, is set on Tyler Hill in the north of the city.
Other places to see in Canterbury
(Please check before visiting as opening times due change and attractions do close and relocate without telling us!)
Buffs Regimental Museum, High Street. Tel: 01227 475214. Situated on the first floor of the Beaney Institute in the Royal Museum and Art Gallery. Now it is a branch of the national Army Museum telling the story of one of England’s oldest infantry regiments.
Eastbridge Hospital, High Street. Tel: 01227 471688. For 800 years it gave shelter and help to pilgrims, soldiers, local societies and schoolchildren. For over 400 years it has given a permanent home to elderly people.
Museum of Canterbury, Stour Street. Tel: 01227 475214. Situated in the medieval Poor Priests’ Hospital and two adjoining buildings it has a range of exhibits from pre-Roman to the present together with many hands-on activities.
Rupert Bear Museum, Stour Street. Tel: 01227 475202. Find out about Rupert’s link with Canterbury. Free admission after you pay for Museum of Canterbury entrance.
St. Dunstan’s Church, London Road. Tel: 01227 463654. 1000 years old and the first to be dedicated to St. Dunstan. The head above Margaret Roper’s tomb could well be that of Thomas More.
St. Mildred’s Church, Church Lane. Tel: 01227 462395. Close to the castle, it’s the only standing pre-Norman conquest church inside the city walls.
The Gallery in the Friars. Tel: 01227 453471. Sells British designed and handmade pottery, glass, pictures, sculptures and jewellery with many exhibitions during the year.
The Roman Museum, Butchery Lane. Tel: 01227 475214. Based underground at the level of the Roman town the museum contains excavated real objects, authentic reconstructions and the preserved remains of a Roman town house and its famous mosaics.
The Royal Museum and ArtGallery. Tel: 01227 475214. Set in a wonderful Victorian building it holds fine porcelain and art collections, notably by TS Cooper. Many exhibitions are staged here.
Westgate Gardens. Beautifully landscaped garden close to the River Stour adjacent to WestgateTowers.
Places to visit near to Canterbury
Barnsole Vineyard, Staple. Tel: 01304 812530. Visitors welcome for a full or mini tour.
Bluebirds, Whitstable. Tel: 01227 273952. Art gallery and collectables.
Essentially Hops, Bekesbourne. Tel: 01227 830666. A traditional working East Kent Victorian oast house.
Fordwich Town Hall, Fordwich. The present Guildhall or Town Hall was built in 1544 during the reign of Henry VIII. It is probably the oldest and smallest still in use.
Goodnestone Park Gardens, Nr. Wingham, Goodnestone. Tel: 01304 840107. One of the best gardens in the South East. The 14 acres includes a woodland area and a walled garden. There are connections with Jane Austen who frequently visited.
Herne Bay Museum and Gallery, HerneBay. Tel: 01227 475214 Here the history of the Victorian seaside resort is highlighted along with its connections with the Dambusters’ raid and the fate of the famous pier.
Howletts Wild Animal Park, Bekesbourne. Tel: 0870 7504647. 90 acres of wild adventure in beautiful ancient parkland. Home to the world’s largest gamily group of gorillas in captivity and the UK’s largest group of African elephants.
Mount Ephraim Gardens, Faversham. Tel: 01227 751496. 10 acres of Edwardian-style gardens.
Reculver Towers and Roman Fort, Reculver, HerneBay. Tel: 01227 740676. The twin towers of St. Mary’s Church are a distinctive feature of the north Kent coast. There are country walks from Bishopstone to the ruins of the Roman fort and Saxon church. The park is well known as a site for watching migrating birds.
Whitstable Castle and Gardens, Whitstable. Originally a manor house with parts dating from the 1790s. Many events are held here including May Day celebrations.
Wildwood, Herne Bay. Tel: 0871 7820081. WoodlandDiscoveryPark – the UK’s biggest collection of British wildlife.
Wingham Wildlife Park, Wingham. Tel: 01227 720836. The perfect place to see meercats, lemurs, otters, reptiles, birds of prey, prairie dogs and much more.
The district has some exceptional shopping to offer for all tastes so be sure to spend some time perusing the shops and enjoying each town’s unique atmosphere. In Canterbury itself, the Whitefriars development offers many popular retailers in one spacious and well-designed location. This recently opened venue has helped to ensure the city offers some of the best shopping opportunities in Kent. Heading towards WestgateTowers and the St Dunstan’s area, you will come across a range of specialist, privately run emporia offering everything from antiques and collectables to classical music. That theme continues as you walk in another direction, this time along the King’s mile, a continuation of the city centre’s pedestrianised area, and on towards Northgate. Head to Whitstable and you will find Bohemian charm in abundance. Move on to Harbour Street for independent art galleries, boutiques and individual gift shops offering all the essentials and more with good old-fashioned service. In HerneBay, there are bargains to be had along the pedestrianised High Street from independent shops selling a vast range of goods including furniture and clothing – as well as those vital buckets and spades for the beach!
Canterbury Information Centre
12/13 Sun Street, Canterbury, Kent
Tel: 01227 378100
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015