Destinations

24 Hours in Canterbury

By Emily Ray, aka the Cosy Traveller
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Rich in timber-frame buildings and nods to classic literature, this beguiling cathedral city is entrenched in history stretching all the way back to the Roman era. The winding River Stour lazily saunters through the city centre, surrounded by medieval ruins and flower-filled gardens, while students from the multiple university campuses jostle for free WiFi in cafes and rifle through wares in vintage shops. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a city of two halves, offering up something for people of all ages and from all walks of life. Here’s our guide to exploring the gems of this historic city in just 24 hours.

DAY 1

12pm: After a comfortable journey in, begin your stay by taking some time to get your bearings.

It’s often said that one of the best ways to get to grips with a new location is to get up high – and Canterbury is no exception. The Westgate is the last remaining city gate in Canterbury, built in 1380 to guard the entrance to the city from the London road. Located at the top of the high street, on the way to the city centre when walking in from Canterbury West train station, the Westgate is now opened up to the public, offering up a glimpse of what crime and punishment was like during the last few centuries. Climb up the winding staircase to see displays of items used by the police in the early 19th century, before poking your head through into original felons’ cells built around 1830. Afterwards, it’s time to head up the stairs again, this time to a viewpoint at the top of the tower. From here you’ll be able to survey all that you’ll be exploring in more detail over the next 24 hours, from the Cathedral to Westgate Parks and the modern Marlowe Theatre. On your way out, be sure to check out the old police station cells which now make up part of the atmospheric Pound Bar & Kitchen.

1:30pm

With a slogan of ‘Eat Real Food’,  Kitch cafe on St Peter's Street is on a personal mission to rustle up healthy and tasty food. Homely and unpretentious inside, the cafe is the place for students to head for brunch, with vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and nut-free options all up for grabs. Each dish bursts forth with colors and flavors, while the drinks menu has got all corners covered. There are veggie juices, babyccinos or turmeric lattes for those who like something different (or something to throw on the old’ ‘Gram). Alternatively, teas and basic coffees cater for all your fundamental caffeine needs.

Rainbow Sandwich at Kitch

2:30pm

Punting might seem like an activity that’s more associated with the quaintness of Cambridge, but it’s also something that’s impossible to escape in Canterbury. Stalls are dotted around the main high street to lure punters in, so it’s almost impossible to miss your chance at a river-side view of the city. The Canterbury Punting Company runs 40-minute excursions from Water Lane, just off Stour Street. Pick up your tickets from the Water Lane Coffeehouse, and then flop into the boat for a chauffeur-driven guided tour. As you sit just centimetres from the water’s surface, the punter will do all the hard work, maneuvering the boat along the river and under low bridges. On your way around, you’ll pass many of the city’s hidden gems, including The King’s School which claims to be the oldest continuously operating school in the world. The Marlowe Theatre is another striking sight on the tour; it was named after Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare’s fellow playwright, who was born and attended school in Canterbury. Opened in 2011, the theatre has a bustling programme of gigs, well-known plays and comedy gigs from TV regulars.

View of the River Stour from Westgate Tower

4pm

Once you’re back on dry land, follow Stour Street back up to the main high street and take a right. The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge is an imposing double-fronted building overlooking the main shops, which draws the eye thanks to its striking gothic windows. It’s a centre of education in the city, named after its benefactor Dr James George Beaney, who was born in Canterbury before studying medicine and emigrating to Australia. He left money in his will to the city of Canterbury upon his death in 1891, for the sole purpose of setting up a centre for men from poor backgrounds. Today the Beaney holds the library and a cafe, as well as several exhibitions designed to showcase work from local adventurers and artists. The People & Places room, for instance, features portraits of significant local nobles and Canterbury pilgrims. Interactive, family-friendly stations throughout bring the history to life, including a dress-up activity that encourages kids (both small and of the adult variety) to parade around in wigs, medieval garments and more.

5pm

The King’s Mile is just steps away from the main high street, but is home to independent shops, quirky cafes, and more. One of the most iconic spots of the area is Catching Lives Books, a charity bookshop that lives inside a 17th century half-timbered building, with a slanted blue door. For a meal to remember pop into La Trappiste, a Belgian cafe and bar that boasts everything from hearty European mains to cakes, cream tea and craft beers. Blink too quickly and you’ll think you’ve skipped over to mainland Europe, thanks to the restaurant’s bohemian vibe and Art Nouveau-style decorations.

7:30pm

Literary connections are interwoven into the very fabric of Canterbury’s existence. That’s why it would be a shame not to exploit at least some of it by catching a play at the Marlowe Theatre. At the very least, take in the face sculpture on the theatre’s doorstep, which has an impossibly clever story behind it. Created by sculptor Rick Kirby, the giant mask (officially named ‘Bulkhead’), was inspired by a line from Christopher Marlowe, which reads: ‘The face that launch'd a thousand ships’. Kirby created the face using scrap metal pieces from ships along the Kentish Coast – making it quite literally a face that launch’d a thousand ships.

10:30pm

After a full-on day of exploring, it’s time to rest up. Best Western Abbots Barton Hotel is situated just a short walk from the Marlowe Theatre, sitting within 2 acres of quiet, landscaped gardens. Formerly a private house built in 1830, the building is as striking on the outside as it is on the inside, standing tall with turrets, gothic windows and a warm red-brick exterior. The character continues on the inside, with a cosy selection of 53 en-suite bedrooms, plus a restaurant overseen by a chef with more than 13 years’ kitchen experience. It’s also dog friendly, so the whole family can tag along too!


DAY 2

8am

Start the day off right with a hearty breakfast at Best Western Abbots Barton Hotel. Served in the grand confines of the burgundy dining room, the buffet breakfast is also complemented by an all-encompassing menu that’s got all morning cravings covered. From vegetarian fry ups to pancakes and omelettes, the menu uses locally sourced ingredients wherever possible.

Entrance to Canterbury Cathedral

9am

It’s hard to miss Canterbury Cathedral, no matter where you’re standing in the city. Acting like a beacon of hope for lost day-trippers navigating the cobbled side streets, the Cathedral is just as impressive up close as it is from afar, with the impressive interior worth the small entrance fee. Although founded in 597, the cathedral was completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077, with further extensions tagged on throughout the forthcoming centuries. The stone walls have seen their fair share of history, not least the Dissolution of the monastery during the 16th century, and the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 by the knights of King Henry II.

10am

As the clock strikes 10, make your way to Fudge Kitchen to watch the first batch of the day being prepared. It’s made the old-fashioned way, using good old muscle power to cream the fudge on a table using a wooden paddle. The store does offer fudge making experiences if you want to get more involved, but I personally found choosing which fudge samples to try strenuous enough…

10:30am

Eastbridge Hospital isn’t a hospital in the modern sense of the word. Rather, it was a place of hospitality, founded in the 12th century to provide overnight accommodation for pilgrims who’d come to visit the shrine of St Thomas Becket. The Hospital had a crypt, where pilgrims would sleep, plus a large pillared hall which acted as the dining room. Only 12 pilgrims were allowed to stay per night at a cost of fourpence each, while only those who were sick were permitted a bed for more than one night. Despite being over 800 years old, the Hospital is still in use today as one of ten almshouses in the city to provide accommodation for elderly citizens. Happily, though, they no longer have to resort to a bed in the cold crypt; rather, they each live in their own self-contained flats which feed into the main space and the intimate chapel.

Tiny Tims Tearooms exterior

11:30am

Absorbing all that history is hungry work. Finish up your 24 hours by tucking into a traditional slice of afternoon tea in Tiny Tim’s tearoom. With an air of 1930s luxury, the cafe serves up a selection of light lunches and baked goods, including scones that are made on-site using a recipe that’s been passed down through several generations of one family. There are also over 30 different tea blends to choose from, ranging from fruit teas to classic English Breakfast. Before leaving, be sure to take a trip up to the top floor to visit the building’s very own ghost room. As the most haunted building in Canterbury, it’s had more than its fair share of mysterious goings-on...

By Emily Ray, aka the Cosy Traveller 

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