As a UNESCO world heritage site, major historic centre and Kent´s most popular tourist destination, there’s little wonder why Canterbury is one of England´s most visited cities. Made famous by its impressive cathedral, imposing castle and the country´s oldest church, St. Martin´s, thousands flock to the magnificent medieval city every year.
There’s no shortage of time-honoured things to see and do in Canterbury. But look beyond what first meets the eye and you’ll soon discover there are still plenty of lesser known treasures hiding within those ancient city walls. Here’s our pick of 12 of the best.
Step back in time on a Canterbury Tales tour
Arguably the city´s most beloved attraction, the Canterbury Tales brings literature to life through a costumed guide of Geoffrey Chaucer´s famous collection of pilgrimage stories. As you follow your guide to walk alongside the pilgrims, you’ll find yourself in the midst of their storytelling contest as they make their way from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. You’ll navigate your own way through the recreated medieval scenes as five of the pilgrims’ tales of infidelity, love, intrigue, courtship and death are brought to life in front of you. Legend has it that the prize for the best storyteller of the pilgrimage was a free dinner paid for by the losers. This is a great way to inspire a fun new road trip game for the family.
LOCATION St Margaret´s Street HOURS April-Aug 10am-5pm daily, Sept-Oct 10am-4pm daily, Nov-March 10am-4pm Weds-Sun
Visit the wonky bookshop at Palace Street
Most famously known for its crooked exterior and delightfully wonky layout, one can wonder how St John Boys House is still standing after all these years. The 17th century, three-storey half-timbered house with its unusual slant makes it the perfect stop-off for an Instagram photo-op. But don’t leave just yet – St John Boys House’s real secret is what lays within; a second-hand bookshop solely run by volunteers to earn money for those living on the streets in Canterbury and Kent. The bookshop, named Catching Lives Books, is entirely funded by donations, and houses an array of well-kept classics, whether you’re a lover of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or a Charles Dickens fan (he even wrote about the house in 1849). An Instagram hot-spot with a worthy cause? What’s not to love?
LOCATION 28 Palace Street, HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Watch the sunset from Dane John Gardens
Take a romantic stroll through the historic Dane John Gardens at the heart of Canterbury. The gardens, more famously known as a former Roman cemetery, were turned into a civic park some time between 1790 and 1803, having served as a motte-and-bailey castle for nearly seven centuries. In the spring, the park overflows with tulips and impressive white terrace houses delicately surround the many rainbow-coloured flowerbeds. The city´s best kept secret? Bring a bottle of cheap wine and go to one of the gardens´ viewpoints at sunset to see Canterbury bathed in warm sunlight. Step aside Nicholas Sparks, because this is more romantic than The Notebook.
Marvel at the world-famous Canterbury Cathedral
Known as the mother church for the Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Canterbury Cathedral lives up to its expectations. It’s been a place of worship for more than 1500 years and is one of the oldest, and most significant, cathedrals in England, with its beautifully carved spires and hand-painted stained-glass windows. A visit to Canterbury isn’t complete without visiting this breath-taking gothic structure that, since its beginning in 1070, has survived fires, restoration and the threat of modernisation. Besides, if you’re into mysteries, this is also the death place of Thomas Becket, who was killed here by knights of Henry II. The most visited attraction in Kent is an absolute must-see for a reason.
LOCATION Cathedral House, 11 The Precincts HOURS Mon-Sat 9am-5.30pm Sun 9am-4.30pm
Salsa dance in a Cuban bar
Yup. You read that right. The Cuban is not only a beloved spot for Canterbury’s many students, with its tapas menu and its own Cocktail bar serving everything from fresh Mojitos to tequila drinks, it’s also the venue for the town’s Latin dance nights. Every Saturday between 8pm and 10pm, the bar invites a live salsa band to perform, encouraging their many loyal visitors to partake in the Latin extravaganza. Don’t worry though, no prior dance skills are required. At the Cuban it’s all about the fun, and why not sign up for their cocktail master classes while you’re at it? Dangerously good mojitos guaranteed.
LOCATION 41b, 43 High Street HOURS Thurs 12pm-3am Fri 5pm-3am Sat 12pm-12am Mon 10pm-3am Closed Sun & Tues
Sample the local culinary offerings at the Good Shed
Kent is known as the Garden of England, with blooming nature and delicious local produce, and The Good Shed’s farmers market and food hall has it all. Here you can buy fresh peonies to decorate your windowsill, gaze longingly at the ruby red Kent strawberries, taste some of the county’s finest cheese, buy fresh fish and meat from the butchery or fish stall, drink delicious cocktails or try their freshly made pasta at their Italian restaurant Caruso Pastificio. Located inside an old red brick railway goods shed, the market was converted into a food space in 2002 by farmer´s daughter Susanna Sait, who dreamt of creating a market community. Ingredients are always fresh and local, usually picked the same morning having travelled only yards, and Spanish-born chef Rafael Sanchez has turned the Good Shed´s restaurant into a destination in its own right. A true gem of a find, and the perfect place for every foodie visitor to Canterbury.
LOCATION Station Road West HOURS Tues-Sat 8am-11pm Sun 9am-11pm Closed Mon
Treasure hunt at the Courtyard Bazaar
Open on the first Saturday of every month, the Courtyard Bazaar brings vintage glam to the people of Canterbury. Whether you’re looking for the perfect 60s dress for a themed party, a glamorous coat to channel your inner Audrey Hepburn or simply want to roam around, this vintage and handmade market is a great stop for all shopaholics and fashion-loverse. You might even strike some great deals too, if you’re lucky.
LOCATION St Peter´s Street HOURS First Saturday of the month, 10am-5pm
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city
The old city walls, first built by the Romans between 270 and 280 AD, are surrounded by the vivid canals twirling their way through Canterbury. On a sunny day, it’s beautiful to follow the canals down to the old Stour watermill at Mill Lane. The river is also a great way to explore the city, and Canterbury Historic River Tours is a city favourite that captures the imagination of adults and children alike. Float on a boat or punt down the river and witness Canterbury from a completely new perspective. The tours offer a unique vantage point for enjoying the city´s most stunning architecture and historic buildings. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Canterbury City Centre while still exploring the heart of the city in a way only accessible by the waterways, then this is a great choice. All aboard captain!
LOCATION Kings Bridge HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Get your daily caffeine-fix
Like in most cities, the people of Canterbury love their coffee, and inside a narrow house on St Margaret´s Street you’ll find the charming artisan café, The Micro Roastery. This independent coffee shop is a city favourite and roasts their own coffee in small quantities in order to serve the freshest coffee to its customers, with plenty of aroma and flavour. Though it has to be said, their Chai Tea Latte shouldn’t be underestimated. Whether you’re meeting up with an old friend or going on your first coffee date, this charming café brings the perfect atmosphere for any occasion.
LOCATION 4 St Margaret´s Street HOURS Mon-Fri 8am-6pm Sat 9am-6pm Sun 10am-5pm
Spring alive with the forest bluebells
Canterbury is at the heart of the Garden of England, and during spring its nature awakes from its deep sleep with oceans of bluebells flooding the forest grounds. From the University campus towards the city centre, a forest pathway makes for the perfect afternoon stroll, or if you desire a proper nature walk visit Godmersham Park only a short 15-minute drive from central Canterbury. The best time to go is in mid-May when the bluebells are in full bloom.
Make time for lunch
Whether you’re on a diet or not, the Skinny Kitchen´s vibrant menu appeals to all. Being tailored for healthy eaters looking for something new to thrill their taste buds, this charming restaurant has re-imagined old-time classics such as avocado on toast, while also serving up the most colourful and unique smoothies in town. What about trying their delicious Skinny Bunny or Superfood City smoothies? Nothing will inspire healthy eating more than these plates of food. You won´t feel too bad for skipping your morning workout if you have lunch here, that´s for sure. Though their name might frighten some, the Skinny Kitchen is everyday food with a clean, healthy twist. Who knew greens could taste so good?
LOCATION 7A St Peter´s Street HOURS Mon-Thurs 9am-9pm Fri-Sat 9am-10pm Sun 9am-5pm
Level up in Mario Cart
It might sound off-the radar to play computer games when you’re at the heart of one of the historic centres of England, but this retro video games emporium is a worthy destination on its own. Level Up Games, based just off Canterbury High Street, is a dream world for any gamer with its collection of retro video games including everything from Sonic to Pokémon. The nostalgia-fuelled shop sells games, but if you have a goldmine of a collection that you want to share, this is also the place to trade. Fancy a friendly battle of Mario Cart before dinner but don´t want to commit to the purchase? Don’tt fear – you can play any of these reminiscent titles with a visit to this magical shop.
LOCATION 40 Palace Street HOURS Tues-Sat 10.30am-5.30pm Mon 11am-5.30pm Sun 11am-4pm