Visiting the ancient Cathedral city of Canterbury, England

In Canterbury, Cities, Counties, Days Out, Kent, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel, Unesco by Janis4 Comments

A self-guided walk through the medieval lanes amongst history and intrigue

The Cathedral City of Canterbury in the heart of Kent is perfect for a day trip of culture. It’s straightforward to stroll around and enjoy all the city sights during your one-day visit. However, I’m sure you’ll struggle to pull yourselves away from the charming boutiques, quaint tea shops and the alluring old English pubs.
 
Canterbury has something for everyone

One of Canterbury's baobab plane tree in Westgate Gardens with the Tower house in the background
Discovering Canterbury
Canterbury is only around an hour from central London by train. Once you step into the ancient city centre, you’ll feel like you are a world away. Surrounded by timber-framed dwellings, tiny cobble-stoned lanes and tales of Chaucer will be echoing through your thoughts while visiting the beautiful UNESCO Cathedral.

Quick Links

Our home county of Kent

‘The Garden of England’
Gary and I have lived in Kent for a few decades now. We love the county and everything it has to offer. The rolling countryside with its unique oast houses and the bountiful acres of orchards that undeniably make this county ‘The Garden of England’.
A typical Tudor era cloth hall half-timbered house alongside another symbol of Kent, the white topped oast houses in the village of Rolvenden, Kent
Cloth hall & Oast houses

Centuries of history can be found within the smallest of villages, all throughout the Pilgrim’s Way winding through Canterbury and along the old Roman road of Watling Street.
 
Canterbury is only around 30 miles (50 km) from us, so we may appear slightly biased; however, there is a good reason for this, Canterbury is delightful.

Self-guided walk of Canterbury

A circular route
Here we have created a self-guided walk all around the ancient cathedral city. The route encompasses many of Canterbury’s historical sights, some quirky points and all the charming architecture en-route.
Our circular route

If your inquisitive mind lures you off of the tour for any reason, don’t worry, you’ll soon find your way back; that’s all part of the fun.
 
The self-guided walk is a circular tour, so you can start it wherever you wish.

Map, guides and more

When you’re nurturing the seed of a road trip, plotting your destinations across a paper map just brings the adventure to life. Whether it’s the touchy-feely aspect of the map or the rustling sound of mastering the art of origami while trying to fold it away, I’m not too sure. Nonetheless, the good old Ordnance Survey guys and gals always come up trumps.

Take a look at the vast array of maps you can choose from.

The Westgate, Canterbury

We start the amble at the medieval Westgate Tower. This ancient gateway can proudly boast of being the largest surviving city gate in England. Many centuries ago, Canterbury was encircled with a defensive city-wall with seven medieval gates located around its perimeter. Westgate Tower is now the only gate that remains.
The stone Westgate medieval gatehouse in Canterbury
The Westgate, Canterbury
Stroll through into Westgate Gardens and wind your way alongside the Great Stour River. You’ll pass by Canterbury Guildhall and the adjacent Tower House. If you are visiting during the summer months, you may even want to enjoy a spot of punting on the river.
The Great Stour river running through Westgate Gardens towards Westgate, Canterbury, Kent, England
The Great Stour River
Westgate Gardens is a pleasant and colourful park to wander through. During the 1st-century, this part of Canterbury would have looked extremely different, as the original Roman city walls would have been erected around here. The historic wall would have continued around meeting up with Canterbury Castle, which unfortunately is in a state of ruins.
Tudor homes at the edge of the Great Stour River in Westgate Gardens, Canterbury, Kent.
Strolling through the Westgate Gardens in Canterbury

Discovering the old Roman Road of Watling Street

It all started in Dover

Walking through Westgate Gardens, you'll also stumble upon a section of the pathway, which was once of the old Roman Road, later known as Watling Street.
 
A plaque has been laid over the route that early Britons would have used regularly. This Roman Road connected London to Dover and many other places too!

A metal plaque set in the path over Watling Street, the ancient Roman road from Dover to London
The Roman Watling Street

An interesting read

If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".

You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.

Kent's Strangest Tales Cover

William the Conqueror

The Duke of Normandy

Following the route, and you’ll arrive at Canterbury Castle.
 
The Norman castle was originally built of wood on William the Conqueror's orders and constructed in a motte-and-bailey style.
 
Canterbury Castle was then rebuilt in the early 12th-century of stone during the reign of Henry I. Along with Canterbury Castle, two additional Royal Castles were built in Kent, Rochester Castle and Dover Castle. Both fortresses stand as magnificent examples of British history and are lovingly maintained by English Heritage.

The stone exterior of the Norman Canterbury Castle
Canterbury Castle
Unfortunately, Canterbury Castle has been closed to the public since 2018 due to deteriorating masonry.

Off to Dane John Gardens

Through the lanes of Canterbury

From Canterbury Castle, stroll along Castle Street and then turn right into Castle Row. There are some delightful old, terraced houses all along here. And no stopping in the Shepherd Neame, White Hart Inn along the way, I know it’s tempting.
 
Continue along Castle Row until you come to Don Jon House. This is where another of Canterbury’s old city gates would have once stood named ‘Wincheap Gate’.

The fountain at the centre of the Dane John Gardens in Canterbury with Georgian homes on the edges.
Dane John Gardens

Directly opposite is Dane John Gardens' entrance and where a sizeable section of Canterbury’s ancient city walls still remains.
 
Allow some time to visit the gardens, stroll up and around the historic walls and buttresses. Here you’ll notice a large mound in the park. This was once a former Roman cemetery and burial mound.

The old medieval stone walls of Canterbury
Canterbury's City Walls

Kent rural road trip

Discover Kent on a rural road trip, lush rolling countryside filled with orchards, vineyards, quaint villages and oast houses, so it makes for a perfick visit.

Watling Street, onward to London

Stepping in the tracks of pilgrims
At the east entrance of Dane John Gardens, exit right onto ancient Roman Road of Watling Street. This well-trodden street has seen centuries of people passing through on their way up to London & beyond.
The pathway around the City Walls at the edge of Dane John Gardens in the south-east of Canterbury.
Along the city walls
Head left at Riding Gate up along the city walls of St George’s Terrace and keep wandering along until you reach Burgate (more of those missing gates). Step outside the city walls and walk towards St Augustine’s Abbey, part of Canterbury’s UNESCO World Heritage site.
The large stone turreted gatehouse to St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, Kent
St Augustine’s Abbey
Here you’ll also find the ornate Abbot Fyndon's Great Gate, which overlooks Lady Wootton's Green and the statues of King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha of Kent.  This is a pleasant little square, a calming break before heading into the delightful hustle and bustle of Canterbury City centre.
St Augustine’s Abbey is one of over 400 historic places with free access to English Heritage members.
A brass statue to King Ethelbert in Lady Wootton's Green, between Canterbury Cathedral and St Augustine’s Abbey
A statue to King Ethelbert
A brass statue to Queen Bertha of Kent in Lady Wootton's Green, with the gatehouse of St Augustine’s Abbey in the background.
A statue to Queen Bertha of Kent

Buttermarket, here we come

With its cute timber-framed shops
Retrace your steps back and stroll down Burgate. Along here is where you’ll find the start of Canterbury’s quaint little shops, half-timbered homes and charming cobbled lanes nestled within some striking architecture.
The neoclassical arch on Burgate (Street) leading to its brick-built collonade
Strolling along Burgate
Passing by the Tower of St Magdalene, stroll along Burgate until you reach the delightful square of The Buttermarket. Here you’ll see the stunning Christchurch Gate at the entrance to Canterbury Cathedral and keeping a protective eye over Canterbury’s visitors.
The cobbled pedestrian Buttermarket area of Canterbury, with the war memorial in the centre.
The Buttermarket
The Buttermarket, renamed around 200-years ago, was once called the Bull Stake. Not to go into too much detail; however, bulls and baiting were involved. Today its centrepiece is a Canterbury’s War Memorial.
The ornate stone Christchurch gate entrance to the Canterbury Cathedral
The Christchurch Gate
The stone war memorial in the Buttermarket area of Canterbury
The War Memorial

Did you know?

That the Canterbury Cathedral been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1988

Murder within Canterbury Cathedral

Thomas Becket met his end
Now it’s time to head into the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, probably the most famous Christian building in England. It is also the diocese of the Church of England leader, Archbishop of Canterbury.
The crypt end of Canterbury Cathedral under a dusky sky.
Canterbury Cathedral under an evening sky

Canterbury Cathedral was founded in 597AD, although rebuilt in 1077. The Cathedral is renowned for pilgrims visiting the shrine of Thomas Becket.
 
Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral by four of King Henry II’s Knights in 1170. A poignant sculpture marks the spot where the Archbishop was killed.

A modern art piece consisting of 3 medieval swords above the spot where Archbishop Thomas Becket was executed in Canterbury Cathedral.
Where Thomas Becket was slain

It was during the 14th century that the English poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales. Chaucer produced 24 fascinating stories of pilgrim’s lives and their journeys to Thomas Becket's shrine in Canterbury Cathedral.
 
Geoffrey Chaucer is interred in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, London.

A candle stands on the spot in Canterbury Cathedral where St Thomas' shrine stood until destroyed under Henry VIII's orders.
A candle burns for St Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral
Looking towards the altar from the vaulted nave of Canterbury Cathedral.
Standing inside the Cathedral
Within the beautiful Cathedral is a tranquil and peaceful cloister, King Henry IV's tomb and the crypt of ‘The Black Prince’. Throughout the Cathedral are incredible stained-glass windows.

Escape for a few days

Are you looking for that ‘perfick’ holiday hideaway to relax in while you discover the Garden of England?

After a day exploring the Kent coast and its many historic castles enjoy one of the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.

The King’s School, Canterbury

The world’s oldest school
Stroll around the gardens and the rear of Canterbury Cathedral, through the old arches, and then head into The King’s School's grounds. This ancient school is known to be the oldest continuously operated school in the world since 597AD. The same year that the cathedral was founded.
A gatehouse in King's School, Canterbury
In the Kings' School grounds
Within the school grounds are some charming old buildings, including the schoolhouse dating from 1860 and the Norman staircase dating from the 12thcentury.
A stone cross in Memorial Court, King's School, Canterbury
Historic Canterbury

Why not?

Extend your trip and head to the historic town of Rochester in Kent, where you can visit its striking Norman castle and the beautiful Rochester Cathedral.

The King’s Mile

The quirky streets of Canterbury
Wandering out the school gates, turn left towards King Street; you are now in the heart of The King’s Mile. A delightful collection of characterful streets and lanes all within a short hop of the ancient cathedral.
A crooked 17th-century shop on the King's Mile in Canterbury
Sir John Boys House, Canterbury

There are some charming, unique and interesting shops around here. However, the building that I’m sure will catch your eye is the quaint 17th-century timber-framed bookshop, on the corner of King Street and Palace Street; yes, it really is tilting.
 
Strolling further back towards Canterbury Cathedral, you’ll pass more independent restaurants and some quirky stores.

The Sun Inn, a 15th-century Tudor building on a cobbled street in Canterbury
The Sun Hotel
Continue along colourful Palace Street, weaving your way south while nearing the Cathedral and picking up the cobbled lane of Sun Street. Here you’ll find the captivating Sun Hotel, formerly The Little Inn; it was built-in 1503 and made famous by Charles Dickens in his novel ‘David Copperfield’.

Refreshments en-route

The self-guided walk is around 2.7miles or 4.4kms, so you may fancy a refreshment or two on the way. Worry not, there are plenty of cafés, tea rooms, pubs and restaurants en-route.
 
The Corner House, located within a 16th Century Coach House serves delicious dishes using locally sourced Kent produce.

Canterbury's historic lanes

Beaney House is waiting
Arriving back at the Buttermarket, turn right into Mercery Lane; once again, you’ll be passing charming half-timbered houses and some quirky little boutiques. At the end of the lane, turn right and head along the High Street.
A close-up of the historic gabled buildings of High Street & Mercer Lane in Canterbury

High Street and Mercery Lane

The narrow cobbled Butchery Lane in Canterbury
Butchery Lane
A traditional sweet shop on Mercer Lane in Canterbury
Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shop
Several eye-catching pieces of architecture along the High Street will grab your attention. In particular, Beaney House, which opened in 1899 and is home to a free museum relating to Canterbury’s rich history, an art gallery and a library.
Beaney House, a late 19th-century Tudor revival building that is now home to the central museum, library and art gallery of the city of Canterbury

Beaney House, Canterbury

Exhibitions are held at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge throughout the year.

More Information

While visiting Beaney House, pop into the Canterbury Tourist Office, which is within the same building

Canterbury's Huguenots

French-speaking silk weavers

Strolling through Canterbury High Street, you’ll then pass the attractive bronze statue of Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales monument.
 
You’re now reaching the final stop of your circular route as you arrive at the Huguenot weavers' houses by the bridge over the Great Stour river.

A statue to Geoffrey Chaucer, dressed as a pilgrim, sharing his Canterbury Tales, in the High Street of Canterbury, Kent.
The Canterbury Tales monument

During the 17th century, 200,000 French-speaking Protestant Huguenots arrived in the UK fleeing persecution from Catholic France. The Huguenots introduced silk weaving to the City and soon made up 2,000 of Canterbury’s 5,000 population.
 
The Huguenots are still remembered today in Canterbury Cathedral. Their descendants’ worship, in French, every Sunday at 3pm in the Huguenot Chapel in the Cathedral’s Crypt.

A side shot of the Old Weavers' house alongside a branch of the River Stour running through Canterbury

The Old Weavers House, Canterbury

You’ve made it, you’ve come to the end of your self-guided walk, if you look further down the High Street, you will see Westgate Tower, where you started.
The cobbled High Street of Canterbury as it crosses the Great Stour River
The High Street, Canterbury

Tempted to go?

You can catch a train from London St Pancras to Canterbury West Station, which takes around 1 hour.

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Comments

  1. Pinned for future travel planning! I love this Roman architecture. A friend of mine is walking to Canterbury from Winchester Cathedral (!) this spring, so I was especially interested to read about Canterbury — though I would take the train there!

    1. Yes Canterbury is a lovely city, it’s full of so much history. I particularly enjoy it around the King’s Mile.

      Your friend must be walking the Pilgrim’s Way, is that correct? We live around 40 miles from Canterbury and the Pilgrim’s Way passes by the end of our village.

      Let’s hope the weather holds out for them and they enjoy the English countryside.

  2. Enjoyed reading your post. Have to admit I had to google motte and bailey. My wife and I have fond memories of Canterbury, as this is where I proposed to her, ten years ago. We like to go back every now and then. Last time we did, we combined it with the Grayson exhibition and a blog post about it. Keep up the good work.

    1. Cheers Mr B – Congrats on the 10 years. I’ll check-out your post. Both our parents now live on the Kent coast just north of Canterbury, so we get to pop in often – normally to the Marlow Theatre, or maybe just for a good old wander.

      Anyway happy travels

      Gary

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