There was one main reason I wanted to visit Canterbury – I wanted to see where my Granny and Grandpa were married in the Cathedral the city is famous for. I was also excited to explore more widely as I’d never been before but heard lovely things about it.
Canterbury is about a 2 hour drive for us from home, but in the Friday post work traffic it took us nearly 4 hours in the baking heat. Not ideal. But we arrived, hot and tired, at The Falstaff Hotel – ready to explore on Saturday.
My mum had also bought us a city treasure hunt for Christmas, which you can activate for any of the major UK cities. So we decided to explore Canterbury via the treasure hunt, popping in to any museums or things we went past that took our fancy. So let our day in Canterbury begin.
A. Dane John Gardens
Our treasure hunt started in Dane John Gardens – a historic park dating all the way back to 1553. On a hot summer’s day it was a nice place to stroll and enjoy the flowers. There is also a little coffee shop, perfect for breakfast, as well as some interesting sculptures to explore.
B. St Augustine’s Abbey
Augustine was sent from Rome to England in the 500s to convert Anglo Saxon England to Christianity. It worked, and St Augustine’s was his monastery in Canterbury, established in 597. It survived until 1538 (Henry VIII again!), and today is largely ruins.
This was the first special spot on my trip because my Great Grandpa Kenneth Sansbury was the first warden of what used to be St Augustine’s Theological College (in the grounds of the Abbey), and so my Granny moved here when she was 14. I felt quite emotional as I walked round the grounds, imagining her in a summer long ago, happy and free. She also only met my Grandpa as he attended a course at the college and I smiled thinking of them so young.
C. Marlowe’s Theatre
Christopher (Kit) Marlowe, was a famous Elizabethan playwright who died a very mysterious death, but was born in Canterbury. Many think that a lot of Shakespeare’s plays came directly or indirectly from Marlowe – and so in Canterbury this theatre now produces modern Shakespeare and other plays. It also sits right on the river so is a nice stop to visit if you can.
D. High Street & Parade
The historic High Street in Canterbury is full of lovely old buildings – even Costa and Caffe Nero are in ancient buildings. There are also lots of nice streets to discover, places to eat and cobbles to tread. I particularly love the views down the street to the Cathedral. There’s also great shopping to be had, and we spent an hour or so in and out of the shops.
E. Canterbury Cathedral
Gah, this one got me. The crypt of Canterbury Cathedral is beautiful, a place closed only for prayer and lit by candles. It’s even more beautiful as it’s the spot where my grandparents were married.
I went down, and I sobbed. I miss my Granny. And somehow I found myself sitting there talking to her (I was on my own). I’m not religious but she was, and in that moment I just told her how we all miss her so much, how we wish she was still there at the end of a phone or email, how I’d love to eat her lemon posset again, or hold her hand again. I told her about my near death experience last year, and my lost babies and I lit a candle and sobbed. Sometimes grief hits us like a wave and we just have to ride it. So I did. In the middle of a crypt – the only thing separating my sadness from one of the happiest days of her life being time. Time is cruel.
Aside from sobbing in the crypt like a lunatic, the Cathedral is amazing and once I’d pulled myself together I also explored the stunning cloisters, and one of the most notorious spots in English history – where Thomas Becket, then archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in 1170 on the orders of King Henry II. It’s since become a major site of pilgrimage.
Another must see is the tomb of the Black Prince, Edward Woodstock, who died before he could ascend the throne as Edward III’s (one of England’s most successful monarch’s) heir.
F. Tiny Tim’s
After the Cathedral, we decided to visit another famous spot in the city – Tiny Tim’s Tearoom. We sat on the ground floor and ordered some lovely cake and tea (this is the perfect spot for afternoon tea if you want it), and then headed up to the room it’s famous for – the attic. In the attic, the mummified bodies of 3 children were found holding bibles dated 1503. And it doesn’t stop there – on the third floor of the building, behind each of the 186 panels, was a child’s tooth, a ringlet of hair and the name, date of birth and date of death for each.
Since then, various people have reported ghost activity, the sounds of children playing and singing. I didn’t experience anything paranormal – but I did learn some fascinating history and ate some delicious food so it was well worth a visit.
G. Westgate Gardens
After cake it was time to walk it off in one of the most picturesque areas of the city, Westgate Gardens. From here you can get a punt (a boat) along the river and just take in the views.
H. Westgate Towers
To finish our day we visited Westgate Towers, a medieval gate from the 1380. Today there is a museum inside, which cover four themes including City Wars, Crime & Punishment, Westgate Through History and Magna Carta & The Maquettes. Also in the Towers is an amazing escape room experience in what was the old Prison in the towers. There’s also a bar downstairs, which was the perfect way to finish off our day.
I really enjoyed the day exploring Canterbury and had lots of fun completing the treasure hunt along the way. We saw most of the main sites – the only things we didn’t go in which would have been of interest were the Roman Museum and Eastbridge Hospital & Gardens, due to time constraints.
I think Canterbury is a perfect day trip from London, or you could make a weekend of it and combine it with a trip to the beach at Whitstable (this was our plan but my husband was so bad with his hayfever he could barely breathe so we had to come home for the inhaler!).
What do you think of Canterbury? Have you ever visited or would you like to one day? Thanks for reading, as always stay safe and happy travelling.