Canterbury is a great, easy to reach day trip destination from London, UK. Hop on a train in the morning, spend an afternoon exploring this extremely picturesque student town in Kent filled with stunning architecture, lovely gardens and of course the Canterbury cathedral. For an evening meal take a pick from one of the many pubs and head back to London with a comfortable 90-minute train ride. Or if you have a weekend to spare, there is still plenty left to see and do.
As I’m not known for my early rising habit, but I enjoy like to take my time slowly exploring so when heading out from the London Charing Cross station, the plan is an overnight stay. The horizon is gray and when the train finally heads out it does so in a heavy rainfall.
Say what you will about trains in England (what most people say is that they cost an arm and a leg), but seats are comfortable(ish) and it doesn’t bounce you about a lot. My usually teleportation method, a flask of tea, a box of cookies and a page-turner book works nicely. Halfway through the second book of the Mistborn trilogy I fully expect to be lost to the world until the end of a chapter or when politely asked to leave the transport.
However, even I can’t ignore the reality that the train doesn’t seem to be going any further. With generic delay announcements, the talk among fellow travelers gets louder. Some say that a train ahead got hit by a lightning, others claim that the tracks are flooded. At one point we are asked to leave the train and wait for a replacement bus. After some waiting, we are asked to go back on the train and only an hour after the scheduled time we reach Canterbury.
Delays along the way are an excellent opportunity to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers. First bonding over the weather talk and then bringing up books usually works well for me. Did you know an author of a really cool contemporary book (Scarlett Thomas who wrote “The end of Mr. Y“) are in Canterbury? Well, she is, and I still need to find out which of the churches were an inspiration for Ariel to pinch the holy water from.
A long story short, when reaching the Canterbury East I have a tour guide and an invitation to the university alumni event. The city turns out the be a cute mixture of an old and a modern (new is where bombs landed). Streets are swarming of kids on a school trips learning about a history, an architecture and a mischief.
My self-appointed but knowledgeable guide points out the local building material used for houses and walls, distinct black stones that from a distance reminds me of oyster shells. Closer inspection shows a strange combination of sharp edges and smooth glossy surfaces, flint. Used for a “less important” buildings. Fancier buildings were made of white-yellow sandstone, similar to the ones giving Bath its light looks. It turns out that they actually imported stones from west England and France.
I was given a thorough overview of must-see places in Canterbury. There are a few must-see spots in Canterbury but the best way to experience this vibrant city during a short visit is to pick a few sights from many. This should leave you time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Here is my pick:
Four things to do in Canterbury in one day
1. See the Canterbury Cathedral
The Canterbury Cathedral is the most famous local landmark, the tourist attraction and destination of pilgrims in the book “The Canterbury Tales“. Plan a few hours to explore it, the place is huge including also catacombs and gardens. The cathedral interior exhibits also an impressive collection of a modern art, mostly from local authors.
The cathedral is mostly built of imported sandstone. Can you imagine getting an order to move a cathedral’s worth stones “I take enough for one cathedral. Are you sure you haven’t got more? Could you check in the back? You do deliver, right?”
2. Walk along the High Street
Get the feel of the international chaos going on in this vibrant city. The main pedestrian street is generally referred to as the High Street despite it changing name four times along the 800 meters without turning or any notable difference between the sections. Starting from the West gate (a road where people would enter when coming from London) all the way to the clock tower (a local meeting point).
The street is lined with English pubs (you know the ones named after body parts instead of calling it a bar), small shops and museums. Along the way you cross the river, meet (in bronze) Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of a collection of stories from pilgrims in “The Canterbury Tales” and can admire the gorgeous Canterbury library building.
3. The Canterbury Library
The Library in Canterbury is the first publicly funded library in Great Britain, through what is called an innovative interpretation of the Museums Act 1845.
Along with many books and other reading, watching and listening materials the library provides free WiFi and an access to desktop computers. An excellent place to get info about sights to see or have a moment of rest and a cup of tea.
The room is shared with the visitors’ information center and top floors are taken up by a museum section, featuring art, crafts & science galleries free of entrance.
4. Read a book in the Westgate Riverside Gardens
At one end of the High Street you find the West-Gate, a point of entrance to the road from London. Beyond the gate is the Westgate Gardens. On the Great Stour, that forms a central line of the garden gondolas go back and forth, giving couples and small groups a chance to admire surrounding and listen to the gondoliers’ stories about the town and history.
Large bottle-shaped trees, grass fields, and benches make is a great spot for a small rest, read of a grass or a picnic.
Canterbury is a beautiful town, lively with students and visitors. Great for a day trip or a weekend explore for a solo traveler or with a family.