5 Hours in the CityReturning to live in Canterbury in 2009 after 20 years away, it was quickly evident how much has changed. Canterbury is a truly international city – not just with its visitors, but its students and residents too. It has hundreds of years of rich history in welcoming pilgrims and visitors. Today’s visitors have guide books and tour guides to help get the best from their time here.
So where would I recommend locals to visit? Can local residents ever enjoy their home city through the same eyes as a tourist? With 5 hours to zip around Canterbury, I would head off to…
Locals don’t visit often enough – it’s an incredible, beautiful World Heritage Site right on the doorstep. Locals (living within 4 miles of the Bell Harry Tower) and those who work in the city centre can enjoy FREE entry all year with a precincts pass.
From April-Sept there’s a refreshment cabin open in the grounds, and you can buy coffee and cake with one of the most spectacular views in England thrown in for free, directly overlooking the Cathedral’s newly restored south side.
The Westgate Towers Viewpoint and The Westgate Gardens
Since the restoration of The Westgate Towers in 2009, this medieval entry point to the city offers a fantastic view over the whole city in all directions from its rooftop. The rest of the old city gaol building is now a very cool bar, with outdoor seating in the summer (a perfect suntrap) and a great place to watch the world go by.
Then take a stroll in the pretty Westgate Gardens, enjoying the famous view of the timbered medieval houses across the river, and fabulous flower beds.
Canterbury’s River Tours
It’s not just for tourists! There are three excellent boat/punting companies offering trips on the River Stour, winding through the city as the guides share the secrets of the glossy waterways and ancient buildings with their group. It’s a unique perspective, to see the sights from a boat, and one that so many visitors enjoy. You can even hire a boat to take you all the way to Chartham and back – a relaxing way to spend an hour! Family punting tickets from £28.
Historic River Tours: http://canterburyrivertours.co.uk/
Westgate Punts: http://canterburypunts.uk/
The Roman Museum
One of my favourites – a little-known gem of a place, tucked away in a small doorway in Butchery Lane. The Roman Museum is home to some beautiful, original Roman pavement mosaic, preserved since its discovery after the Blitz bombing of Canterbury. There are very few in-situ Roman mosaics in the UK, and it’s so fascinating to see up close. You don’t need to be a tourist (or a history nerd) to be wowed by the contents of this great little place. If you’re local, even better – entry is FREE with a MyCanterbury card (available from any Canterbury museum).
The Franciscan Gardens
The Franciscan Gardens are tucked away down Stour St, near the back of The Abode Hotel. Until a couple of years ago, I’d never noticed it before. It’s a secret haven in the city, with its own little chapel (still used) and places to sit, read, meet up with friends or simply relax in the sunshine, by the river. The unspoilt, flower-meadow feel of this park is so relaxing and peaceful. Definitely a great place to recharge and breathe.
Simply wandering, enjoying the pretty, cobbled streets and old buildings, and watching the world go by from a coffee shop allows a visitor to soak up the flavour of the city. Shopping for a local keepsake or bargain is also top of my list – I love both The Cathedral Quarter (Burgate, Buttermarket and Sun St) and The King’s Mile (Palace Street and Northgate) for both these pastimes.
The Cathedral Quarter and King's Mile
There are many interesting buildings to note along your walk, including the iconic Conquest House in Palace Street, where Thomas Becket’s murderers lodged on the night before his murder. It’s now Unboxed, a packaging-free grocery store, and well worth a peek inside for its amazing timbers and fireplaces! Further down is the famous, much-photographed wonky doorway, now home to Catching Lives bookshop, and an incredible historic building.
The Marlowe Theatre
You also won’t want to miss a much more recent addition to the city skyline – The Marlowe Theatre…visible across the city and much praised for its role in bringing visitors and locals into town each night, to enjoy a vast range of theatre, dance and music. Where else could host Matthew Bourne or Glyndebourne one week, and Saturday Night Fever and Michael McIntyre the next?! It’s one of the best theatre spaces in the country and we’re so lucky to have it!
The Goods Shed
Finally, a special mention must go to The Goods Shed – Canterbury’s award-winning covered market. It’s home to some great food stalls and produce experts, and a lovely place to have a coffee and watch the world go by. The building itself is only half the story – the people who make it tick are the rest! Find it in Station Road West, just past the Westgate Towers.
Five hours will fly by in Canterbury – but if you are local and find yourself with an afternoon to wander, try and see the city through the eyes of a visitor. You’ll love the place even more.