"Not really a pilgrimage......." Top 5 Page for this destination Canterbury by leics
Canterbury Travel Guide: 494 reviews and 1,042 photos
.....but Canterbury is somewhere I've been wanting to explore for a very long time. I took myself down there on New Year's Day (a blissful and very speedy drive down almost-empty motorways) and stayed for 3 nights, unfortunately developing a nasty cold but having the great benefit of very mild winter weather.
I didn't think I'd visited the city before, but now I'm not certain. Once I began to explore, Canterbury felt very familiar so it is possible I went as a very young child, perhaps on a coach trip. Or maybe it was simply that it retains its Medieval walled-city layout, something which I have experienced elsewhere in the UK.
Canterbury is a lovely city, and not just from an historical point of view. Many (most?) UK towns and cities have much visible history but I was pleased to see that Canterbury has, in the main, managed to avoid the plague of concrete and plate-glass 'modernisation' which has so blighted the historical hearts of too many other places. Maybe that is because it is so very visitor-popular (one of the most-visited cities in the UK), maybe because those visitors have ensured its wealth continues, maybe it is because the good citizens of Canterbury actually care about their history. It's probably a combination of all those factors, and more.
I was surprised by how many other visitors there were even at this 'dead' time of year, many from France and Belgium but also coach parties (I saw one from Poland). From that, I imagine that Canterbury can be an absolute nightmare in high season: the town centre was very busy during the daytime and even in the early morning the cathedral had plenty of people exploring.
It was, of course, the cathedral which I most wished to see. I love Medieval cathedrals, not because of their religious elements but because of the way they demonstrate the sheer skill of the ordinary working folk, the little glimpses they give us into the mind-set of those folk, the carvings and the snippets of pre-Christian symbolism which are always to be found.
Canterbury Cathedral (the existing building dates from 1070, with later additions) is vast and impressive. I particularly liked the crypt, for its early column capitals and its superb Anthony Gormley 'man', made from 700 cathedral nails and suspended above the site of Becket's original tomb. My hotel was near enough to the cathedral for me to attend Choral Evensong twice (the second time in the company of a group of Roman Catholic seminarians from the US...it felt rather strange to have them turn up in the Wetherspoons pub afterwards!).
I spent much time exploring the cathedral precincts as well as the cathedral itself and, if you have the opportunity, I'd advise you to do the same. There is so much visible history and, because there are fewer people around, one gets a better sense of how vast a site it is, and how important it has been for so many centuries.
But Canterbury has more history to explore than the cathedral alone. There are narrow cobbled streets, a wealth of older buildings to be found in those streets, riverside walks, ancient churches (most of which were closed when I visited, unfortunately) a Norman castle, sections of its city walls, a huge mound (originally a Roman burial mound) in a landscaped park and...just outside the walls..the rest of Canterbury's UNESCO World Heritage Site: St Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's church (the church given by King Aethelred to the Christian missionary Augustine , who arrived in England in 597AD).
Canterbury had more than enough to occupy me for a day and a half, especially in the short daylight hours of January. I didn't have time to visit the museums: they will have to wait for another time.
Lots of shops too, from large chains (not just in the modern Whitfriars shopping centre) to upmarket retailers to numerous independent shops. For those who are interested, the majority of charity ('thrift') shops are (at present) on the High Street towards Westgate.
And there's a vast range of places to eat, from chippies and kebab shops to 'traditional' pubs (including at least two Wetherspoons', which offer very reasonably-priced beer and food) to gastropubs and ethnic restaurants. You certainly won't go hungry in Canterbury.
If I were visiting the UK and had any sort of interest in history I'd definitely include Canterbury....but I would try to visit out of season.
- Pros:Oodles of history, bustling centre.
- Cons:Bet it's thronged in season.
- In a nutshell:Not just a cathedral
Canterbury cathedral is overwhelming in its size, magnificence and sheer wealth of historical interest. Look out... more travel advice
Do take the time to have a good look at the exterior of Canterbury's wonderful Medieval cathedral. At the time of... more travel advice
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