Canterbury, a captivating city home to the renowned Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most beautiful places in Kent. It lies just 62 miles away from London. With excellent train connections, reaching Canterbury takes less than two hours, and a high-speed train makes the journey in just 50 minutes. That is why Canterbury makes it one of the best day trips from London.
Canterbury is a bustling market city known for its rich history and medieval charm. Despite the passage of time, it has managed to preserve its character throughout the centuries. With a rich English heritage, the city has been on the world map for centuries. It was here that St. Augustine converted the first Anglo-Saxons in 597. His final resting place St. Augustine’s Abbey together with the Canterbury Cathedral and St. Martin’s Church is a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Canterbury is a vibrant city with amazing restaurants, cafes and bars. It’s one of those places that we keep going back. There are lots of interesting things to do in Canterbury even on a short day trip from London.
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How to get to Canterbury from London
One of the quickest and most convenient ways to reach Canterbury from London is by train. Departing from either London Victoria or London St Pancras Stations, trains arrive at either Canterbury West or Canterbury East stations. Fortunately, both stations are centrally located and offer easy access to all the sights in Canterbury.
The train journey from London to Canterbury typically takes between 1 to 2 hours, depending on the type of train you choose. If you opt for the high-speed Southeastern trains, you can complete the journey in under an hour. Alternatively, there are other trains that take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes or 2 hours, and they often come at a more affordable price compared to the high-speed option. You can buy your train ticket via Omio or Trainline since it is usually cheaper and more convenient to purchase train tickets online and in advance.
Another way to reach Canterbury from London is by car. Just take the M2, and you'll arrive in approximately 1 hour and a half, though it might take up to 2 hours depending on traffic conditions. Once in Canterbury, there are several car parks around the town centre. However, it's worth noting that you won't need a car when exploring the city itself.
Where to Stay In Canterbury
While Canterbury is undoubtedly a popular destination for a day trip, it offers so much more when you choose to extend your stay in this historically rich town. Spending a night or more in Canterbury allows you to delve deeper into its charm.
For a truly unique experience, look no further than Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, one of the finest accommodations in the area. It is located on the private grounds of Canterbury Cathedral, just a stone's throw away from the town centre. Alternatively, the House of Agnes presents an excellent option with its historical significance as an inn dating back to the 15th century. Conveniently situated only 200 meters from Canterbury West Station, it effortlessly blends old-world charm with modern comforts.
If modernity is your preference, The Hugo - Hotel Concept Canterbury awaits you, ideally located right on Canterbury High Street. With its contemporary design and amenities, The Hugo offers a stylish and comfortable stay while keeping you at the heart of the town's vibrant atmosphere.
Top Things to Do in Canterbury
Depending on where you alight, Canterbury East or West, you can shuffle the attractions below and customise your own Canterbury day trip itinerary. Or you could you just get off at Canterbury East, admire the restored Roman walls in front of you, and head to the Canterbury Castle, a five minutes walk from the station.
The best part about Canterbury is that all-important sights are close by and do not require a lot of walking around.
1. Take a peek at the remains of Canterbury Castle
One of the oldest Norman castles in England, the Canterbury Castle has had its fair share of history and intrigue. It was erected in the 11th century, became a prison in the 13th, and was abandoned and demolished in the 18th.
The lower half of the keep and a few towers remain today. The site is closed to the public, but you can still see its walls.
2. Dig into ancient history at the Roman Museum
The Canterbury Roman Museum is an absolute delight for history lovers. It not only houses the remains of a large Roman house but also boasts an exquisite 2,000-year-old mosaic pavement that was discovered after the bombing of the city during World War II. This fascinating museum provides a captivating glimpse into Britain's Roman past, showcasing significant Roman finds, including a horde of silver and precious jewellery.
One of the highlights of the museum is the interactive timeline, which takes visitors on a journey back in time, starting from present-day Canterbury and leading to the original Roman settlement. Along this immersive experience, you'll learn how the ancient town was built, have the opportunity to visit an authentic reproduction of a Roman marketplace, and even handle replica dishes in the recreated Roman dining room. The museum also organises many temporary exhibitions and workshops.
3. Visit the famous Canterbury Cathedral
A stone’s throw away from the museum you can find the Canterbury Cathedral, one of the most important cathedral in England. It is the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican community as well as part of the city’s historic centre.
With more than 1400 years of Christian history, an influential role in Magna Carta negotiations, and being the exact spot where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170, the cathedral has seen it all.
The site dates back to the 6th century, much of what you see today was built in the 11th century. The cathedral is an inspiring reminder of all this history as well as a proud symbol of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. A Nave roof and stained glass on the Nave and Western Towers are especially striking.
4. Visit the Westgate Towers Museum & Viewpoint
When venturing into Canterbury city centre from Canterbury West Station, you'll find yourself walking past the majestic Westgate Towers, proudly standing as England's largest surviving medieval gatehouse. Dating back to 1380, the Westgate Towers were rebuilt as a replacement for the previous Roman West Gate. The history surrounding its construction remains a topic of debate among historians, with some speculating that it was rebuilt to welcome pilgrims arriving in the city after the death of Thomas Becket, while others believe it was a defensive status symbol.
Today, the Westgate Towers Museum & Viewpoint welcomes visitors to immerse themselves in the city's rich history. Step inside the impressive gatehouse to discover a fascinating museum that sheds light on Canterbury's past. A highlight for many is ascending to the Tower's battlements, soaring over 60 feet high, to bask in the breathtaking panoramic views that stretch across Canterbury's historic cityscape, its medieval centre, and the verdant parks and gardens along the River Stour.
5. Stroll through Westgate Gardens
Nestled along the picturesque banks of the River Stour, Westgate Gardens offers a tranquil escape at the west end of Canterbury's old city walls. The gardens follow the course of the Roman city wall. There are no traces of the wall today, since they were destroyed during the Civil War and the stones were repurposed for various construction projects.
Westgate Gardens is the perfect spot for leisurely strolls, family picnics, or simply unwinding amidst nature's embrace. This public garden is also a popular spot for photography.
6. Roam the grounds of King’s School
A short walk away from Canterbury Cathedral is the oldest operating school in England, The King’s School. The school has been in the same spot ever since the arrival of St. Augustine in 597 AD. You can only get a guided tour of the school if your child is interested in studying there.
7. Take a picture at crooked Sir John Boys House
A trip to Canterbury would be incomplete without a visit to the crooked Sir John Boys House, one of the most photographed buildings in Canterbury. The crooked house with a severely crooked door tilts to the side at an unimaginable angle. Feels like it could topple over anytime. For years the building was used by King's School and was off-limits to the public. However, its story took a heartwarming turn, and today, it plays a meaningful role as a charity bookshop supporting the local homeless charity, Catching Lives. This means that you can not only go inside the building, but by purchasing a book, you also contribute to a noble cause.
Sir John Boys House is located at the end of Palace Street, which is pretty close to the cathedral. Nowadays, it houses a charity bookshop and is free to enter.
8. Explore the ruins of St. Augustine’s Abbey
St. Augustine’s Abbey is an English heritage site and part of Canterbury’s UNESCO heritage centre. It is located to the east of Canterbury Cathedral and right outside the city walls. It is home to one of the most important religious sites of England.
Ruins of the abbey and other buildings are now accessible by grass paths and gravel walkways. You can also visit an exhibition that traces the story of the abbey and its founders and check out the museum that contains excavated artefacts. With virtual reality headsets, you can have a firsthand experience of life in the abbey.
You can visit St. Augustine’s Abbey on a joint ticket with Canterbury Tales. The official website provides more information on opening hours and entry charges.
9. Walk to the Church of St. Martin, England's Oldest Church
A little further ahead is the Church of St. Martin, the oldest church in England. It was probably used by the Romans in the 4th century and still bears a number of Roman artefacts on its walls. In the 6th century, St. Martin’s Church was regularly used by Queen Bertha for her prayers.
Interesting places to see within the church include the chancel which is the oldest part of the church, the nave which dates from the time of Queen Bertha, and an exquisite 900-year-old font. You can visit the church for free on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 11 am to 3 pm.
10. Take a guided walking tour in Canterbury
If you're on a Canterbury day trip and eager to explore all the major sights while gaining fascinating insights along the way, I've got the perfect suggestion for you: join a guided walking tour.
your knowledgeable guide leading the way, unravelling the enchanting history of Canterbury with intriguing tales of murder, ghosts, and artistic endeavours, giving you a deeper appreciation for the city's historical streets and buildings. It's like stepping back in time as you wander the medieval lanes, visit charming pilgrim inns, and soak in the grandeur of Canterbury Cathedral and the modern Marlowe Theatre.
In just 90 minutes, this guided walking tour will transport you through centuries of history, illuminating the evolution of Canterbury right before your eyes. To make sure you don't miss out on this captivating experience, I highly recommend booking your spot in advance, especially if you're planning to visit on the weekend – spots fill up fast!
11. Take a boat tour
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Canterbury is to take a historic river tour on the Great Stour. These tours are designed for visitors of all ages. Your tour guide will take you through the rich history of the city and point out to the finest architectural and historical sights. Of course, it will come peppered with local myths and amusing gossip.
12. Eat in the oldest pub in Canterbury
The Parrot stands proudly as Canterbury's oldest pub, boasting a remarkable heritage dating back to the 15th century. With its roots built upon Roman foundations, this historic establishment exudes an undeniable charm that captivates visitors from all walks of life.
Step inside, and you'll find yourself enveloped in a warm and inviting ambiance, thanks to the broad oak floorboards and the crackling open fires. The pub's intimate and well-lit environment creates the perfect setting to savor a delectable array of fantastic food and drinks.
Beyond its fascinating history, The Parrot's culinary offerings truly shine. Dine here to experience perfectly cooked dishes beautifully presented on your plate.