One of the oldest cities in England is Canterbury, which has preserved ancient structures and historical monuments. There are ruins of the first Christian and Roman buildings, medieval houses and a Norman castle. Over 2.5 million people a year flock to Canterbury to see its stunning architecture and visit its museums.
Where is Canterbury?
If you look at a map of Britain, you can see that Canterbury is located in the southeastern part of the island near London, the distance is 85 km. The city covers an area of 72.8 square kilometers, and its center lies 3 meters above sea level. It belongs to the county of Kent, is the administrative center of the district and has the status of “city”. It is the seat of the Archbishop, Primate of the Church of England.
According to the 2001 census, the local population is 43432,000. The city is home to the University of Canterbury and the College of Education and Art. The city ranks second in popularity in England, so there is a developed infrastructure. Tourists can not only enjoy the rich heritage, but also eat delicious food, enjoy great drinks and luxurious hotels.
The formation of the city
In ancient times, there was a Celtic settlement at the mouth of the Staur River that flowed into the strait. Over time, the channel became clogged, and the settlement was far from the sea. In 43, the Roman Emperor Claudius laid out the city of Durovernum Cantiacorum, and a couple of months later he built the road to London, which today is called Watling Street. In the sixth century, King Ethelbert of Kent and his wife, the Christian Bertha, settled here. She welcomed missionaries, and then Pope Gregory the First sent her Augustine of Canterbury, who founded the abbey and laid the cathedral. These temples have survived to this day.
The city long served as the religious center of the country and was constantly targeted by the Danes. In 1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket, a saint, was assassinated in the cathedral. Pilgrims began to flock to his relics, for which they built inns and taverns. During the Reformation the monasteries and churches were dissolved, but Canterbury survived at the expense of the French Huguenots engaged in weaving. In 1839 a railroad came to the settlement and it prospered until it was bombed in June 1942 during the famous Bedeker raids.
The city has a moderately warm climate, characterized by high precipitation. During the year, Canterbury receives about 600 mm of rainfall. Rainfall is most common in November, when it is 70 mm. The driest month is February, with 40 mm. The average temperature is +10 ° C. The maximum air temperature is in July, when the mercury exceeds +23 ° C. In January it can fall to +4 °C.
Tourists will discover how the Christian faith spread in Britain. The territory of Canterbury is small and yet includes a large number of attractions. Among them worth mentioning are:
- Canterbury Cathedral is located in the southeastern part of Canterbury and is an important religious center. It is the seat of the English primate. The temple attracts attention with its bell tower, which reaches a height of 70.5 meters. It was built in 1505. Inside the cathedral there is a tomb of Henry the Fourth and his wife Joan of Navarre. There are also medieval stained glass windows, the throne of Saint Augustus, a gilded statue of the Black Prince and the openwork carving of the Chapter House, dating back to the XIV century.
- St. Augustine’s Abbey is the oldest building in Canterbury and was the tomb for kings and archbishops. It was a center of religious education that was destroyed during the Reformation. It was rebuilt for Anne of Cleves, but without constant care the church quickly fell into disrepair. It has survived to this day in a state of ruins, which are protected by the UNESCO World Organization. The surviving buildings house the oldest school on the planet, The King’s School.
- Westgate – is a majestic medieval structure built of Kent limestone. It stands 18 metres high and is the largest surviving gate in the country. They were erected in 1379 to make Canterbury more attractive and to protect the village in case of danger. The structure had 18 embrasures designed to hold cannons. The central part had a passage connecting the two towers.
- Canterbury Heritage Museum – The institution’s exhibits introduce visitors to the historical events that took place in the area over several centuries. There are several exhibits including fragments of horse harness used by the Vikings, ivory knives and combs, and Joseph Conrad’s personal effects, including photographs, drawings, pieces of furniture, and a typewriter.
- The Binney House Center for Arts and Knowledge is a cultural complex that consists of a library, museum, art gallery and café. The institution is housed in an old building built in 1897, and it was named after the politician and surgeon, James George Beaney. Here you can see archeological finds, like jewelry, glassware, utensils and mummified cat. Dutch stained glass windows from the 16th century deserve special attention.
Where to stay?
Overnight accommodations in Canterbury are mostly in small hotels or guesthouses, which are very hard to book during the summer months. There are hotels in the central part of the city that are housed in old buildings, with modern interiors, furniture and appliances. You will find an indoor swimming pool, wireless Internet access, laundry and dry cleaning.
Almost all establishments provide additional facilities for disabled people. The restaurants serve traditional English dishes as well as European ones. The best hotels in the city are considered to be: Cathedral Gate, The Dickens Inn and Canterbury.
Where to eat?
Canterbury has many cafes, pubs and restaurants where you can eat and relax. Many of them still have old-world furnishings, transporting visitors back to the Middle Ages. You can eat meat and fish dishes, pies, and beer in the restaurants. You can do this at places like Bishop’s Finger, The Goods Shed, and New Inn.
There are shopping centers and stores throughout the city where you can buy unique souvenirs, name-brand items, quality watches, hygiene products, and other goods. The best places to shop in Canterbury are The Goods Shed and Canterbury Jewellers and Pawnbrokers.
How to get there?
The city can be reached from London by train or bus, a journey time of about 2 hours. If you get by car, you should take the M2 and A2. Do bear in mind that parking in Canterbury city center can be difficult to find.
What to see in Canterbury, England?
Canterbury Cathedral is the main Anglican church in Britain. One of the main attractions of Canterbury Cathedral is considered to be the painting “The Apostle Paul with the Serpent”, a fragment of the painting of St. Anselm Chapel.
St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury
St Augustine’s Benedictine Abbey is on the list of places to see in Canterbury. Its history goes back to the time when the abbot of a Roman monastery was sent to Britain on a missionary mission.
Westgate in Canterbury
As you enter downtown Canterbury from the A-290, there is a majestic medieval gate of grey Kent limestone. It’s the Westgate, Canterbury’s landmark, the biggest (18 metres high) surviving gate in Britain.
Canterbury Heritage Museum
The Canterbury Heritage Museum’s objects and finds represent millions of years of historic events. The ancient building the museum occupies once housed the Our Lady’s Almshouse for underprivileged priests.
Canterbury Roman Museum
The Roman Museum (second name, the Museum of Ancient Roman Art) is among Canterbury’s most popular attractions. The idea of its creation arose after archaeological excavations uncovered the ruins of an ancient Roman house.
The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury
On the banks of the River Stor in Canterbury’s historic city center, the Marlowe Theatre invites English-speaking audiences to enjoy a wide range of productions. The theater is named after the British Elizabethan poet and dramatist Christopher Marlowe.
Beanie House Center for Arts and Knowledge
The Beanie House Arts and Learning Center is a cultural complex that includes an art gallery, museum, library, and an intimate café. The center takes its name from Dr. James George Beaney, an honorary surgeon, politician and philanthropist.
St. Martin’s Church in Canterbury
Churches of St. Martin of Tours, celebrated for his modesty, kindness, and pacifism, have been built in a variety of locations throughout Europe. Most of the churches dedicated to this pious bishop are in Great Britain, and the oldest of them is the beautiful Church of St. Martin in Canterbury.
What can the sights of the old English town of Canterbury tell inquisitive tourists? First of all, the history of the spread of the Christian faith in the British Isles. After the Romans had left the region, King Ethelbert of Kent began to consolidate his influence and first decided to become related to the powerful Merovingian dynasty. Princess Bertha of the Franks, arriving from across the Channel with her confessor, convinced the king of the benefits of embracing Christianity, whereupon the experienced abbot of the monastery, Augustine, was summoned from Rome. The mission of Augustine and 40 assistant monks to the pagan king was predictably successful, and they baptized Ethelbert himself and then thousands of his subjects. Augustine of Canterbury’s ministry on English soil began at St. Martin’s Church, which Bertha had built on the site of an ancient Roman temple.
What can the sights of the old English town of Canterbury tell inquisitive tourists? First of all, about the history of the spread of the Christian faith in the British Isles.
As the parish expanded, it quickly became crowded, and missionaries founded a monastery in the name of St. Peter and St. Paul. After the death and canonization of Augustine of Canterbury, the monastery was named after him and became the center of Christianity for many centuries. In the 16th century, however, during the secularization campaign, the Benedictine abbey was dissolved and the buildings were converted into Anne of Cleves’ palace. In the 19th century, steps were taken to preserve the historic legacy, and the monastery buildings and picturesque ruins that survived at the time have been successfully preserved to this day.
The famous Canterbury Cathedral is also connected with the name of Augustine, who laid the foundations of the cathedral in 603. Of course, the Cathedral got its Gothic look much later: after a destructive fire in 1174 on the place it was decided to build a more worthy Canterbury structure. The cathedral acquired its final form only in 1834 with the rebuilding of the northwest tower. It is now a complex complex structure with a predominant style of Perpendicular Gothic. Among the sights are artful 12th-13th-century stained glass windows, fresco paintings, and monastery gardens with a collection of exotic plants.
Canterbury Cathedral, St. Martin’s Church and St. Augustine’s Abbey are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Not for nothing Canterbury is the official spiritual capital of Great Britain: apart from these Christian sites, there are 22 more parish churches preserved here. Architecture and art lovers should head to Greyfriars Franciscan Chapel, St. Thomas’ Catholic Church with a piece of Becket’s relics and St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church with the relics of canonized Thomas More.
Museums and Parks
In addition to Christian sites, Canterbury also has secular tourist attractions. And culture and history buffs won’t want to miss the Roman Museum with its collection of Roman archaeology, the Canterbury Heritage Museum with its history since the city’s founding, and the Beanie House, which has several art exhibitions.
City parks are another distinctive Canterbury attraction. Westgate gardens, Dane John Park on the ancient rampart, Franciscan Park, Blean woods preserve, Larkey Valley woods parkland – each one is unique and beautiful. For a particularly romantic way to see the sights of Canterbury, take a boat trip on the River Stour, which winds alongside the historic city center.