Day Trip to Canterbury

London, long a top travel destination, is rich in history, has a wealth of museums, and monuments, plus a vibrant restaurant scene. Still, it’s nice to get out of the city and day trip-it to a nearby area. Bath, Stonehenge, even Paris are popular options, but don’t forget about Canterbury, a cathedral city in southeast England famous for its pilgrimage site from the middle ages.

[The Miller] swoor, “By armes, and by blood and bones,
I kan a noble tale for the nones,
With which I wol now quite the Knyghtes tale.”

If you feel as though you just time traveled back to high school lit class you’re not probably not alone – the above quote is from The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer between 1387 and 1400, and I remember daydreaming through much of it. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury. They come from all layers of society and tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to the shrine in Canterbury. Some of the characters are funny and rude (i.e. “colorful”), while others are moral and reflective. Chaucer is important because The Canterbury Tales was one of the first major works in literature written in English, and it helped put Canterbury on the map.

The massive romanesque and gothic cathedral that dominates the city is a compelling reason to hop on a train. Founded in 597, the Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures, and is best known for the murder of Sir Thomas Becket by the knights of King Henry II, and for the pilgrimage that Chaucer wrote about in the late 1300’s.

Located beyond the Cathedral, are the remains of St.Augustines Abbey, one of the oldest monastic sites in England. When Henry VIII seized the abbey in the 16th century, he destroyed some of the buildings and converted others into a royal manor for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.  In 1541 parts of the abbey were torn down and most the stone was sold locally. The library, containing two thousand manuscripts, was destroyed. The ruins of the Abbey are now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Canterbury Hospital Ruins

Other Highlights:

Canterbury is easy to see in a day. Currently, there are trains from London St. Pancras Station to Canterbury in as little as an hour, leaving plenty of time to tour the town and the cathedral, and to grab lunch at a local restaurant. The train station is an easy walk to the main street.

The city itself, although defined by its past, still has a busy modern vibe. Similar to Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, the King’s Mile has a variety of independent retailers and other shops along the old cobbled street. There is also a large student population who support the interesting dining, shopping and nightlife scene.

Canterbury is home to Greyfriars Chapel, Britain’s oldest Franciscan building which spans the River Stour. You can explore the ruins of the Norman Castle and view the Westgate Towers which has stood over the road to London for six centuries. Eastbridge Hospital was founded following the murder of St Thomas Becket to provide accommodation for poor pilgrims visiting his tomb. The building includes the early 13th century painting of Christ in Glory. Also, don’t forget the 13th and 14th century medieval city walls surrounding the city, built on the line of original Roman walls. Some have survived and offer great views of the town. Look for Castle and Broad Streets for access.

The impressive Christchurch Gate, built between 1504 and 1521, is the main entry into the Cathedral grounds. Try to find the sculpted heads of Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII, who married Catherine of Aragon in 1501. After Arthur’s death, Catherine married Henry VIII, and most of us know what happens next. Catherine is unable to produce a male heir and after twenty-five years of marriage led henry to divorce her, breaking with the Catholic Church and altering the course of English history.

Also recommended is the charming visitor attraction, The Canterbury Tales,  an audio visual recreation of 14th century English life. Here you’ll meet Chaucer’s pilgrims at the Tabard Inn near London and view scenes illustrating five tales. Located on St. Margaret’s Street.”

Where to Eat: We grabbed lunch at Kitch, an all natural cafe located on St. Peter’s Street. The atmosphere is charming, and the food is fresh and delicious. Other top recommendations: Pinocchio’s – Italian Restaurant in a light airy space, 64 Castle Street, Café du Soleil – menu inspired by Provence and Italy, 5 Pound Lane, Deeson’s – modern British dining in elegant venue, 25-27 Sun Street, Café des Amis – Canterbury’s original Mexican Restaurant, 95 St Dunstan’s Street.

If you do go to Canterbury, I hope you enjoy your day in Southeast England. Don’t forget to wander around on your own for a while to enjoy the unexpected sights and sounds you might find along the way, and think about writing down your thoughts when you return to your hotel at the end of the day. It’s nice to reread and daydream about your trip once you return back home to reality.

e.

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71 comments

  • Have been to many other places in England including Welsh border, Bath (which I adore), and parts north including Lindisfarne and Edinburgh. BUt I have never been to the lowlands of southeast England. Thanks for these visuals and descriptions.

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    • Thank you! I haven’t really explored much of England, there’s that whole driving on the left side of the road which puts a damper on things, which is why I appreciate the European train system. Bath is the only other city I’ve been to and I can see why you adore it, so charming. Thank you so much for stopping by and for your nice comment. Take care!

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  • For any of your readers who love teddy bears (and I’m one of them), it’s also worth arranging a visit to the charming folks at Canterbury Bears, situated of course right there. Thanks for reminding me of two lovely visits spent there! Alisa

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    • Hi there, and thanks for the wonderful, tip, Alisa. Nice to meet someone with a similar name to mine…it’s nice with an A. Take care, and thanks for stopping by!!
      Elisa

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  • I thoroughly enjoyed this visit to Canterbury, as well as the visit back in time, Elisa. Your photos are artful and your narrative is engaging. What a terrific day-trip this makes.

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    • Brian, thank you! I’m always happy to hear from you, and appreciate your nice comments. I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend! Take care,
      elisa

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    • Ha, you always make me laugh! Thank you for that…and I’ll try to be more diligent in my posting. (We must have a mutual blog friend out there, I think!) Take care…have a great weekend. 🙂
      elisa

      Liked by 1 person

  • Superb post, Elisa! We visited Canterbury a few years ago on our way to Sissinghurst. Unfortuneately for us, there were so many groups visiting the cathedral and the queues were so long that we decided against going inside. I’m so happy I could do the tour with you now. Magnificent images.
    Did you by any chance visit the Goods Shed or maybe dine there (Station Road)?

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    • Dina! Thank you, it’s wonderful isn’t it? My husband and I were visiting my sister in London who teaches a semester abroad class for an American university. We joined her and her students for a tour, which was nice. It was in early October so it wasn’t too crowded, thankfully. I read about Goods Shed and would have loved to have tried it. We had a quick lunch at a charming place called Ktich. Sassy name, right? Take care and hello to everyone!

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  • i used to live nearby. Today Canterbury is a little sterile and has lost some of its magic. It was a great place to visit several decades ago. However, the catheral is still wonderful. Lovely pics. Eve

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    • We were in Canterbury on a beautiful sunny day, when the blue skies and light make everything more welcoming. And yes, the cathedral is amazing. Glad you stopped by, it’s nice to get insight from a local. Take care and have a great weekend.

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  • That Header shot is a stunner, Elisa! I’ve just finished scribbling my travel diary, which included a mighty thunderstorm on our arrival in the Algarve 🙂 🙂 I fell out with my best friend on a day visit to Canterbury and we stalked off in different directions! It’s many years ago now and we’re good friends again but I’ll always remember Canterbury that way 🙂

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  • The cathedral ceiling photograph is one of your best, and I enjoyed reading your historical narrative. You should write more often. 🙂

    The Canterbury Tales and HS lit class are rather synonymous, but I didn’t take lit – instead taking the composition courses. But, I do remember one of the books the English lit class did read was that certain book by DH Lawrence. It wasn’t a scandalous choice as it would be today.

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    • Ha, this is a true story. I picked up a copy of LCL one day in Barnes and Noble and thought I’d read it just to see what all the fuss was about. The two women behind the counter actually giggled when I laid it on the counter. That was the most scandalous thing about the book for me..those two numbskulls at the book store. (Hows that for some writing? Just kidding, thanks for the encouragement – always appreciated!) 🙂

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    • Ha, thanks Jay. I’m pretty certain I heard a collective groan from my readers once they realized they were getting a history lesson on Chaucer. Thanks for stopping by. Saw Beauty and the Beast the other night and almost cried at the end when I realized Emma Thompson was Mrs. Potts. Love her!
      Take care,
      elisa

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  • Thanks for this tour to this historic location. I’ve made a note to visit if/when I’m in the area. History is important but also interesting and this place has it in abundance. Love your photos.

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    • It’s nice to hear from a history fan! Thank you, I know you’d enjoy roaming around this medieval city, and marvel at the cathedral. A far cry from Cambodia, that’s for sure…your trip was so enlightening. Take care, and enjoy your week!
      elisa

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    • I thought the same thing until I researched it! Their cooking is based on ancient Mexican food, also influenced by Mexico’s Mediterranean heritage. In any event, it’s making my mouth water thinking about it. 🙂 Take care and have a great week!

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    • Otto, thank you. There are so many layers of history in Canterbury and from so very long ago that my mind was racing. And the Cathedral was beyond my expectations. Trying to capture a decent photograph here was difficult, and it gave me a new respect for travel writers and photographers, like yourself. Impressive work you do!

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    • Hi there! Thank you so much for thinking of me! I appreciate your stopping by my blog, and for the consideration. I’m looking forward to reading your blog.
      Take care,
      elisa

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  • Elisa, what a beautiful travelogue on one of my favourite stamping grounds… did you also know that Kings School, Canterbury, founded in 597 by St Augustine is the oldest school in the world that’s still flourishing? So many well known and interesting people have gone there, including Orlando Bloom!!
    Keep these lovely posts coming, please !

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    • Hi Valerie! You won’t believe this but I checked my spam filter for the first time in years. (I’ve always been afraid to look in there.) One of the very first comments I noticed was yours, from April 4th. I am so happy I checked! Thank you for the info about Canterbury’s Kings School…and the interesting tidbit about Orlando Bloom!
      Take care,
      elisa

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  • Next time you’re passing through London you might enjoy a short trip to St. Albans to visit the Abbey. There’s also a small market and down the bottom of the hill below the Abbey there is the Verulam Roman Museum.

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  • So, so far from where I wander … thank you for taking me there vicariously! You get an “A” for making it fascinating and beautiful – my High School English teacher (by comparison) merits maybe a C-! Hats off to Chaucer and to you.

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    • Ha, out of 4 years of high school, there was one English teacher who stood out (the others not so much.) She made Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities seem like an exciting mystery. Wish I could tell her that. And yes, hats off to Chaucer (and Dickens) 🙂

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  • Your featured image is spectacular, and your narrative always evocative. Can you believe I haven’t been to England in over three decades? Time to return 🙂

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  • Nice narrative. We visited Canterbury a couple of years back and loved it. Have you been to Winchester Cathedral? It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe.

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