TOP
City Break Europe Solo Travel

How To Have A Great Day Trip To Canterbury, England

Last updated on May 5th, 2024 at 07:52 pm

A day trip to Canterbury in southeast England is a great idea! Home to the 6th Century Canterbury Cathedral and a pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages, Canterbury has enough to keep any modern day ‘pilgrim’ busy. A vibrant shopping area, the River Stour and some of the country’s most important, oldest and quirkiest buildings all combine to create a perfect day trip destination.

I took a day trip to Canterbury from London and although my time was limited, there is still much you can see.

I’m going to set out all you need to know, how to get there and the things to do in Canterbury so you too can have a great day trip to Canterbury.

Image taken in Canterbury during a day trip and shows the view looking toward Christ Church Gate with the Cathedral behind it

Is a Day Trip To Canterbury Worth It?

Yes! A day trip to Canterbury will give you enough time to visit the key sites in the city. Obviously, if you want to spend longer in Canterbury and perhaps explore the surrounding area then there are plenty of accommodation options, however 1 day in Canterbury will generally be enough time to see and experience what the city has to offer.

Getting to Canterbury from London

Canterbury is located in the English county of Kent, about 100 kilometres from London. There are several ways to make a day trip to Canterbury from the capital:

Train

The quickest way to get to Canterbury from London is by train. Southeastern trains depart from several London stations, including Charing Cross, London St Pancras and London Victoria, at regular intervals and stop at either Canterbury West or Canterbury East stations.

My train arrived into Canterbury West station which is a short walk into the city centre via the historic Westgate. Canterbury East station is also a short walk from the city centre over a footbridge and via the city walls and shopping area.

I would recommend taking a day trip to Canterbury by train. Leaving early/mid morning and returning late afternoon/early evening will give you a good amount of time to explore Canterbury. I arrived just after 11am and in hindsight I should have chosen a slightly earlier arrival.

EN - 970x250

Coach

Coach services for Canterbury leave regularly from London Victoria Coach Station. Although cheaper than a train ticket, a coach will take longer and reduce your time in the city.

Check Trainline and National Express for bus routes, times and prices. Organised coach trips are also available – check these options offered by Get Your Guide and Viator.

Car

If you prefer to drive to Canterbury, check the AA Route Planner for directions. Check here for car parking information, including locations and costs.

If you are heading to Canterbury from somewhere other than London, then use the links above to search for train, coach and car routes from your location.

A Bit of History

Canterbury was first recorded as a settlement for the Celtic tribe of the Cantiaci, although the surrounding area had been inhabited since prehistoric times. The Romans arrived in the 1st Century AD and by the 3rd Century had built a wall with seven gates around the city.

After the Romans left, Anglo-Saxons occupied the city and trade in pottery, textiles and leather developed. Vikings besieged the city in 1011 and William the Conqueror arrived in 1066.

Canterbury experienced loss of life during the 14th Century Black Death and by the 16th Century Huguenot’s had arrived and began using the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral as their church. In the 17th Century, the Canterbury economy was dominated by silk weaving, a dominance that lasted into the early 19th Century.

The railway arrived in the mid-19th Century and the population of the city grew significantly. Barracks and voluntary hospitals were set up around the city in the First World War and during the Second, the city was bombed heavily.

Today, Canterbury is dominated by tourism and the presence of students attending the University of Kent.

Canterbury is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Image showing the cloisters at Canterbury Cathedral as seen during as day trip to Canterbury

Things To Do On A Day Trip to Canterbury

To help you plan your time in Canterbury, here’s my list of some of the best things to do in Canterbury that you can easily (& should!) include in your day trip itinerary:

1. Visit Canterbury Cathedral

For most people, the number one reason for making a day trip to Canterbury is to visit Canterbury Cathedral. In fact, the Cathedral gets around one million visitors each year!

Founded in 597 by missionaries from Rome, Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Cathedral was rebuilt between 1070 – 1077 following fire and underwent further reconstruction and change over the years.

Image shows Canterbury Cathedral, number one of the lists of things to see in Canterbury

The Cathedral is perhaps most well known as the place where the then Archbishop, Thomas Becket, was murdered on 29 December 1170. Four knights of King Henry II murdered Becket after having heard the King, who was often in conflict with the Archbishop, utter the now famous words ‘will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’.

The place inside the Cathedral where the murder took place is referred to as The Martyrdom. Becket’s remains were kept in the Cathedral’s crypt until 1220 when they were moved to a Shrine housed in Trinity Chapel. The Shrine was destroyed however in 1538 under the orders of King Henry VIII. Today, the original site of the Shrine is marked by a single burning candle.

Archbishop Thomas Becket became a Saint following his murder and the Cathedral a place of pilgrimage. One of the most famous books written about the pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral is Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales”. Look out for the statue of Chaucer dressed as a Canterbury pilgrim in Canterbury town centre.

Image shows the bronze statue of Geoffrey Chaucer, writer of Canterbury Tales, erected in Canterbury city centre

My tips for visiting the Cathedral

  • tickets are £17 for adults and are valid for 12 months allowing you to revisit as often as you want for no additional cost. Children 17 and under are free. Check the official Cathedral site for up to date visitor information including as to Cathedral opening times, scheduled closures, prices and ticket terms & conditions
  • allow 2-3 hours for your visit – the Cathedral is enormous and there is the outside to see also!
  • you can purchase a walking guidebook for £3 (I found it really useful) or a multimedia guide for £5. You can also join a guided tour for £5
  • be sure to speak to the volunteers throughout the Cathedral – they are a great source of information and only too happy to answer questions
  • due to the age of the Cathedral, some surfaces are uneven. There are also a few stairs to climb
  • the Trinity Chapel is the only area not accessible for wheelchair users, however a touch screen computer provides details of tombs and stained glass windows in the Chapel

For details of my list of must see sights when visiting Canterbury Cathedral, click here.

2. View Christ Church Gate

In order to visit the Cathedral you will need to pass through Christ Church Gate. Until recently, the gate was undergoing restoration and was covered in the ubiquitous scaffolding seen at many historic places! Now uncovered, the early Tudor gate can be seen in all its glory. It’s believed to have been built in around 1520 as a memorial to Henry VII’s eldest son Arthur, Prince of Wales who died in 1502 aged 16.

Image shows Christ Church Gate which is the main gate into the Canterbury Cathedral precincts, a must see during a day trip to Canterbury

3. Stop by The Old Weavers House

As I mentioned above, weaving played an important role in the Canterbury economy from the 16th Century. One of the sites where this activity was undertaken was The Old Weavers House located next to the Kings Bridge over the River Stour on St Peter’s Street.

Although the sign on the building indicates that it dates from 1500, it’s reported that the foundations are much earlier and date from the 12th Century. Today, The Old Weavers House is a restaurant.

As you stand on Kings Bridge, be sure to see the ducking stool protruding out over the river. A ducking stool was used in medieval times to determine whether someone was a witch – the accused person was dunked under the water and if they drowned they were innocent, if they lived they were a witch!

Image taken standing on Kings Bridge over the Rover Stour next to the Old Weavers House in Canterbury. The image shows the ducking stool projecting out over the river.

4. Visit St Martin’s Church

The oldest church in the English speaking world, St Martin’s dates from before 597 AD. Saxon Queen Bertha of Kent worshipped here, the building having been renovated to accommodate her in around AD 580. The church was enlarged in 597 with the arrival of Augustine who made the church his mission headquarters before founding Canterbury Cathedral.

5. Wander Along Butchery Lane

As you make your way toward Canterbury Cathedral, be sure to do so via Butchery Lane. You may feel as though you are in medieval Canterbury as you make your way along the narrow street which was once home to butchers shops (hence the name!) toward the imposing view of the Cathedral’s Bell Harry Tower at the end of it.

It’s surely one of the most photographed streets in the city!

6. View The Crooked House

Another must see during a day trip to Canterbury is The Crooked House.

Located at 28 King Street, the Crooked House dates from the 17th Century and is one of Canterbury’s last surviving half timber buildings. Apparently, the rectification of an internal chimney slippage caused the building to tilt. Today, it’s reinforced with a steel frame.

The Crooked House is now a second hand bookshop open to the public so do pop in!

Image showing the famous crooked house of Canterbury. The house leans heavily to the right and is a must see during any day trip to Canterbury

7. Visit The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge

If you want a museum, art gallery, library and Visitor Information Centre all rolled into one, look no further than The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge. Entry is free and the range of exhibitions/events is such that there is sure to be something for everyone.

Check the official site for details of current exhibitions and events.

Image shows the Beaney House of Art & Knowledge which can be visited during a day trip to Canterbury.

8. Visit Westgate and Westgate Gardens

If you arrive into Canterbury West station, then your walk into the city will take you through the Westgate. Not only is Westgate the last surviving of the 7 medieval gates built into the city walls, it’s also the largest surviving city gate in England.

The gate is 18 metres (60 feet) tall and was built around 1380, a medieval replacement for the Roman west gate. It was originally approached over a drawbridge across the River Stour.

The Westgate was a prison from the 15th-19th Centuries and the city archive in the early 20th Century. Today, it houses, amongst other things, a museum with views over the city and the nearby Westgate Gardens. Check the official Westgate Towers site for up to date visitor information including events and prices.

9. Spot the Pilgrim Markers

As you walk around Canterbury keep a look out for various pilgrimage and local walk markers. The Via Francigena, the Pilgrims Way and Queen Bertha’s Walk are all marked.

The Via Francigena and the Pilgrims Way will take you out of Canterbury. Queen Bertha’s Walk however comprises 14 bronze plaques set in the pavements throughout Canterbury city. The walk celebrates the role Queen Bertha played in bringing Christianity to Canterbury in the 6th Century. I understand that the walk takes about 20-30 minutes, depending on how long you spend at each of the stops. Whilst I saw a few of the markers, I did not walk the entire route.

10. Take a Break!

Sightseeing anywhere keeps you busy and clocking up a lot of steps. A day trip to Canterbury is no different. You will therefore want to find somewhere to take a break, grab a coffee or have a meal.

Tiny Tim’s Tearoom offered a good selection of food and drink….I can recommend the scone with clotted cream and jam! Wild Goose located in the farmers market of The Goods Shed near Canterbury West station serves nice coffee which powered me back to London.

Image shows a scone with clotted cream and jam bought during a day trip to Canterbury

Other highly recommended places that I did not get to include The Refectory Kitchen, Lost Sheep Coffee and Garage Coffee. Alternatively, you could try The Parrot which dates from the 15th Century making it the oldest pub in Canterbury.

If You Have More Than One Day In Canterbury

There is quite a bit to see and do in Canterbury, so if you arrive early morning or you have longer than one day in the city, you may want to consider including the following in your itinerary:

  • Visit the Canterbury Roman Museum – described as a fascinating museum giving an insight into life in Roman Britain. Click here for up to date visitor information
  • Take a trip on the River Stour – check options with Canterbury Historic River Tours and Canterbury Punting Company
  • Visit the Ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey
  • See a show at the Marlowe Theatre – check here to see what’s on
  • Take a trip to see Dover Castle
  • Visit Margate for a day at the beach
  • Take a trip to visit Leeds Castle
  • Shopping!

Final Thoughts

The historic city of Canterbury is within easy reach of London (and other UK cities) and is a great choice for a day trip. Canterbury Cathedral, half timbered buildings, pilgrim markers, a medieval gate, quaint narrow streets and the River Stour running through the middle of it all create an atmosphere that will have you feeling as if you’ve stepped back in time. However, you will also find a busy shopping district and plenty of modern eateries. All of this combine to make a Canterbury day trip a great idea!

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to visit and given you enough suggestions of things to do in Canterbury to create your own perfect 1 day itinerary.

If you need further help in planning your day trip to Canterbury, or any other trip, do check my Resources page here.

If you’re looking for further UK day trip ideas, then do consider Bath and/or Windsor – you can read my blog posts here and here.

Disclaimer – Information correct at the time of writing but do check before visiting.

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

«

»

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.