TOP
City Break Europe Solo Travel

Visiting Canterbury Cathedral – What You Must See

Last updated on May 5th, 2024 at 07:46 pm

Visiting Canterbury Cathedral should be high on the list for UK visitors and residents alike. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988, the Cathedral was founded in 597 and is an enormous trove of British history.

Whilst visiting Canterbury Cathedral is relatively easy, knowing what to see can be overwhelming. I have visited a couple of times, most recently in February 2024 and in this post I will set out my selection of must see sights.

Please keep in mind that I am not an historian or a Canterbury Cathedral specialist and this is not a comprehensive guide as to the many treasures the Cathedral contains. I do hope however that my choice of sights will help you create your own itinerary and get the most out of visiting Canterbury Cathedral.

Image shows Canterbury Cathedral

Getting to Canterbury

Canterbury is located in southeast England in the county of Kent, about 100 kilometres from London. There are several ways to get to Canterbury from the capital – train, coach and car. For further details about each of these options, please read my post about my day trip to Canterbury here.

Staying in Canterbury

Whilst it is possible to see a lot during a day trip to Canterbury (I certainly did), you may also want to consider having a short break and staying in the city for a night or two. If that’s the case, then the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge would be very convenient for visiting Canterbury Cathedral! The Lodge is located within the Cathedral grounds and includes free entry to the Cathedral itself.

There are of course plenty of other hotel options in Canterbury – check available options and book here:

Tips For Visiting Canterbury Cathedral

To help you in preparation for visiting Canterbury Cathedral, here are my tips for getting the most out of your visit:

Approaching the Cathedral

Once you have arrived in Canterbury (even before that actually!), you cannot miss seeing the Cathedral as it towers over the surrounding buildings.

To get to the Cathedral, I would suggest walking along 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!

Image shows view along Butchery Lane in Canterbury. Visitors should walk along this street when visiting Canterbury Cathedral.

Tickets

Tickets for visiting Canterbury Cathedral can be bought online in advance or on the day. I purchased my ticket on the day, however I visited in February and there was no queue. It will likely be much busier during the Summer months so you may wish to consider booking in advance.

There are currently the following ticket options:

  • the standard visitor ticket price is £17 for adults. This ticket is valid for 12 months allowing you to revisit as often as you want for no additional cost
  • children 17 years of age and under can visit for free when accompanied by a paying adult
  • Canterbury students studying full time at Canterbury Christ Church University, University of Kent and University for the Creative Arts can visit for free
  • English Heritage Members are entitled to a 20% discount on the standard visitor ticket price – this discount only applies to tickets bought on the door at the visitor centre and is valid only to 31 March 2024
  • local residents may be eligible for a Cathedral Pass permitting unlimited visits

Check the official Cathedral site for up to date ticket price information and terms & conditions. Keep in mind also that there is free entry to parts of the Cathedral Precincts daily from 9am to 9pm until 10 March 2024 as part of a free precincts trial that is being run by the Cathedral – more details are on the official Cathedral site.

In addition to your Cathedral ticket, you can also purchase a walking guidebook for £3 (I found it really useful) or a multimedia guide for £5. You can also join guided tours for £5.

Opening Times

The Cathedral opening times are:

  • Monday to Saturday 9am – 5pm (last admission is 4pm)
  • Sunday 11.30am – 5pm (last admission is 4pm) Note: between 11.30am – 12.30 access is to the Cathedral grounds and shop only. The Cathedral church opens at 12.30.

Check the official Cathedral site for up to visitor information including as to Cathedral closures.

How Long Does It Take To Visit the Cathedral?

I would suggest allowing 2-3 hours for visiting Canterbury Cathedral. It is an enormous building and there is the outside to see also! Keep in mind the last admission times noted above when planning your visit.

Accessibility

Canterbury Cathedral is a medieval building set across several levels. Due to the age of the Cathedral, some of its surfaces are uneven. There are also a few stairs to climb, some of which are also worn with age (and the feet of thousands of medieval pilgrims!). 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.

Do check the official Cathedral site for further accessibility information including as to car parking for Blue Badge holders, accessible entrances and routes and for help during services of worship.

Canterbury Cathedral Staff & Volunteers

If you need any assistance when visiting Canterbury Cathedral, be sure to speak to a Cathedral staff member or volunteer. I found the volunteers (those wearing a yellow sash) to be a great source of information and only too happy to answer questions. I cannot recommend having a chat to them highly enough!

Cathedral Chaplains and Virgers (in black cassocks) are also available to help and the Cathedral has its own Constabulary who protect the Cathedral, its visitors and worshippers.

A Working Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral is a working Cathedral meaning that services are held regularly – each day starts with Matins (morning prayer) and ends with Evensong (evening prayer). The Eucharist is also offered daily.

Please check the official Cathedral site for further information and timings.

Canterbury Cathedral – Don’t Miss These Things!

As I stated earlier, I am not an expert on Canterbury Cathedral and this post is in no way a comprehensive guide. I have, however, visited the Cathedral a couple of times, most recently in February 2024, and these are my suggestions for things you should not miss seeing.

1. 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 is 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.

Take time to view the gate, its heraldic shields and vaulted ceiling with a central boss comprising a rose and animals.

2. Marble Font

Once inside the Cathedral, walk up the Nave and on your left you will see a large marble font. Beautifully decorated and of a substantial construction, my guidebook informed me that the font was reputed to have been smashed by Puritans in 1643 then hidden until it was repaired following the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. It’s the first of many imposing sights in Canterbury Cathedral.

Image shows a substantial marble font as seen inside when visiting Canterbury Cathedral

3. Compass Rose

As you walk up the Nave toward the alter you will come to the brass Compass Rose. This is the symbol of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Image shows the Compass Rose on the floor inside Canterbury Cathedral. This is the symbol of the worldwide Anglican Communion

4. The Pulpit

To the left of the Compass Rose is a carved and painted pulpit. It dates from 1898 and features saints associated with Canterbury. It is this pulpit that the Archbishop of Canterbury uses at Christmas and Easter.

Image shows the pulpit inside Canterbury Cathedral, one of the things a visit should see when visiting Canterbury Cathedral

5. The Martyrdom

Canterbury 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 location inside the Cathedral where the murder took place is referred to as The Martyrdom. It is a short walk from the pulpit.

6. The Eastern Crypt

There are a couple of stops you should make in the crypt.

The first is the Eastern Crypt where the tomb of Archbishop Thomas Becket was originally located before it was moved in 1220 to Trinity Chapel. Today, you will see a sculpture by Antony Gormley suspended above the site. The sculpture is made of 19th Century handmade nails previously in the roof of the South East Transept.

The second is the Jesus Chapel where the Eastern Crypt ends. The ceiling is decorated with crowned letters ‘M’ and ‘I, the Latin initials for Jesus and Mary. The alter cloth dates from 1895 and shows saints associated with Canterbury.

Image shows the Jesus Chapel within Canterbury Cathedral, a must see when visiting.

7. The Western Crypt

Leaving the Eastern Crypt you will come into the Western Crypt where there are a few stops to make.

The first is St Gabriel’s Chapel. In here you will see 12th Century wall paintings and 11th Century carvings. It’s amazing that they have survived!

The second is the Huguenot Chapel. This is not often open to the public (and it wasn’t when I visited) but its important to note that Huguenot’s arrived in Canterbury in the 16th Century and from that time they have worshipped in the Cathedral.

The third is the Chapel of Our Lady Undercroft. This chapel was on the route to Archbishop Becket’s shrine and as such, medieval pilgrims would have walked through here.

Finally, before leaving the Western Crypt, stop by the display cases which feature items significant to the Church-State relationship.

Photography is not permitted in much of the Western Crypt.

8. The Lantern Vaulting of the Bell Harry Tower

As soon as you get to the top of the stairs outside the Quire, look up! You will see, a long way up (!), the lantern vaulting of the Bell Harry Tower. It’s simply magnificent. The centre (which is a trap door) is 6 feet wide and behind it, hidden from view, is a treadmill used in the construction of the Tower.

image shows the latern vaulting of the Bell Harry Tower inside Canterbury Cathedral

Cathedral volunteers were ready with photos and further information about the vaulting and the treadmill so do speak to them, they are only too happy to help.

9. The Quire

A fire in 1174 severely damaged the Quire, however rebuilding saw it back in use from 1180. When you’re in the Quire be sure to look at the beautiful carving on the Quire stalls. There are some interesting images!

At the end of the Quire you’ll see an impressive 1663 brass lectern in the form of an eagle. The French master-mason in charge of rebuilding the Quire fell from scaffolding at this point in 1178. Although he didn’t die, he was badly injured and the task of completing the rebuilding passed to an Englishman.

Image shows the eagle Lectern within the Quire at Canterbury Cathedral

Beyond the lectern are steps up to the High Alter and beyond that further steps lead to the 13th Century St. Augustine’s Chair where archbishops are enthroned as leader of the Church of England.

Image shows the High Alter in Canterbury Cathedral and the chair beyond that on which Archbishops are enthroned, a must see when visiting Canterbury Cathedral

10. Trinity Chapel

Beyond the Quire is Trinity Chapel. The empty space in the middle of the Chapel once housed the Shrine of Thomas Becket. The Shrine was destroyed however in 1538 under the orders of King Henry VIII. Today, a single burning candle marks the original site of the Shrine.

Image shows a single burning candle in Trinity Chapel signifying where St Thomas Becket's tomb was until destroyed by ordered of Henry VIII.

At the end of Trinity Chapel you will find the Corona Chapel. It was here that the corona (top of the head) of Thomas Becket was housed. Today, the Chapel is dedicated to the Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time. An interesting booklet is available nearby with details of those remembered. Be sure to turn around here for a great view all the way back through the entire length of the Cathedral.

Next, stop by the Tomb of the Black Prince. Edward, Prince of Wales died in 1376. His tomb has him in full armour – look for his little dog by his feet!

Image shows the Tomb of the Black Prince, a must see when visiting Canterbury Cathedral

11. Stained Glass Windows

The Cathedral contains many beautiful stained glass windows. A couple to look out for are:

  • the West Window – here you will see, on the bottom row, Adam Delving, dating from around 1176 and one of the oldest pieces of stained glass in Britain.
  • the Royal Window of the Martyrdom – here you will see King Edward IV, his wife, his daughter who married Henry VII and the two ‘Princes in the Tower’ who disappeared during the reign of King Richard III. Much of this window was deliberately damaged by Puritans in 1643. Nearby there is a lovely collection of stained glass windows depicting Queen Elizabeth II and members of her family.

At a time when many pilgrims were illiterate, stained glass windows helped tell a story. There is some 1,200 square metres of stained glass in Canterbury Cathedral according to the official Cathedral site – click here for more information on much of it!

12. Statues of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip

On leaving the interior of the Cathedral, be sure to look at the exterior. During my visit there was scaffolding on parts but I was lucky enough to see the two statues I had gone looking for – those of the late Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip. The two statues were unveiled by the Queen in 2015 and are located close to the south west porch through which I entered the Cathedral.

Image shows statues of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip outside on the exterior of Canterbury Cathedral

13. The Great Cloister

As you walk through the Great Cloister, look up at the heraldic shields, many dating from medieval times. Looking through the bay you can see tombs of past archbishops. The paving is uneven here due to age so be careful.

14. The Chapter House

When you’re walking through the Great Cloister do stop off in the Chapter House. The roof dates from around 1400 and is worth seeing. This is also the largest Chapter House in England.

image shows the roof and stained glass windows within the Chapter House at Canterbury Cathedral

15. The Water Tower & Monks’ Infirmary

In the area near the Great Cloister and Chapter House you will see the 12th Century Water Tower, which was once central to the monastic water supply and the ruins of the monks’ infirmary.

Final Thoughts

Visiting Canterbury Cathedral is something I would highly recommend. There is so much to see and learn there, but hopefully my list of must see sights will help you create or refine your own list so you can get the most out of your visit.

If you are planning to visit the Cathedral as part of a day trip to Canterbury, then check out my blog post here for further suggestions of things to do in Canterbury.

You can also check out my Resources page here for further help in planning a visit to Canterbury, or any other trip.

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.