Canterbury is a beautiful city in the Southeast of the UK set within the county of Kent, the so-called “Garden of England.”
As well as having a lovely mixture of coastline and countryside scenery with the amenities and cosmopolitan feel of a much bigger city, Canterbury has excellent transport links and is less than an hour away from central London thanks to the high speed rail link, which makes it an ideal place to come and study English during your stay in the UK.
The city is crammed full of history – a significant part of it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is over 1,500 years old. The central districts which house the famous Cathedral are surrounded by ancient cobbled streets and lovely historic buildings.
In fact there has been a settlement in Canterbury since prehistoric times, including a major city of the Romans, so whatever period of history you are interested in you are bound to find something that will have you scrambling to get out your camera!
Canterbury is a relatively small town which gives it a very friendly air, while its large numbers of students and visitors give it a very cosmopolitan and international feel as well as an active social life.
There are three universities and several English language schools in the city as well as a large number of pubs, cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, bars and other entertainments in the area.
As well as plenty of transport links to Folkestone, Dover and other coastline areas, the city itself is surrounded by lovely farmland dotted with quaint little villages and towns that ooze with local history.
Where To Visit During Your Stay
Although there are excellent public transport links around Canterbury it is best to explore the city on foot in order to fully appreciate the narrow, twisting streets with hidden away shops and cafes where you can sit to get a glimpse of the majestic Cathedral spires. Here are some good places to look for to get your exploration started.
Canterbury Cathedral and the UNESCO Site
The beautiful Cathedral itself is the central church for Anglican Christianity and is well worth the price of admission. Make sure you set aside a few hours to look at everything on the grounds and also down in the crypts. Together with the grounds, nearby St Martin’s Church and the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey, the Cathedral forms the central part of the UNESCO World Heritage site as a record of Christianity’s introduction to Britain.
There has been a church on the site of the Cathedral for nearly 1,500 years now. The current crypts are 900 years old and the nave (the central approach to the main altar) was built back in the 14th century. Do bear in mind that the Cathedral can get very busy so it can be worth trying to time your visit for quieter times of day. The Cathedral website includes a virtual tour and more information on how and when to stop by.
Just ten minutes’ walk from the Cathedral is St Martin’s Church, which dates back as early as the 13th century although some parts of the walls are even older. It is actually the oldest parish church in England which has seen continuous use, and the oldest church in the entire English speaking world which is still used for worship. The church is currently closed for building work until the end of March 2013, but you can still admire it from the outside.
The Norman castle in Canterbury is one of the most ancient still standing in Britain. It was founded by William the Conqueror around the year 1070, not long after his initial invasion, and turned into a prison 300 years later although it was sadly ruined by the 1700s. It also forms part of the city wall walking trail.
The city walls were originally built by the Romans and then rebuilt in around the year 1100, although sadly many of the original gates were destroyed when roads were widened in the 1800s. Today about half of the wall is still standing, including some of the watch towers and the Westgate, which was used as a prison. Taking a walking tour of the walls can be a great way to see the city on your first visit.
Museums and Galleries
The Canterbury Roman Museum actually sits under Canterbury’s streets at the level of the old Roman city. As well as digital recreations of a Roman house you can see real mosaic floors, underfloor heating systems, pottery and lots of other impressive artefacts.
Canterbury’s Heritage Museum has a large range of displays including locally created children’s TV characters like Bagpuss and the Clangers, cartoon character Rupert Bear and many rooms related to bombing from World War II as well as famous local authors. The museum itself is a 14th century building which was originally a hospital for priests.
The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge is a relatively recently renovated art museum and library with an extensive collection that includes ancient Egypt, Dutch stained glass and locally found artefacts dating from 500-800CE.
The Canterbury Tales is a fun way to experience the famous 14th century story by Chaucer about a motley band of pilgrims travelling from London to Canterbury. The experience is set inside a historic church in the city centre and is a great way to experience the sights, sounds and even smells of historic Canterbury!
Alternatively if you feel like something more unusual you can take a river tour on a punt (a type of flat bottomed boat) – there are several local companies which offer this.
Parks and Outdoors
There are plenty of gardens within the immediate area of the city, including Dane John Gardens, which includes gardens, a fountains and a large Roman mound for a great view, and Westgate gardens, which is perfect for a riverside walk or a picnic spot.
Outside the city, Larkey Valley Wood has spectacular wildflowers on display in the spring, and Blean Woods is a nature reserve which belongs to a wildlife charity so is a great place to see (and hear) unusual birds as well as spot beautiful butterflies. Howletts Animal Park is a little further afield but has the largest herd of African elephants in the whole of the UK as well as many gorillas, tigers, lemurs and other exotic animals.
St Lawrence Cricket Ground in Canterbury regularly hosts first class cricket matches, and Canterbury Golf Club has a public driving range for general use. The local hockey club is one of the largest in the UK (and competes regularly in the England Hockey League).
If you want something more active to do yourself, Kingsmead Leisure Centre has three swimming pools, a sports hall and extensive gym spaces available for public use.
Eating and Drinking
There are far too many restaurants, bars and cafes in Canterbury to list here! Don’t forget to stop in at one of the historic local pubs like the Foundry Brew Pub or the White Hart Inn so you can experience a real British pub during your visit.
There are lots of local delis and other food shops as well as small food stands dotted around the main streets, and Canterbury even has an annual food and drink festival for a whole weekend each September.
Whitefriars is the major shopping centre in the heart of the city and includes a lot of popular stores including Marks and Spencer’s, Karen Millen, Waterstones book shop and many more popular national and international brands. There are also a wide variety of stores all over the city centre ranging from popular high street chains like Currys and WH Smiths to locally run family stores, small art galleries and gift shops.
No matter where you’re coming from, getting to and around Canterbury is incredibly easy – the About Canterbury website has a handy guide to local transport options available.
If you’re coming to Canterbury this year to study with Concorde, don’t forget to ask about our amazing leisure programmes and planned excursions, and if you’re signing up for another of our junior summer schools don’t feel like you’re missing out – we make sure there’s plenty to do and see, wherever you stay with us in the UK for your English course!