After our second trip to Windsor and surrounding areas in England, we wanted to spend a few days in a new place before going home. We considered Dover and Brighton, but ultimately decided on Canterbury, drawn to its abundance of historically and culturally significant sites.
Canterbury has great old English charm. It reminded me a lot of York. We found plenty of things to do to in the city, and as usual, found more things to do than we had time for!
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Hawks Lane Lodge, an old home that has been renovated to be a hotel. It was great because we felt like we were staying in a house on a quiet street. Everything around us was residential. We didn’t have any street noise or distractions, though we could hear cathedral bells in the morning from the bathroom if the window was open, and I just love that. Their service was polite and accommodating and we had all the amenities we needed.
The only downside to Hawks Lane Lodge is that it doesn’t have adjacent parking. Guests park at its sister property, the Castle House Hotel and walk about 1/3 mile to the Lodge. While that may sound inconvenient, the Lodge is closer to the main sites in Canterbury, so you’d walk that distance anyway if you were staying at the Castle House Hotel. Both are good locations, though, and within the old city walls.
What We Did
We arrived in Canterbury early in the evening. We walked around for a bit, as we like to do, to get a feel for the city. Our hotel was in a great location so we didn’t have to walk far. We had our first look at the Canterbury Cathedral. While beautiful, it is currently undergoing restoration, so a lot of its façade is behind scaffolding and other construction materials. We ate dinner (details about our meals below) and returned to the hotel for the night.
The next morning, after breakfast at the hotel and with a to-go coffee in hand, we walked to the shopping area on Canterbury Lane. I found a pair of Monsoon wedges that Kate Middleton wears that I have been searching for. We also found some market stalls along High Street/Parade/St. George’s Street. My son found another fidget spinner, so everyone was happy with our shopping successes!
We saw Butchery Lane on our way to the Cathedral. The line for Cathedral entrance was really long at this point. We went ahead and shopped in the Cathedral gift shop first (you can enter without entering the Cathedral) and decided to come back to tour the Cathedral itself later in the day.
At the gift shop we bought a copy of Canterbury Tales. I knew my high school copy was long gone, and I could hardly remember any of the stories, so it seemed like something we should buy here and brush up on! We also bought a few Christmas gifts and a Christmas ornament for ourselves. We have a tradition of buying Christmas ornaments everywhere we travel. I love that decorating our tree every year brings back memories of trips we have taken.
Canterbury Roman Museum
Next, we went to the Canterbury Roman Museum. This museum was very kid-friendly with many activities and hands-on areas available specifically for children. As the name implies, the museum focuses on the Roman history of Canterbury.
Highlights of the museum are tiled mosaic floors from a Roman town house, a rare Roman soldier’s helmet, and Roman glassware and stoneware. The tiled mosaic floors were really cool to see, as were some Roman roof tiles with animal paw prints embedded in them. The mosaic floors of the town house were uncovered during excavations and clean-up efforts after the Blitz in World War II.
Our ticket purchase here gave us entry to the Canterbury Heritage Museum as well, which we visited after lunch. We grabbed a takeaway lunch (details below) and ate it back at the hotel to give ourselves some down time before heading that way.
Canterbury Heritage Museum
The Canterbury Heritage Museum is located in a couple of old, adjoining buildings. It describes the history of Canterbury in times other than the Roman era. The museum had a sizeable collection which was organized by time period. It had some very kid-friendly sections, including one on Rupert Bear (who I had never heard of, but I think British people will know) and a “medieval discovery gallery” with the opportunity to smell prehistoric poo (déjà vu from York!).
The highlight for me in this museum was seeing the architecture of the Chapel of St. Mary. Another highlight is the Canterbury Cross. The most surprising exhibit to me was a section on the author Joseph Conrad who is buried in Canterbury. The most useful exhibit to me was an extensive tapestry depicting the life of Thomas Becket. This was a great history lesson before seeing where he was murdered in the Cathedral.
I am sad to report, however, that it looks like the Canterbury Heritage Museum is now closed for renovation work. Some of the exhibits have been moved to The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. At the time of this writing, the website doesn’t currently say when the Heritage Museum will reopen, so I advise checking that on your own before you go.
Now we were ready to go back to see the Canterbury Cathedral. The Cathedral is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a working church and is a popular pilgrimage site for Christians.
When we entered, a service was taking place in the Quire, so we had to wait a bit to see beyond the Nave. We sat and enjoyed the sounds of the service. We also did what we could of the children’s activity workbook that we received for our son when we bought our tickets. It was a nice way to pass the time. As always, I was grateful for an activity that encouraged him to take his time and observe the surroundings.
Eventually, we were able to view the rest of the cathedral, including the Cloister, the Martyrdom (where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170), the Quire, the Crypt, and more. Pictures were not allowed in the Crypt, which is unfortunate because there was an interesting temporary art piece on exhibit, but they were allowed everywhere else.
Westgate Towers and Gardens
After the visiting Cathedral, we walked down to the Westgate Towers. It was too late to go inside, but it looks like they have some interesting exhibits. We just took in the view from the exterior and then enjoyed a walk through the Westgate Gardens.
The Gardens offer a children’s play area, a three-mile riverside path for pedestrians and cyclists, and of course, gardens, among other things. There were a few locals hanging out in the park who seemed a bit drunk and angry at each other, which was a little unsettling. Other than that, it was a nice, relaxing way to end our day in Canterbury.
Since we were pretty exhausted from the day, we grabbed some items for dinner at a Tesco and ate back at the hotel. As usual in the UK, we also did a little shopping at the Tesco for items that we can’t find easily in Belgium (over the counter medications, shredded wheat cereal, ginger snaps … such random stuff, but it is always a treat).
Canterbury Norman Castle
The next morning, our plan was to visit the Canterbury Norman Castle before heading home. Unfortunately, we found out that the Castle is currently closed to visitors due to falling masonry. We walked around it and took in as much as we could before leaving Canterbury and catching an early train home from Folkestone.
Where We Ate
We ate all our breakfasts at the hotel, which had ample continental breakfast options.
We saw a lot of coffee shops in Canterbury, both chains and independently owned. We stopped in Garage Coffee on our first morning for some to-go cups. The shop had a great, relaxed ambiance and the service was friendly. They were even nice when our son spilled his entire cup of hot chocolate all over the floor, so I was grateful for that.
We got a fresh, hot carry-away lunch of fish & chips at Canterbury Tails Fish & Chips. I’ve previously complained about our fish & chips experiences in the UK, but these were pretty good! They definitely had the best flavor I’ve tasted in the UK so far, so I was pretty excited about that!
We had a delicious but terribly unhealthy mid-afternoon snack break at Creams, a tearoom and bakery.
We enjoyed a traditional English pub dinner at The Old Buttermarket. This pub is a Nicholson’s establishment, and they were taking part in the Nicholson’s Gin Festival. This meant I got to try a few new Gin & Tonics, which is my current, go-to cocktail. My favorite was their G&T with Tarquin’s Cornish Blackberry gin and Fever-Tree Lemon Tonic, garnished with lemon and mint. Yum!
Things We Missed
From the Westgate Gardens, we saw people enjoying rides on the Great Stour River from Westgate Punts. It looked like a relaxing way to take in the scenery. As I mentioned above, in that area, we also missed out on entering the Westgate Towers.
The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge looks to have some interesting collections. The architecture of the building itself was nice to observe from the exterior. While the Canterbury Heritage Museum is closed, this seems like a great alternative. It is worth mentioning that the Canterbury Visitor’s Center is located in this building.
The Canterbury Tales, located in the historical St. Margaret’s Church, is a theatrical experience with costumed characters retelling some of Chaucer’s stories and in general, life in 14th Century England. This would have been a nice way to brush up on some of the Canterbury Tales!
We weren’t in Canterbury for long, but it was nice place to end a week of travel. It’s a great, cozy place to visit to experience British history and culture.