From stunning cathedrals and abbeys to quaint cobble-stoned streets, the city of Canterbury provides endless amusement for visitors making their own ‘pilgrimage’.
Canterbury’s main claim to fame is, of course, Canterbury Cathedral, where pilgrims travelled to see the Shrine to Thomas Beckett, as immortalised in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.
While the Cathedral is definitely one of the must-see Canterbury destinations, there are plenty of other things worth visiting while you’re there!
In this post, we’ll be sharing our top picks for places to visit in Canterbury, including the most fascinating museums and prettiest streets.
We hope you enjoy learning about this famous cathedral city and be sure to let us know in the comments which Canterbury must-sees we should add to our list!
1. Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral is the most famous and most-visited of Canterbury tourist attractions with quite a fascinating history.
Together with St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church, Canterbury Cathedral is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the oldest Christian structures in England, founded in 597 by Augustine, on top of the remains of a former Roman church.
Over the years, five different Archbishops of Canterbury were martyred although perhaps the most famous was Thomas Becket in 1170. The subsequent shrine to Becket is what drew many pilgrims to the cathedral, and Chaucer’s famous The Canterbury Tales was framed by pilgrims telling stories on their way to and from the cathedral.
One of the reasons so many people visit Canterbury Cathedral is because it’s simply stunning, with incredible stained-glass windows, fan-vaulted ceilings and beautiful decorative details throughout.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is also the leader of the Church of England and the symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion – but even if you’re not religious you will surely be impressed on a visit.
PRACTICAL INFO FOR VISITING: It’s free to walk around the gardens surrounding the cathedral but there’s a fee to visit the interior unless you are attending a service. Ticket prices start at 15.50 GBP but check the website for different options and to make sure it won’t be too busy (we’d recommend avoiding going on a Sunday unless you want to attend a service).
2. The Cathedral Quarter
Many of the prettiest things to see in Canterbury can be found around the cathedral in what’s known as the Cathedral Quarter, including the historic Buttermarket.
These cobbled streets are filled with quaint boutiques, cafés, restaurants and pubs, often in beautiful half-timbered historic buildings. The Christ Church Gate overlooks the war memorial on the Buttermarket, but make sure you go for a wander around the streets nearby.
Some highlights we discovered were multiple fudge and sweets shops, fantastic gift shops and The Old Buttermilk pub for excellent British grub. If you stop at the end of Mercery Lane and look back you can get a pretty epic shot of the cathedral behind the gorgeous old-fashioned buildings as well – as you can see in the cover photo for this article!
3. St Augustine’s Abbey
St Augustine’s Abbey is another of the most important religious and historical Canterbury sites, as it was founded just a year after the cathedral, also by St Augustine.
Augustine was a Roman monk who was sent to England by Pope Gregory the Great to convert King Æthelberht and his Kingdom of Kent from Anglo-Saxon paganism to Christianity. He was very successful and Æthelberht gave the missionaries land outside the city walls which is where the abbey was founded.
St Augustine’s Abbey was historically used as a burial location for abbots, archbishops, and kings of Kent, so you can actually seek out the grave of St Augustine here. There are also statues of King Æthelberht and his wife Queen Bertha outside the abbey.
Of course, the abbey fell into disrepair after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, but the remains have since been preserved for their historical significance. On a sunny day, the abbey ruins are a lovely spot for a wander or maybe a picnic, and you’re even allowed to bring your dog!
PRACTICAL INFO FOR VISITING: You can save money on entrance costs by booking your tickets online! Prices start at 9.50 GBP for adults.
4. Along the River Stour
One of the most scenic places to visit in Canterbury is no doubt the River Stour, best experienced on the water with a river cruise.
Seeing the city from the water is a very cool way to experience Canterbury. If you join a river cruise then you’ll sail past iconic landmarks like the 13th-century Greyfriars’ Chapel, 12th-century Eastbridge, pretty gardens and the old weaver’s house.
During the summer months, you can join a lovely evening cruise and in October there is a themed ‘chilling tales’ cruise if you want to get into the spooky season while on the water! As well as traditional river cruises there are also companies offering punting tours, so do a Google search to find the best one for you.
Of course, if you prefer staying on dry land then it’s also possible to walk alongside the River Stour for quite a way if you head north of the city center to St Radigund’s Bridge.
5. Canterbury Castle & The City Wall
The remains of the Norman castle and city walls are also popular Canterbury attractions to see, although unfortunately, you can’t go inside the castle for the time being.
After the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror had three main castles constructed along the road to London, one at Dover, one at Canterbury and one at Rochester. Canterbury Castle is very close to some of the remaining city walls as well, which were maintained much better than the castle over the years.
Just around the corner from the castle is a big park where a large portion of the city walls are visible, so this is an excellent area to go for a walk and see defensive walls that have been standing for centuries. There’s also a pretty fountain here, as well as a memorial on top of a small hill for even more impressive views of the walls and city of Canterbury.
6. Beaney House of Art and Knowledge
The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge is a very cool cultural destination in Canterbury that’s a combination of museum, art gallery, library and information centre.
Usually just called The Beaney by locals, this an excellent free thing to do in Canterbury and you can easily spend a few hours exploring the different exhibits or browsing the library shelves. Many exhibitions focus on former Canterbury residents, starting with Dr James George Beaney, the benefactor of the whole enterprise.
Along with permanent collections and regular special exhibitions, this is a popular educational facility, which often hosts interesting events throughout the year. Make sure you check the website to see what you can experience during your visit!
7. The Crooked House
One of the most unusual places to visit in Canterbury is the infamous Crooked House, which looks like it might just tumble down at any moment!
Constructed in the 17th century, an internal chimney slipping is what caused the crooked appearance, although it has been shored up to prevent anything from actually falling down. Both the severely crooked door and building facade are quite famous, and it’s even thought that the building inspired a line in Charles Dickens’s novel David Copperfield. The line in question is currently written on the front of the building, it says:
“..a very old house bulging over the road…leaning forward, trying to see who was passing on the narrow pavement below…” Charles Dickens, 1849
Like the other famous crooked house in Windsor, this crooked house has been home to a number of different businesses over the years, although it is currently a second-hand bookshop. That definitely seems apt when combined with the Dickens quote and bookworms will enjoy spending some time inside.
8. St. Martin’s Church
The third part of Canterbury’s UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with the cathedral and abbey ruins) is St Martin’s Church, which is well-known for being the oldest church building in Britain still in use as a church.
This church was once the private chapel of Queen Bertha (the wife of King Æthelberht) as she was already a Christian before the arrival of St Augustine. Augustine used St Martin’s as his base before the cathedral and abbey were constructed, and King Æthelberht was baptised in this church when he converted to Christianity.
While Canterbury Cathedral and St Augustine’s Abbey became more prestigious than St Martin’s, it is still an interesting place if you want to visit somewhere that’s even older than those fancy buildings! Many parts of the church’s walls were made from Roman bricks and there are also sections of Roman tiles.
There are a number of notable graves in the church graveyard as well, in particular the grave of Mary Tourtel, the creator of the beloved children’s character Rupert Bear.
9. Canterbury Roman Museum
Housed inside the remains of a Roman courtyard house is a museum all about the time period before the cathedral was built, which is one of the best places to visit in Canterbury if you’re interested in the Roman history of the city.
The Romans settled in the area which became Canterbury around 1 AD, rebuilding the settlement which was already there to include new streets in a grid pattern, a theatre, a temple, a forum, and public baths. It was also the Romans who first built walls around the city, which were then expanded on by the Normans a few centuries later.
A number of interesting objects and displays can be found inside the Canterbury Roman Museum, particularly a Roman Pavement which was discovered after the city was bombed during WWII. While many of the attractions in Canterbury focus on the Christian and Norman historical elements, you’re missing out if you don’t also spend some time seeing how the Romans lived here too.
PRACTICAL INFO FOR VISITING: The Canterbury Roman Museum is open Monday to Sunday from 10am until 5pm. Tickets cost 9.60 GBP for adults and 4.85 GBP for children.
10. Westgate Towers Museum & Viewpoint
The Westgate is a medieval tower in Canterbury that used to be one of the gates in the city walls for entering or exiting the city.
There were originally seven different gates in the Canterbury walls, but Westgate is the only one still standing. It’s also been very well preserved and is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city. Visitors can explore the Westgate Towers Museum to learn about the history of Canterbury and the structure itself, which was also used as a gaol in later periods.
The views from on top of the battlements are very impressive and well worth the climb. Westgate Towers is also home to a number of exciting medieval-themed escape rooms, in case you’re looking for something unique and fun to do while you’re visiting Canterbury!
PRACTICAL INFO FOR VISITING: Westgate Towers Museum & Viewpoint is usually open Monday to Sunday from midday until 3.45pm, so you only have a short window of time to visit. Tickets for the museum and viewpoint cost 4 GBP for adults and 2 GBP for children. Be aware that you can only pay with card or online, not with cash.
Did we miss any of your favourite places to visit in Canterbury?
Let us know in the comments so we can add more Canterbury must-sees to our list!