No visit to Canterbury would be complete without a trip to the world famous Canterbury Cathedral. Its vast stone walls, intricate vaulting and sprawling presence looms large in all its magnificence. The architecture, as is its position in the church hierarchy, is second to none. Walk through the doorway where the four soldiers came on 29th December 1170 and murdered the ‘troublesome priest’ Thomas Becket and experience the peculiarly intimate, almost eery, feeling that lingers in the area. In coming to this historic city you follow in the footsteps of not one but two journeys – the second coming two hundred years later in the form of Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims, bound for Becket’s shrine and taking it in turns to entertain their companions with stories of their own.
The Canterbury Tales visitor attraction is the perfect place to acquaint yourself with the ‘Father of English Literature’. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of the 14th century with an interactive exhibition that brings to life a selection of the much-loved tales from Chaucer’s famed frame narrative. Embark on your own ‘Pilgrimage’ whilst surrounded by the suffocating stench of the Tabard Inn and the raucous laughter of fellow punters. The enchanting experience lasts for about forty minutes, whereby you enjoy interaction with various hosts, an audio guide description and holograms. The final leg of your pilgrimage ends with an informative history lesson on the infamous murder of Becket in the Cathedral. As you leave you pass through the ‘marketplace’ – or rather the gift shop – where there are a range of souvenirs and gifts for all ages; whether you want to familiarise yourself with more of Chaucer’s works (such as his dream visions or his great poem Troilus and Criseyde) or purchase a pint of top quality local mead.
Literature lovers are spoilt for choice among the cobbled Canterbury streets which proves to be an intellectual’s haven; pay a visit to the Poor Priests’ Hospital (formerly Canterbury Heritage Museum) which is now the home of the Marlowe Kit – a space dedicated to celebrating the area’s rich literary heritage. Delve into a fascinating selection of exhibits, including a mix of theatre, music, poetry, workshops and storytelling. Named in honour of Shakespeare’s rival, Christopher Marlowe, the project celebrates his undisputed place in the development of British drama using some of Canterbury’s collections to explore his life, times, work and legacy. The county’s story will also be told through exhibits like the Joseph Conrad collection which features the contents of the writer’s study from the last five years of his life, along with his typewriter. Head to the Marlowe Theatreto enjoy a range of productions from the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Glyndebourne Touring Opera and the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Take a dose of retail therapy and shop till you drop in the city centre with everything from department stores to independent boutiques. After you have worked up an appetite, grab your favourite Goupieand have a picnic in the beautiful surroundings of Westgate Gardens (don’t miss the 200 year old ornamental tree). There is plenty more to please nature lovers with Howlettsjust a short drive from the city centre. Part of the Aspinall Foundation, a visit offers an adventure like no other…see gorillas, badgers, tigers and snow leopards (to name a few!) or why not make it memorable and book one of their incredible experiences (an ‘animal encounter’ allows you to come face to face with some of the most endangered species on the planet whilst the ‘junior ranger’ gives budding animal keepers a VIP tour of the reserve).
There are plenty of foodie finds in the city centre; just a short walk from the Cathedral, to the left of the Cathedral Gate, lies Canteen – an independent cafe offering freshly made food (available to takeaway too). They have signed up to the inspiring Action for Happiness campaign which means they endeavour to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere whilst promoting a positive lifestyle (their motto is ‘food made fresh, with Love). Expect deli filled flatbreads, baguettes, salads, toasties, jacket potatoes, homemade soups, cakes and cream teas – all made from locally sourced ingredients.
If you follow a gluten-free diet then Oscar and Bentleysis the perfect place to enjoy locally sourced food. The talented team work together to devise a delicious menu including some vibrant vegan options which are not to be missed! Think warming soup of the day with brioche-style bread and spiced Lebanese-style cauliflower for starters, seasonal risotto, baked cauliflower on a bed of crispy carrots with vegan ‘cheese’ sauce and toasted hazelnuts and a sensational sweet potato and lentil red thai curry for mains – not forgetting some delicious desserts including chocolate orange tart with vanilla ice cream and sticky toffee pudding. Watch out for their fabulous festive feasts – rumour has it that an incredible roasted beetroot wellington is set to make the menu…
For something more formal head to the AA award-winning Ambrette Restaurant– a favourite of The Daily Mail food critic Tom Parker-Bowles (and also featured in the Good Food Guide). They aim to make affordable fine dining accessible to all across the South East (working closely with charities, schools and the NHS as well as senior citizens in their local communities). They hope their adventurous food and flavours – as well as their nurturing philosophy – will inspire their customers to cook diverse foods at home and bring everyone together around the dining table. They also offer a vegan menu (using ingredients from local suppliers and farmers) featuring a selection of spiced delights including: pani poori (crisp pastry shells with spiced potatoes, chickpeas and red onion), baked garlic and red pepper aubergine with cumin spiced lentils and spinach, ginger tomato sauce, roasted butternut squash and steamed biryani style rice, followed by aromatic spiced red wine poached pears.
If you are looking to extend your stay in this glorious city (and why wouldn’t you!) check out The Corner House. This 16th century coaching inn (rumoured to have been a favourite of Charles Dickens – he even has a room named after him) has transformed into a stylish restaurant with rooms thanks to Chef Patron Matt Sworder (who honed his skills under Gordon Ramsay at Le Noisette) and Head Chef Mark Cragg. The menu is an ode to Kentish produce – designed to celebrate the brilliant bounty the Garden of England has to offer. The food is full of fabulous flavour combinations and innovatives ideas that make it is easy to see why it has received two AA Rosettes. There is something for the whole family with main, vegan and children’s menus options available (they also suggest ordering one of their signature sharing boards for everyone to enjoy). Vegan delights include sumptuous soups of the day, seasonal salads, homemade gnocchi and sorbets for pudding.
Before you leave head to The Goods Shed– a hidden gem of gastronomic delights. Don’t be deceived by the ‘Shed’ part of the name… this incredible place is home to a farmers market, butcher, fishmonger and restaurant. Located conveniently next to Canterbury’s railway station, visitors can easily while away the hours in this Victorian railway arch. Pop downstairs to browse the ‘farmers’ market’ – which has been showcasing local suppliers and independent producers since 2002 – and try to resist the urge of purchasing ever type of freshly baked bread on offer (the aroma is somewhat mouthwatering). If you are after strong cup of coffee and a slice of cake, head over to Gill’s Cafe and Delicatessen (light lunches available too). Get inspired by the sheer array of vibrant veggies and fabulous fruits – or check out the fresh pasta, fine wines or (for flexitarians) the fish, meat and selection of artisan cheeses. Head to the restaurant which proudly serves seasonal, local ingredients sourced from the farmers market just a few feet away. Early risers can enjoy their ‘build your own breakfast’ option or, if you prefer, pop in for a leisurely lunch. The menu constantly changes (in accordance with the latest harvest). The only difficulty is deciding whether to sample the delights of their 3 course menu (think homemade soups, vegetable platters and fresh fruit tarts) or simply select one or two starters to savour and share. Supper is a touch more formal – but the perfect way to end a day browsing the wonderful city of Canterbury and pick up the end of day bargains in the market – you can even have a nosy at the chefs weaving their magic in the open kitchen whilst you wait…
Can you spot the House of Agnes? Originally a travellers inn (way back in the 15th century); it was also the home of Agnes Wickfield in Charles Dickens’ heavily autobiographical novel ‘David Copperfield’. A number of passages in the book describe both the exterior and interior of the historic building which is now a beautiful Bed and Breakfast with a heritage garden.