Since moving back to the UK, living in London and doing the whole “real job” thing, I have been trying to make the most out of my weekends! I work odd shifts, and so I don’t get every weekend off, but when I do I want to explore. Which means either jetting off to another European city, or exploring my own home country, and generally just trying to make the most out of my free time! Living in London is a gift and a curse – I hate the tube and I miss the village life of my Northern hometown. However, it is well connected to so many places both in the UK, and further afield. One place that we spontaneously visited a few weeks ago when we had a free weekend was Canterbury. With not much of an idea what to expect, other than a cathedral, I was left pleasantly surprised!
How to get to Canterbury from London
I took the train to get to Canterbury for a weekend, and it was very easy. There are direct services leaving from St Pancras (around 1 hour) or Victoria (around 1 hour 30 minutes). The train ride itself was quite scenic, passing through pretty towns lying on the edge of the River Medway. As with all trains in the UK, prices differ dramatically depending on how far ahead you book the train and which one you go for, so as always, I recommend heading to trainline as soon as you have even the tiniest idea that you might want to take the train to Canterbury, the earlier the better!
Interesting Fact: There are 2 train stations – Canterbury East, and Canterbury West. They are not too far apart, and the East and West names are pointless – have a look at a map and you will see what I mean! If anyone knows why they are not name North and South, please let me know!
The centre of London to Canterbury by car will take around 2 hours. If you plan on driving, I recommend checking your accommodation has parking. You can also take a National Express bus from Victoria coach station. It will take longer , but it will be cheaper than the train!
Things to do in Canterbury
A weekend isn’t a long time, but luckily Canterbury isn’t a big city. Enclosed in medieval walls, and criss-crossed by narrow lane ways and cobbled streets, Canterbury is the kind of picture perfect place you can just visit with no real plan and wander all day. There are a few places to see and things to do that you should include if you choose to spend a weekend in Canterbury.
The main attraction and centre point of the city, the cathedral is a huge draw for visitors. Having done absolutely no research on Canterbury before we actually arrived, we spent at least half an hour walking around the entire perimeter in the hope that we could somehow just look at it without paying the entrance fee. Let me save you the time, and tell you that it is impossible to get a good view of the Cathedral without paying. At this moment, it is £12.50 to get in.
You can easily spend up to an hour in the cathedral grounds though, once you are in. It is easily one of the most important cathedrals in the country, and is steeped in history. Famously, it was the location of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 AD. The cathedral itself is obviously beautiful, but there are also gardens and buildings around to explore.
When I visited Canterbury for the weekend, the weather was typically English, with the sky threatening to unleash rain at any given moment. If you manage to get to Canterbury during the summer and things are looking sunny, then punting is a must. The River Stour meanders it’s way through Canterbury and the surrounding gardens and fields. Canterbury punting company offer a 45 minute tour of historical sights on a traditional handmade punt.
Tiny Tim’s Tearoom
Quintessentially English, and painfully Instagrammable, Tiny Tim’s is the most famous Tea Room in Canterbury. We visited twice in the 2 days we were in Canterbury, and if you are away on a winter weekend like us, it’s the perfect pace to relax and escape the weather! Family owned, Tiny Tim’s housed in an old, possibly haunted, building just off the high street. From the outside, it looks absolutely adorable. Inside, the best scone you will ever eat may well await you. Choose from traditional fruit scones or daily specials. I had a caramel scone, and honestly, it was amazing. Be warned, the scones are HUGE. There are freshly baked cakes and light meals too. The second time we visited, a gentleman in a suit playing an old piano in the corner! No weekend in Canterbury is complete without at least one visit to Tiny Tim’s!
St Augustine’s Abbey
Just on the outskirts of the city, you will find what remains of this Benedictine Monastery. The Abbey was founded in 598, and is a must see for any history lovers. It is £8 to get in, but you get a free audio guide and entrance to the onsite museum too.
On the Western edge of the city centre, you will find some pretty gardens lining the River Stour. The area is very quiet and very picturesque! The river itself is home to ducks and swans, who can be seen floating serenely downstream. When the sun comes out, this place looks amazing, and it is hard to believe you aren’t out in the middle of the English countryside somewhere. If you are a keen walker or just looking for a bit more of a countryside feel, then you can just continue following the river south and wander through fields for miles!
Canterbury is a breath of fresh air, with a huge amount of independent and quirky shops to discover. You still have the main high street with all the usual suspects, but the narrow streets that branch off are full of unique shops. Madame Ouiseau Fine chocolates is a must for all things sweet, and Canterbury Pottery near the Cathedral is the place to go to pick up artisan, one off cups and plates among other things! There is also a really fun retro gaming store which is worth a look in. Near the main entrance of the cathedral, you can pop into some interesting vintage jewellery and antiques shops too.
As the night drew in on Saturday evening and we were searching for a cosy pub, we stumbled across a man dressed as an undertaker, telling a group of tourists about the residents ghost of Canterbury. Naturally we eavesdropped for a few minutes, and it was really interesting. After some research later, I found out it was a local historian who conducts 90 minute Ghost Walks. A quick look on the Canterbury Tours website, and I was gutted that we didn’t know about the ghost walk before we got to Canterbury! Local author John has been running these tours for 25 years, and is really passionate about what he does, so definitely worth checking out and adding it to your itinerary if you can!
Where to eat in Canterbury
We had huge scones for lunch from Tiny Tim’s on the Saturday, which really was enough as a meal! There are also plenty of other places to try. A friend of mine swears by Cafe Des Amis, a funky Mexican place right near Westgate Gardens. The city itself has a real “English” feel, with many cosy pubs serving up Sunday roasts, and a definite focus on homegrown, local ingredients. The Veg Box is a must try for any of you, like me, who don’t eat meat. The prices are reasonable and the food is fresh and delicious – the only problem is picking what to have as everything looks so good!
Where to stay in Canterbury
Canterbury has accommodation for every budget, from the YHA based in a Victorian Mansion on the outskirts of the city, to boutique hotels with cathedral views. It is a popular city with weekenders so if you can book in advance you will get your pick of accommodation. In my typical fashion, I wanted to stay somewhere cheap and cheerful so we stayed at The Black Horse, which was about £55 a night for a double room, en suite, with breakfast. Outside of the city walls, it isn’t central but you can walk to the city centre in about 10 minutes. I would say it is a good option and worth the money you pay. For something a little more up market, The Canterbury Cathedral Lodge gets rave reviews and is in an amazing location. It is owned by the Dean of Canterbury and is in the grounds themselves!
There you have it – a city with great food, easy links to London and beyond, and plenty to see and do. When will you be getting away for a weekend in Canterbury?!