The following post is our guide to visiting Canterbury. Read on to learn which Canterbury tours are best, how to get there on your own, and how to visit Canterbury Cathedral. Looking for other day-trips outside of London? Check out our posts on visiting Stonehenge, Oxford, Bath, Windsor Castle, and Cambridge.
Where is Canterbury?
Canterbury is located in Kent, a county in the southwest of England famed for its rich foliage and extensive agriculture. The city is most well known for its stunning Cathedral and significance in Chaucer's seminal work The Canterbury Tales.
Getting there from London
Thanks to it’s convenient location just west of London and southeast of Bristol, Bath is easily accessible from many locations. If traveling from London, there are several ways to get to Bath, including by car, train, or coach.
+ By car:
Visitors traveling to Canterbury by car can do so via the M2. The route is relatively straightforward and perhaps a better option for those hoping to go elsewhere in Kent. However, anyone who is traveling directly between London and Canterbury is better suited to take the train, as traffic coming in and out of London is often very heavy and the national railway is more than an hour faster.
+ By train:
Trains depart very frequently from all of London's train stations. However, the fastest trains depart from London St Pancras. During peak times, trains depart even more frequently. The length of the journey varies amongst train types, and thus visitors should expect travel time to take anywhere between 50 minutes to 2 hours. Additionally, the cost of the journey also fluctuates. Those travelling during ‘Peak’ hours will pay more than those travelling during ‘Off Peak’ or ‘Super Off Peak’.
Tips for saving money on train tickets:
- Buy ‘Off Peak’ or ‘Super Off Peak’, rather than the standard ‘Peak’ fare.
- Check whether it’s cheaper to depart from certain stations over others.
- Purchase your tickets ahead of time. Buy online by at least midnight the night before, and you’ll save.
- Buy a return ticket rather than 2 one-way tickets. This will massively reduce the overall price of the journey.
- Deliberate over buying an ‘Anytime Return’ ticket before you do so. Oftentimes, an ‘Anytime Return’ is more expensive than an ‘Off Peak Return’. The former means that you can hop on any train at any time when you’re ready to head back to London from Bath. However, the latter requires that you only travel during off-peak hours, such as after evening rush hour. ‘Anytime Return’ is much more convenient, but ‘Off Peak’ can be cheaper.
- Remember you might be applicable for discounted travel. Students, people between 16-25, and seniors over 60 all qualify for discounted rail cards.
+ By bus:
There are also several coach companies that offer services between London and Bath. The companies we recommend most are National Express and Megabus, as both have coaches departing from either location every 1-2 hours throughout the day.
The price of the journey varies immensely, depending on how far in advance you purchase your ticket. Tickets purchased within a few days of the journey, for example, can be astronomical, whilst tickets purchased at least a month in advance are often much cheaper than the train.
Tours of Canterbury
Thanks to immense waterways, river tours are even more popular than walking tours in Canterbury. There are several different companies and styles of tours to choose from, however here are some of our favourites.
+ River tours:
Canterbury Historic River Tours - Recently awarded Europe's "Unique Tour Operator of the Year" award, this company specialises in fascinating and fun river tours that offer guests a unique perspective of Canterbury and the surrounding area. Boatmen must undergo extensive tour guide training, ensuring guests are presented with a wealth of knowledge. Reviewers praise the tours for being both entertaining and very informative. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Canterbury Punting Company - The Canterbury Punting Company offers a variety of tours along the water, including standard public tours, ghost tours, wedding tours, and romantic tours. Again, reviews are very positive as many guests comment on the relaxing ride and gregarious guide. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Westgate Punts - Westgate Punts is a smaller company offering short and long trips down the river. Unlike the other companies, Westgate does not provide guided narration, and so this is a solid option for those simply interested in a relaxing afternoon cruising along the water. Visitors can book their trip online, making preplanning easy. TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
***Please note that most river tours run exclusively from March - November, so keep this in mind if you are visiting during the winter months.
Canterbury Guided Tours - The main walking tour offered in Canterbury, this company comes highly recommended by most visitors. However, those more interested in learning about the city would be better suited with a different company as most of the 90 minute tour is spent discussing Canterbury Cathedral. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Canterbury Ghost Tour - A 90 minute tour that explores the darker side of Canterbury's history. John Hippisley, a professional ghost hunter, founded the company in 1995. Reviews are varied, with many commenting that the tour is more humorous than scary or historical. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Visiting Canterbury Cathedral
+ History: Saint Thomas Becket, Murder at the Cathedral, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. Though it was founded in 597, the cathedral was rebuilt between 1070 - 1077 following a fire that completely destroyed the structure in 1067. Though known the world over, Canterbury Cathedral is perhaps most widely recognised as being the location of the murder of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket on December 29, 1070. Ignoring Canterbury's privilege of coronation, the Archbishop of York, Bishop of London, and Bishop of Salisbury's decided to crown King Henry II as king in the city of York in November 1070. Upon learning of their crime, Becket excommunicated all three as punishment. One month later, a group of knights were sent to Canterbury Cathedral on orders to confront Beckett. When he was found, Becket refused to submit to the will of the king, and so left the knights and proceeded towards the main hall for vespers. It was there that Becket was brutally murdered as a form of retaliation.
Though there are many different account of how and why the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered, the impact of his death on the cathedral's history is inarguable. Not only have millions visited Canterbury Cathedral to see the location of his death, but they've also come to explore the setting of T.S. Eliot's famous play Murder in the Cathedral, which recounts the story of Beckett's murder. Sixteen years after its release in 1935, a film adaptation of the play was released, which also garnered international acclaim.
Canterbury Cathedral is also widely known for its role in Geoffrey Chaucer's magnum opus Canterbury Tales. The collection of 24 short stories presents the different narratives of a group of people making the pilgrimage from London to Canterbury Cathedral to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. Following his death, Canterbury Cathedral became a popular pilgrimage site for those hoping to pay their respects to the archbishop who gave his life for what was right. Canterbury Tales is a work of fiction that offers insight into the experiences of pilgrims travelling to Canterbury. Though Chaucer died before completing his masterpiece, Canterbury Tales remains one of the most well known works of literature to come out of the Middle Ages.
Today Canterbury Cathedral remains the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as a highly visited UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to this historic place -- which has been offering daily prayer services for more than 1,400 years! -- is an absolute must.
- Weekdays & Saturdays: 9:00 - 17:30 (summer months); 9:00 - 17:00 (winter months)
- The Crypt: 10:00 - 17:00/17:30
- Sundays: 12:30 – 14:30 (all year, including the Crypt)
- Adults: £12.00
- Concessions: £10.50
- Pre-booked groups (Adults and Concessions): £10.50
- Children (under 18): £8.00
- Family ticket (2 adults, up to 3 children): £32.00
- Family ticket (1 adult, 2 children): £22.50
+ Tours of the Cathedral: All the tours listed above will undoubtedly discuss Canterbury Cathedral at some point. However, if you would like a tour within the cathedral, there are a few different options.
- Audio Tours: These can be picked up from the kiosk in the knave. The tour lasts approximately 40 minutes, is available in 7 different languages, and costs £4 per adult and £3 per child.
- Guide Books: These are three official guide books, each available for purchase at the cathedral or in advance from their website.
- Virtual Tour: Canterbury Cathedral also offers a virtual tour for those who want a sneak peak or who are unable to visit the cathedral in person.
Things to Do
In addition to taking a tour of the city and visiting the cathedral, there are several interesting things to do in Canterbury.
Canterbury Tales Visitor Attraction - This interactive experience recreates Medieval England so that guests can gain a better understanding of Chaucer's world during the time of Canterbury Tales' publication. The attraction features scenes from several of the most popular stories in Canterbury Tales. The tour is accompanied with an audio guide, though live actors participate in certain sections of the attraction. Reviews are generally positive, with guests commenting that the experience is fun and silly, if not occasionally too cheesy. TripAdvisor Rating: 4 stars.
The Beaney House of Arts and Knowledge - Excellent contemporary art exhibits featuring the works of artist such as Grayson Perry and Georgia Meadows. The museum also features a popular cafe. This musuem tends to be a surprise favourite of guests to the city. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Westgate Gardens and Towers - A beautiful stretch of park along the river, the Westgate Gardens are an excellent choice for those looking for a bit of peace and quiet outside. Guests can climb to the top of Westgate Tower for a small fee, which offers a lovely view of the surrounding area. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
St Augustine's Abbey - A ruinous abbey just outside of Canterbury's city centre. There is an entry fee to enter into the abbey, but many comment that, because it is so dilapidated, most of what is worth seeing can be viewed from outside. However, despite being heavily destroyed, guests still recommend a visit. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Howletts Wild Animal Park - Also just outside of Canterbury is Howletts Wild Animal Park, a popular zoo with several different exotic animals. Again, reviewers highly recommend the park, praising the size, accessibility, and positive treatment of animals. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.