If you're looking for a historic, UNESCO World Heritage site that can easily fit into a half day from London - you've found it! Stop by Canterbury - see the ancient Cathedral, still the headquarters of the Church of England, drop by a classic pub, and take a stroll through centuries of history, before you hop on the train back to London!
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Canterbury is synonymous with some of the most famous aspects of English culture, including Canterbury Tales and the murder of Thomas Becket - a mainstay of history class (I won't tell if you've forgotten - catch up on the details below).
What to See
Thankfully, like so many English cities, it's an easy walk from the train station to the center of the city and all of its major attractions. Take the quick jaunt into the city and start your tour of Canterbury. The first sight you'll see is the Westgate Towers (pictured above), built in 1380 (yes, you read that correctly). If you're not afraid of (minor) heights, make the climb! Additionally, once you pass through the gate, the 14th-century Guild Hall makes for a quick walk around (it's open - no tickets - it'll be on your right before you make it into the historic city centre).
A church has stood on the current site of Canterbury Cathedral since 597, though the structure you'll see today was originally built in the 11th century, and then reconstructed in the 14th. It's an easily visitable site - take your time and be sure to grab a pamphlet to learn as you go!
In 1170, knights (maybe?) sent by Henry II murdered Thomas Becket, then Archbishop of Canterbury. Not known as a devout man, Becket was selected as Archbishop by Henry in hopes that he would be an easy puppet for the King.
Finding his faith later in Life, Becket became a thorn in the side of the King, who finally declared "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"
Whether he was just frustrated or deadly serious is a matter of debate, but the undeniable end result was the shocking murder of the later-sainted Archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral and Henry seeking absolution from an angry Pope and citizenry.
In the current era, the Cathedral is the head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion (which includes the off-shoots of the Church, such as the Episcopal Church, which took up the mantle of the established churches in many of the American colonies after the American Revolution).
The Cathedral has a lovely gift shop - with proceeds going to a good cause, of course! I picked up a lovely Christmas ornament and tea towel (my go-to's!).
Don't forget to check out the cloisters (accessed by a door that looks like an emergency exit - ask for help if you're worried about setting off the fire alarm).
Once you've finished your tour of the Cathedral, spend some time wandering the labyrinthine streets of medieval Canterbury. Like so many great cathedral cities, such as Strasbourg or Chartres, Canterbury has been playing host to pilgrims for hundreds of years. In the city centre, you'll find branches of some of your favourite chains - M&S, Waterstones, and Jack Wills.
The city is quite small and easily walkable - take a stroll around and imagine it full of thousands of pilgrims (even today, the Cathedral gets almost a million visitors a year, though it doesn't feel packed). If you have kids with you, or a devoted fan of English literature, The Canterbury Tales is an interactive walk through the famous stories.
Canterbury has a number of gorgeous garden areas - including Westgate Gardens and Greyfriars Gardens. You'll also find a number of medieval relics - including the Tower of Mary Magdelene and St. Augustine's Abbey.
Where to Eat
Thanks for stopping by - hope you have a phenomenal trip to Canterbury!
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