It’s a small town but you won’t run out of things to do. Steeped in a wealth of history and streets that take you back to the middle ages, Canterbury also has a strong feeling of Englishness about it. And by that, I don’t mean Fish n’ Chips or ‘football’s coming home’. I mean old Englishness, the England that echoes back to Shakespeare, from kings and queens to peasants and pilgrims, the England of green fields, green sleeves, the Tudor rose and knights in armour on horseback. It’s these images that spring to mind as you walk through Canterbury’s oldest streets. And aside from the fact that it’s close to London, here are some more reasons why you should come and visit.
Not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Canterbury Cathedral is also one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England. Having been first established in 597, it was completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077 by the Normans. It was also inside this cathedral where Thomas Beckett, also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, was mysteriously murdered in 1170. A shrine on the spot that marks his death soon became a pilgrimage site.
Canterbury’s old town is made up of small and quaint centuries-old streets. A simple stroll around its narrow lanes is one of the most pleasant things do to do here. Scattered around the area are various historical sites and buildings, including the Roman Walls which the Anglo-Saxons also used to protect the city from attacks by the Vikings from the 9th to 11th century. It is also in this area where you’ll find the town’s nicest cafes, shops and restaurants.
The pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, in honour of Thomas Beckett, was immortalised in the pages of the Canterbury Tales, one of the most important works of literature in the English language. Written by Chaucer between 1387 and 1400, it tells the stories of pilgrims travelling from London to Canterbury, and explores themes of love, morality and religion. These stories and ideas are showcased in the Canterbury Tales Museum on Saint Margaret Street.
One of the most important historical sites of the city, Canterbury Castle stands in ruins albeit in good condition considering it is almost a millennia old. When the Normans invaded Britain in 1066, they travelled deeper into Anglo-Saxon land via the Roman Road leading to London. Along this route was Canterbury where they stopped and built this impressive and defensive stone structure, a remnant of the invasion that altered England’s history forever.
For a small town, Canterbury is packed with museums and sites of cultural interest. Aside from the Canterbury Tales Museum, the Roman Museum deserves a special mention as it hosts a beautiful Roman mosaic only discovered during the excavations after the Second World War. For art enthusiasts, the Beaney is a museum, library and art gallery within the walls of an impressive Tudor-revival house in the city centre.
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