One of my goals last year was to travel twice a month, once within the UK and once in mainland Europe. The outcome of that goal was so satisfying that I’m instituting it again in 2015. Knowing myself, I’ll probably go all high-achiever and plan more weekends in Europe and day trips in the UK since my time here is now on a countdown (July 2015, tick tock, tick tock). It’s a balancing act of exploring nearby destinations while also getting the most out of my London experience. I know, I know, #firstworldproblems.
Last weekend I set off on my first UK adventure of 2015 with my flatmate Jessie. The destination: Canterbury in the southeast of England. Situated less than two hours away by train, a day gave us plenty of time to see the highlights and wander the quaint streets.
Canterbury is most famous for its cathedral, which serves as the headquarters of the Anglican Church thus making it one of the most important religious sites in England. Anyone familiar with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales will recognize the cathedral as a place of pilgrimage for devout followers. Given all this hype, we made it our first stop.
Ornate inside and out, it reminded me of my visit to the York Minster. Like most religions, the history of the Anglican Church is tumultuous. Case in point, the Cathedral houses a memorial to its first archbishop who was murdered by four knights. Apparently they heard King Henry II hint that it would be easier to rule without someone so opinionated in the church and took things into their own hands. The ultimate royal smackdown.
Speaking of religious drama, the ruins of St. Augustine’s Abbey are a short walk from the Cathedral on the outskirts of town. You can pay to get up close and personal or just peer through the gate at what remains of this abbey destroyed during King Henry VIII’s creation of the Church of England. He’s the one who wanted to get divorced and take the church’s moola. Standup guy.
The Canterbury Castle ruins were my favorite site and best of all, completely free. They’re next to the East Train Station so save them for your way out of town.
Near the castle is the Dane John Garden which warrants a walk through just to see these gorgeous homes. Surrounding the garden are remnants of Canterbury’s city wall which are interesting to see, although nothing compared to York’s wall.
Canterbury is home to 55,000 people so it’s bigger than I expected but much less crowded than London. Enjoy your visit if you go, and remember it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site too. Check it off your list!
Know Before You Go:
- Trains leave for Canterbury from several stations in London. We booked our tickets in advance from Waterloo. There are two stations in Canterbury (East and West Station) sandwiching the town center. It’s a short 10 minute walk to the center of town from each station.
- Tickets to Canterbury Cathedral cost £10 as of our visit in Jan 2015. Check website for prices and hours.
- The town is walkable and you can get from one end to the other in ~20 minutes.
- Snag a free map and visitor guide from the tourist info center in the Beaney Art Museum.
- During warmer months you can take a guided river tour. Find details at the tourist center.