The city is justifiably renowned for the awe-inspiring Canterbury Cathedral that stands at the very heart of the town, but there is plenty more to explore.
Our tour begins outside the Tourist Information Centre on the Butter Market, opposite the main entrance to the cathedral, where the War Memorial marks an area that was heavily damaged during the dark days of the war. Searching for targets that would demoralise the British public, the Nazis turned to the Baedeker Guidebook and chose Canterbury, amongst other treasured sites, for aerial bombing. The so-called Baedeker Raids were devastating, and although the cathedral survived unscathed, the neighbouring parish was destroyed. Only the tower of St. Georges Church survives to tell the tale, and the surrounding buildings are post-war constructions.
At the bottom of Burgate, you will find one of the longest remnants of the city walls. Passing along this surviving section of the city walls, you will find the quaint Zoar Chapel, built into one of the bastions in 1845, and the Dane John Gardens, laid out in 1790 around the Roman burial mound. The walls stood up to an attack by 4,000 Yorkists during the War of the Roses in 1450 but eventually succumbed to the far more insidious Commission for Paving, which demolished most of the ancient defenses in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as part of measures for improving the flow of traffic through the city centre.
When construction began on Canterbury Castle around 1100, it was one of the first stone keeps in the country and remains the fifth largest to this day. Built by the Normans as part of their campaign to pacify their newly conquered land, ironically, it didn’t see action until 1216, when it faced another French invader. Even more ironically, the castle was surrendered to the Dauphin without a single shot being fired and was eventually put to use as a storage dump. The eight-feet-thick walls have crumbled into disrepair as the facing stones have been scavenged for building materials, and only a shell now remains.
The neighbouring St Mildred’s Church dates back to Saxon times and marks the foot of Stour Street. Head up past the Old Almshouses and the Poor Priests Hospital, now home to the Canterbury Heritage Museum, with exhibits on the history and culture of the town and its inhabitants from King Ethelbert of Kent to Rupert the Bear. Doglegging down Hawk’s Lane brings you out onto St. Margaret’s Street, where a 19th-century church is now home to the The Canterbury Tales audio-visual experience, before leading you onto the High Street.
Heading up the town’s main thoroughfare will take you past the fascinating Roman Museum, with its preserved in-situ floor mosaic, the half-timbered Beaney Institute, home to the Royal Museum & Art Gallery, with its uninspired exhibits of Victorian artworks, over the River Sour, where you can see the pilgrim’s hospice at Eastbridge Hospital and the picturesque Old Weavers’ Cottages, and on to the West Gate. Just off High Street on the Friars, you will find the Marlowe Theatre, named after Canterbury’s most famous literary son, Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan playwright, spy, and potential real Shakespeare.
This leads onto Palace Street, where you will find the Tudor St. Alphege’s Priest’s House, with it array of hideous gargoyles, Conquest House, where the knights met in the Norman undercroft before proceeding to the cathedral to martyr Archbishop Thomas á Beckett, the photogenically twisted Sir John Boys’ House, and lastly, on the corner, Beaus Restaurant, formerly owned by Phillipe de la Noye, where in 1621 Robert Cushman chartered the Mayflower for the pilgrim fathers’ voyage to America. Cushman and Noye followed onboard the Fortune, where Noye’s descendent Franklin Delano Roosevelt would become President.
Turning back down Sun Street will bring you back onto the Butter Market outside the Tourist Information Office, where our tour began.