Insider Guide: Canterbury
Perfect for culture vultures, food fanatics, shoppers and families - here's the top things to do whether you're capering around those cobbled streets or relaxing on the river...
The city of Canterbury is one of the most popular places for Londoners to head when moving out to Kent and it’s no wonder – perfect for culture vultures (think outstanding theatre, World Heritage Site, top tourist attraction and shopper’s paradise all rolled into one). Here’s our Insider Guide on the Top 10 Things To Do when you’re cantering around those cobbled streets…
Shop til you drop! Summer of Rewards, Until 3 Sep
Head to Canterbury, shop local and enjoy a ‘summer of rewards’! Over the next 6 weeks, local businesses are offering daily deals and discounts on a whole load of stores in the town. And we don’t need to remind you that Canterbury is packed full of foodie hot-spots, cultural attractions and independent businesses as well as some of the UK’s leading high street chains.
With new deals being added everyday – like 10% off your bill (Mon-Fri) at Tiny Tim’s Tearoom, grab a free slice of homemade cake with every hot drink ordered at Lily’s Social Kitchen or treat yourself to a 70min massage and mocktail for just £75 or lunch-break back massage for £25 at The Camomile Rooms – you’d be crazy not to take advantage.
It’s completely free to take part in, all you need to do is follow MyCanterbury to find out what the deals are and how you can redeem them. As if you needed another excuse to visit this gorgeous, vibrant city…
There’s so much delicious choice here in Canterbury! The Goods Shed, which started as a daily farmers market and now it’s a real foodie destination for locals and even the DFL’s who stomp down from London to get a piece of the fresh Kent produce action. The cornucopia of food delights such as Enzo’s Bakery makes you just want to buy a hamper and fill it to the brim. It has two on-site restaurants both serving fantastically fresh meals throughout the day.
Or saunter up to Chapter (home to one or two very nice shops for you to flex your credit card muscles) which is a sourdough pizzeria & bar where the focus is on locally sourced and seasonally inspired pizzas on that all-important sourdough crust. It’s a great place for little ones too (name me a child that does NOT like pizza) plus they have crayons and colouring-in paper to keep them distracted while you chomp away.
No.35 is a trendy restaurant, located on St Margaret’s Street serving local coffee, drinks and fresh food daily. Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner.
For Indian flavour try The Ambrette, located in the heart of Canterbury’s historical city centre, head here for innovative and exotic food where traditional Indian dishes have a surprising twist!
Next up is award-winning, intimate bistro Oscar & Bentley’s in one of Canterbury’s most beautiful and historic buildings. Serving both classic and seasonal dishes. Enjoy light snacks or hearty meals.
Don’t forget to add The Granville to your foodie trail too as it is a popular gastro pub near Canterbury which has gained a real reputation for serving modern European food of the highest quality making good use of all the wonderful produce in the local region. Plus it has a brilliant outdoor area too so you can bask in sunshine and enjoy good food. Win/win.
For an unique take on the quintessential English pub, you should also have The Red Lion in Stodmarsh on your radar. In the heart of this very pretty village, the team are well known for their foraging and spectacular supper clubs plus they have a stunning outside space and two very stylishly kitted out bedrooms upstairs if you need a lie down afterwards…
Alternatively, Fordwich Arms is the winning mix of a great Kent pub that just so happens to serve exquisite food (the pheasant dumplings are a must, trust me) which affirms once again why it’s really not that bad living in the sticks.
Just outside of Canterbury is Bridge Arms with its informal setting and exeptionally good food plus relatively kiddie friendly.
If you are looking for a hotel within the city walls, then consider Abode, which is only minutes away from Canterbury Cathedral and a perfect base to explore. All the rooms have been individually designed and if you really want the wow factor, ask for one of the suites with the rooftop deck with panoramic views across the city. Meanwhile the mixologists in its Champagne Bar down below are masters of the classics but are always up for reinventing your favourite drinks. Just saying….
The Dog in Wingham, seven miles outside of Canterbury, is another great bet whether you are travelling as a duo or with the family. A fabulous gastro-pub with eight beautiful guest rooms and a choice of the stunning four-poster bed suite or bring the kids and stay in its family suite. They are very proud of their Gin bar with more than thirty different gins on offer – need we say more?
Bridge is a short drive outside of Canterbury and there you shall find plenty to keep both generations well fed and happy. The Pig in Bridge was a very worthy winner of our Best Boutique Stay in Kent and a perfect pit stop to stay or feast at its restaurant, where most of the produce is growing in front of you. Head to The Bridge Arms for another dynamic meal (the new sister addition to Michelin-starred Fordwich Arms) and if the kids are crying out for some fun, take them to Howletts down the road for the ultimate zoo adventure.
Try this 16th century former inn (frequented by Charles Dickens fact fans) The Corner House is situated right in the city centre with 5 beautiful bedrooms with lovely views, all the facilities you need and breakfast in bed.
For a bit of fresh air, head to Westgate Gardens, which is one of the city’s showpiece gardens and runs alongside the river Stour. The river, with its ever-present ducks and summertime punts, is just one of the features which makes Westgate Gardens extra special. Furthermore any dawdling children will be rewarded by Toddler’s Cove at the end of the walk which is a playground designed by local children so it won’t fail to disappoint.
One of the best ways to see Canterbury is by doing a walk around its city walls originally built by the Romans probably between 270 and 280 AD. Best starting point is Dane John Gardens, conveniently a skip, hop and jump away from Fenwick’s, where the wannabe knights with you can play in the castle maze before a gentle climb onto these historical city walls.
Award-winning Houdini’s is where you can experience live magic up close with some of the country’s finest magicians amidst chatting and cocktail slurping. It’s perfect for date night with a difference or a novel night out with the girls!
For a quirky drink with a capital Q then go to The Pound which is set within Canterbury’s atmospheric former c1830 City Gaol, Gaoler’s House and c1907 Police Station. A paradox in itself: you can sit in one of the three original police cells and former Felons Day Room and sip on rather tasty cocktails. The Pound has also just launched a new dining space set serving British gastro-pub food within its atmospheric former police Parade Room & original cells. Lock me up and throw away the key please.
Canterbury’s cobbled streets are a pleasure to potter around (but maybe leave the muddy stilettos at home for this jaunt) and there are plenty of independent shops that can be found in the winding roads heading away from the High Street.
Go to Lilford Gallery if it’s an art-fix you are after. There’s always cool, modern, playful work on display and they have two spaces in Canterbury – on Palace Street and Castle Street. Expect an eclectic range of works by both emerging artists from the Kent Area and internationally known artists.
And if your hair is in need of some TLC then look no further than Katie and her team at The Chair, (pictured above and winner of Best Hair Salon in Kent in the Muddy Awards 2021) highly rated and recommended by locals in-the-know.
And while we’re on the subject, don’t forget Rock Paper Scissors (pictured below, who won Best Gift Shop in Kent voted by you in our Muddy Awards 2021) is a cool lifestyle store and gallery space showcasing artisan makers and artists from all over the South East.
Or you’ll find a striking selection of ceramics, jewellery, paper goods, skincare and home accessories by local makers at Platform. Definitely one to visit with its cool pink shop front and they pride themselves in presenting unusual items that aren’t widely available elsewhere.
For all your cheese needs, head to The Cheese Shop who sell amazing handmade cheeses. You’ll know if you’re walking past here with their range of hard, soft, blues, regionals, young lemony fresh and fine crystallised vintages. Also enjoy wine, pickles and crackers here. Got a birthday or wedding coming up? How about a celebration cheese cake?
ARTS & CULTURE
It’s hard to miss Canterbury’s beautiful cathedral towering above the city-scape in most views of the city. Not only one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in the England, it is also a World Heritage site. Do take a moment to walk through this monumental building and soak up the incredible history that has taken place here since its foundation in 597.
If a drizzly day threatens to rain on your city break parade then do not despair as Canterbury is home to some fantastic cultural indoor attractions…
First up is Gulbenkian which is the University of Kent’s Arts Centre offering first-class productions for children and adults alike. The programme is ever-changing so check the website before you go but think anything from Lion King sing-a-long to live, to live acoustic music, classical opera to cutting-edge comedy and everyone’s favourite children’s author Julia Donaldson’s books brought to life plus a fantastic cinema showcasing the best in UK and world film.
The Marlowe Theatre is one of the country’s leading regional theatres and its right on your doorstep. The theatre attracts the best of the national touring productions – meaning you don’t have to have to head into the Big Smoke to get to see lots of the West End shows – they come to Canterbury! Plus their stand-up comedy and annual pantomime is un-missable.
There’s also Malthouse Theatre, a state of the art theatre housed within a stunning conversion of a Victorian Malthouse.
And discover the latest films in cinema right now in the comfort of some handsome armchairs at Curzon. From chart-topping blockbusters to the best of independent and world cinema.
Howletts Wild Animal Park, like its sister park Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve, is a proud partner of the Aspinall Foundation who save endangered species around the world. And, as luck would have it, it’s right on our doorstep – sitting just outside Canterbury.
Howletts is home to over 390 animals, including the largest herd of African elephants in the UK, and more gorillas, tigers, leopards and monkeys than any zoo in the county. Oh, and let’s not forget, Kent’s only giant anteaters.
Where else to spend their treasure than Whirligig? An independent toy shop on Palace Street specialising in ‘things to make and do’ and creative toys that really engage children and help them to play in a way that they will remember for ever. Gets our vote every time.
If you want to really tire them out – then head out to Wildwood, 6 miles outside of Canterbury, as not only does it boast Kent’s biggest drop slide (and yes I did once see my husband drop my two year daughter down it and thankfully she emerged at the bottom cackling her head off) but more importantly, it is home to 200 native animals set in 40 acres of beautiful ancient woodland. The bears and wolves get the most kudos from my kids.
Why not book a picturesque trip through the centre of beautiful, historic Canterbury? Canterbury Historic River Tours provide a range of multi-award-winning guided tours – fun for all the family! View the stunning architecture as you journey through the heart of Canterbury on the River Stour and discover parts of the city that are only accessible by these tours. Each boat is chauffeured by a helpful guide, who presents the historical facts of the passing buildings and monuments in an entertaining manner. View their tours here and book in! We like the sound of their Evening Tours – take a relaxing trip along the Stour on a warm summer evening. We likey.
Let them experience some culture at The Beaney, Canterbury’s museum, library and art gallery right in the city centre. There’s always something going on here from exhibitions, events and daily activities.
There’s also Kent’s only Roman Museum (kids go free this summer! 2 children visit for free per paying adult until 1 Sep) which provides a fascinating and family-friendly insight into life of Roman Britain. Immerse yourself in over 2,000 years of history and discover the in-situ Roman under-floor heating system wall paintings, a dazzling mosaic corridor and one of the UK’s only remaining in situ Roman pavement mosaics.
This brilliant water sports company is your one-stop-shop for messing about on the river in Canterbury. Join the friendly team at Canoe Wild on the beautiful River Stour where you can hire canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and much more. A brilliant activity to do with the kids and what’s more, the hire centre sits on the Grove Ferry Picnic Site, the perfect spot for enjoying refreshments alongside the picturesque banks of the Great Stour River. Book your adventure now.
If you want to keep up with the yoof, take part in a live escape room and there’s no better place to start than the Crime & Punishment Lab at Escape in the Towers. You and your cohorts have just 60 minutes to escape Dr. Wellington’s lab before you are trapped for eternity. Set within Canterbury’s original former city gaol built in the 1830s, the whole experience is eerily realistic.
There is nothing quirkier in Canterbury than our very own Crooked House, which thanks to an internal chimney slipping, looks look it is about to topple over and has done for years. Home now to a Catching Lives charity bookshop, make sure you wander post and take an obligatory photo next to the slanting door.
Canterbury’s famous for its café culture so if you want to kick back and chill then mooch on over to one of the cool, quirky eateries, like the Chocolate Café or try Canterbury’s first and only cat cafe! Canterbury Tails will be opening this Autumn 2021.
Whatcha waitin’ for?