The Insider Guide to Canterbury
Perfect for culture vultures, food fanatics, shoppers and families - here's the top 10 things to do when you're capering around those cobbled streets
The city of Canterbury is the most popular place 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…
Kick-start your day at The Goods Shed, which started its life in 2002 as a daily farmers market and is now 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. For breakfast, head to Wild Goose for their eggs benedict with home-made hollandaise and scrambled eggs with chorizo. Roll back later for a fabulous feed washed down with one of their signature Pink Gins at The Goods Shed restaurant.
For lunch, saunter up to Chapter on Burgate (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.
And if there is ANY room after all this feasting, then you have the pick of two very good gastro-pubs that have recently appeared in our midst. First up is the recently refurbished Corner House, sister restaurant to the critically acclaimed Corner House in Minster – winner of Kent Restaurant of the Year 2017, and the kind of place you should really should arrive famished. Its Romney Marsh Lamb with dauphinoise potatoes, roast carrots and purple sprouting broccoli is worth every bite plus they have rooms upstairs so you can walk VERY slowly to your food-induced coma.
Alternatively, Fordwich Arms got the national food journalists panting into their plates earlier this year just after its launch in December 2017. Run by Dan Smith, former The Clove Club and winner of the Observer Young Chef of the Year, with his fiancée, pastry chef, Natasha Norton and sommelier, Guy Palmer Brown (also ex Clove Club), 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.
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….
Alternatively, head to the beautiful Mount Ephraim which is is a late-Victorian Grade II listed manor house, positioned six miles outside of Canterbury. Five guest bedrooms are available to book – all with flat screen TVs, tea and coffee making facilities, hairdryers and free wifi. Plus you have the benefit of waking up in ten glorious acres of stunning Edwardian terraced gardens with a Japanese rock garden, water garden and lake, arboretum and a spectacular grass maze with a play area for children so plenty of room for you, and the family, to work off the food-indulgence the night before.
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?
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.
A little hidden gem in Canterbury is the Water Lane Brasserie which do great cocktails and tapas plates overlooking the river Stour. Expect to find Chesterfield sofas, industrial lighting and oak flooring with live music at night often thrown into the mix.
If it’s a glass of wine you are after, go to the wine bar at The Shakespeare where you can indulge in their ‘wine flight’, a chandelier-style taster tray housing three wine tasting glasses plus formal tasting with a sommelier can also be booked if you really want to get your wine snob on.
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.
If it’s shoes you need, then head to The Elves and the Shoemaker on Burgate where you will realize that shoe-shopping with children and happiness can go hand in hand. The brain-child of two mothers who found it hard to find well-made, interesting shoes for their own children, its colourful shop is now home to a wide array of shoes for your offspring and of course YOU. You know the drill: Happy Mummy = Happy Family.
From there go straight to Antoine & Lili which is the first boutique in the UK for this quirky and colourful French brand – no they don’t just wear black polo necks. Take your pick from their ready-to-wear women’s wear and children’s wear especially if you are looking for something that will help you stand out from the crowd. The shop is purple and bright pink so you won’t miss it!
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. Personal Muddy favourite is Lora Zombie (Big Bang Kiss) – a self-taught Russian painter who is a top favourite on the urban art scene.
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.
Continue your pilgrimage at the Canterbury Tales, now celebrating its 30th year, which is the only attraction in world dedicated to Chaucer and his Tales. It’s time to dig deep into your English schooling and see how much you remember of these iconic characters which are now brought to life in an engaging and authentic way.
What better way to be a tourist than by floating down the River Stour in the comfort of a classic hand built punt. Canterbury Punting Co. has it covered. Each tour travels through the heart of the historic city centre and lasts 45 minutes. For those who want to freak out their little darlings, book the Haunted River Tours which runs in the early evenings with your personal chauffeur narrating local ghost stories. Don’t worry – blankets, cushions and hot water bottles and even candle lit lanterns are provided.
Occupy your kids on a city break with a Spy Mission themed walking Treasure Trail around Canterbury which starts in the Butter Market outside the Cathedral Gate. This self-guided tour gets your young ones to solve the sneaky clues set on existing buildings, permanent features and monuments to crack the code and complete the mission just like a true secret agent.
And where else to spend their treasure than Whirlygig, 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.
Go to Deakin’s (just opposite Whirlygig) if you need a good food-fix for them and you. With the usual favourites on their kiddie menu plus interesting takes such as ‘Mushroom mac & cheese, brioche bread crumbs’ for those little ones with a more discerning palate.
Fresh onto the Canterbury kiddie scene is Alice and the Hatter – a curious little cafe on St. Margaret’s Street. It’s pure homage to the wonderful world of Alice in Wonderland with themed wall art, chequered floor, throne chairs, tea cup stools and much much more…A perfect place to host a tea party for them and their chums – it’s time to get your Mad Hatter on.
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.
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.
For a quirky drink with a capital Q then go to the Pound Bar & Kitchen 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.
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.
You also have the Marlowe Theatre, one of the country’s leading regional theatres, 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 the annual pantomime is un-missable.
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.
Whatcha waitin’ for?