When a friend suggested a holiday trip over the New Year, I jumped at the chance. After weeks of holiday partying and office parties, I was ready to pack my bags. The three suggestions were…(1) Paris (2) Canterbury or (3) Stratford upon Avon. I’d been to Paris but had not visited the other two locations and we eventually setted on Canterbury, mainly due to the desire to see a new town in the UK. Besides, like many people, I am familiar with the Canterbury Tales (somewhat) and thought this would be a great opportunity to
Canterbury is an ancient town that dates back to Roman times and is perfect for a quick weekend visit. If you have a car, it might be worth staying around for a bit longer and heading to Dover Castle or other nearby sites. In our case, we took the train and then got a taxi to our hotel, with was about £15. The first day, I’m embarrassed to say that we did not do a thing aside from order take out to the hotel and figure out what we were going to do. It was really only a half day though to I’ll give myself a break!
The next morning we set out to check out a couple of tourist sites and started off at Canterbury Castle, which is the site of a Norman fortress built in the 1100s. Don’t get too excited though as it is basically an open ruin, but is still very beautiful as well as free to visit and open from dawn to dusk. There is no one at the site but there is plenty of signage to explain the history of the site and it is well worth a visit as it gives you a sense of Canterbury’s past.
After leaving the castle, we began to make our way to the Canterbury Tales experience but were distracted by a used book store called (you guessed it) The Chaucer Bookshop. The store is filled with all sorts of books and volume sets – you could get lost for hours! After buying a couple of items to read back at the hotel, and saying goodbye to the shop owner, we moved on to Waterstone’s and bought even more books. OK, enough about the buying spree…across from the Waterstones is where you’ll find the entrance to the Canterbury Tales experience, which is set up inside of an old church. We bought our tickets and put on some cheesy medieval-ish looking hats. The inside takes you through some of Chaucer’s tales and is designed to look like (and smell like) you’re actually in the middle ages. For the uninitiated, The Canterbury Tales is a book by Geoffrey Chaucer that essentially is a book about a road trip from the middle ages between London and Canterbury when a bunch of pilgrims head there to see the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. Although it was a bit cheesy, I did actually enjoy it…particularly the flowy princess hat I got to wear during the tour. I left feeling like I knew a lot more about the tales – especially since I hadn’t really thought about them since college.
Upon leaving the experience, we decided to go to the Canterbury History museum but my friend was distracted by the sound of an accordion. We decided to get a little snack and found an adorable cafe called Brunch where we had hot chocolate while listening to the haunting melodies and spent some time people watching. After around 15 to 20 minutes, we walked around the corner to the Canterbury Heritage Museum. If you are into history (like me), this is the place for you. It takes you through the history of Canterbury from pre-historic and Roman times up until the modern days. I found it quite interesting – especially the section on Rupert the Bear, which I remember from my youth. If you want to visit the Roman Museum as well, be sure to get the double discounted ticket that allows you into both museums. We bought this type of ticket and went the Roman Museum afterwards.
The Roman Museum is quite interesting and includes a section of an old Roman home – it is mainly just the tile work from what was once the floor but interesting nonetheless. The museum isn’t very big but if you like history then you will enjoy it. There is a kids section at the end so it’s great for a family visit. There is an adorable little coffee and pastry shop next to the museum called Cafe Turquoise, which we visited to get out of the rain and relax while enjoying a cup of tea and some macrons.
Last, we went to the famed cathedral. We could only see a portion of the inside because a New Year service was starting. It used to house the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket but the shrine was destroyed when the United Kingdom turned from being a catholic country to a protestant country. The cathedral is absolutely amazing and I highly recommend attending a service to hear the incredible singing wafting through the sanctuary.
The next day we went hiking in Blean Woods nature reserve, which offers a number of well marked hiking paths. For those of you who have read this blog or my Twitter feeds, you know I love to hike – it helps me stay fit and enjoy the outdoors. It was very muddy but we made it along the red trail, which took about an hour. If you take your car, there is parking at the beginning of the trail. There is nothing else nearby though so bring your own water, snacks and (ahem) toilet paper!
Later that evening, after removing our muddy hiking boots and taking a nap, we got dressed up and went to a French restaurant for our New Year’s meal. My steak was over cooked and the food was not all that amazing so I won’t mention it here.
Overall, Canterbury is a great two or three day trip – maybe longer if you decide to visit other nearby sites in Dover or other parts of the south-east. Just remember to take an umbrella and warm clothes if you go in January!
Getting there: It can easily be reached by train from London in about an hour by taking the high speed Javelin train from St. Pancras Station or a slower train from Victoria Station. There are two stations in Canterbury, both with regular service to London.