Pip's Pages • Doing Canterbury - a city guide
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For a little place (population only about 40,000) there's a lot to do in Canterbury. It only qualifies as a city by merit of it's cathedral but, partly due to the resultant tourists and partly due to the high student population (UKC, Christ Church College and Canterbury College), there are plenty of fine pubs and restaurants to pass the time in. That's when you're not seeing the sights, of course, which are also covered here... click on the Top anywhere to return here.

Before you go   Getting around   Where to stay   Sightseeing   Places to eat/drink   Miscellaneous

  • Buses - a quick and easy means of getting to Canterbury from London is the National Express 020 service from Victoria Coach Station. Barring adverse traffic down the A2/M2, the trip takes less than 2 hours and it's cheap too, especially for students. Canterbury's bus station is currently right in the middle of a major redevelopment of the town centre, so don't expect a fantastic view on arrival. Having said that, if you're coming into town after dark, try to sit on the left side of the coach as you'll get a better view of the cathedral's floodlit west front.
  • Trains - there are two mainline stations in Canterbury, East and West. Trains from London run to both (from Victoria to the East station, from Charing Cross or Waterloo to the West). If you're coming in from Europe on the Eurostar you can get off at nearby Ashford and get a connection to the West station from there. Equally, if you're arriving at Dover by cross-channel ferry you can get a train from there to the East station in next to no time. Anyway, for all train timetable enquiries check out the excellent Railtrack website.
  • Ferries - of course, East Kent is quite possibly the capital of the passenger ferry universe. Sailings to mainland Europe from Dover with P&O, NorfolkLine and SeaFrance all plough back and forth across the busiest shipping lane in the world on a very regular basis. There's no duty-free to be had any more, technically speaking, but on-board prices still compare favourably with mainland UK.
  • Taxis - if you've made your way to Canterbury by public transport, taxis make a reasonably cheap way of getting around during your stay. Prices are much the same the between companies - expect to pay time and a half after midnight though. I used City Cars (01227 454445) a lot with no problems.
  • Driving there - if you're driving, the RAC can help plan your route - you might also want to check the traffic. Be aware that parking isn't always easy (or cheap) here though.
  • Maps - a fully scalable map of the city is available here.
  • Going upmarket - there are a number of fine hotels in the city, notably the recently refurbished (and very central) Abode Hotel (formerly The County) in the High Street - double rooms start at around 90. Also recommended for the wealthier among you, and similarly priced but slightly less interesting, is the Chaucer Hotel, just across the road from the city wall in Ivy Lane. Equally well appointed (but more modern and a bit cheaper) is Slatter's Hotel where rooms start from around 55 - like the County, it's very central too. The Abbots Barton Hotel on New Dover Road is okay too, but less central, as is the Ebury Hotel (also on New Dover Road) - however, the latter offers an indoor pool, catered and self-catering accommodation, and reasonable room-rates.
  • For maximum historical impact... - you could try the Cathedral Gate Hotel which is, as the name suggests, right next door to the cathedral's Christ Church gate, overlooking the Buttermarket. Surprisingly, given the hotel's prime location, rooms are quite reasonable, with prices starting at under 30 for a single room. Although only recently opened as a hotel the building's age and history is evident in every low doorway and sloping floorboard. Another plus is that this hotel is just a few drunken steps from The Old Buttermarket pub should you fancy a few ales. Or there's always the Falstaff Hotel, originally a 15th Century inn, and handily located for the river and parks.
  • B&B and guesthouses - you'll find numerous B&Bs of various quality along Castle Street and, slightly less central, Wincheap. The latter is home to the Thanington Hotel which is worth noting if you want a hotel with an indoor pool. The most central guesthouse of all though is Greyfriars House in Stour St which has the added bonus of being right by the river. Rooms are pretty cheap too but there are only six of them, so make sure you book in advance. Alternatively if you don't mind staying a little bit further out in the sticks try the Woolpack Inn at Chilham, just a short drive along the A28.
  • Hostels - there are three hostels of note in the City, Kipp's (in Nunnery Fields), Let's Stay and the YHA (both in New Dover Road). I'll let you review their relative merits for yourself here but all I will say is that Nunnery Fields is much quieter at night than New Dover Road, so if you're looking for a good nights sleep...
  • Let someone else find a hotel for you - for more info, or for a wider choice of hotels, check out the AA's excellent hotel finder.
  • The Cathedral - chances are this is main (or only!) reason you've come to Canterbury - the Cathedral has been a focus for pilgrims since Thomas Becket came to a sword-related end in 1170. There has been a church of sorts on the site since 597 when St Augustine arrived on the scene and these days the Cathedral is the global centre of the Anglican faith. The central Bell Harry tower is an imposing site (careful town planning ensures that it can be seen from all around the city), as is the Christ Church gate that leads into the Cathedral grounds. A particularly good (and very popular) photo of the latter can be taken from the High Street looking down Mercery Lane - the gaggle of tourists marks the spot! As an example of a Gothic church, only Reims in France rivals Canterbury for its architecture and stained glass. Also worthy of note are the tomb of the Black Prince and the Crypt. It's probably worth pointing out that it costs a couple of quid to visit the Cathedral these days but it is worth it and anyway, what can you buy for 2 these days anyway? Sad but true, there is soon to be a Starbuck's coffee house right next to the Christchurch Gate. Call me old-fashioned if you must but isn't that going to spoil a lot of tourists' photo opportunities?
  • Chaucer... - in my humble opinion the easiest way to get to grips with Geoffrey Chaucer's most famous work, the Canterbury Tales (which you can buy here if you're interested), is to take yourself along to the Canterbury Tales Visitor Attraction in St Margaret's Street. A combination of animatronics, lights, sounds and smells are used in a series of rooms to recreate the right atmosphere whilst multi-lingual audio guides relate a selection of tales from the book. My personal favourite is the Wife of Bath's tale, not that I share her opinion of gap-toothed women! The Knight's Tale is pretty good too. Anyway, admission will set you back 5.90 but, once more, this is money well spent. Expect to queue to get in during the summer; conveniently the City fish & chip shop is very close by, so you could always pass the time with a portion of chips......
  • Durovernum - that was the Roman name for Canterbury. Julius Caesar visited in the first century and these days nothing new can be built without an extensive archeological dig being carried out first - Channel 4's Time Team were more recent visitors to the city. Tucked away in a very unobtrusive location down Butchery Lane you'll find the excellent Roman Museum, a personal favourite of mine. As well as the usual selection of pottery and jewellery, the museum houses some very well preserved mosaic floors. Okay, so it's not Bath but it's pretty damn good. If you've got kids they'll probably enjoy the hands-on section too.
  • Get locked up - check out the Westgate Towers, the best preserved gate through the old city walls. It used to house a jail, and the museum that's there today includes a recreated cell. The museum itself is quite interesting but the main attraction, other than the external photo shot and the prison cell, is the view across the city you can get from the battlements at the top of the tower. Be advised that this attraction shuts between 12.30 and 1.30 for lunch, and doesn't open at all on Sundays.
  • Parklife - if you've got a packed lunch and you're looking for somewhere to eat it there are a couple of options. The Dane John Gardens, recently renovated courtesy of a Lottery Commission grant, is a carefully landscaped oasis of calm in the heart of the city, and features a bandstand, an ornamental fountain, a little maze for the kids, and a number of kissing gates! There's also a war memorial atop the Dane John mound; I've heard opinions that this was once a burial site or the bailey for a very early mott-and-bailey type castle. Regardless of how it came to be, the view from the top of the mound towards the Cathedral makes for an excellent photograph, plus you can walk along what's left of the City walls for a bit too. Anyway, the other alternative is the Westgate Gardens which benefits from the fact that the River Stour meanders through it - boat trips operate from here in the summer months. This park's beautifully manicured lawns and colourful flower beds make this the ideal location to while away an hour or two on a hot, sunny day.
  • Get educated - The Pilgrims' Hospital of St Thomas is very easy to miss, despite the fact that it's slap-bang in the middle of the High Street. It's a deceptively large Medieval building, built in the 12th Century and, as the name suggest, was used by pilgrims on their way to the Cathedral. Now it houses a small museum of sorts in the main hall, whilst the chapel and pilgrims' refectory are also open to the public. Also, in the old Poor Priests' Hospital, Stour Street, you will now find the Canterbury Heritage Museum. The building has well-preserved medieval interiors and impressive oak roofs dating back over six centuries. Inside you'll find all you ever wanted to know about Canterbury's history, plus the kids will love the Rupert the Bear gallery (his creator, Mary Tourtel, was a local). Also, the Canterbury Royal Museum & Art Gallery is right in the middle of the High Street, above the library, in a very bizarrely decorated building called the Beaney Institute, itself worthy of a photo. Inside you'll find a gallery and the Buff's Museum, pertaining to a local regiment. A recent exhibition in the gallery was of work by the famous satirical cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, if that helps at all. Okay, so it's a pretty small museum as such things go but if you've got an hour or so to spare it's certainly worth a quick look. Admission is free, so what do you have to lose? Talking of admission, it's probably worth pointing out that you can get a Museum Passport which will get you into the Roman Museum, Heritage Museum and the Westage Towers Museum at a reduced rate - it's available at any of these three attractions.
  • All ruined - Canterbury's castle, at the top of Castle Street, funnily enough, is a Norman affair in a pretty advanced state of ruin, so don't go there expecting anything too staggering. It is worth a visit though, if only to have a wander round the grounds, have a read of the informational display boards, and marvel at the fact that the damned thing, over 900 years old, is still standing... Also, take a stroll round to St Augustine's Abbey (behind Christ Church College) - again it is largely ruined but what ruins! Where else are you going to see the remains of a 1400-year old chapel? There's also a little museum covering the history of the place and its many uses over the years, and audio-guides are available. Recommended.
  • Palace Street - not your average thoroughfare, Palace Street is full of varied architecture, numerous listed buildings and, most popular of all, the King's Gallery (so called because of its proximity to the famous King's School). Subsidence has led to the front of the building leaning over at incredible angle - locals used to call it the crooked door shop. There are some neat antique shops down this way too. Note - you might also see this area being touted as "The King's Mile".
  • Get spooked - if you're the kind of person that enjoys a walk and can pretend to be scared then get yourself along to the Billabong pub in St Margaret's Street at 8pm on a Friday night - an organised ghost walk leaves from there most weeks.
  • Café des Amis - St Dunstan's St. Not, as the name suggests, a French restaurant but a fine Mexican with a convivial atmosphere, friendly staff and cracking food. Prices are reasonable too. I feel duty-bound to recommend the fajitas, as they are especially good. "Café Des" is very popular though, so you are advised to book early to avoid disappointment.
  • Caffe Uno - High St. Okay, so I don't usually go in for restaurants that are part of a chain but this Caffe Uno is very pleasant indeed. Don't be put off by the view from the pavement, as it is a deceptively spacious place with additional seating upstairs. As with most Caffe Uno's you can see your food being cooked too, which is always nice. I would have to recommend the pollo al rosmarino, followed by a pana cotta for dessert...
  • Deep Blue - Wincheap. Without question the best fist and chip establishment in Canterbury. The food is superb, the service is friendly and the portions, both to take away and in the adjoining restaurant, are huge. Okay, so you have to walk outside the city walls to get there but if you are looking for a traditional English meal you won't find anything finer. Good value too.
  • Marlowe's - The Friar's. Just a few short steps from the Marlowe Theatre and so very popular with the pre-/post-show crowd. It is not overly cheap, probably because it has that captive theatre audience, but the food is highly recommended. They have a "bring-your-own-wine" policy too, which can be handy.
  • Ask - High St. Ask occupies a very nice position just next to the river and offers fine pizza and pasta in refined surroundings. It's probably not a place you'd want to take your kids though. If you like your salads large and your pizzas thin but can't stand the idea of some dreadful Pizza Hut, Ask is ideal.
  • The Shed Cantina - Dover St. A new restaurant, just behind the cinema so well-placed for a bite to eat before a movie. It describes itself as offering Californian cuisine, whatever that means; all I can say is that the food is mighty fine, the service is friendly and the ambience is cool. Enjoy!
  • Caffe Venezia - Palace St. A relatively new restaurant, unsurprisingly offering a fine Italianate menu. What can I say, it's a nice restaurant in a nice part of town with a (sometimes temperamental) website here.
  • Tapas en la Trece - Palace St. I have to say that tapas isn't really my first choice for a meal out but if it's yours then this is the best on the area. I seem to (hazily) recall this place having a quite decent wine list too...
  • Burrito Bob's - 89 Northgate. Okay, so it's a take-away but you could do much, much worse than enjoy the eponymous Bob's excellent fajitas, tacos and, of course, burritos. Excellent for a light lunch snack or as a "mid-session interval" during a night out on the beer.
  • Wetherspoon's pubs - there are two in Canterbury, The Thomas Ingoldsby in Burgate and The Westgate Inn in North Lane. The good thing about Wetherspoon's pubs is that as well as having a nice pint of very reasonably priced ale they also serve good, simple food too. Beer and a burger for under a fiver, anyone? And unlike a lot of pubs that are pretending to be restaurants these days, you don't have to listen to blaring music whilst you're eating as Wetherspoon's pubs don't have jukeboxes!
  • The Jolly Sailor - corner of Northgate and Broad St. A cracking pub with a large TV for sporting events, a pool table (Tuesday night is killer pool night), a fine jukebox, friendly staff and a good selection of real ales. It is very popular with Canterbury's student population too.
  • The City Arms - Butchery Lane. The ancient timber-framed building that housed this excellent pub was recently involved in a big fire - it's open again now after an extensive refurb. Beer had been served on this site for about 400 years, so despite the fact that's it not as good as it used to be pre-fire, it may still be worth a look.
  • The Cricketers - St Peter's St. After a brief flirtation of being called Oranges, now back to it's original name. Full of bright young things most nights, and very handy if you've just popped into Subway across the road for a sandwich. The selection of beers isn't really to my taste, but if you like people-watching...
  • The Cherry Tree - White Horse Lane. Very popular with the city's student population, not least because there's a different drinks promotion nearly every night! Gets very busy Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so you may find yourself spilling out onto the pavement with a plastic "glass" in hand.
  • Ha!Ha! - St Margaret's St. A relatively new addition to Canterbury's pub roster, Ha!Ha! is a very civilised place to have a view beers and a decent bit to eat. If you're ordering food and are having chips (aka "fries" if you're from the US), ask for fat chips, not thin, they're definitely worth it.
  • Simple Simon's - St Radigund's St. Probably the best pub in the city for real ale purists, Simple's always has a wide range of excellent beers. There's live music here two a couple of times a week, usually blues or jazz - that, coupled with the low, beamed ceiling and courtyard garden (or roaring fire, depending on the season) make this a worthy port of call.
  • The New Inn - Havelock St. Hard to spot, as it's basically just a terraced house which, until recently, didn't even have a pub sign hanging outside! Despite it's poor self-promotion, this quiet establishment is another fine real-ale establishment. There's no big-screen TV, no jukebox or fruit machines (that I can recall) but the atmosphere is good and the beer is better. A good pub for the first beer of the evening...
  • Bar Xtreme - Dover St. Right opposite The Shed, this is a themed pub, the theme being extreme sports. The clientele is therefore very youthful, which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your own age. It does get very loud in there when they have a DJ doing a set though so if that is not your bag you'd be advised to steer clear.
  • Alberry's - St Margaret's St. A wine bar with a late license on Fridays and Saturdays, Alberry's is a little on the small side but is all the better for that. It's also right opposite Ha!Ha!, which makes it handy for pub-crawling purposes. The basement is particularly good, with a rough stone arched ceiling. I have seen the bar down there set alight with a flaming sambucca, but that's another story...
  • The Bishop's Finger - St Dunstan's St. Also known locally as The Nun's Delight, ho ho. A little out of the city centre but a nice pub with a lively atmosphere. The beer, being Shepherd Neame, isn't to everyone's taste (including mine) but at least it's well kept. There's also an extensive selection of cocktails, which helps to ensure a good pre-club crowd at weekends.
  • The Miller's Arms - St Radigund's St. Not the pub it once was but still worthy of a mention, not least because of the good food that's also on offer there. A former Wine Pub of the Year.
  • The Penny Theatre - Northgate. Now part of the "It's A Scream" pub chain, and extensively refurbished since its days as Canterbury's premier live music venue (curiously I once saw The Wedding Present there). Anyway, The Penny is very popular with students who can get a yellow card there, entitling them to drink discounts. It also has a very nice pool table, whilst the large-screen TV makes this a good venue for watching sporting events.
  • Club life - Canterbury is not too well served in this respect. Chill (formerly Chicago Rock Cafe) in Dover Road is the most mainstream (and popular); the music isn't very adventurous, but it's still quite good fun. You need to get in the queue before 10.30pm on a Friday or Saturday to avoid a long wait though, and there's a dress code (no jeans or trainers on those nights). Further up Dover Road is Planet Studio, a very small and slightly tatty establishment. Saturday is hard house night which is all very well if you like dancing with glo-sticks in your hand but I'd recommend The Time Tunnel 80s night every Friday. Alternatively they do stage some form of live music every Tuesday, though the quality of this varies somewhat, so be cautious. Finally, there's the 3-clubs-in-1 experience that is Baa-Bars/The Works/The Bizz, in Station Road East. Baa-Bars is on the ground floor, The Works on the first and The Bizz on the second. Basically the higher up the building the harder the music becomes, and the less likely you are to hear any retro hits. Baa-Bars does vodka & Red Bull for 1 on Thursdays, which might be worth knowing.
  • And finally... - for more detailed information about pubs, clubs and post-pub fast-food establishments check out the excellent CanterburyPubs.co.uk website, and Ant Veal's UK Pub Guide.

Page updated 31-Dec-2008 11:16:55 GMT

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