For four years I lived in Canterbury as a student at the University of Kent. It was a tricky period of my life, not exactly enjoying my time at university (like you are supposed too) for numerous reasons. This included drama with housemates, being so bloody poor, making a long distance relationship work – you know, the usual student woes.
Despite not having the ‘best time ever’ at university, Canterbury was always so good to me. It’s such a beautiful city that has a little bit of everything. Great location, steeped in history, beautiful gardens and pretty side streets, funky shops and restaurants as well as being very close to the coast.
I recently revisited Canterbury two years on, from a fresh perspective of a tourist rather than a local. It was a wonderful trip, reminding me of everything that I love about this beautiful quaint city. I’m amazed I haven’t written a travel guide sooner (but you can check out my five reasons to visit Canterbury!), but here we are; a Canterbury travel guide from someone who lived there.
Kent is a beautiful county, known as the Garden of England so is well worth visiting for the varied landscape. It hosts the historic city of Canterbury, rolling hills and a beautiful and dramatic coastline.
Canterbury is the regional capital of Kent, located in the south-east of England. Canterbury is a small, historic city sitting in the north of Kent. It’s ideally located, only an hour away from London via train and it isn’t too far from the coast. Whitstable, a small little seaside town is only a 20-minute drive while Broadstairs and Margate are only a 45 minutes drive.
Canterbury is also close to Dover and Ashford, making it the perfect gateway to the rest of Europe.
Canterbury has two train stations, Canterbury East and Canterbury West. You can reach Canterbury West from London St Pancras, with trains running every hour. Journey time is only an hour. Canterbury East is where the ‘slower’ trains go, taking about 90 minutes to two hours from different stations in London.
Canterbury is a small city, so it doesn’t really matter what train station you come in too. Canterbury West is located at the top end of town, close to Westgate gardens, whereas Canterbury East is located at the bottom end of town, closer to the bus station and Dane John Gardens. You can be on the high street from both stations within a 5-10 minute walk.
You can also get a National Express coach to Canterbury from London Victoria with journey time approximately two hours.
Visit the gardens
Canterbury is a very pretty city, with gardens at either end of the high street. At one end, you have Westgate gardens (pictured above) which starts at Westgate Towers. Here, you can stroll along the canal, take a gondola ride and feed the ducks. This garden leads to a much longer walk, if you wanted to, which will take you out of the city. Just follow the walking trail and see where you end up!
At the other end of Canterbury, you have Dane John Gardens, another beautiful public park that often plays host to lots of different events. In September, they have a fantastic food festival which is always brilliant, plus they have music events hosted there too.
The great thing about both of the gardens is that they look beautiful year-round, with the flowers changing with each season. Even in the winter, the gardens look magical, especially at Christmas time with the addition of fairy lights!
Take a boat ride
As mentioned above, you can take a gondola ride at Westgate gardens, however, I would reccomend taking a historic riverboat tour, that you can catch a little bit further down the high street, next to Pizza Express. It doesn’t cost anything, but you tip if you think they did a good job. It’s really interesting to gain an insight into the historic city, however, there are some very *very* low bridges that you would pass under, so you have to bend right down – it’s fine, but if you suffer from claustrophobia, it may not be for you!
Visit the Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest and most beautiful in the whole of the UK and is well worth a visit. I was lucky enough to work in the Cathedral grounds and have my graduation there too!
Some of you may be familiar with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, so if you are fond of history and literature, a visit to the Canterbury Tales would be of interest. It is a bit cheesy, with actors in costumes telling you stories and guiding you through, but its good if you wanna learn the medieval history of Canterbury.
Canterbury is chock full of fabulous restaurants, thanks to the large student population. In Canterbury, you’ll find lots of independent restaurants, that are all really popular. Here is a selection of my favourites…
Refectory Kitchen Delicious breakfast and brunches and a banging dinner menu too. Located near Westgate Towers. Go here if you want healthy funky food which is good for any dietary requirements. Booking is essential, their brunch is very popular!
A La Turka My absolute favourite restaurant in Canterbury and the best Turkish food you will *ever* eat. They actually have two restaurants, they were able to open a second one just one year after the first one opened, it was that popular. I’ve eaten at both multiple times and never had a bad meal there. The decor is beautiful and the menu is big and varied. Try as many starters as you can before your main and if you can, squeeze in a dessert! I highly reccomend the falafels and hummus as well as the baklava. Be warned though, the portions are very generous!
Cafe Des Amis This is also a very popular restaurant, so pre-booking is essential. Cafe Des Amis is a Mexican restaurant located directly opposite Westgate Gardens. Their food is very authentic and everything is so fresh! Highly reccomend the tacos and churros for dessert.
Tamago This is David’ds favourite restaurant in Canterbury and is a close first for me. Tamago is a Japenese restaurant located on the Kings Mile. The restaurant is quite small and is another popular place for students to visit. The menu is chock full of different dishes such as ramen, katsu, bento boxes and noodle dishes – I’ve tried nearly everything and all of it is *amazing*.
Chapter This restaurant wasn’t around when I was living in Canterbury, so my friend took me for dinner on my last visit. The restaurant is on Burgate, a little way down from the Cathedral. It specialises in sourdough pizza, but there are other lovely Italian dishes on the menu too. Its a big restaurant, with beautiful Italian decor, and it is really well priced. Certainly a nice addition to the Canterbury food scene!
The Goods Shed Just down from Canterbury West train station, you’ll find the Goods Sheds which is an indoor farmers market style place, full of vendors selling local produce. They have a cafe there, where they will have a seasonal menu. It’s a lovely little place to have a coffee and cake and perfect to sample some of Kents own produce.
Tiny Tims Have a sweet tooth? There is no better place to have afternoon tea than Tiny Tims. I’ve had *many* cakes in Canterbury and I have to say, Tiny Tims has the best offerings.
The wonderful thing about Canterbury is that it is a great place to explore more of the surrounding areas. Here are some of my favourite places to visit…
Whitstable is not too far away from Canterbury and is very easy to get too – only about 25 or so minutes on the bus. It’s a quirky little seaside town, full of boutique shops, funky cafes and loads of independents. Whitstable is famous for their oysters and they do damn good chip-shop-chips and doughnuts that can be eaten on the seafront. It makes a wonderful day-trip from Canterbury if you want to escape for a bit of seaside air!
Broadstairs is my favourite seaside town in Kent, it is so quintessentially British. Think colourful beach huts, old-school ice-cream parlours and classic promenades. The views go on for *miles* and it has a lovely beach, perfect for a spot of sunbathing if the weather allows! It’s a must to visit Morelli’s ice-cream parlour and try the chips from Star of the Sea – the best chip shop chips ever.
Now, I haven’t actually visited Dover itself (I don’t think there is much there), but I have gone on a drive around the coast to see the classic white cliffs and little hidden beaches. If you want to go somewhere for dramtic views, head down to Dover and enjoy the scenery.
Have you ever visited Canterbury? What’s your favourite part of the city?
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