Historic Canterbury

Historic Canterbury, Canterbury, England (A)

Canterbury was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988. Explore the city's medieval past, rub shoulders with actors, poets, pilgrims, princesses and kings. Walk in the footsteps of Romans, Saxons and Vikings. But most of all, enjoy the bustling vibrant atmosphere of one of England's finest cities.
How it works: The full article is featured in the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" on iTunes App Store and Google Play Store. Download the app to your mobile device to read the article offline and create a self-guided walking tour to visit the sights featured in this article. The app's navigation functions guide you from one sight to the next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

Download The GPSmyCity App

Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Historic Canterbury
Guide Location: England » Canterbury
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: Julia Hickey
Author Bio: Graduating with a degree in History and English I became a teacher and then a university lecturer specialising in Adult Literacy. I have lived in the north of England for nearly twenty years but travel widely in the UK. Publications include text books for educators and students, travel articles and fiction. I love exploring new places, soaking up history and architecture, photography and reading.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Westgate Towers
  • The Weavers
  • Greyfriars Hospital and Gardens
  • Canterbury Heritage Museum
  • Canterbury Castle
  • Canterbury City Walls and the Dane John
  • St George's Tower
  • St Augustine's Abbey
  • Lady Wootton's Green
  • Canterbury Roman Museum
  • Canterbury Cathedral
  • The Canterbury Tales Experience
Westgate Towers

1) Westgate Towers

Canterbury Westgate Towers is one of the largest medieval gateways in the country. Cars and buses squeeze beneath the portcullis and under the murder holes. Tourists climb the steps for one of the finest views of Canterbury. The gateway is the only one that remains from the original seven. It is built on the site of its Roman predecessor in the 1380s in response to the Peasants Revolt. The town’s defences were strengthened by Archbishop Simon of Sudbury. You can find out about his grisly end here too. The unusual keyhole shaped windows are gun loops. These are some of the earliest examples of this kind of architecture in the country and reflect the fact that Canterbury was not only a centre of religious importance but a strategic defence point.

Today you can find out about the medieval gateway and its later uses. It has been a goal since the reign of Henry VI but was refurbished in the 1830s to become the city’s Victorian goal. Find out what it feels like to be locked into a cell and hear more about James. Find out as well about the English Civil War, Canterbury was a Royalist town, and also Canterbury’s defences in World War Two. There's a glass topped café in the prison’s exercise yard and an opportunity to do some brass rubbing too.

The museum is open daily from 10.00 am to 4.30 pm except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. See the website for more details. www.canterburywestgatetowers.com
The Weavers

2) The Weavers

The Weavers, built in 1500 or there abouts, became a refuge for Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in France. It was once a thriving centre of industry as the refugees brought their silk weaving skills to life in the city that adopted them. It is one of the reasons that it has so many windows. If you stand on East Bridge, also known as King's Bridge, The ducking stool that you can see balancing over the River Stour is a modern replica of the medieval device for punishing nagging women and testing for witches. Across the road is the Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr. It was originally built to care for poor pilgrims but following the destruction of the shrine of St Thomas in 1538 it was turned into almshouses for ten poor people.
Greyfriars Hospital and Gardens

3) Greyfriars Hospital and Gardens

Go through the double black gates. Before crossing the bridge beyond the guest house turn left to discover Greyfriars Chapel. This is the only building remaining from Canterbury’s Fransciscan Friary built in 1267. The first friars came to Canterbury in 1224 while St Francis was still alive. This is another victim of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monastries in 1538. It’s a tranquil retreat from the bustle of the high street. The walled garden on the other side of the river is filled with fruit and flowers.

It is open from Easter to the end of September 2-4 pm Monday to Saturday. There is a service held here on Sunday.
Canterbury Heritage Museum

4) Canterbury Heritage Museum

Find out about the people who lived in Canterbury, how cathedrals were built, what happened to Thomas Becket and stare at your reflection in an Iron Age mirror. You can also see all that remains of the original shrine to St Thomas. The four pillars were discovered by divers in the River Stour where they were thrown at the time that the shrine was destroyed. Meet Rupert Bear, Bagpuss and Ivor the Engine. Rupert bear is a citizen of Canterbury. His creator Mary Tourtel was born in Canterbury and is buried in St Martin’s Churchyard. No wonder the little bear with his famous yellow checked trousers and scarf has an exhibit all to himself. There’s also an engine built by George Stevenson – the Invicta- that once traveled from Canterbury to Whitstable on the world’s first passenger railway. This is a family friendly museum with lots of hands on activities and exquisite models depicting the building of the cathedral. The building is historic in its own right. It was built in 1373 as a hospital for poor priests. The timber frame is magnificent and you can almost hear the voices through the centuries. Like much else in Canterbury the building has served many purposes including school, police station, workhouse and ambulance station.

Monday to Sunday 10am to 5 pm. The last entry is at 4pm. Closed Christmas and New Year Day.
Canterbury Castle

5) Canterbury Castle

Like much else in Canterbury, the castle has its feet on Roman foundations. You can still see narrow bands of Roman bricks in the building materials of the keep along with locally quarried flint. This was one of the first stone castles in the country built on the orders of King Henry I but it became less important as Dover Castle took on a greater role. It was actually captured by the French without a struggle and it came under attack from Wat Tyler during the Peasants Revolt. In fact, it had ceased being defensive and had become a prison by the middle of the Middle Ages. Some 42 people were kept here during the reign of Mary Tudor before being burned as heretics. It went on to withstand centuries of wear and tear until the Victorians tried to blow it up to make way for the gas works and when that failed they used it to store coal.
Canterbury City Walls and the Dane John

6) Canterbury City Walls and the Dane John

There is about a mile of city wall remaining around Canterbury. You are walking the length of wall between the Worth and Riding Gates. The wall was rebuilt on its Roman foundations during the thirteenth century with twenty one semi circular towers. Canterbury has had need of its walls. It withstood a Viking siege in 1012. The archbishop, St Alphege was captured and killed. Later in 1647 Oliver Cromwell had the city gates burned and a stretch of wall near to the West Towers demolished.

when the citizen of Canterbury rioted after the banning of Christmas. Their trials were held at an assizes convened in the castle.

As for the Dane John, it was once a Roman burial mound that was extended to form the first Norman castle in Canterbury - motte and bailey castle built on the Dane John. You can still see the motte. It has been used by Canterbuy washerwomen to dry their laundry and during the English Civil war as a gun emplacement. Later a windmill was erected on the site and the monument erected in 1803 when it was incorporated into the gardens. As you leave the stretch of wall overlooking the gardens you cross Watling Street.
St George's Tower

7) St George's Tower

This is all that remains of St George’s Church. The tower is sometimes called the clock tower or Christopher Marlowe's tower- for this is the church where playwright Christopher Marlowe was baptised. He was born in a house on St George’s Street but it and much of the heart of medieval Canterbury was destroyed in a German air raid in June 1942. If you pause outside the Marlowe Theatre named after Canterbury’s famous son you can see a statue depicting some of Marlowe’s characters from Tamburlaine the Great to Doctor Faustus.
St Augustine's Abbey

8) St Augustine's Abbey

St Augustine's Abbey was founded in AD 597 by St Augustine when he came to England. It became the burial ground for Saxon Kings and for St Augustine himself. Now all that remains are some walls, foundations and medieval floor tiles, the result of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. But the museum and audio tour help bring the sight back to life. With a bit of imagination visitors can see what an important and busy place this must once have been.

Open 10.00 am to 6.00 pm daily in July and August, April to June Wednesday to Sunday and bank holidays 10.00 am to 5.00 pm, September and October, Saturday and Sunday 10.00 am to 5.00 pm, November to March weekends 10.00 am to 4.00 pm. Closed 24th- 26th December and 1st January. For further information visit http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/st-augustines-abbey/
Lady Wootton's Green

9) Lady Wootton's Green

This spot is the place to learn more about the kings and queens who shaped Canterbury. King Ethelbert was the pagan king of Kent but sometime after he married Princess Bertha in AD580 he converted to Christianity. Bertha was able to bring missionaries into Kent and this is one of the reasons why the Archbishop of Canterbury is the most important cleric in the country. The Great Gate that you can see behind the statues is part of St Augustine’s Abbey. It dates from 1308. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII chose to keep part of the abbey for himself. Its royal connections meant that it suffered during the English Civil War. The medieval houses that lined the green were destroyed during a German air raid. Despite that, it is worth exploring Lady Wootton’s Green as there is architecture dating from the Roman Period onwards and these features are explained on an information board.
Canterbury Roman Museum

10) Canterbury Roman Museum

It looks small from the outside but its secrets lie beneath our feet at an earlier ground level. Canterbury was a Roman City and much of it still remains. Find out about Roman Canterbury from the mosaic pavements, building materials and Roman rubbish. The mosaic is beautiful but much less rare than the set of cavalry harness on display. The building materials and rubbish tell the story of every day life in XXX. In fact the museum is built around a Roman town house. The tiler who made the tile with the dog’s paw print in must have been rather annoyed but it goes to show that some things don’t change in a thousand years. There’s tableware and glass ware and even games counters. There’s also the story of a murder. Discover more about the hasty burial of two Roman soldiers- (they’re not the only murder victims uncovered during archaeological work a family of four were discovered off Stour Street in the 1980s) and why not have ago at dressing up or building a Roman arch. It’s a hands on museum and friendly too. It’s also worth bearing in mind that much of the Roman archaeology in Canterbury was only discovered as a result of the German air raids that destroyed much of the medieval city.

Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, last entry at 4pm.
Canterbury Cathedral

11) Canterbury Cathedral

You’re looking at the Christchurch Gateway built in 1517. The Christ figure is a modern one put there in the 1980s to replace the original destroyed during the English Civil War by puritans. The other carvings date from the 1930s and have returned the gateway to its original splendour.

The present cathedral was begun in 1070 by the Normans. An earlier cathedral on this site was sacked by marauding Danes. Its been destroyed by fire and vandalised by Henry VIII but it still remains as one of the greatest gothic cathedrals in the country. The Bell Harry Tower was added at the start of the sixteenth century and it is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world thanks to the murder of one of its archbishop’s- Thomas Becket in 1170 by four knights eager to win favour from King Henry II. A candle stands where he was slain. There are undercrofts, wall paintings, Byzantine carvings, magnificent medieval stained glass windows and soaring ceilings. You can see the tomb of the Black Prince and his banner and you can wander in the cloisters.

For opening times and service times visit http://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/
The Canterbury Tales Experience

12) The Canterbury Tales Experience

We're standing outside St Margaret's Church. There’s no paper evidence to say that Chaucer ever came to Canterbury but students around the world remain familiar with characters such as the Wife of Bath and the Miller who told their stories while on pilgrimage to St Thomas Becket’s shrine here in Canterbury. The pilgrims and their stories are brought vividly to life in this visitor attraction. There’s lots to see and hear.

The tales are open in the low season from 10.00 am to 4.30 pm, from March to June from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm and in July and August from 9.30 am to 5.00 pm. It is closed 25th and 26th December and 1st January.


Walking Tours in Canterbury, England

Create Your Own Walk in Canterbury

Create Your Own Walk in Canterbury

Creating your own self-guided walk in Canterbury is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Canterbury Cathedral and Grounds

Canterbury Cathedral and Grounds

Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest regional Christian churches that played a major role in English Christianity. The Cathedral stands within its own walled area, surrounded by Medieval buildings and ruins. This self-guided walking tour takes you to see all the historically significant, magnificent structures within the precinct. It’s an amazing trip back to the Middle Ages.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
Canterbury Introduction Walking Tour

Canterbury Introduction Walking Tour

Canterbury is a UNESCO World Heritage City and one of the most visited cities in England. Canterbury has a long history and has been occupied since Paleolithic times. It was the capital of the Celtic Cantiaci, Romans settled the area for centuries, and the site was the capital of the Kingdom of Kent.

Saint Augustine arrived in Canterbury in 597 to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. The...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles