With our business in the heart of north London’s Hampstead Village, we’re somewhat prejudiced when it comes to our city - we think it's incredible. After all, how many world capitals can compete with London in terms of music, theatre, shopping, food, architecture, history, street markets and far more besides?
Nevertheless, as much as we love it, that doesn’t mean that we don’t all enjoy a day trip once in a while, which is why we’re starting our ‘La Gaffe on the Road’ series, looking at places outside the British capital that are really wonderful to visit.
Today, we’re taking a deep dive into Canterbury, the beautiful market city in Kent that isn’t just charming, beautiful and green (there’s a reason Kent is called ‘ the Garden of England’) but packed full of history. And an easy day trip from London, it’s a lovely way to spend a day…
Canterbury has been occupied since before Roman times - in ancient times, it sat at the mouth of the River Stour. The actual town wall was built by the Romans circa 200 CE and then rebuilt in the Middle Ages. As you walk around, you'll see that only one of the six medieval gates - Westgate - still stands.
You can’t help but feel history all around you as you explore. Indeed, as you walk along the High Street and Mercery Lane, you’re actually following the old pilgrimage route, which will eventually bring you to the beautiful Christ Church Gate. Here you’ll see the remains of monastic buildings which were dissolved by King Henry VII and at this point you can then visit the Cathedral.
Canterbury Cathedral is stunning, and - as one of the country’s oldest and most famous cathedrals - the first place to see if you’re visiting.
Inside, admire the stained glass windows, and check out the northwest transept (where Henry II’s Knights murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket). Explore the crypt (where the same King Henry did penance for the murder) and where you’ll also find the tomb of Edward the Black Prince. And don’t miss the choir area, with a choir screen decorated with angels and sporting the crowned figures of six of England’s monarchs,including Edward the Confessor. No surprise then that Canterbury Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Punting on the River
There’s arguably no better way to see this city than by punting on the River Stour. A punt is a long boat with a flat bottom, which is moved along by a ‘punter’ - someone who, standing up, pushes a long pole to the bottom of a river bed, to move the boat forward. It’s a pleasurable way to spend an afternoon and very popular in Canterbury (as well as other English university towns, such as Oxford and Cambridge).
Tours last around 45 minutes, in which time you’ll glide along the water, passing centuries-old timbered buildings, the Tudor-era Old Weavers House, and beautiful gardens. All the while, your punter will regale you with stories about the history of this lovely city! This is a great activity both for families, couples and friends and all you need to do is buy a ticket, then sit back and relax.
Exploring the Old Town
Canterbury’s history is rich - so why not walk through the old streets and stop at a few of the most interesting sites? Don’t miss the Westgate and its Tower (the largest and perhaps the finest mediaeval gateway in England). The Weavers are timber-framed buildings on the King’s Bridge, adapted in the 17th century for the looms of local weavers.
There’s also St. Augustine’s Abbey, a Benedecitine Monastery that met a sorry end under the reign of King Henry VIII and Lady Wooten’s Green, a pretty open-air space with two bronze statues. Culture vultures should head to the Roman Museum, the Canterbury Heritage Museum and the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.
Enjoy an Afternoon Tea
Canterbury’s a popular day trip for visitors from France and one thing those crossing the channel yearn for, when they reach our shores, is a traditional British afternoon tea. And who can blame them? It’s delicious, elegant and perfect after you’ve spent hours exploring the city.
All around the city centre are small streets, quaint alleyways and lots of cafes - in the summer we’d recommend the Moat Tearooms (pictured), with a varied number of tea blends and excellent homemade cakes) or Phoebe's which is dog-friendly and has courtyard garden seating.
In the winter, head to the Falstaff, where you can sit in their beamed lounge and enjoy some indulgent fare, or The Cook’s Tale, which serves Anglo-Indian afternoon tea with a twist (think cinnamon scones and coconut and saffron cheesecake).
Travelling from London to Canterbury
As we said, travelling from London to Canterbury on a day trip is pretty simple and you’ve three options - train, coach or rental car.
Travelling by train is speedy and very convenient - you can leave either from King’s Cross station (the fast train takes a mere 53 minutes) or London Victoria (1 hour 32 minutes) and if you book in advance, prices can be very reasonable.
National Express also runs coaches from London to Canterbury, twelve times a day, leaving from Victoria Coach Station and taking about 2 hours 15 minutes.
Finally, you can rent a car, if you feel like it, and whilst you will have to deal with the traffic and parking yourself, it will give you a bit of independence, should you wish to stop off at a country pub, en route, or meander back to London via Faversham (mentioned in the Doomsday Book) or even the seaside town of Whitstable (famous for its oysters).
Finally, if you’re planning on returning to London at the day’s end and looking for a place to rest your weary head, feel free to get in touch with us - our comfortable, family-owned and family-run guest accommodation is perfectly located and we guarantee you a warm welcome and a wonderful Italian breakfast cappuccino!
To find out more about our rooms and to book our Hampstead hotel, make a reservation online or contact us by email or phone.