Canterbury is the most important place of pilgrimage in the UK for members of the Church of England. It’s the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England and the home of Canterbury Cathedral, scene of much of historical importance including the slaying of Thomas Becket by soldiers loyal to Henry II.
Canterbury Cathedral’s History
The cathedral dates from the end of the sixth century and was founded by St Augustine who had been sent as a missionary to the Anglo-Saxons by Pope Gregory the Great. Not content with founding the cathedral, he also founded the Abbey of St Peter and St Paul outside Canterbury’s walls and this was to become the last resting place of archbishops for centuries. The whole city is a World Heritage Site with individual status being given to the cathedral, the abbey and the Church of St Martin; the oldest church in continuous use in Christendom. Five of the cathedral’s archbishops have been martyred, the first being Alphege who was killed by Danish raiders in 1012. It has been damaged by earthquake and fire during its history, either rebuilt, as it was in the 11th century, or undergoing major repairs after quake damage in the 14th century. Today’s building is the subject of a major renovation and preservation project aptly named ‘Save Canterbury Cathedral’.
What to do at Canterbury Cathedral
There’s so much to do when visiting the cathedral:
How to Get There
- Take a guided tour of the cathedral for only £5 per person and learn more about the cathedral than you would from a guide book.
- Take a virtual tour online before you visit and you’ll be prepared to see all your favourite parts of the cathedral
- Go down into the atmospheric crypt where you’ll find tombs, including Thomas Becket’s original tomb, and relics from the cathedral’s history.
- Spend some time in the cathedral shop where you’ll be able to buy high quality gifts and mementos as well as choose from a large range of books on religious themes.
- If you’re lucky you can get to see the stained glass craftsmen at work in the studio or watch master stonemasons working on blocks to replace those damaged by modern life.
- If the weather’s nice, walk around the cathedral grounds and take photographs of the beautiful building from the exterior.
If travelling in from abroad, or indeed from anywhere in the UK, the best way of getting to Canterbury is to join the M25 and travel around it before taking the M2 southeast to Canterbury. In this way it’s easily accessed from all London’s airports. If arriving from France, it approximately 15 miles north west of Dover ferry port along the A2, or 10 miles along the A28 if arriving at Manston Airport (Kent), where KLM operate twice daily flights from Amsterdam.
Where to Stay
We’d recommend the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, the cathedral’s own ‘hotel’. Overlooking the cathedral itself, the hotel has 35 guest rooms offering luxurious accommodation and all the creature comforts you would wish for. Otherwise there are various larger hotel chains or smaller B&B's to choose from in and around Canterbury itself.
And When You’ve Visited the Cathedral?
You’ve still got Canterbury Castle to visit as well as the museum dedicated to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. There’s also a Roman Museum and a Canterbury Museum dedicated to everything that’s happened in the city since the Romans.