Last March I hopped the train with my husband and our daughter for 2.5 hours journey from Brighton to the historic Canterbury city. We arrived in Canterbury around 11 AM, stayed one night, and went back to Brighton around 1:30 PM. Not precisely 24 hours, but the Daylight Saving Time was started that night (means we lost 1 hour), and we walked very slowly in the last few hours of our trip. This is my guide on how to spend 24 hours in that beautiful small town.
Although British people often complain about their national rail service, but it is the most convenient way to travel around Britain. Our train journey from Falmer Station (the nearest station to my house), to Canterbury West Station, transited in 2 stations: St Leonards Warrior and Ashford International. The journey passes by interesting Sussex towns such as Rye, Hastings and Eastbourne, which can be the options to stop by before Canterbury. The tickets cost £27 for a normal adult price (for my husband), and £18 for the 16-25 railcard holder (for me). They might be cheaper to buy a few weeks before the travel dates. Whereas if you travel to Canterbury from London, more train options are available from 1 hour to 2 hours’ journey, depending on which station you go from London.
Owning 16-25 railcard is worth it for students living in the UK and often traveling. With £30 a year, we are entitled to get 1/3 off on the rail fare. I think I’d already got more than £30 discounts from October 2018 until March 2019 after I traveled to London, Gatwick, Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Cardiff, and Bristol. In the UK, children below 5 years old are free to travel by train, not like a coach (bus), so my kid did not need any train tickets. That’s why taking the train is usually cheaper for my family rather than taking the bus.
Getting around Canterbury town can be done by a public bus operated by Stagecoach, but most sightseeing places are within 15 minutes’ walking distance in the old city center. I also booked accommodation near the city center, so we just walked and did not take any public transport during our visit.
Places to Visit
Canterbury is not only famous for its Cathedral as a pilgrimage site for Christianity, but the old city architecture also attracts tourists from all over the world. Most of the cultural sights are inside the old city wall, the area with cobble-stoned streets. It can be reached in less than 10 minutes walking distance from Canterbury West Station. The first attraction you would see is the Westgate Towers, a medieval gate of the city wall built in the 13th Century. It was then being used as a city jail and police station in the 18th Century. Now it houses a museum, pubs and a viewpoint to see the city of Canterbury from the top. Between the towers, a road still existed that can be passed by public vehicles. Across the road, there is a path walk beside a river with pretty gardens, especially during the Spring. Tourists can take a guided river punt passing almost all parts of the historic city center starting from £6.50. Meanwhile, the gardens filled up with pretty and colourful flowers during the Spring. We sat down for a while to enjoy our packed lunch that we brought from home. Then, following the path walk, we came to Toddler’s Cove Playground. As travelers with a young kid, of course, we stopped there to play for a few minutes.
We walked back to the towers through a different path that led to High Street, It is the main pedestrian street with rows of ancient buildings on the left and right sides. Not only shops and restaurants, but there are also museums. We first entered Sidney Cooper Gallery, an art museum that was part of Canterbury Christ Church University. At that time, an exhibition about orchestra was displayed, along with special music performances by their students. The other museum nearby is The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge which covers the art gallery, library, and cafe on the ground floor, plus the city museum on the first floor. At that time, the art gallery displayed diorama, pictures, and paintings of Kent’s cattle farm. Canterbury is part of Kent county. Like other museums in England, there are always children’s sections to experience. My kid was really happy playing with the dolls, small houses, drawing, and coloring. She also asked to borrow some children’s books from the library, as if it was Brighton‘s library, but I said that we’re only visiting and did not have access to the library in this city. Both Sidney Cooper and The Beaney are free of charge!
At 3 PM we could already check into our Airbnb room and decided to go there first to put our belongings, so we did not have to walk around carrying our heavy backpacks anymore, and took a prayer (sholat). The friendly host directly brought some children’s toys to our room to use, after found out we came with a small kid. Then, we went back to High Street, which was around 15 minutes walk from our stay. This time we explored the small lanes branching out from the main street which had a lot of interesting places too. We found Marlowe Theatre, the only modern building we’d seen in Canterbury so far. It is a unique contrast to every aging thing around it. In the other lanes, there are Roman Museum and Canterbury Tales, both have the entrance fee. The former is showing Roman artifacts in the remains of Roman building, while the latter is a place to sense how is it like living in medieval England based on the popular English literature about pilgrims’ stories in Canterbury. There is a cheaper combined ticket of Canterbury Tales and Westgate Towers Museum. Anyway, I tried to read the snippet of the Tales book, which consists of 24 stories, but it was a little bit hard to understand. For example,
WHILOM, as olde stories tellen us, formerlyThe Knight’s Tale, Canterbury Tales
There was a duke that highte Theseus, was called
Of Athens he was lord and governor,
And in his time such a conqueror
That greater was there none under the sun.
Full many a riche country had he won.
What with his wisdom and his chivalry.
He conquer’d all the regne of Feminie,
That whilom was y-cleped Scythia;
The must-visited place is of course the Canterbury Cathedral. It is one of the oldest church in England that attracts a lot of Christian pilgrims since the Middle Ages. It has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When we arrived around 4:30 PM, the gate was open without any ticketing staff, and we could enter the Precincts for free (together with other visitors as well). The normal entry charge would be £12.50, including the Precincts. We could not access any rooms or chapel tho, but it’s okay, we did not intend to explore them anyway. As a non-Christian observer, it’s already sufficient enough for us by admiring the Cathedral’s surroundings only.
The next day weather was not as sunny as the first one. It was really windy and rainy. Only 15 minutes after we walked out of our accommodation that morning, before even visited any attractions, we took shelter in a warm French cafe named St Pierre. Too bad we already had breakfast in our Airbnb, so we only ordered some hot drinks and one pain au chocolat. The breakfast set in that cafe looked very yummy, as consumed by elder people while reading a newspaper. Eating French foods while traveling in the UK? But the food was very good with a cozy place, and we saw a lot of locals ate there too. After feeling a little bit warm and the drizzle stopped for a while, we went out to Kent Museum of Freemasonry. It is a free little museum showcases the history of the leading fraternal society, especially in Kent. This close social capital is fascinating to read; they have different local communities called Masonic Lodges with certain rituals, symbol, and regular meetings.
My next destination was Sir John Boys House, or also called The Crooked House. It is a quirky half-timbered building skewed to the right side. Actually, there are few crooked timbered houses like this in Canterbury, but this is the extreme one. Currently, it is used by Catching Lives Charity Bookshop which sells second-hand books to raise money for homeless people. Before I explored the place further, suddenly the drizzle was started again, and my daughter chose that time to take a nap at her buggy. So, we went inside a Turkish cafe across the street, ordering a hot tea (again!) while admiring the crooked house from afar. I saw a staff sometimes went out and put some books inside a basket in the front windows. While my husband watching our sleeping daughter inside the cafe, I went to the bookshop to explore. Apparently, the basket was filled with free books for people to take and donate some money as a return. Inside, piles of books laid on the wooden racks and floors with yellowish lamp and nice decoration. One of the staff told me that the house was skewed because of internal chimney slipping a long time ago, but now it was secured in place by a steel frame, so it was perfectly safe.
The next stop was St Augustine’s Abbey, located slightly outside the ancient city wall. It is a remain of the monastery and also marked as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The third and last heritage site in Canterbury is St Martin’s Church, but we did not visit it. We then had a homey lunch in a Thai restaurant near the abbey, called Bangkok House. Asians always need rice after all.
It was such a fulfilling and enjoyable trip to Canterbury. I love the ancient and laidback ambiance of the city so much. It is also a university city like Brighton and Hove, but much less modern.