Spotlight on: Canterbury
PUBLISHED: 19:37 26 November 2014 | UPDATED: 19:37 26 November 2014
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Canterbury offers visitors a magnificent cathedral, great shopping, dining and cultural facilities
Wander along one of Canterbury’s ancient streets and you’ll hear half a dozen languages being spoken.
The city, on the banks of the peaceful River Stour, has been one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions for hundreds of years and continues to draw people from all over the world. Tourism is such big business that it’s estimated to bring more than £400m to the area each year.
The Celts, Romans, Saxons and Normans all realised the significance of this little, unassuming part of south-east England and helped to make it what it is today.
But it was Christianity that really put Canterbury on the map and in medieval England it was one of the most important centres for pilgrimage. The magnificent cathedral is thought to be of such cultural importance it’s even been granted the status of UNESCO Word Heritage Site.
Today visitors still come to see the cathedral. Dating back as early as 597AD in parts, it is one of the oldest and most important Christian structures in the UK.
Even secular tourists find it fascinating. As well as the incredible history of a 1,000-year-old building, its sheer size and architectural importance is enough to impress anyone. Visitors can pay to enter (01227 762862, CT1 2EH) and there is an audio tour available, but as this is a working cathedral open for local services and events, it’s best to check for any forthcoming closures before setting off.
The other thing that attracts visitors is the brilliant shopping in Canterbury. With just the right mix of tourist shops, local independent traders and luxury big-name brands, it also boasts Whitefriars, east Kent’s biggest shopping centre. And if you need a break from pounding the streets looking for bargains, the eating and drinking options in the city are endless.
There are some great places to relax and unwind in Canterbury too. A compact city, there are plenty of spots to sit down with a coffee and get a feel for the historic city’s quieter side. Westgate Parks, four areas that follow the River Stour from the busy city centre out into the countryside, are near Westgate Towers (CT1 2BQ).
For the ultimate in relaxing sightseeing, take to the water during warmer months on a tour of Canterbury from the river. Canterbury River Tours (07790 534744, CT1 2AT) offers a unique view of the city from the comfort of a rowing boat. Tours ended in November but start again in March.
Outside the city there is so much to see and do. Only 20 minutes away is the seaside, with Seasalter, Herne Bay and popular Whitstable to choose from There is also plenty to entertain the children with The Aspinall Foundation’s Howlett’s Zoo set just outside Canterbury in Bekesbourne (0844 8424647, CT4 5EL), Wingham Wildlife Park (01227 720836, CT3 1JL) and the Wildwood Trust’s British wildlife park in Herne Common (01227 712111, CT6 7LQ).
Shopping and eating
The shopping experience in Canterbury is a tourist attraction in itself. At the west end of the main shopping area, St Peters Street near Westgate Towers, you’ll find places including Revivals (01227 768033, CT1 2BG), a vintage shop that’s just celebrated its 25th anniversary (see My City with owner Debbie Barwick on page 58).
Further towards the cathedral you’ll find a department store with a unique layout. Debenhams (above) inhabits several of the old shops in Guildhall Street (CT1 2JG), with a different department in each shop.
If you explore the area around the cathedral you will find Canterbury’s splendid King’s Mile. Steeped in history and spanning a series of small streets from Northgate to the Marlowe Theatre, it is just a step away from the busy high street.
An area focused on independent and traditional traders offering jewellery, crafts, gifts, antiques, art, clothing and plenty of places to eat and drink, it’s like stepping back in time. Some of our favourite shops here are The Fudge Kitchen (CT1 2HX) and The King’s Mile Florist (CT1 2DZ).
With plans to improve the street scene and pedestrian access in Northgate, Orange Street, The Friars and Best Lane, this area is going to become even more of a draw to visitors over the next couple of years.
The jewel in the city’s shopping crown is the Whitefriars development at the east end of the city (CT1 2TF). Opened in 2004 it is home to Next, Monsoon, M&S, Zara, Primark, Clarks and Topshop, to name just a few. It also houses luxury department store Fenwicks (CT1 2TB), the setting for our fabulous Christmas cover this year.
Finding somewhere nice to eat is no problem at all in this cathedral city. With a continental-feel café culture, there is a small and independent place to suit every mood and all the usual big chains.
Try Willows Secret Kitchen for superb coffee (01227 788777, CT1 2PH), Salt (01227 788595, CT1 2DZ) with its ever-changing menu based on local ingredients or irresistible Farmers’ Market and restaurant The Goods Shed (01227 459153, CT2 8AN) right by Canterbury West Station.
And it doesn’t get much better than dinner at Deesons (01227 767854, CT1 2HX), La Trappiste (01227 479111, CT1 1DX) or Michael Caines’ restaurant at the Abode Hotel (01227 766266, CT1 2NR).
The Parrot (01227 454170, CT1 2AG), said to be the oldest pub in Canterbury, is a great foodie find off the beaten track.
Beating the traffic jams
Always popular with visitors, traffic going into a city which was never built to accommodate so many cars can be a problem. Car parks have also been in short supply and high demand. The new multi-storey at Whitefriars (CT1 2TF) has helped, with parking for 580 vehicles.
An even better option is the city’s park and ride scheme. With locations at New Dover Road (CT1 3EJ), Sturry Road (CT1 1AD) and Ten Perch Road in Wincheap (CT1 3TY), there is plenty of parking and regular bus routes around the city – for £3 per day.
Taking the train to one of Canterbury’s two railway stations is an even better idea if you want to avoid traffic jams altogether.
Debbie Barwick, owner of Revivals
Tell us a bit about you
I was born in Canterbury and I’ve lived here all my life. My shop Revivals celebrated 25 years in October. We are just getting over the contentious ‘Westgate Towers traffic trial’ (a temporary ban on traffic at this end of the city) and many small independents like me have found life very difficult.
St Peter’s Street, where Revivals is, is an area with independent traders in nearly every shop. But we’re a resilient lot and we are fighting back. We all help each other.
Any other shops of a similar vintage?
Smith Shaver Shop (01227 463287, CT1 2BG) next door to me has been trading for more than 60 years and nearby Maria’s Coffee Lounge (01227 462281, CT1 2BQ) has been here almost 40 years.
What have been the key changes?
There are many more restaurants and coffee shops than there used to be and gift shops, opticians, nail and perfume shops seem to have taken over from the old chemists, corner shops and greengrocers.
Your favourite local restaurant?
Close to St Peters Street is the Ancient Raj (01227 455882, CT2 7EE), the best Indian restaurant in Kent. The Olive Grove (01227 764388, CT1 2JB) is great, as is Marlowe’s Restaurant (01227 462194, CT1 2BE).
Your favourite view?
My favourite view is from the University of Kent - the students there are extremely lucky to look out on the city. n