April 29, 2018

A Weekend in Canterbury | Kent

Canterbury in Bloom

Canterbury and Kent is my heartland. Not home, but the closest feeling to it. I’ve never written a guide to Canterbury before because the thought was too overwhelming – where to start? Where to eat? What to do? There’s so much to tell you. If we don’t start, however, we’re even further from finishing, so let’s call this the beginning and start with one thing at a time.

Canterbury Cafes
Breakfast - Café St Pierre – Lower High Street
This place is an institute and has been going for well over 20-years, which is quite a claim for a city high street. It’s French through and through. From the wicker chairs, to the pastries gleaming in the window and the owner – Michel - who is aproned over his large belly at all times, and wearing a mischievous moustache. I can’t visit the city without an early morning croque monsieur (hands down the best I have ever had) and a chocolat chaud, all ordered in French, of course – oui, oui. If you’re feeling shy, the rear garden is the perfectly peaceful hiding spot.

Cafes in Canterbury
Coffee - Garage Coffee – Jewry Lane
There are many cafes in Canterbury but that doesn’t mean they all do coffee well. If you’re particular, the only place for it is Garage Coffee, who roast their beans locally and occupy a spacious but clandestine spot away from the High Street, in what was formerly the medieval Anglo-Jewish quarter of the city. The Abode Hotel just next door sits on the site of a medieval synagogue. It’s a beautifully quiet spot to enjoy a mid-morning caffeine fix before heading on for a city walk.

Cafes in Canterbury, Kent

Canterbury, Kent
Medieval Walk – Across the City
The city itself is fairly small and the best way to see it is to enter through the Westgate Towers (the last remaining ragstone gate of seven that once encircled the city, erected in 1390) and leisurely meander its streets in all its twists and turns. Places of particular interest, besides the Cathedral and its surrounding cobbled lanes, are the Greyfriars Gardens – the site of a Franciscan chapel which is the only building remaining from the original friary. It's set among quiet, pretty gardens running alongside the River Stour - and the Eastbridge Hospital (12th century) - a historical sheltering house for pilgrims visiting the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Of note along the way, admiration should be paid to the Beaney Institute (1899) which is a public library, museum and gallery space; the Queen Elizabeth’s Guest Chamber (15th Century) with its impressive pargetting; and the curious leaning house of Palace Street with its timber-frame.

Architecture in Canterbury
Pay attention, look up, look closely – the city of Canterbury reveals layer upon layer of historical architecture, from dragon beams and decorative brackets, to the jetties and carved bressumers of Sun Street and Burgate, wrought-iron windows (check out the art deco windows above Debenhams) and - a prime example - the amazing Edwardian building that now houses Prezzo.

Once satiated, head to the Cathedral – the site of which has existed since 1070 - to find out more about the medieval and Middle Ages, especially for the story of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop who was famously murdered on the premises.

Lunch - The Veg Box Café, Burgate

After all this walking and history, you’ll need to eat. There are many chains in the city but you just need to come off the High Street to find the independents, if that’s what you’re looking for. Liz and Adam, a lovely couple, have been running a vegetarian café at one premises or another for over a decade. They are now housed at Burgate under the arches and serve deliciously comforting curries, salads, soups and much more. There’s long been little in the way of vegetarian and vegan food in the city and, while this is now changing, Liz and Adam have stood the test of time with their menu and welcoming personalities. I always have the houmous and mango chutney sandwich (sometimes I ask for a little cheese) and there’s plenty to be enjoyed here. Liz is a fanatic of seasonal food, as well as foraging and fermenting, too.

Afternoon - River Tour

While this is a fairly touristy suggestion, I don’t care. I love the river tours. Without it, you wouldn’t get to see the famous ducking stool upon which wives who talked too much (aka ‘scolds’) would meet a watery stifling or – so the story goes – where witches would meet with their deaths. The stool is attached to the sides of the Old Weavers, a stunning timber-framed building where once silk and other fabrics were spun and woven. The tour will take you alongside the Dominican Priory (founded in 1237) and also under the Kings Bridge, revealing the rear view of the Eastbridge Hospital and a more rural view of the city. You will also be privy to the tired jokes of the boatmen, who I often like to listen to from Solly’s Orchard while eating deep-fried potatoes from Ossie’s fish bar.  

Canterbury Kent
Shopping - Madame Oiseau, The Chaucer Bookshop
There are plenty of shops in the city but these two are my favourite. Madame Oiseau, a little chocolate shop at the end of Palace Street owned by Sandrine (it’s a few doors down from the smallest and loveliest antiques shop that rarely opens) and the Chaucer Bookshop on the Castle Street side of the city which, quite frankly, has the best card collection of any shop I’ve ever come across, plus an incredible selection of secondhand books. Don’t miss either if chocolate and books are your thing.

Early Evening - Wine
For a drink in the evening, there are dozens of pubs – The Thomas Becket, The Dolphin, The Parrot – but I’m a wine girl and so thoroughly recommend The Shakespeare (a quaint, candlelit wine bar in the Buttermarket), The Chocolate Café for sitting outside with a blanket and gazing up at the Cathedral, or a bottle off the shelf at the Goods Shed Farmers Market, where you can watch the vendors pack down and drink your wine into the evening.

Dinner - Café Des Amis
Another Canterbury business that has stood the test of time, Café Des Amis has been in operation for over 30-years. Housed in a 15th century building just next to the Westgate Towers and overlooking the river, they offer cheap and cheerful frozen cocktails (have the passionfruit) and steaming plates of fajitas. Booking ahead is advisable, as is leaving enough room to fit everything in.

If the night is yet too young for you still, delicious cocktails can be found at the Falstaff Hotel - a former 15th century coaching inn at the entrance to the city, or Bramleys – a candlelit cavern to the rear of the Oddfellows Hall on Orange Street.


Brunch - The Wild Goose
While not within the city walls, this is a destination in itself. Within this old railway building, you will find two restaurants and a number of independent food stalls, including a cheesemaker, a butchers and a fishmongers. After exploring the produce of Kent (and maybe stocking up on cheese), head to the Wild Goose – a long table that hooks onto the corner of the building and overlooks the railway line through large and intricate windows. They offer seasonally-inspired brunches and the ideal spot for people-watching. Have the poached eggs and salsa verde.
While you’re here, it’s a wise idea to pick up one of the finest sandwiches I believe I have ever tried. Jonny Sandwich is a small vendor with big flavour – I recommend the rare roast beef with slow-roasted tomatoes on granary. Pop it in your bag for lunch, or the journey home that evening.

Canterbury Market
It’s time to get a little more rural. Sandwich in satchel, head out along the river through the Westgate and you’ll find your way turning right into the orchards and tunnels of Harbledown. If you don’t turn right and come back full circle, the path will lead you six miles onto the village Chartham where you can reward yourself with a pint at the Artichoke pub.
Canterbury in the Spring
Sunday Roast
If you can’t make it back to Canterbury, do head to the White Horse in the medieval village of Chilham for a decent roast. If you do make it back to the city, however, The Corner House is a great spot for a proper posh Sunday roast. Many pubs in the centre will offer a standard number, but this is something really special and to be savoured.

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Medieval Canterbury


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