The charms of Canterbury can’t be captured in a single guide, but I’ll paint a picture of what you can expect on your Canterbury day trip from London. It’s one of my top day trips from London by train.
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Kent has carved its chapter in the history books with its various defensive castles; the medieval city walls of Canterbury are one such endeavour.
Where the marks of skirmishes are seen in crumbling ruins and military fortifications, nature has taken over in peaceful times to offer the white-washed cliffs of Dover, the volleying plains between small villages, and the gurgling waterways around the main character of this trip.
In Canterbury, you’ll come across timbered houses, ancient churches and stunning architecture – all to remind us of the beauty that persisted despite its violent histories.
As you start planning your London to Canterbury day trip, try to squeeze in detours to Dover or Leeds Castle. There are plenty that Kent has to offer along the Canterbury borders.
So, here are some of my top tips for one say in Canterbury.
Top Things to Do in Canterbury, Kent: Best Tours
Are you feeling overwhelmed by the platter of fascinating sites and fun activities? Is it limited to only a day’s worth of travel?
The best solution to having little time but wanting to see it all is to join a pre-planned tour. Not only will reservations (if necessary) be made for you, transport is arranged too, and an expert guide will keep you entertained with facts about Canterbury.
From London: Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral & Dover
For an exciting day in Canterbury, roll out of London past the Royal Observatory and Cutty Sark tea clipper and towards lovely Leeds Castle.
The estate encompasses 500 acres of gardens and parkland, including a natural lake on which the castle sits.
After this tranquil heritage site, visit Canterbury Cathedral for murderous tales and not-so-dark history.
An audio guide will take you through Bell Harry Tower, the 11th-century Crypt and the murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett. Wrap up your journey with Dover’s famous White Cliffs and broody Dover Castle.
You can also read my guide on a day trip to Dover from London.
Click here to buy your ticket to Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral and Dover Tour
Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, Dover, and Greenwich
Set off for the lush landscapes of Kent and its quaint villages; first up is the magnificent Leeds Castle and its gardens.
Once you’ve sipped at royal mead and learnt more about its history, the tour carries you over to the Canterbury Cathedral.
Admire the stained-glass windows and sordid tales before enjoying a traditional two-course meal.
The soaring White Cliffs of Dover are next – this is where you’ll want to pull out the camera.
While you might not get to explore the tunnels of Dover Castle, the next location is chock full of maritime history.
The Old Royal Naval College, Royal Observatory and clipper ship Cutty Sark are highlights of Greenwich. Finally, don’t return the same way you left!
Embark on a cruise on River Thames towards Embankment Pier for prime London landmark spotting.
You can also opt for an additional Canterbury free walking tour, which takes you in the footsteps of Prince William and Catherine or the other royals in music – The Beatles’ London stint.
Click here to buy your ticket to Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, Dover, and Greenwich
These are just a few of the top day trips from London to Canterbury.
What to Do in Canterbury in One Day
If you prefer to mix and match, here are some of the best Canterbury things to do, and things to see.
From iconic landmarks to free things to do in Canterbury, you’re sure to have an amazing 24 hours.
Visit Canterbury Castle
No day trip to Canterbury is complete without a tour of Canterbury Castle. One of the three original castles of Kent, the stalwart remains a prominent landmark of the city’s medieval defences.
Strong stone foundations and square compound give away its Norman roots; the bailey wall and ditch its defensive nature.
For several centuries, the castle was used as a prison before it was turned over to the City Council and became a heritage site.
Take a Canterbury Walking Tour
Between the oldest English-speaking church in the world and other heritage structures, Canterbury is made for historians (and hipster Instagrammers alike).
Medieval history persists in the city walls, Westgate Towers and a spread of aged churches; family-friendly Dane John Gardens, Broad Street, the trendy Walk High Street, and riverfront Westgate Gardens completes the set.
Sign up for walking tours with audio guides for some indulgent learning or lose the map and wander.
Hear the Bloody History Behind Canterbury Cathedral
With over 1400 years of history, this World Heritage Site is the matriarch of the Churches of England. Even after a wildfire in 1174, its stunning pillars and altar were preserved.
Pay attention to the Gothic carvings and spikes on the exterior wall, the stained-glass windows in the halls. Even more fascinating is the bloody history that haunts the Cathedral.
Not only was Archbishop Thomas Becket slain here, but it is also the grave of warmonger Edward the Black Prince.
The architecture of the building is intricate and beautiful, so pay close attention to the ceiling and stained windows.
Enter the Sir John Boys House/Crooked House of Canterbury
It’s truly a feat of engineering. How does one build a crooked house without everything collapsing? Sir John Boys House, King’s Gallery, Crooked House of Canterbury; this skewed façade has many names and few answers. Luckily, a steel frame holds up this crooked jumble, even if it makes you dizzy.
Tilt your head if it helps, but your best bet is to go inside and see what it’s currently offering.
Once a gallery, bookshop, outfit shop then instrument handler, its ownership is as inconsistent as its structural lines.
Glide up to The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge
The eccentric exterior should clue you in on what to expect inside. Full of character, the Beaney House features a brick base, wood-laid arched windows in the middle and a dramatic roof to cap it off.
Originally meant for poor men to enjoy some amenities, it later became a free museum and library. Pop inside to find a combination of an art gallery, café and information centre.
Embark on a Canterbury Historic Riverboat Tour
One of the most pleasing things to do is a Canterbury boat trip – you get to rest your feet, click away on your camera and watch the scenery idle by.
After all, the waterways of Canterbury were created for this same purpose. Remember to duck when passing under low-hanging brick bridges, but otherwise, commemorate your trip with a camera roll full of russet-roofed buildings and cosy canal-side shops.
Fairy-tale elements will be found as you drift past Kings Bridge, Alchemist Tower, the Old Weavers House and more. This river tour is a must-do activity on your one day in Canterbury.
Peer up the Westgate Towers of Canterbury
Westgate is one of seven medieval city gates built to defend the city from invasions, standing at an impressive 18 meters high.
It’s distinctive, made out of blue-grey limestone and an existing drawbridge.
It doesn’t look out of place from other buildings alongside River Stour, but you’ll notice gun loops and other military features in the stonework of the drum towers.
Today, its purpose is much more peace-oriented. As the home of painted plaster maquettes, the mini-museum offers up art for your enjoyment.
Canterbury Tales Walking Tour
Some people make the trip from London to Canterbury for one surprising reason: the Canterbury Tales.
Poet Geoffrey Chaucer spun a tale of pilgrims travelling to the tomb of Thomas Becket, a story that has been adapted into a colourful performance by animatronics.
Experience Kent as it was back then, with an audio guide leading you through five Chaucer tales to recount courtship, intrigue and scandalous affairs. With a day in Canterbury taking a Canterbury tales tour is a must!
Unwind at Westgate Gardens
Forget the Cathedral or Castle or meandering river tours – the highlight of your Canterbury day trip is Westgate Gardens. Combining rich history and peaceful vibes, it sits on the banks of Stour right by Westgate.
Formal flower beds grow around the remains of London Road Gate and the Roman walls; a beautiful Norman arch invites photo-op.
Imagine being the Lord Mayor and working to this view every day, because their offices are housed within a Victorian Tower House on the grounds.
Still, wave to the punts and the ducks as you bask in doing nothing.
Wine and Dine at The Old Weavers House
One of the prettiest buildings in Canterbury, the Old Weavers House that is a must-visit on your day trip itinerary.
The latticed windows, hanging flower pots and old-time façade have nothing on the warm, cosy interior.
One detail sticks out from this idyllic scene; there’s a medieval ducking stool at the rear, used to punish ‘misbehaving’ women by dunking them under the water.
That incongruous detail aside, you can settle in this 16th-century historic house for some homemade pies and traditional roasts.
Punting Cruise on the River Stour
Wondering what to do in Canterbury well look no further than on the punting on the River Stour.
The Stour boat trip is a 40-minute tour offered from March through October. You’ll view Canterbury from its river up, half-timber houses and brick buildings hemming the way.
Medieval monuments pop up frequently, including 13th-century Greyfriars’ Chapel and 14th-century Blackfriars’ Dominican priories.
It’s not all religious either, as the rowboat takes you past river dining, the backs of people’s homes and under pedestrian bridges.
A punting cruise along the Stour is one of the top things to do if you have only one day in Canterbury.
History Lessons at Canterbury Roman Museum
To drive home just how deep Canterbury’s history runs, drop by the Canterbury Roman Museum and browse its halls.
Excavations had stumbled upon a Roman Domus in 1868, but the museum was established a century later after more ancient ruins were dug up.
Seek out the 300AD mosaics and frescoes, or the pottery and glassware that reveal snippets of the days of old.
If those aren’t the treasures you expected, hunt down the aptly titled Canterbury Treasure; this 5th-century silver hoard show-off ingots, jewellery, two spoons with swan-shaped handles and more decorative silver.
Be Entertained at Marlowe Theatre
Catch a show at Marlowe Theatre, their tiered horseshoe-shaped seating bringing you right up to the stage.
Riveting expression and movement will hold you through every ballet and pantomime.
West End musicals make their appearance alongside the Philharmonia Orchestra and other award-winning shows. It’s a great way to finish off your day trip to Canterbury.
Trek into Blean Woods Nature Reserve
Woodlands can be such a magical space, especially those that survived modernisation like a portal to the past.
Blean Woods Nature Reserve is nestled just outside the city, meandering cycle and walking trails amid dense forestry.
You can even horse ride here! Once you think you’ve sweated enough, nearby Blean Tavern makes a mean katsu curry.
Swing by the Great Comp Garden
If you have a car and extra hours to spare on your day trip itinerary, take a detour to the pretty Great Comp Garden.
While the attached 17th-century manor is impressive, the garden steals the show with dahlias, magnolias and azaleas adding bursts of colour.
Plenty of intimate paths take you through an Italian Garden and ruins to the estate’s Old Dairy Tearooms.
Plonk down for a classic English afternoon tea and bask in the serenity.
Explore St. Augustine’s Abbey
St. Augustine’s Abbey was originally created as a burial place for the Anglo-Saxon kings of Kent and is part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site.
It marks the only religious space in Kent between 598 and much later centuries.
Abandonment has seen parts of the Abbey crumbling, but for the most part, the structure is sound.
Move past the stunning Gothic gatehouse, Fyndon’s Gate, to trail through semi-circular arches and pieces of Romanesque architecture.
The graves of early Archbishops are intact, alongside the honeymoon chambers of Charles I and Queen Henriette Maria.
St, Augustine’s Abbey is one of the top things to see on your day trip to Canterbury, so don’t miss out on this historic site.
Click for reviews of St. Augustine’s Abbey here
Marvel at St. Martin’s Church
Outside of Canterbury old town is the fading, off-map St. Martin’s Church. The simple stone and slants of this ancient church hardly look like what you expect from a place of worship but reflect just how old it is.
Guess when it was built? 6th century. Try to spot the Roman influences in the old church.
Best Photo Spots in Canterbury
Pack a fantastic camera and snap up some memories in just a few clicks! You definitely want to feature Canterbury’s charming spaces.
- Love Lane
- Mercery Lane/Cathedral Gate
- Butchery Lane
- Westgate Gardens
- Westgate Towers
Where to Eat on Your Day Trip to Canterbury
After all that wandering around on your day trip to Canterbury, you probably need to rest your feet and fill the stomach. From traditional eats to afternoon tearooms, here are some of the best eateries in Canterbury to add to your day trip itinerary.
Serving up traditional Italian cuisine, a refreshing change from other High Street offers, pizza and pasta are menu staples. Kent ingredients are used to make monthly specials, all with an Italian twist.
If you’re missing seafood, Chapman’s Restaurant delivers daily fresh catches from Kent and Sussex coasts.
Feast on the ever-changing menu of fish and shellfish, and then top it off with a suitable wine accompaniment.
Deeson’s features everything fresh – the backbone of the restaurant lines in the locally sourced produce, some of which they rear or grow themselves.
The rustic interior adds to the homely vibe alongside hearty dishes of roast duck, cottage pie, slow-cooked pork belly and sausages. They offer the quintessential English pub fare.
Even among Goods Shed’s awesome array of dining options, Wild Goose stands out for its European-styled tapas menu.
Settle into the bustling atmosphere of this converted railway shed as you dig into your sampling dishes.
Oscar & Bentleys
Housed above a pub is a five-course meal packaged as a diner. Light bites and healthy greens give way to tender beef bourguignon, classic fish and chips and heavier paella dishes.
Still not satisfied? Artisan cakes and desserts are lined up in colour sequence, from iced doughnuts to smatterings of raspberry sauce, chocolate drizzles and nutty toppings — it’s a fun twist on pub food.
Pork & Co
Take a break from all those name-themed restaurants for a food-themed one. Pork & Co serves up everything pork, made in street food or dine-in form.
Imagine comfort food but upgraded; it’s not just a pulled pork burger, it is a pulled pork burger topped with mac n’ cheese. Strange to see perhaps, but delicious to eat.
The Skinny Kitchen
Healthy can mean yummy as the Skinny Kitchen proves. Avocados, acai, kale and superfoods make frequent appearances per table, the colourful ingredients making each dish Instagram worthy.
Protein pancakes might sound ew at first glance, but when served with wildberry and matcha ice cream — utterly delicious.
Garage Coffee at Fruitworks
Maybe you want somewhere to sit for a while. Maybe you need a morning cuppa to wake you up.
Garage Coffee serves up artisanal roasts to keep you caffeinated; right by the river no less. Coffee in one hand and cake in the other, head over to the water for a stroll.
Tiny Tim’s Tearoom
Tiny Tim’s Tearoom whips up the ultimate goods – afternoon tea anyone? The family-owned tearoom is decorated for comfort and old-timey vibes; its foodie tribute was given names like High Tea, Afternoon Tea and Gentlemen’s Tea.
You don’t have to try the set, but there’s nothing more English than indulging in a delightful dessert.
Where to stay in Canterbury Town
Instead of a day trip to Canterbury from London, stay overnight to experience its dated charms.
There are plenty of atmospheric and historical lodges with renovated interiors to make your stay comfortable.
Canterbury Cathedral Lodge
You can now stay within a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Canterbury Cathedral Lodge is contemporary on the inside and Gothic on the outside. With just 35 rooms, you’ll have a quiet stay.
The Duke William
Live above a bar to access a great selection of local ales and wines without stumbling through the streets after.
There are just four bedrooms above this Kentish country pub, designed to be airy, contemporary and convenient.
The White House
Named presumably for its clean interior, The White House is nestled at the foot of Marlowe Theatre.
Aside from the beautiful Regency architecture, its value lies in location – in close distance to Canterbury’s main attractions.
The House of Agnes
This is one for the literary aficionados! A history Bed & Breakfast in a characterful, wonky house, this accommodation once housed Charles Dickens in his student days.
Take inspiration from its gardens and churn out your own literary masterpiece.
For more contemporary accommodation, Abode Canterbury offers luxurious rooms with modern amenities.
Outfitted with a restaurant, cocktail bar and very convenient location on High Street, you’ll find entertainment around every corner.
The Retro Bed & Breakfast
With the promise of a quieter night, this bed & breakfast is situated a short walk from Canterbury centre.
Six rooms are set within a Victorian villa, decked out with retro décor and guests are serviced by the owners directly. If you want homey, this is it.
If you don’t mind the commute or are treating Canterbury as a one-stop, there are boutique hotels in the nearby towns of Faversham, Wye and Alkham.
Like Canterbury, these townships offer striking accommodation in repurposed pubs and houses.
How to Get to Canterbury from London
Just about 100 kilometres out from London, Canterbury is a great day out or weekend stay. Access is convenient and inexpensive; you’ll probably want to minimise travel time to explore its multitude of attractions.
London to Canterbury by Train
The easiest and fastest way to get to Canterbury from London is via train. From just under an hour to 90 minutes, prices start around $15 for a single-way ticket.
Still, it’s flexible – St Pancras, Charing Cross and Victoria station all offer trains to either Canterbury West or Canterbury East.
London to Canterbury by Car
Maybe you want to let the wind through your hair, in which case driving is your favoured option. Take routes A2 and M2 to reach Canterbury in around 1.5 hours.
Because parking is a hassle in the city, consider parking just beyond its borders for better pricing.
London to Canterbury by Coach
The cheapest way is often the slowest. Coach trips to Canterbury take an average of 2 hours depending on where you start but at half the price.
You can board a direct bus from Victoria Station, which pulls into Canterbury’s city centre.
This is recommended for people on a budget or with more time to spare; generally, you’ll want to go for the most efficient commute.
Get Excited for Your Day Trip to Canterbury
Canterbury is a magical spot with plenty of things to do and see. It makes for the perfect day trip from London.
You can visit the Canterbury Cathedral, cruise downstream on a river tour, and learn all about the Canterbury Tales. Whatever you decide to do, you’re sure to have a great time spending one day in Canterbury.