When it comes to international travel, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as getting lost—purposefully or otherwise—in a small town. Oh, sure: we fly into the big-city airports, jet around the bustling downtown, and see all the “touristy” sites more often; however, when given the opportunity, it’s such a treat to travel outside the city limits. I’ll admit, it can be nerve-wracking to venture outside the traveler hub of the larger metropolitan area—but, what’s that saying about your comfort zone? Something about growth only happening once you’re *outside* it? Right—you got it. In this vein, one of the best day-trips I’ve ever embarked upon was during a year studying abroad in the United Kingdom. My group of friends and I had done central London to death; Canterbury, England was an off-beat, small-town stop that turned into our favorite little vacation.
Located 54 miles south west of London, historic Canterbury is a mecca for Anglophiles/Europhiles and anyone interested in the Middle Ages. The town is *just* touristy enough to feature a plethora of “main sites,” but small enough to dispel any thoughts of “ugh, it’s so crowded here.” Though my list is by no means comprehensive—there is *so much* to do in this little town, you’d be surprised—below are some of the experiences that YRH would like to shine a bright, loving spotlight upon: sites & eats.
St Martin’s Church
Diving *right* into the historical significance of this town—St. Martin’s Church is the oldest, still-operating church in in English-speaking world. We happened upon the grounds completely by accident, looking for another popular site. Though the stately interior of the church has been renovated and updated, the outside—particularly, the cemetery on the grounds—has rarely been touched. Wandering through the small plot of tombstones might seem like an eerie jaunt, but it’s strangely peaceful. Said to be the site of a Roman mortuary sometime before 400 AD, you can imagine the breadth of gravestones and memorials on the grounds. For as old as the building may be, it’s quite technologically updated: it boasts a comprehensive website and virtual services, which have been especially popular during COVID-19.
Stour Boat Trip
First open to tour groups in 1932, this guided tour on the River Stour is a relaxing way to view the city from different angles. As with any tour, your guides are well-versed on the storied past of Canterbury—touching on many major historical points from the 12th century, on. The views of the landmarks are amazing, but this particular trip also offers close interactions with the natural flora of the riverbed. It’s good to note that the weather can be, I suppose, *famously* unpredictable and chilly in the U.K.—YRH highly recommends booking this boat tour in the summer months.
Yet another “-est” to behold; the country’s oldest Medieval gateway was originally built during the Hundred Years War in 1380. The structure is made up of light grey limestone and features a visible drawbridge over the River Stour, small openings meant for artillery, and a small museum detailing the gate’s significance during both war- and peace-times in Canterbury. Day-trippers exploring the town will find this attraction hard to miss—this was another “accidental” discovery on our group’s part, as the height of the structure got us curious. Side note: Westgate also offers sprawling, stately gardens!
The King’s Mile
This series of streets is, collectively, an artisan’s paradise. The King’s Mile represents a series of independent shops (shoppes?) that heavily feature locally made jewelry, art, trinkets, clothing, and—of course—cuisine. As much of the town has been “modernized,” (upscale eateries, a few chain stores, and beyond), these streets are mainly dedicated to old-world charm. The architecture alone is stunningly sweet—I don’t think I’ve ever used the term “quaint” more effectively in my life. If you’re looking to bring gifts back home, this is the place to purchase.
Café des Amis
This adorable eatery is situation in, what I consider to be, the *perfect* location in the city. Overlooking Canterbury’s River Stour and Westgate, this local favorite boasts a surprisingly bold menu. The food is rooted in traditional Aztec flavor profiles, but also draws a bit from Spanish and French preparations. On top of the delicious (and proudly locally sourced) fare, the atmosphere is lovely; even though it’s a popular tourist spot, the staff take their friendly service very seriously. We stayed here for a few hours—partly because of the soothing scenery, partly because of the family-style meal, and partly because of the, ahem, margaritas.
via Café des Amis
The Unicorn Inn
Here’s the thing; this just wouldn’t be a complete list without a traditional English pub. The Unicorn Inn is, for lack of a better word, utterly joyous. I’m not sure if that had to do with the flowing pints or just the general Canterbury demeanor: but it was so special. Along with being dog-friendly (the cuteness, I’m telling you), the Unicorn Inn offers a “secret garden” seating area in the back. Pub food is notoriously “just okay” in England, so it was great to hear people singing the praises of the delicious, and affordable, options here.
via The Unicorn Inn
Authentic Moroccan and Lebanese food are hard to come by in the U.S.—at least, from my own experience. It’s quite the treat to take your tastebuds on a journey they *probably* haven’t been on before with these rich, intense flavors. Azouma (which means “invitation” in Arabic) is perfect for both meat-lovers and strict vegans. Patrons also get a little history lesson about the various influences of both featured cuisines. It’s a stark contrast from English history, and so very important to retain.
Have you ever been to Canterbury, England? What are some of your favorite destinations to visit in Europe? Share with us on Instagram!