This month we travel to Canterbury, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its breathtaking cathedral surrounded by medieval streets full of hidden charm
Best known for its spectacular cathedral nestled among winding medieval streets, Canterbury is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited cities in the UK. Inhabited since prehistoric times, it has a wealth of historic sites, including a city wall founded in Roman times and the ruins of a Benedictine monastery. The city has seen all kinds of populations, from Celtic tribes to French Huguenots to students and tourists today.
The Great Stour River winds its way through the scenic city, past Fransciscan gardens, antique book shops and crooked houses. Charming buildings, beautiful green spaces and a healthy selection of pubs attract up to 7.8 million visitors a year.
But what is it like to live and work in a city that so many love to pass through? Locals share the secrets of life in Canterbury.
Gary Jephcote is a team leader for Canterbury Museums and Galleries, managing the day-to-day operations of Canterbury Roman Museum, where they tell the story of the 400-year period of Roman Canterbury, and the Beaney Museum, a Victorian building with objects from around the world as well as classical paintings.
I’ve been living in Canterbury since 2009. Originally, I’m from Leicestershire and came to Kent to study History with Archaeology at Canterbury Christ Church University. After my degree I applied for a job within the local museum service and got it! How lucky was I?
Canterbury is a very picturesque city. The mixture of medieval buildings straddled around the city with the backdrop of the cathedral always makes for a fantastic view. We’re also lucky to have a very beautiful river running through the city. During the summer it’s the ideal place to meet with friends and pitch up a picnic. There is always something going on in the city—it’s a bustling place to visit. We also get the best of both worlds, and if you want some peace, just a ten-minute walk will take you outside into some beautifully well-kept nature.
"There is always something going on in the city—it’s a bustling place to visit"
Living here you get a real sense of community. I’ve been living here for almost 14 years now and there is always someone I know when walking to work! I feel that there is also a lot of local pride in Canterbury. Recently the entrance to Canterbury Cathedral was refurbished and you could see how happy the residents were.
Canterbury Roman Museum takes you through the history of the Roman occupation in Canterbury and Kent. Our museum is set alongside the remains of an in-situ Roman townhouse. The remains are impressive in itself, boasting three insitu floral mosaics, and a hypocaust. Added onto that is the amazing story of its rediscovery, being unearthed in 1942 when Canterbury was bombed!
A floor mosaic at the Roman Museum
Knowing the backstory of this unique part of history makes it a humbling experience working here. It’s also great to engage with so many like-minded history lovers who come to visit us and be engrossed in the past. Illuminating the past is something I'm passionate about. It’s great chatting to visitors about the history of the museum and the Roman Empire.
We’re proud of the work we do with school groups also, teaching them when they visit is highly rewarding and often their first time in the wonderful world of museums. A big plus of working here is also getting to go behind the scenes. Handling Roman artefacts and getting up close with mosaics that date back 800 years will make my hair stand on end!
My favourite spot in Canterbury is definitely somewhere along the River Stour during the summer and watching the world go by.
Louise Knight is the clerk and receiver at Eastbridge Hospital and Franciscan Gardens, located on the site of the first Franciscan settlement in Britain.
I have lived in Herne, Canterbury for 23 years. I was also born here and moved away to Guildford for over 20 years, but Canterbury has always been my home and I felt drawn to come back here.
Canterbury is one of the most beautiful, popular and historic cities in England. It has something for everybody—history, archaeology, culture, diversity and entertainment. It is also considered to be one of the safest places to live in the UK. Canterbury is one of the most popular places for Londoners to head to when moving out to Kent and it’s no wonder—Canterbury is perfect for culture vultures (think of outstanding theatre, World Heritage Site, top tourist attraction), plus it’s a shopper and foodie paradise all rolled into one. We have an abundance of great places to eat and drink, and our Marlow Theatre.
People who live in Canterbury are friendly, welcoming and extremely passionate about their beautiful city. There is a desire for the city to look its best. We have a very strong sense of community here. We open our doors to many international students and visitors here throughout the year.
"Canterbury has something for everybody—history, archaeology, culture, diversity and entertainment"
It is an honour and privilege to work in such a beautiful location. The Franciscan Gardens change throughout the seasons and there is always something incredible to see. Located beside the River Stour, the Franciscan Gardens is the site of the first settlement of the Franciscan Friars, sent over in 1224 by St Francis to spread the word and go into the community and work with the poor.
We are fortunate to have two amazing gardeners, Robert and Tracey, who are responsible for the day-to-day maintenance, care and nurturing of this unique and tranquil setting. These stunning gardens are the lungs of Canterbury, hidden away behind the bustling high street—a place of calm reflection and peacefulness, full of ancient and interesting history.
St Francis Ralph Lombart
On entering the Gardens, the Friar’s Path takes you to the beautiful Wisteria Walk. Following on from this is the Cloister Garth, of particular interest in late spring/early summer is the stunning rose wall, bursting into fragrant bloom. New this year is the sunflower wall, which can be found in the Medieval Cutting Gardens. We grow many medicinal, herbal plants, vegetables and cutting flowers, which are given to our Indwellers who live in Eastbride Hospital almshouses next door.
From early summer, our wildflower meadow, situated right outside Greyfriars Chapel, bursts into bloom. This in itself is incredible to find in the middle of a busy city centre. Greyfriars Chapel is all that remains of the Franciscan friary destroyed by Henry VIII during the dissolution. Our Gardens are now just over an acre and a half from what was once a 20-acre site.
Last summer we were visited by BBC Gardeners World and are looking forward to this visit being screened later in the year. My favourite place in Canterbury is in the Franciscan Gardens under the beautiful blossom trees next to the river. Bliss!
Danielle Masters, 28, is the the assistant catering manager at the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, which is situated in the grounds of the Canterbury Cathedral.
I’m from Derry in Ireland and as a child I would always say I wanted to move to England when I was older, as there are so many more opportunities. Little did I know that I would!
I studied Hospitality and Tourism at GCSE and A Level at an amazing secondary school, St Cecelia’s College, then I went to the North West Regional College in Derry to continue my education in Hospitality and Tourism. For my course, I had to find a placement anywhere I wanted to go; a lot of the students went to Europe, but I chose Kent. This was because when I was 16 I went on holiday and met some friends who lived in Kent, and I thought it was beautiful. On a whim, I contacted two hotels, one being the Cathedral Lodge, and I’m so glad they responded to me! My placement was seven months and they had not taken part in a work placement before, so I knew I had to impress. Nine years later, I’m still here! I think it’s pretty amazing walking into work every day and being blessed to work in the gorgeous grounds of Canterbury Cathedral (part of a Uneso World Heritage Site). Not very many people have such a wonderful view.
The things I love most about Canterbury is the beautiful cobbled streets, the history, the people and the food. Canterbury is filled with so many great restaurants, and there is always a lovely buzz in the city. Everyone is so lovely and that helped me settle in, especially coming from Derry, which is smaller, but still also a beautiful cathedral city.
"There’s no better place to visit, and when you do, you may even end up living here"
Both Canterbury and Derry are walled cities, and I think that’s helped me love Canterbury even more. All I have to do is take a stroll around the walls, and I’m reminded of home. Canterbury has a lot to offer as there is so much going on, especially in the summer months. Also, being 45 minutes from London and 20 minutes to the beach is a nice touch too. The weather is another thing I love about Kent; we aren’t as fortunate in Ireland to have such lovely sunny days as often as we do living in Canterbury.
Canterbury is amazing and it’s also where I met my husband, Joe, who is the sous chef at the Cathedral Lodge, as well as the wonderful hotel team, who I think of as my extended family. I couldn’t imagine my life without them, they have helped me through so much and helped make Canterbury my home. I’ve met friends for life.
Canterbury Cathedral Lodge
At the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, we are known for not only our great service and people skills, but our chefs are also very talented at what they do. The local Kentish breakfast we serve always gets the highest score from our guests from all over the world in our customer service questionnaires. And listening to guest feedback, we have now started offering an a la carte dinner in our restaurant, which is becoming popular with guests. The food in our hotel is great and all of us make sure our guests feel at home—I would say that’s why we have so many guests return. They treat their stay like a little retreat, as the hotel location feels like an oasis in the middle of the city—it’s a real hidden gem. Having such stunning views of the cathedral does help! We are very lucky to offer all kinds of events, from conferences and parties to wedding receptions. We always receive excellent feedback and pride ourselves on that.
Canterbury Cathedral would be my favourite spot in Canterbury, as it holds so many fond memories for me and I am looking forward to creating more as we have just bought our first house and are now expecting our first child. I cannot wait to show our little girl the wonders of Canterbury, especially the cathedral. It looks absolutely breathtaking in all types of weather—sun, rain and snow.
There’s no better place to visit, and when you do, you may even end up living here if you love Canterbury as much as I do.
Imogen Braiden is the area and event manager for Eleto Chocolate Cafe, a dessert shop that sells delicious crepes, cakes, coffee and, of course, chocolate.
I have lived in Canterbury for the past three and a half years. I moved here to continue my studies in Fine Art at the University for the Creative Arts.
I have found Canterbury captivating, as it’s such a big mixing pot for different cultures, along with the tourists that venture in for the cathedral. There is always something to do and whether it’s during the day or night the town is alive and buzzing, filled with people from all around the world. There are the night clubs or events in fellow cafes and pubs, for those who prefer a quieter setting. With multiple universities, you’re guaranteed to find like-minded people and friends here.
The spirit of Canterbury is such a particular one. There are the wonderful, older buildings that have so much character to them right next to modern buildings. However, the composition of them within the street works—they don’t clash or take away the focus from one another. There are secrets hiding around corners as well, it could be an architectural element, a bizarre place for a fire extinguisher or a chilling horror story of some of Canterbury’s past residents. The spirit of Canterbury is a well-balanced combination of the modern world and the history.
Eleto Chocolate Cafe
I’m incredibly lucky to have found the Eleto Chocolate Cafe when I did because I have never found such a wonderful group of staff and customer base. You hear the cliché saying, “Our staff are like family,” but it is one of the truest statements for all of us that work here. We are all fantastic friends, some of whom live together and have found love here. No one is left out—we all have each other’s backs and I know that when I leave, I will never have a found family like the one I have here.
The cafe is such a nice and cosy place to be. We have a lot of students studying here throughout the year. We hold events every month (keep an eye out for those on our cafe socials), along with a private hire room. The cafe is open into the evening for those who wish to have a cocktail, beer or glass of wine in the evening to unwind from the day, or perhaps see some friends. Along with having everything chocolate if you have a sweet tooth!
My favourite spot in Canterbury besides the cafe would be the smaller streets just off the high street. That’s where you can find a lot of the independent shops and restaurants. There is always something interesting in Canterbury around the corner for you to discover.
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