Discover the City of Canterbury, the place in England where Christianity began.
The City of Canterbury is one of England's historical gems and vibrant university communities.
Canterbury begins with a Roman military settlement. Many years after the Roman occupation, the dark ages begin and then ends with St Augustine's arrival in the year 597 ad. Canterbury becomes a Christian centre and the heart of the Kingdom of Kent.
England's religious axis
A brief history of Canterbury
It nearly always begins with the Romans, and that is because there are no accurate written records of life in Britain before that time. It was Julius Caesar that first wrote about our weather and our need to paint our faces blue. The Romans being rather intelligent, built a garrison where the main road from the east Kent coast crosses the River Stour. It is a strategic spot, and they called the city 'Durovernum'.
The Dark Ages
The Anglo-Saxons trickle into Britain during the dark ages (410 ad to 597 ad circa). Romano British tribes fought against the invading Saxons, and legendary heroes created King Arthur. He defended Britain from the Anglo-Saxons (the English). The two cultures assimilate over time. The name of Canterbury changes to 'Cantwarabyrig' meaning town of the men of Kent - the Kingdom of Kent seems stable under the leadership of King Ethelbert of Kent. Canterbury is the capital of this expanding realm.
The crucial part of Canterbury's history is the union between King Ethelbert and Bertha, a Frankish princess. She was Christian, a pagan, and wise enough to realise that formally becoming Christian could mean a trade deal with Europe. Ethelbert welcomes the travelling monk Augustine with open arms and offers him land to build his Cathedral – the year was 597 ad.
Around two hundred years later the citizens of Canterbury lived in fear from Viking raids. The Cathedral held great riches and organised attacks were inevitable. In 1011 the Vikings besieged the City for twenty days, in desperation the Archbishop of Canterbury, Elphege offered his life to save children's lives. His honourable gesture was fruitless, and the Vikings slew the entire City. It was said, as many as 8,000 killed and 800 survived and sold as slaves. The Norman invasion must have seemed gentlemanly compared to Viking attacks. The Normans (also Vikings) were quick to get things organised and appointing Norman administrators to get the City and country operational again. A colossal castle and new Cathedral was under construction.
Saint Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket was a brilliant manager, negotiator and administrator, and today we would call him a political mandarin. Becket was from a humble background and rose to become a friend and political advisor to King Henry II, King of England and ruler of around one-third of modern-day France. Henry was concerned with the flexible ecclesiastical (church) courts. There were some rule-bending and corruption, and King Henry wanted to get rid of this problem, maybe his friend Becket could be Archbishop and stop the crimes?
Becket, eventually after much persuasion became the Archbishop. Almost immediately, the conflict began. There was a tremendous battle of wills, between church and state, the Archbishop and the King. Then one fateful night, four of Henry's knights took his outrageous and angry address as literal. They rode to Canterbury and slain Becket while he was at prayer. The murderous event sent shockwaves around Europe. The shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral attracted millions of pilgrims, making Canterbury Cathedral and City very wealthy.
The Huguenot's and King Charles II
Huguenot refugees settled in the City during the 16th Century, bringing their weaving, brewing, and papermaking skills. In 1660, following the English civil war, King Charles II rode through the West Gate on his return from exile to his coronation at Westminster.
Threat from France
Again, Canterbury is on the front line, this time the treat is from France and Napoleon's forces. The army built a vast complex of barracks to house the thousands of British Soldiers heading off to stop the take over of Europe by the French.
The City proliferates during the 20th Century and becomes a commuter hub for the South East of England. The establishment of the University of Kent in 1962, secured Canterbury as a thriving City and is well worth a visit. We have created a day tour that combines Canterbury Cathedral and Leeds Castle.
Canterbury Cathedral - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Cathedral is one of the most beautiful and primary places of Christian worship in the world. It is also tremendously large at 525 ft long (160 m), with a 237 ft high (72 m) bell tower.
With a history that dates back to 597 AD, it was at Canterbury that St Augustine arrived in England to convert the pagans to Christianity. Rebuilt in 1067 after a fire destroyed the original building, you now see a building with various architectural styles. The wealth generated from pilgrims over centuries has allowed a continual rebuilding and remodelling program.
Bell Harry Tower is a stunning example of early English perpendicular gothic architecture with its impressive fan vault. The late 15th-century tower is constructed from one and a half million bricks; all encased in stone.
The crypt at Canterbury is a serene place and is for silent contemplation only. Bizarrely it has windows, some with stained glass. The mellow light from the windows illuminates the delicate carvings on the capitals of the supporting columns. The raised east end of the Cathedral allows the crypt to poke up through the ground, with enough space for small, but beautiful windows.
See the tomb of the Black Prince, the eldest son of King Edward III. The Prince was active during the 'Hundred Years War with France' and famous for his victories over the French at Crecy (1346) and Poitier (1356). The legendary warrior became known as the Black Prince many years after his death. The name could have resulted from his black shield or armour, or maybe his ruthless attack on Limoges, where a massacre ensued.
St Martin's Church and St Augustine's Abbey - UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Both St Martin's and St Augustine's Abbey represent Christianity's reintroduction to Britain following the dark ages. St Martin's is remarkable in that it was the private chapel of Queen Bertha in the 6th Century. The chapel may well have been an operational church during Roman times, although, disputed by some. But, there are Roman tiles within the walls. St Martin's became a mission HQ for St Augustine in 597 onwards.
The Abbey was founded in 598 and built as a burial place for the Christian Kings of Kent. Like many other monastic buildings across England, it was dissolved by King Henry the VIII in the 1530s and is now a ruin.
Touring and accommodation
Canterbury Cathedral and City are within easy reach of London. A driver-guided day tour combination of Canterbury and Leeds Castle or Sissinghurst Gardens or Dover works well. We will tailor a day tour from London for you.
Other places to visit nearby; Great Dixter, Christopher Lloyd's loved by people and the natural world. Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn with award-winning gardens. Penshurst Place, a medieval manor house with traditional gardens. Scotney Castle, a romantic garden with a 14th-century moated castle. Historical places of interest include Canterbury Cathedral, Leeds Castle, Town of Rye and Bodiam Castle. Our Great Gardens of the South Tour features Sissinghurst, Hever Castle, Penshurst Place, and Great Dixter.
Staying in Kent will give you more time to explore the region, the south coast and England's Wine Country with Sparkling Wine Tasting the most fashionable. There is a choice of delightful manor house hotels to stay. We can provide a tailored itinerary to include accommodation and touring the finest gardens, castles, and historic towns of England's south-east.
If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands. There is a wide choice of accommodation in the UK; Cottages, Manor House Hotels and traditional Guest Houses.
Enjoy vibrant Canterbury
Explore the countless independent shops and galleries
- Three UNESCO World Heritage Locations
- Canterbury Cathedral (UNESCO)
- St Augustine's Abbey (UNESCO)
- Martin's Church (UNESCO)
- Site Saint Augustine's Original Cathedral (597ad)
The West Gate, Canterbury
Canterbury's Narrow Streets
Canterbury Cathedral Cloister Interior
Christ by Claus Ringwald
The Remains of Canterbury Castle
Canterbury Cathedral Cloister
Help us make your trip exceptional
Our UK, EU and US office-based staff will listen to what you want to see and experience.
Whether you are a honeymoon couple, a family or a corporate incentive group, our team’s collective resources will be brought together to build the experience that’s right for you.
We will require your arrival and departure dates, details of your personal preferences and places that you would like to visit as well as the events you would like to experience.
We will then prepare a draft itinerary and send it to you by email for your approval. Once agreed, we will send you a Booking Confirmation with Personalised Itinerary and Information Pack via email.