'Canterbury's past is as rich as it comes' say the latest Lonely Planet guide to Britain. This world-famous cathedral city was one of medieval Europe's great places of pilgrimage and knowledge. Today - with its international visitors and four Universities - it still has a distinctly cosmopolitan feel. Less than an hour from London and only twenty minutes from the coastal towns of Herne Bay and Whitstable, it's that corner of England that's almost touching France.
People come here from across the globe for world-class heritage, for culture and festivals, to visit and to study, to shop, eat and hang out. The extraordinary Cathedral dominates the medieval streets within the city walls. Among the listed buildings, a boldly modern theatre – named after the city’s famous son Christopher Marlowe – has been built on the river bank, and an art museum has been restored and doubled in size. To the south is St Augustine’s Abbey, part of the World Heritage Site, and England’s first seat of learning.
There’s something warm and mellow about this intimate European city. Crowds throng around the entrance to the Cathedral and in the busy high street. Thousands of students add to the vibe. It’s lively and fun. But it’s also remarkably easy – in a moment – to step off the beaten track into some quiet oasis where you’ll hear nothing but birdsong, and the splash of oars on the narrow, gently flowing River Stour.
You may be in a city, but you get a strong sense of being in the Garden of England too. There are riverside gardens and even a cider-making orchard within the city itself. Then there’s all the local produce in cafes, pubs and restaurants: Romney Marsh lamb, Kent cherries, ale from local hops, award-winning fizz from Kentish vineyards. To the north of the city is one of England’s largest ancient woodlands, the Blean. And, less than a 7-mile cycle away at Canterbury’s coast, there’s the seaside town of Whitstable, for England’s finest oysters.