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Canterbury is a town rightly famous for its cathedral and the pilgrimages that its shrine to Thomas Becket has inspired over the years—including the pilgrims in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. However, there is much more to the UNESCO World Heritage Site than its status as an important religious site. This Canterbury Tour, led by a local historian, examines the Roman remains of the town in addition to both more-famous and lesser-known medieval buildings, painting a wide-ranging picture of Roman Britain and medieval England.
Taking the train from London, we will arrive in town at Canterbury West station. From here, we will enter the city through the Westgate, the same point at which so many pilgrims throughout the years have entered. The gate lies on the site of the Roman gate into the city, so this monument can be seen as representative of much of Canterbury's early history. Depending on the time and the interest of the group, we may pop into the Roman Museum where we will examine the remains of a rich Roman house and its mosaics, while discussing Roman domestic life amongst the elites. Alternatively, we may take the short walk to the church of St. Mary Northgate, where the remains of the Roman wall of the town, almost at its full height, can still be seen in its north wall.
Continuing along the path of the Roman wall, we'll arrive at St. Martin's Church, whose site marks the beginning of English Christianity in the late sixth century. We will look at the history of this church and its importance. From here, we may consider Eastbridge Hospital, which was built in 1176 in response to the huge influx of pilgrims now arriving to see the shrine of Thomas Becket.
Those interested in medieval London may also be interested in our Hidden London Tour.
A stone's throw away is the thirteenth-century Blackfriars. What is visible today today is all that remains of a much larger friary that was situated on an island in the middle of the Stour River, which runs though Canterbury. The Blackfriars, the Dominican order of monks, were part of one of three orders who settled here in the medieval period. The others were the Greyfriars and Whitefriars, the Franciscan and Carmelite orders respectively. It is to the latter we now go, where we will briefly discuss a recent archaeological dig that has brought to light much of the history of Canterbury.
From there, our walk will take us to the famous, eleventh- and twelfth-century cathedral, where we will examine the location of the Archbishop Thomas Becket's murder and later shrine. This shrine was the focus for the pilgrims arriving in the city and formed the inspiration for Chaucer's 'A Pilgrim's Tale'. The importance of the shrine and its appearance, as it was destroyed during the Reformation, will be discussed, and will serve as the end-point of our walk.
If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between church and government, you may enjoy our London Parliament Tour.
Where will we meet our guide?
We meet at Canterbury West Train Station. Once you book, we will send you detailed instructions on how to reach the station and find your docent.
Do we go inside the venues or just see them from the outside?
We visit several sites, including Canterbury Cathedral.
Will you pre-purchase tickets?
You will purchase your Cathedral ticket at venue, but your docent will have special access privileges, so you will not wait in line.
What if it’s raining?
Tours operate rain or shine, but in the case of inclement weather, your docent will modify the tour so more time is spent indoors. It never hurts to have an umbrella on hand.
Is this tour good for kids?
Yes! We have some excellent family friendly docents who can appeal to the learning styles of children. Please book privately if you have children under 13. Feel free to provide us with information about your children such as favorite school subjects, and hobbies. This way we can match you with the best possible docent.
Is this a walking intensive tour?
The walk covers about 2 miles, but it's at leisurely pace and on even ground. The walk is fully accessible. The Cathedral Welcome Centre has a small number of wheelchairs available for free loan to visitors (for use within the precincts).
Leave London Victoria by coach, and travel west out of the city to the Salisbury Plains. Your day’s first destination is Stonehenge, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed stone circle that resonates with intrigue. Believed to be around 5,000 years old, the ancient monument was built from rare Welsh stone at a time when transporting such cumbersome material would have been near impossible.
The stones are roped off from the crowds for preservation, but a footpath around the outside of the circle lends itself to clear and close-up views. Read about Stonehenge on boards dotted around the footpath, and pose for photos in front of the megalithic stones. After walking around, head inside the state-of-the-art visitor center and browse an exhibition of some 250 prehistoric objects as well as other exciting information about the site.
Return to your coach at the prearranged time, and then relax on the 1-hour journey to Bath, an elegant West Country city that owes its name and fame to its historical hot springs, and was the setting of two Jane Austen novels. Learn about Bath’s heritage as a spa resort on a walking tour, and admire its Georgian architecture, resplendent in the local caramel-hued stone.
Pop in your state-of-the-art VOX headphones and listen to your guide talking about each site. If you want to wander aside and take photos of any attractions, you won’t miss any of the commentary! Highlights of your 1-hour tour include Pulteney Bridge and the Royal Crescent — home to an impressive parade of Georgian town houses.
Upgrade your ticket to include a visit to the Roman Baths, or just enjoy the rest of the afternoon at your leisure, perhaps stopping at the Jane Austen Visitor Centre (own expense). Celebrating one of the city’s most famous residents, the Jane Austen Visitor Centre provides a snapshot of life during the Regency period. Discover how living in this beautiful city affected Austen’s writing and soak up the authentic atmosphere as you explore the exhibits and mingle with in-costume guides.
Meet back up with your guide at the prearranged time, and then travel back to London Victoria where your day trip finishes.
Start the day at your hotel in London or at a convenient meeting point, and enjoy a scenic ride out of the city and through the beautiful English countryside.
Once in St. Albans, embark on your guided tour through the city, visiting its ancient Roman ruins left over from the old city walls, and walk up the city's hill to the magnificent St. Albans Abbey, the ancient cathedral of the city and resting place of an early Christian martyr. Stop along the way for some refreshments, and reward yourself with a beer at one of the England's oldest pubs.
Before heading back to London, pay a visit the bustling English market of St. Albans, and visit the ancient church said to be the final resting place of Sir Francis Bacon.