World Heritage Day

Why not celebrate World Heritage Day with a visit to one of Canterbury’s many monuments and heritage sites?

Canterbury cathedral

18th April is World Heritage Day, also known as the International Day for Monuments and Sites. Its purpose is to promote awareness of world cultural heritage and the importance of preserving and protecting our cultural histories.

The city of Canterbury has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, plus a range of additional monuments and sites of archaeological and historical significance. There’s so much history to explore! We’ve listed our favourite here to help you make the most of Canterbury’s local heritage during your studies.

Canterbury Cathedral

Topping our list of local landmarks is the city’s beloved Norman cathedral. Completed in 1126, it is one of the oldest churches in England. Discover the royal tombs of King Henry VI and the Black Prince, or the crypt with its Romanesque arches and painted chapel. Marvel at Anthony Gormley’s iron nail sculpture suspended from the ceiling above the tomb of Archbishop Thomas Becket. Stroll along the Great Cloister or through one of the cathedral’s many gardens, including a hidden Herb Garden. Plus, for fans of glass art, the cathedral has over 1,200 square metres of stained glass windows to enjoy.

Canterbury cathedral

St Augustine’s Abbey

Next up, the ruins of this Benedictine monastery founded in 598. Originally a graveyard for Anglo-Saxon kings of Kent in the Middle Ages, then for St. Augustine and the first Archbishops of Canterbury, you can now explore the abbey ruins with virtual reality headsets that enable you to see it as it would have appeared in the 1500s!

St Martin’s Church

Tucked away down a side street, St Martin’s Church is the oldest parish church still in use in the English-speaking world. It was built as a private chapel in the 6th century for Queen Bertha of Kent, a princess from France who married King Ethelbert. The lovely churchyard houses graves of well-known locals, including the landscape painter Thomas Sidney Cooper. Discover the replica of a 14th century chrismatory – a container for holy oils – in the north wall of the nave, or the huge Norman font decorated with carvings.

City Walls

Canterbury’s defensive city walls were built by the Romans in 270AD and form a ring around the city. About half of the circular walls are still in place, and you can walk along the top of them at the edge of the Dane John Gardens. If you stroll around the city from the bustling bus station to the river Stour, the walls will take you around some of the city’s most iconic landmarks.

Dane John and city walls

Dane John Mound

Situated by the city walls in the aforementioned Dane John Gardens, the Dane John mound is a former Roman cemetery and Norman castle mound, where a motte and bailey fortress would have stood in William the Conqueror’s time. The monument atop the mound was added in 1800 and commemorates Alderman James Simmons, who gifted the gardens to the people of Canterbury. The park also contains a Boer War memorial, a font sculpture, and an original Victorian bandstand.

Canterbury Castle

Canterbury Castle was once the fifth largest in England, despite now standing in ruins. It is one of the three original royal castles in Kent, alongside Dover and Rochester. Constructed between 1086 and 1120, the castle’s flint walls are very thick – about 13ft in places – and it would once have stood 80ft high! In the 13th century, the castle was used as the county gaol, while in Victorian times it was a storage depot for coal. The castle is currently closed to the public but can be viewed from the outside on nearby Castle Street.

Canterbury castle

Roman Mosaics

Canterbury Roman museum is home to the remains of an original Roman town house, one of the UK’s only in situ Roman pavement mosaics. Unearthed following the blitz during World War II, part of the house – a patterned corridor – is preserved in the museum. The corridor includes an ancient Roman underfloor heating system – or hypocaust – originally used to heat houses with hot air. The mosaics feature decorative geometric patterns, including rosettes and guilloches (interlaced bands).

Greyfriars Chapel and Franciscan Garden

Hidden just behind Canterbury’s main shopping street is an 800-year-old garden from the first Franciscan friary in England, built between 1267 and 1325. Dissolved in 1538 by King Henry VIII, the Greyfriars chapel still straddles the Stour river, the only remaining part of the friary. The 1.5 acre garden – which has been both a 19th century tea garden and a 20th century market garden – has been carefully restored to provide a secret sanctuary and hidden gem in the heart of the city.

Eastbridge Hospital

Also known as The Hospital of Saint Thomas Becket the Martyr, the Eastbridge Hospital provided shelter for poor pilgrims travelling to the shrine of the Archbishop at the cathedral. The grade I listed building, founded around 1176, is still a functioning almshouse providing accommodation for elderly citizens and Ukrainian refugees. Visit the hospital to view its Gothic crypt, its chapel and its refectory housing 13th century wall paintings.

The Westgate

The West Gate is a 60ft medieval gatehouse, the last surviving gate of Canterbury’s city walls and the largest city gate in England. This iconic Canterbury landmark sits at the west end of the main shopping district and would originally have been approached by drawbridge. Built in 1379 of Kentish ragstone, the main road still passes between its towers. It served for many years as the town’s prison, but now houses a museum exhibiting armour and weapons from medieval times to World War II. You can also climb the tower for breathtaking views of the neighbouring Westgate Gardens and River Stour.

West Gate Towers

With so much history and heritage on offer, Canterbury’s a great city in which to spend your time at university. These are just some of the great places you can visit during your time here!