Without the teeming population of shoppers, tourists, and students, the streets of Canterbury are remarkably quiet at the moment. Those familiar cobbles, for now, are holding their breath for the first people to step foot in the city after the pandemic eases. In a hopeful look ahead to busier times, here’s your guide for the perfect post-lockdown visit to Canterbury.
The biggest tourist trap of Canterbury is undoubtedly the Cathedral. The centre of centuries of religious turmoil, this impressive building is most well-known for the murder of the Archbishop Thomas Beckett in 1170. Scandal aside, the Cathedral also serves as an incredible backdrop for captivating choir and orchestra services. My fondest memory is a surprise rendition of the theme from “The Incredibles” ringing through the nave at the end of our last Commemoration service – I’m sure Thomas Beckett was smiling down on us.
If you fancy taking a break from the hotspots, you can find pockets of seclusion amongst the greenery of the gardens throughout the city. I’m letting you in to a not-so-secret secret here; the picturesque Franciscan Gardens are just through an unassuming gateway, hidden in plain sight on Stour Street. Just make sure you’ve checked the calendar before you venture outside. It would’ve been hard to find rest and relaxation in Dane John Gardens during last year’s Pride celebration when Gok Wan had his DJ set on the bandstand.
Perhaps it’s now time for food. You’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant that delivers the same quality and atmosphere as that of Café Des Amis. After you’ve soaked in the sun lounging in Westgate Gardens, you can amble to this Mexican restaurant to sample the authentic recipes and locally sourced ingredients. The warm and friendly setting invites you to try dish after dish of flavoursome bites, all washed down with healthy (or not so healthy) amounts of tequila cocktails. Canterbury native Orlando Bloom even said that the restaurant was home to “the best Mexican food you’ll ever eat” – maybe a reason not to go too hard on the tequila, just in case you ever spy him dining there and don’t want to embarrass yourself.
Having devoured your meal, now it’s time to cross the bridge over the River Stour and head to the theatre. The Marlowe Theatre is nestled just off the high-street, and (if you don’t mind a quick bus ride) there’s the Gulbenkian Theatre up at the University of Kent. From the sell-out West-end stage performances at the Marlowe to the lively and intimate shows at the Gulb, there’s something for every theatre fan.
Coming to the end of this guide, it wouldn’t be right to finish without commemorating the late and great Canterbury Tales visitor attraction. I don’t know whether Chaucer ever imagined his work would be performed by animatronic figures with accompanying realistic sounds and smells, but it felt like it was meant to be. The hole left by The Canterbury Tales’ closure is more than adequately filled by the other features on offer. I’d urge anyone with a taste for history, entertainment and food to make Canterbury a staple destination for their UK staycation this summer.