Canterbury Cathedral

Top choice cathedral in Canterbury

Image by Pawel Toczynski Getty Images

A rich repository of more than 1400 years of Christian history, the Church of England’s mother ship is a truly extraordinary place with an absorbing history. This Gothic cathedral, the highlight of the city’s World Heritage Sites, is southeast England’s top tourist attraction as well as a place of worship. It’s also the site of English history’s most famous murder: Archbishop Thomas Becket was done in here in 1170. Allow at least two hours to do the cathedral justice.

The cathedral is an overwhelming edifice crammed with enthralling stories, arresting architecture and a very real and enduring sense of spirituality – although visitors can’t help but pick up on the ominous undertones of violence and bloodshed that whisper from its walls.

This ancient structure is packed with monuments commemorating the nation’s battles. Also here are the grave and heraldic tunic of one of the nation’s most famous warmongers, Edward the Black Prince (1330–76). The spot in the northwest transept where Becket met his grisly end has drawn pilgrims for more than 800 years and is marked by a flickering candle and a striking modern altar.

The doorway to the crypt is beside the altar. This cavernous space is the cathedral’s highlight, the only survivor from the devastating fire in 1174, which destroyed the rest of the building. Look for the amazingly well-preserved carvings among the forest of pillars.

The wealth of detail in the cathedral is immense and unrelenting, so it’s well worth joining a one-hour tour (three daily, Monday to Saturday) or taking a 40-minute self-guided audio tour.