Canterbury was our only day trip that was properly outside London. There's no mistaking when you're approaching Canterbury thanks to the enormous cathedral dominating the center of town, and the skyline as well. Especially after miles of rolling hills, sheep farms and the occassional small town. This is the impressive west gate, once inside the city center there is no automobile traffic (during daytime hours). The west gate is a short walk from Canterbury West train station. Incidentally, despite the 'mind the gap' warnings everywhere, Canterbury is the only place we found a significant gap between the station and the train, and it was a serious gap. You could lose a medium size dog in there pretty easy.
We visited on a weekend, but Canterbury was lively and full of people. The main streets, like this one are lined by shops and restaurants and street performers start to appear towards evening.
Canterbury has a lot of the 'olde English' sorts of things we expected to see in London. Half-timbered houses cantilevered over the streets on the upper stories, old stone and brick buildings that have never seen a right angle and lovely little canals like this one. London generally claims the fire of 1666 as a good excuse to not have the older districts, but Canterbury was bombed extensively during World War II and remains remarkably charming.
From a distance you can always see the Cathedral, once in town it sort of disappears behind the stacked houses and narrow streets. Access to it can be a little tricky. We sort of circumnavigated it before entering but that worked out okay because we found a lovely pub along the way where we could eat, drink and watch the FA cup. We think Canterbury has, in general, more atmospheric pubs than London does, and we sampled several just to be sure.
Despite all the gates, the only entrance seems to be across from the tourist office and through this rather interesting architectural behemoth. You can take pictures in Canterbury Cathedral but you have to buy a photographer's license for 5 pounds. That seems extravagant when you already have to pay 8 pounds to enter the grounds so we just took exterior pictures.
Canterbury cathedral is the center of the Anglican church these days. Back before Henry VIII when it was still Roman Catholic, Thomas a Beckett was murdered here making it a site of pilgrimmage. The pilgrims tunnel inside the cathedral is one of the more interesting results of this, since at the time the monks inside couldn't make contact with the common rabble, the Knight, the Reeve, the Manciple, the Wife of Bath etc.. Speaking of which, there is a Canterbury Tales experience elsewhere in town. We eyed it warily from inside a nearby bookstore and then decided to find another pub instead.
If you visited Westminster and didn't get enough dead nobility, there's a few more assorted folk in the chancel of Canterbury including Edward the Black Prince and Henry IV (collect all 8).
This is the closest we can get to a view of the entire cathedral at once. The altar is actually out of the frame to the left. The high tower is well back inside the cathedral but may be the most impressive part. The center of the tower is hollow and standing on the floor of the cathedral one can see through to the top. This picture is taken from the king's school associated with the cathedral.
So here we are on the Norman Staircase. It's important enough to earn capital letters. Basically, it's just a really old stairway built by the Normans. The buildings around have had a wide variety of purposes since then but currently this is also on the grounds of King's school. Oddly enough, not many visitors to the cathedral seem to find their way over here. It's quite a distance from the actual cathedral and really it's not well signed at all.
Canterbury is more than just a cathedral and historic town center. A short walk up the hill on the east side of town will bring you to St. Augustine's Abbey. The oldest abbey in England (why not) it was founded around 600 by King Aethelbert and St. Augustine (not that St. Augustine though). It survived for a little over 1000 years before falling into disuse and now it's just a quiet spot outside of town although there's a hefty entrance charge to see some collapsed stone walls.
If you really want a quiet out of the way peacful spot in Canterbury continue on up the hill. There's even worse signage here but you can follow the tiny little UNESCO icons in the sidewalk to arrive at St. Martin's church. It claims to be the oldest continuously used church in England having been built in the 6th century for Queen Bertha (Aethelbert's wife). The church is open only a few hours a week, or by appointment but the grounds are fantastic and worth a visit whether it's open or not.
The churchyard is scattered around and there are some remarkable old gravestones and fragments hidden amongst the yew trees. There's a nice view of the cathedral as well from up here.