Visiting Canterbury Castle

Canterbury Castle began as a military fortress but eventually became the most famous and influential prison in Kent. Owned by royalty since its founding, the castle took part in significant political events from the 11th through 17th centuries. Today, it’s open to the public and free to visit.

Parking

Canterbury castle does not have a designated car park. However, the paid city Castle Street Car Park and Castle Row Car Park are within 80 meters (256 ft) of the Castle. The city rate for these lots is £1.80 per hour.

Price

Canterbury Castle is free to visit.

Opening

The Castle is open from dusk to dawn year-round.

Location and Access

Canterbury castle is located at Canterbury CT1 2PR, United Kingdom, in the centre of Canterbury. The main entrance is located on Gas Street. 

From the east or west, you can get to the Castle via A28.

Know Before You Go

  • Construction and restoration are ongoing at the Castle, so check the Canterbury City Council website before you go if you want to go inside.
  • Other than the castle ruins, informational plaques, and a short climb to the tower's top, there isn't much to see. So, if you are not as interested in looking at the ruins, you shouldn't expect to stay here long.
  • Canterbury Castle is a Grade I listed ancient monument and the property of the Canterbury City Council. For more information about the site, visit the City Council website here.

Places To Stay Nearby

While you are staying in Canterbury, you shouldn’t have to stay in a mediocre - or worse, unpleasant - hotel. 

There are plenty of well-rated hotels, inns, and flats in the area, but we have put together the very best. All of these places to stay are less than a mile away from the castle, and they are sure to offer unique, clean, and comfortable lodging for your visit. 

The Black Horse Inn

Just 0.5 miles (0.8 km) from Canterbury Castle, stay at the Black Horse Inn for a cosy and affordable stay within walking distance of all of the best historic sites in the city. The Black Horse Inn has excellent reviews and amenities such as free wifi, complimentary breakfast, clean en-suite facilities, and a bar. With such great accommodations, it has everything you need to spend your holiday in comfort.

Book The Black Horse Inn

Corner House Hotel

0.4 miles (644 m) from Canterbury Castle, enjoy the historical Corner House Hotel, known to be one of Charles Dickens’ favourite inns. With free wifi, complimentary breakfast, a superb bar and restaurant downstairs, and Tudor-style decor, the Corner House is the perfect place to stay if you want to make your visit to Canterbury unforgettable.

Book Corner House Hotel

House of Agnes

The House of Agnes, one of Canterbury's top-rated hotels, is only 0.5 miles (0.8 km) from the Castle. With its roots in the 13th century, this inn has been in service for hundreds of years. Still, you wouldn't believe it with its lovely en-suite facilities and comfortable living spaces. This hotel is also world-renowned since Charles Dickens wrote about it in his novel David Copperfield. 

Beyond its fascinating history, House of Agnes offers complimentary parking, wifi, and breakfast, making this inn an all-around perfect place to stay in Canterbury.

Book House of Agnes

History of Canterbury Castle

Canterbury Castle, one of the three Royal Castles of Kent, is a Norman fortress turned prison with a rich and colourful history. As property of the Crown for over 540 years, it witnessed some of the most critical events in Canterbury's history. 

Time Line


-1066 (Original Motte and Bailey Constructed)

Canterbury surrendered to William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings

Later that winter, William ordered the construction of a motte and bailey 200 metres west of where Canterbury Castle now stands. 

The motte and bailey, a mound with a fortified keep on top of it, was one of the three original Royal Castles of Kent. It was called Dane John, deriving from the French word donjon, meaning a castle's keep. 

-1070

The first recorded Keeper of the Castle, Hamo, son of Vitalis, was appointed. According to the Domesday Book, Vitalis was the Lord of Kent in 1086. 

-1087-1088

In 1070, Lanfranc of Bec became the Archbishop of Canterbury. After the death of William the Conqueror in 1087, Lanfranc appointed Wido, a Norman abbot, over St. Augustine's Abbey. 

The Benedictine monks at St. Augustine's Abbey did not want a Norman archbishop. So they spoke out against Lanfranc, demanding that their Abbot be democratically appointed, as was the custom. 

In reaction, Lanfranc had many of the monks of At. Augustine's Abbey imprisoned at Canterbury Castle while he forced others to leave the Abbey. The imprisonment of the monks is the first recorded use of the Castle as a prison. 

-1186-1120 (Stone Keep Constructed)

The Crown made improvements to Canterbury Castle, and the new keep, which still stands today, was added to the structure. Made of Caen stone, this keep was 80 ft tall, and its walls were 13 ft thick in some places. 

Since it was heavily fortified, there was only one entrance to the castle via a steep staircase on the northwest side of the building. 

-1169 

King Henry II traded some of his property in Canterbury for more land surrounding the castle. As a result, the property was greatly expanded, and the King had new walls built around the property. 

-1216 (Castle Attacked & Captured)

Louis Dauphin, the future King of France, attacked and captured Canterbury Castle during the First Barons' War. He had already gained the support of many Barons in overthrowing King John of England. Still, when John died in October, the Barons deserted Louis of Dauphin, and he fled back to France. 

-1221 (Improvements Made)

A new tower was added to the castle's front, and a door was installed on the southeastern wall to offer access to the basement prison. During this time, the tower, the chapel, the bridges, and the gates were also repaired and improved. 

This created a shift in the use of Canterbury Castle. As the English royalty made improvements to the dungeon, the fortress was no longer used as a defensive keep but mainly as a local prison. 

-1275

King Edward of England decreed that English Jews could no longer be moneylenders. Those Jewish Englishmen who did not comply were imprisoned or banished from England. 

-1277 (Castle Used as a Prison)

Canterbury Castle functioned as a prison for the Canterbury Jewish population that did not obey King Edward's decree. Many of these prisoners were expelled from the country after staying in the dark, miserable Canterbury dungeon. 

-1380 (Castle Attacked)

During the Peasants’ Revolt, Wat Tyler and countless other peasants attacked Canterbury Castle. These insurrectionists attempted to discourage King Richard II's advisor, Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury, from raising poll taxes on the already impoverished Kentish farmers. 

When the peasants attacked, the Keeper of the Castle, Arnold Sevaunce, was dragged down to the prison. Then, they were forced to burn all of the documents regarding the financial and legal status of Canterbury Castle. Sevaunce was then forced to take the peasant's oath. 

-1390 (Repairs Made)

After over a hundred years of functioning as a prison and stronghold, Canterbury Castle was in dire need of repairs. The justices from Canterbury County raised £200 to repair the dungeon. Under the supervision of the King's Master Mason, Henry Yevele, repairs were made to the Castle, and the West Gate and the Cathedral Nave were built. 

-1539

After the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII, two priests were committed to the dungeon for writing the Pope's name in their Abbey registers. 

-1553-1558

More than 42 prisoners are recorded during Queen Mary's reign to have been in fetters in Canterbury Castle's basement prison. These captives, convicted because they refused to follow Catholicism, were all executed by starvation or burning at the stake on Canterbury Castle grounds. 

-1565

Around this time, the castle ceased to be a prison. Once the prisoners were removed from the Castle, all of the Canterbury judicial records were stored in the keep. 

-1590

The last Keeper of the Castle, Alexander Horden, Keeper of Her Majesty's Green Cloth, was appointed.

-1609

The castle was in a state of total decay, so James I gave the estate and all of Kent to his Kitchen clerk, Sir Anthony Weldon of Swanscombe. Swanscombe is believed to be the author of The Court and Character of James I, although this attribution is often contested. 

-1648

The Puritanical English Parliament decreed that Christmas should not be celebrated that year. The Royalist-supporting people of Canterbury rebelled in an event called the Plum Pudding Riots, where the citizens held a wild party outside the castle. 

General Henry Ireton recoiled, leading an attack on the city. His troops burnt the main city gate and tore down the castle's west wall to prevent any defensive strategies from the Royalists of Canterbury. 

-1770-1792 (Castle Walls Demolished)

By the late 18th century, the Castle was left mainly in ruins. Then, between 1770 and 1792, the curtain walls of the castle were demolished to make room for new houses and a new Sessions House, and the ditch that once surrounded the fort was filled in. 

During the early 1800s, the city planned more demolition projects, and some people even wanted to destroy the keep. 

-1826

The Gas, Light, and Coke Company purchased the keep and used it as a Coke and coal store. 

-1928 (Restoration Projects Begin)

After years of being used as a Coke and coal store, the Castle was tarnished with black soot and left in terrible shape. In 1928, the Canterbury City Council purchased the keep and undertook reconstruction and restoration projects to preserve Canterbury Castle.

Canterbury Castle Occupants

Some of the most famous keepers and resident governors of the Castle include: 

  • Hamo, son of Vitalis
  • Hubert de Burgh
  • Nicholas Moels
  • Robert Waleran 
  • Arnold Sevaunce
  • William de Eschetesford 
  • Sir William Peche of Lullingstone
  • Alexander Horden, Keeper of Her Majesty's Green Cloth

Images of Canterbury Castle

Canterbury Castle Canterbury Castle
Canterbury Castle Canterbury Castle

Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package

Canterbury Castle Facts

The motte, or mound, that the original Canterbury Castle was built on in the 11th century was a Roman burial mound. 

The Domesday Book notes that eleven houses were demolished on the modern castle grounds when William the Conqueror built Canterbury Castle. 

In 1674, Dr Plot noted a Hebrew inscription on the dungeon's walls, written by one of the Jews kept in the Castle prison in 1277. The graffiti, presumably a psalm, disappeared sometime around 1766, and historians are still looking for the inscribed stone, which was likely used to construct one of the nearby houses in Canterbury. 

Canterbury Castle Q&A

Are Dogs allowed at the Castle? 

Dogs are allowed at the Castle as long as they are kept on a lead at all times. 

Is Canterbury Castle Accessible for People With Disabilities? 

Overall, Canterbury is pretty accessible. People in wheelchairs may have difficulty with the Castle's uneven and stony ground, though. They will also be unable to climb to the 3-storey tower. 

Location of Canterbury Castle

Canterbury Castle is located at Canterbury CT1 2PR, United Kingdom. 

 

Canterbury is one of the most important and memorable towns in all of English History. Through its history as a Norman fort, royal defensive tower, and prison, Canterbury Castle is a testament to the wars, rebellions, and remarkable Kentish history. With so many ancient monuments and sites, visit Canterbury today and learn more about how Britain has changed over 900 years.

Other Places To Visit Near Canterbury Castle

Canterbury is one of the most famous towns in all of Britain, and there are tonnes of things to see and do within just a mile of the Castle. So whether you are looking for more historical sites, fascinating museums, or places to stroll outdoors, Canterbury is the perfect place to go for a fun and memorable holiday. 

Canterbury Cathedral

If you visit Canterbury Castle, you cannot miss Canterbury Cathedral. Towering above the city, only 0.9 miles (1.4 km) from the Castle, Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most famous historical sites in all of Great Britain. 

The Cathedral was founded in 597 CE by St Augustine, 1st Archbishop of Canterbury. It was later rebuilt after the destruction of the Norman Conquest. The Cathedral houses the tombs of influential people such as St. Thomas Becket, King Henry IV, Edward the Black Prince, Joan of Navarre, Lanfranc, Simon Sudbury, and many more. 

Gaze at the stunning architecture and stained glass windows, and take a guided tour through the crypts for a truly historical experience at Canterbury. 

Canterbury Roman Museum

0.7 miles (1 km) from the Castle, make sure to set a couple of hours aside to see the Canterbury Roman Museum, a scheduled monument situated in the ruins of a Roman courtyard house. 

While you are here, stroll through their vast exhibits of Canterbury's roman artefacts, including stunning mosaics, a preserved hypocaust system, armour, jewellery, pottery, glassware, and statues. There are also plenty of hands-on activities like mosaic building, togas to try on, and archaeological digs for kids, so you can be sure that the whole family will have fun here!

Westgate Towers Museum

On the Great Stour Riverbank, visit the Westgate Tower Museum, the largest medieval tower gate in Britain. 

The tower went through several phases, serving as the Archbishop of Canterbury's residence, then becoming the city gaol. Today, it is a museum filled with exhibitions about crime, wars in Canterbury, and the Magna Carta. 

Once you finish admiring the detailed and immersive exhibits, climb to the tower's top and look out over the entire city of Canterbury and the beautiful Stour River. 

St. Augustine's Abbey

No building is more closely connected to Canterbury Castle than St. Augustine's Abbey. Founded in 598 by St. Augustine of Kent, the Abbey once housed up to 86 monks at a time. Now an English Heritage site, the Abbey lies in ruins, making it the perfect historical picnic and walking spot in Canterbury. 

Unfortunately, after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the Abbey was used for many purposes, including a royal apartment, a college, and a gaol. Eventually, it was left in ruins.