Located in Southeast England, the medieval town of Canterbury makes for both a wonderful day trip from London or a multi-day excursion. In this guide, we’ll talk about wheelchair accessibility in Canterbury, including getting around, things to do, and accessible restrooms.
General wheelchair accessibility in Canterbury
We won’t beat around the bush here- Canterbury isn’t among the most wheelchair accessible destinations we’ve visited in England.
The reason lies mostly with the surface of streets and sidewalks in the walled historical center. While sidewalks are present on main roads in the center, they tended to be either narrow and/or made up of uneven brick and stone.
Even many parts of the main pedestrian streets are made up of cobblestone brick. The cobblestone is mild enough for just about any wheelchair to easily manage, but no doubt, you’ll feel the bumps.
Ramps in Canterbury
We got to explore Canterbury well during our time there, as we spent over one week. As a rough estimation, we’d say that about 40% of shops and restaurants in the walled part of the city offer a flat entry or ramps.
That’s about on par with our experience in other English cities.
We’ll get into more specific details shortly about the most accessible sites in the city.
Accessible public restrooms in Canterbury
Like many cities in England, there’s a wheelchair logo on tourist signs pointing in the direction of accessible public restrooms.
There are accessible public restrooms on either end of the walled part of Canterbury- one on Canterbury Lane and the other on Tower Way.
If you haven’t yet heard of the RADAR key system in the U.K., make sure to check out this post so that you’re equipped with a key to enter.
In addition to public restrooms, there are accessible restrooms at paid sites such as the Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury Tales, and the train stations.
Wheelchair Accessible Things to do in Canterbury
Now that we’ve talked a bit about general wheelchair accessibility in Canterbury, you’re surely wondering about the things to do there. Below is a list of nine activities that you can do in Canterbury as a wheelchair user.
1. Westgate Gardens
Of all the places we visited in Canterbury, the Westgate Gardens was our favorite. These gardens are a part of a larger, four park complex called Westgate Parks, which all line the Stour River.
Westgate Gardens is easily accessible by rolling down High Street to the Westgate Towers. From there, take a left and follow the river. At this point, you’ll be on the outside of the walled city.
A paved, almost entirely flat path runs through the gardens. From there, you’ll get incredible views of the river, the stone wall of the city, and the traditional architecture of nearby houses and buildings.
There are a couple of small bridges, which are accessible, and offer great views down the river.
Although the Westgate Gardens borders the walled part of Canterbury, since it’s on the outside of the wall, we found that there were far fewer people than on Hight Street and around the Cathedral.
Also, when you exit the Westgate Gardens you’ll be able to continue along an even quieter path that follows the river.
2. Canterbury Cathedral
Speaking of the Cathedral, it would be an injustice to Canterbury not to bring up this incredible piece of architecture and history early in our list of things to do.
The Canterbury Cathedral is famous for Archbishop Thomas Becket who was murdered by four knights who mistakenly believed that the king wanted the Archbishop dead. History lovers can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the cathedral and its expansive grounds.
Traditionally, the Canterbury Cathedral isn’t very wheelchair accessible. However, a number of accessible facilities have been designed to help the cathedral and its grounds be more wheelchair friendly.
For starters, wheelchair users can enter the Cathedral from an accessible parking lot or stroll in from the historical center (you’ll pass over some cobblestone if coming from the center).
You can read about detailed wheelchair accessibility on the Canterbury Cathedral’s website. However, below is a summary of the primary accessible facilities in place:
- The Nave is accessible through the North Door. Beware that this is a heavy, wooden door so you’ll need assistance opening it.
- The Quire is accessible via an elevator.
- The Crypt is accessible via a ramp and a heavy wooden door, which you’ll need assistance opening.
- There’s a Mobilift to take you down the short staircase which will allow you to explore the west side of the Cloister and the Chapter House. You can also access this area without a Mobilift via a partially paved, partially cobblestone path on an incline from the east side of the Cathedral.
- Temporary ramps can be set up by Cathedral staff members which will allow you to visit the Eastern Crypt, Quire floor, and Library.
- There’s an accessible restroom outside on the Cathedral grounds.
Photos for public use aren’t allowed inside the Cathedral. However, below are some photos outside of the Cathedral to give you a visual of some of the surfaces, elevator, and ramps you’ll encounter.
3. Explore the streets
You can easily spend a half-day exploring the walled historic center of Canterbury. The center is compact but loaded with shops, restaurants, and old architecture.
The most notable streets in Canterbury include High Street and St. Margaret’s Street. Both of these are pedestrian streets and have a mix of cobblestone and smooth brick. Most likely, you’ll find yourself inclined to use the sidewalks, where possible, since they offer an overall less bumpy experience.
The streets in Canterbury can get very crowded as the day goes on. Therefore, if you’re looking to avoid lots of people and have more sidewalk space for your chair, we recommend doing your exploration in the morning.
Of the many wonderful things to do in Canterbury, one of our favorites was trying out the restaurants. The city is loaded with adorable cafes and restaurants, some traditional and some with a modern twist. We also came across plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
Below are two of our favorite wheelchair accessible restaurants in Canterbury:
The Old Weaver’s Restaurant: When you’re strolling down High Street in Canterbury, there’s oftentimes a human traffic jam at The Old Weaver’s House, as this is where you can get a glimpse of the canal. Offering a selection of traditional English food at their restaurant, The Old Weaver’s Restaurant is one of the most classic dining options in Canterbury.
Tiny Tim’s Tearoom: Any lover of A Christmas Carol would have a hard time passing by Tiny Tim’s Tearoom without stopping in for some tea and biscuits. Adorably decorated and encompassing everything you’d expect from an English tea time, Tiny Tim’s Tearoom is a must.
5. Marlowe Theatre
Lovers of theater will surely be enticed to watch a show at the Marlowe Theatre. Located in the historical center of Canterbury, the Marlowe Theatre has a modern design which makes it stand out from most other parts of the center.
As expected from modern design, the Marlowe Theatre is accessible. A flat entry leads inside the building. From there, elevators will take you to all three floors where there’s a total of twelve accessible spaces. There are also six wheelchair spaces in The Studio. Accessible restrooms are located on every floor of the theater.
6. Canterbury Castle
The Canterbury Castle is located about a ten minute stroll in the direction of Wincheap, outside of the walled city.
During our December 2019 visit, the castle was closed for maintenance due to falling debris. However, given that the Canterbury Castle is so small, mainly because it’s mostly castle ruins, you can quite easily admire the structure from outside the gate.
When the castle does reopen, from our outside observation it appears that the ruins are accessible via a dirt path winding around the small property.
Is it worth the visit?
In our opinion, visiting the Canterbury Castle is only worth visiting if you’ll be spending multiple days in Canterbury.
We’ve already talked about the Westgate Gardens, but the gardens are part of a much larger path called the Riverwalk.
You can start the Riverwalk from either side of the Westgate Towers, just outside the city wall. From there, you’ll soon arrive in a quieter, nature setting.
The path is paved, although we came across plenty of areas where the pavement was buckling up. For the most part, the path is accessible. However, there are certain points where you may have to take a small detour as a result of some steps.
8. The Canterbury Tales
When you’re exploring the historical center, you’re bound to stumble upon an old stone building on St. Margaret Street, which is called The Canterbury Tales.
The Canterbury Tales is a unique theatrical and interactive experience that will take you through life in medieval England. Perfect for both kids and history lovers of any age, The Canterbury Tales is not only a great approximately one hour activity to do in Canterbury, but it’s also entirely accessible.
A flat entry leads into the building. From there, you’ll be able to access the different floors via an elevator. The staff is well trained in supporting wheelchair users with getting around the rooms, as there are times when there are some steps requiring an alternative route. Keep in mind that the lighting is dim in most of the rooms, but the surfaces are flat.
You can read about detailed accessibility in each of the rooms at The Canterbury Tales here.
9. The Goods Shed
The Goods Shed is an indoor market located by the West Canterbury Train Station.
While loving markets is in our blood, The Goods Shed is a very small, boutique-style market, which threw us off a bit since it felt more like a store than a market. However, the old building and decor are beautiful.
Wheelchair accessibility at The Goods Shed is mediocre at best. At face value, it’s accessible. A long, wooden ramp leads inside the one-story building, which has concrete floors on the inside.
However, space is tight as the aisles are narrow. Also, the only tables low enough for wheelchair users are located up a set of stairs. For this reason, we only recommend a visit to The Goods Shed if you’ll be by the West Canterbury Train Station and have some time to spare before taking your train.
Canterbury didn’t “wow” us with its wheelchair accessibility, but there are enough accessible facilities in place to make a trip there worth the visit.
Do you have questions about wheelchair accessibility in Canterbury? Send us a message and we’ll be glad to help. If you’ve already explored Canterbury as a wheelchair user, we’d love to hear about your experience, tips, and favorite areas to visit.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.