An insider's guide to river tours in Canterbury
Whether it's your first time to the city or been here all your life it is the best way to experience the beautiful and historical city is by punting.
If you are a fan or have never heard of punting this guide will help you learn, plan and make the most of any visit to canterbury.
You will experience a leisurely trip being on a boat along the river Stour while someone pushes you along, giving you the freedom to enjoy the sights and your drink!
A Lot of people have seen the gondoliers in Venice but they have a paddle we are in fact in shallow water and touch the bottom with a pole if we can't touch the bottom we are not punting and this is when you need to fire a flare and yell mayday
It's a quintessentially British thing to do especially with a jug of Pimms you can feel and taste the class
You may have heard or seen it in Cambridge or even oxford but it is, in fact, a historical tradition all over the country and very much alive in Canterbury. They have been made famous due to their universities but canterbury has been famous a lot longer being the hotspot of tourism since the 12th century but punting has always been there you will notice this when you go underneath the city you could say the river was Kents first road!
I have worked on the punts now for several years. I’ve put together this insiders guide to give you some understanding of river tours. I’ll cover the following topics;
- What is punting?
- River Tours Options
- Who to go punting with
- When is the best season?
- What's the best time?
- Can you do self-drive?
- Where can you find the boat?
- What you need for punting?
- How to save money
What is Punting
Punting is not a word in everyone's vocabulary but it is a historical one. A punt is the name of the boat which has a flat bottom designed to operate in shallow areas. Today they are used to take river tours along the Stour in Canterbury. Punts were originally used for moving cargo on the water but now are used more as a leisure activity. Because it is in shallow water it is pushed along manually by a pole traditionally made of wood. The pole is called a quant if you cared and want to try to impress someone. This is done by a person standing on the back of the boat pushing the boat with the pole for you and they can be referred to as punters.
Punting became a pleasurable leisure activity in the early 1900 hundreds and I know what you're thinking a pleasure cruise with punters but it's all above board or should I say water!
River Tours Options
There are two main locations to see known simply as up or downstream. As we go downstream we have the city centre not only do we see the sights we travel under them ! you can see a host of historical buildings and even go inside old tunnel networks to explore never seen before sections of canterbury
Some are over 300 years old!. Click here to see our interactive map of the sites.
Upriver is to the countryside this is less historic but much better for getting your suntan and enjoying the beautiful nature with a drink! Can see all animals in there natural habitat from ducks to kentians.
There are all sorts of occasions that call for a punt. Even though they are always fun and unique experience it's always possible to make it that much more special.
- Hen party. With the celebration of being tied down why not celebrate the freedom one last time with friends take your favourite people with your favourite drinks and enjoy the sun
- Birthday. Surprise a loved one with a whole boat to yourself and with the option to have booze cruise or a picnic
- Ghost tours. Even though we think of the sun as our friend when it comes to boats there are also hidden pleasure in the dark with some companies offering lamplight dark tours with a host of scary and dark historical information to build the perfect atmosphere for lovers or the kids
- Romantic. Just like gondoliers in Venice punting is the romantic British equivalent with your choice of stunning old architecture or the beautiful outdoors! If you want to really make the partner surprise them with champagne and cake. Some companies can even add that European touch of a live violin performance!
- The proposal. How better to propose than on your own punt with the person you love. Some companies even offer photographers to capture the magic moment for you to treasure
Who to go punting with
There are different companies but each one offers different services and products so you can choose what suits you best
- Canterbury punting companies - have handmade wooden punts that can fit up to 12 people. They accept booking group tours and private and have their own cafe for any drink needs.
- Historical river tours - as it says on the tin give you a historical tour but mainly operate in rowboats which also fits 12 people they accept bookings and group tours.
- Westgate punts - operate in smaller punts designed for 6 people. All their boats are private hire.
When is the best season?
River Tours are available almost all year round operating more at peak and less as custom declines the only thing that stops us is current if they can't move the boat they cant take you.
Each season has its pros and cons
- Spring. More of a lucky dip when it comes to weather but when the luck is on your side you have the newly hatched ducklings with some beautiful sunlight to them
- Summer. The warmest and brightest time to go. Expect a suntan but with longer waits due to it being peak business
- Autumn. A little cooler but beautiful with seasonal colours of orange and red and still the active wildlife. You will be glad that summer buzz is done with and you have this treasure to yourself.
- Winter. The main perk is the exclusivity as it's out of season you will not feel rushed and will be a more private experience. There should be less waiting times. Snow and winter can be beautiful in England with companies offering blankets! and hot water bottles to keep you warm.
In our opinion, the best is spring and autumn as crowds can ruin the beautiful serenity of the river but also if there is snow nothing is more rare or beautiful than England with a blanket on.
What's the best time?
Obviously bank holidays and weekends are busier than midweek with everyone ticking off their bucket list together and you should not be put off coming on these days as the day is long but if you can make it on a weekday you will be rewarded for it with less waiting and the river a bit more to yourself
It's always going to be quieter the earlier you go the first come first served rule applies and as the day warms up so does the business with a real peek at 11-4 pm but expect longer waits and longer peaks on weekends
Do not be put off by the night time as there are lanterns available by some companies and can take you at night but this would be only available on request.
Can you do self-drive?
Unfortunately due to the river conditions it is not possible to operate there are low bridges dead ends large drops and not to mention the strong fast-moving water that has most dead in there tracks it is always best and a lot more fun and relaxing to have your very own expert guide doing the work for you
Where can you find the boats?
With different companies having their different areas, here are the places you're looking for.
But all can be found if you follow the river through the high street. Some will have people selling tickets in the street. They will help you with questions and take you to the business location.
- Canterbury Punting Company
This is the company specialising in traditional punting and they even have a Cafe to grab a coffee or a jug of Pimms! You can find them at CT1 2NQ water lane this is near the foundry pub and behind the Sainsburys if you know the highstreet. It is also located near the Abode hotel.
- Westgate punts
Funnily enough, found at Westgate and the postcode is CT28AA can be found
- Historical river tours
These can found in the middle of the high street near the restaurant old weavers the postcode is CT1 2AT
What do you need for punting?
You don't need anything, accept seasonal clothes to take a river tour. We have put together a list of suggested things to make the most out of your trip;
- Refreshments. Our number 1 popular choices are Pimms and Champagne but you can't turn down the favourites of beer and wine
- Can also make the trip a picnic by bringing some sandwiches or enjoying some strawberries and cream
- Also, a camera to capture the special views
- Prams can be looked after if they can't get on the boat
- Some companies allow dogs
- Also, companies will try there best to cater to accessibility to the best of our ability.
How to save money?
The first is the same as when you book flights or train tickets in advance. Some companies allow you to select the trip you want and a few days in advance allowing you to save money on the day sometimes through a deposit scheme.
The other way is actually contacting the company directly if you have any question or queries contact the company directly and they will be able to work out the best way for you to book saving you money
One last tip
The drinking and the water are not the best friend of the bladder make sure you go before you go!
I hope this guide has not only informed you but got you excited for your trip! I hope you enjoy the river and I'm sure you will return!