I haven’t left London in ages. Seven weeks to be exact. This is the longest I’ve spent in the city since I moved to the UK over a decade ago, and my inner travel blogger is getting itchy feet. Which is why I’m taking a day trip to Rochester in Kent. It’s close, easy to get to, and there are a lot of things to do in Rochester that I can’t wait to experience.
Day Trip to Rochester
I’ve wanted to visit Rochester since seeing it out the window of a train ages ago. Its castle keep and cathedral spire dominate the skyline, and seeing them across the River Medway is inspiring.
But it’s not just about the views. Rochester has rich history, Charles Dickens connections, and a high street that’s worthy of stopping every five seconds to take a photo of.
Things to Do in Rochester: Dickens Connections
It’s taken me years to actually plan a day trip to Rochester, but now that I’ve done it I can’t wait to explore. The travel time is less than 45 minutes from London, and I arrive feeling fresh and energized.
I start my visit on the high street, which is full of shops and cafes. I wander up and down, taking in the historic facades and vintage boutiques as I go. My favorite discovery is Baggins Book Bazaar, England’s largest second-hand bookshop. I get lost in its warren of multi-level rooms, enjoying the sound of creaking floorboards as I go.
Speaking of books, there’s a strong Dickens theme in Rochester. Lots of places on the high street are named after characters from his books and life. He lived here as both a child and an adult, and more places in Rochester feature in his writing than any other part of the UK apart from London.
The Six Poor Travellers House, for example. This charity house provided room and board for six poor travelers from the Tudor period until World War II. A visit inspired Dickens to write a short story called The Seven Poor Travellers, and today the house is a free museum with exhibits and a beautiful garden in back.
Down the street is Eastgate House, a historic home with more Dickens connections. The Swiss chalet that served as his study at Gad’s Hill Place, his house near Rochester, sits in the garden. Eastgate House itself is a beauty to behold, and is an attractive highlight of the high street.
Not far from Eastgate House, I explore the gardens at Restoration House. This 17th-century gem was the inspiration for Miss Havisham’s Satis House in Great Expectations. In real life, King Charles II spent his first night back on English soil here on his way to reclaim the throne in 1660. Today the private owners have restored it and open it two days a week during the warmer months for visitors.
The gardens are stunning, with topiary hedges and fountains galore. It’s still a work in progress, but the progress is impressive.
The last of my Dickens sites is back on the high street. The Guildhall Museum is another 17th-century masterpiece with plasterwork ceilings and lots of historic details. It has some Dickens exhibits, but the main event is the building itself. The same goes for its neighbor, which is part of the museum and has gorgeous William Morris wallpaper and early 20th-century interiors.
Where to Eat in Rochester
After all the Dickens exploration, I’ve worked up an appetite. Which is lucky, because one of the best things to do in Rochester is eat. I wander back down the high street and find myself at The Cheese Room, a contemporary cafe full of delicious edibles. I tuck into a sandwich oozing with blue cheese, pear, and walnut and am whisked off to culinary heaven.
Not far away, I stop for a latte at Deaf Cat Coffee. This down-to-earth coffee shop is named after the furry friend that sat on Dickens’ desk while he wrote. As I sip, I take in the vintage teapots on the walls and coffee-sack coverings on the stools. “The House of the Rising Sun” plays on the speakers, and it all has an indie vibe.
Things to Do in Rochester: Parks and Heritage Buildings
Back out out on the high street, I find more things to do in Rochester that don’t necessarily involve Charles Dickens. The two main ones are the castle and cathedral. They’re what originally inspired my visit, so I’m looking forward to seeing them up close.
Rochester Cathedral was founded in 604 and is the second oldest cathedral in England. The interiors aren’t quite as breathtaking as those in Canterbury or Winchester, but they still have unique touches like the medieval wall painting of Fortuna spinning her Wheel of Fortune.
I also get to see the Textus Roffensis, the only existing copy of the first code of English law. Written by monks in Rochester in the 1120s, it influenced the wording of Magna Carta. The book is beautiful, and it’s hard to believe I’m looking at something so old.
Across the street is Rochester Castle, where the 12th-century keep dominates the skyline. It’s one of the tallest and best preserved in England and is steeped in history from Norman times through the Civil War and beyond. I wander through the park outside, then go down to the esplanade below for more views. I even cross the bridge over the Medway to see it from afar.
Back in town, I head to The Vines, a pretty park next to Restoration House. After a wander through the tree-lined paths, I find myself on St Margaret’s Street. While I usually love exploring side streets, I’ve found Rochester is mostly about the high street. But St Margaret’s Street is an exception, with pretty houses, sweet mews, and the adjacent Love Lane. What’s not to like about Love Lane?
And love pretty much sums up how I feel about my day trip. By the time I leave, I’ve completely fallen for this place. There are so many things to do in Rochester and it’s so easy to get to from London. I’m glad I chose it for my first excursion away from the capital in a long time, and it has definitely inspired me to travel again.
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