All of England’s cities contain at least one cathedral. But some cathedrals dominate a city more than others, and these places are often known as Cathedral Cities.
English cathedral cities tend to be smaller towns that grew up around an ancient and magnificent cathedral, which plays a central role in the life of the city.
They aren’t places such as London or Liverpool which, although they contain great cathedrals (two in Liverpool’s case), have a lot more to them. The Cathedral is just one of many things that makes them great.
Here are what we believe to be the best of these Cathedral Cities.
Truro Cathedral in Cornwall is the newest cathedral on our list.
It was built and consecrated just over 100 years ago – it opened in 1910 – to accommodate the new diocese of Truro, which covers Cornwall.
Despite its age, it is built in an old style – the Gothic Revival style popular with many Victorian and Edwardian buildings. Standing in the middle of town near the river Truro it is a magnificent sight from the water.
Wells is a small city in Somerset, near Bath, dominated by Wells Cathedral.
The Cathedral was started in 1175 in the ‘Early English’, a reasonably simple, style.
The nearby Cathedral School’s choristers are particularly famous and, as well as providing the music for the Cathedrals services, perform internationally too.
Their Sunday morning procession from the school to the Cathedral has been a tradition for years.
Although a larger place than many on this list – it is the main city of Kent in England’s South East – Canterbury too is dominated by its Cathedral.
Canterbury Cathedral is perhaps the most important Christian site in the country as the base of the Church of England and its head, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It was also the site of one the most infamous murders in English history, that of Thomas Beckett, then Archbishop of Canterbury.
The killing was perpetrated in 1170 by Henry II’s soldiers (history is divided on whether they were acting on orders to “rid [him] of this troublesome priest”).
Pilgrimages to Canterbury became common after the murder – Thomas was canonised and a shrine to his memory was situated in the cathedral.
They became the focus of Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous 14th century stories, ‘The Canterbury Tales’.
This lovely and historic cathedral city was the capital of the mediavel province of Wessex during King Alfred’s time (and so is often called the first capital of England as Alfred is sometimes seen is the de-facto first King).
It’s home to the gorgeous Winchester Cathedral and one of the top (and posest schools in England, Winchester college).
Exeter is the county town of Devon, the South West county famous for its cream teas, beach holidays and rolling countryside.
The pretty city is on the River Exe which winds its way through the town on its way to the Exe estuary (at the appropriately named Exmouth) on the south Devon coast.
Exeter Cathedral is in the centre of town. Built in the 13th century it replaced the original Norman church on the site with a new building in the ‘Decorated Gothic’ style.
It’s now the seat of the Exeter diocese and home to the Bishop of Exeter.
Another large town – it was a borderline inclusion to this list as there so much more to York – containing one of the great churches of Europe: York Minster.
(A Minster is a cathedral that used to be a monastery).
The Minster towers over the medieval city centre – it can be seen from miles away over the flat Vale of York – and is one of the most popular tourist destinations on northern England.
In addition to the Minster, York has a fine Roman and Viking past, some fantastic medieval streets, and a lovely castle.
Another Yorkshire cathedral city, but much smaller than York.
However it still contains one of the North’s finest buildings, Ripon Cathedral.
Gloucester Cathedral’s magnificence was recognised by the Harry Potter movie producers who based many of the internal Hogwarts scenes in its cloisters.
The city is close to the popular Cotswold Hills.
Ely lives in the shadow of its more famous neighbour, Cambridge.
However, it would be a mistake to overlook this tiny, but gorgeous, city. Like many on this list it’s dominated by its Cathedral, which can be seen from so far away over the flat fenland surrounds that it’s known as the ‘Ship of The Fens.
The city itself is lovely – it has several great pubs and restaurants – and there are lots of waterside walks by the River Great Ouse which runs through Ely.
If you do get to go, check out Ely’s great historical claim to fame: Oliver Cromwell’s home. The 17th century Civil War leader lived in the city and his house is now a tourist attraction.
Durham Cathedral – or The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham as it’s properly named – is one of the finest examples of a Normal cathedral in Europe.
It was started in 1093 – the church has been a place of worship for nearly 1,000 years – to house the remains of St.Cuthbert and the medieval scholar the Venerable Bede.
The city itself is one of the prettiest in England. Built in a bend of the River Wear the old city contains the cathedral and one of the UK’s finest universities.
Lincoln is the often overlooked county town of often overlooked Lincolnshire.
The city is dominated by both the cathedral and its surrounding buildings.
It really comes into its own in winter when the nearby Market Square hosts one of the UK’s best Christmas markets.
The ancient city of Salisbury is overlooked by one of the most distinctive Cathedrals in England.
Its spire is the tallest church spire in the country and the building is one of the finest examples of Early Gothic Architecture in Europe.
Lichfield is a small city in the West Midlands county of Staffordshire, dominated by its striking cathedral.
It’s the only three-spire cathedral in England and has one of the most complete cathedral closes in the country.
Lichfield was also the birthplace of Samuel Johnson, man of letters and producer of the first dictionary