Westminster Abbey stands as one of the oldest buildings in London and in the UK having first serving as an abbey in the 10th century and later a church inextricably linked to the English monarchy. The structure was first used as a Benedictine monastery. In 1066 the first coronation of an English king, William I (better known as William the Conquer) took place. From then until the brief period as a puritan republic during the English Civil every king and queen of England was crowned at Westminster. Following the collapse of the puritan republic, the restored monarchy incorporated the abbey into the Church of England and resumed the tradition of coronation which still continues today. Westminster also known as the final resting place of many of the monarchs crowned there as well as many famous figures from the United Kingdom. In the same building one can find the sisters, Queen Mary (aka Bloody Mary) and Elizabeth I (the Virgin Queen) lying next to each other to notable names from literature and the arts including, Tennyson, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling.
Westminster is built in a largely gothic style after the original site had gone through various renovations. The abbey is marked by high raised ceilings with arched windows that invoke a sense of awe in the visitor as is has done for the past thousand years. In addition to the gothic style, various other styles were employed as more and more additions have been made to the church as its symbolic power has risen with each new reign. The very open spaced nature of the church accommodates the thousands of tourists each year and in most of the main areas one has plenty of space to move about. However in some of the additions, the space gets tighter and one might have to squeeze in certain spaces so caution is advised during the peak times.
Westminster has always served a religious role which it still follows till this day as an active church with daily masses held at various times during the day as well as holding Sunday service in which the church is closed for touring. As such, one must be mindful in the cloister area and other areas which house the religious clergy and avoid making noise or walking in restricted areas.
In order to enter the abbey, one has to wait in a line outside regardless if one has a London pass or not which can be a wait of upward to 20 minutes during the peak times. Also one has to exercise caution as the abbey may be closed for the day due its use as an active place of worship and seat of royal tradition. The entrance fee also includes an audio guide which is highly advised as it provides much needed historical context and explanation to the main sites noted on the map one receives. Also note photography is almost always allowed in the abbey.
One tours the abbey in a circuit starting from the nave and from there wise through the main parts of the Abbey, including the upper level. Major sites include the tomb of Unknown Soldier, shrine of Edward the Confessor (the last Anglo Saxon king of England), the Lady Chapel and Poet’s Corner. Along the way there are many small chapels holding the resting sites of many less famous nobles and military leaders. There are also many small chapels lining the outside walls of the Abbey offering a variety of architectural styles and furnishings. Unfortunately these are rarely mentioned on the audio guide. A note of caution for the Henry VII Lady’s Chapel is that the corridors are narrow and the spaces are tight. Here is where one can view the tombs of Mary and Elizabeth as well as several other monarchs consequently one may have to wait in order to enter and then move quickly to avoid being squeezed. A special chapel dedicated to the airmen who fought for England in the Battle of Britain (1940) is located on the same level. The self-paced walking tour may be done in under an hour but typically can last around 2-3 hours.
In addition to the walking tour, one can visit the cloister, the college gardens (only on certain days) and the Abbey museum. The Poet’s corner is worth a good look around. Tombs of many legendary writers are here along with many monuments to others. The college gardens is a great place to relax and enjoy the sun while taking a break from touring the Abbey. The Pyx chamber is fascinating in itself as it is one of the oldest parts of the Abbey. If one fancies a bite to eat, the Abbey offers a café with reasonably priced sandwiches and afternoon tea. Each will add a fair amount of time to one’s visit and with their addition can turn a visit to the abbey into a good chunk of the morning and afternoon visit.
Guided tours are offered for a nominal additional fee. The Verger led tour is worth investigating. This is the only tour that will allow a visitor to visit the tomb of Edward the Confessor located in Shrine in the main part of the Abbey and one of the oldest parts of the Abbey.
- Adults £18.00
- Concessions £15.00 (Over 18 students (on production of a valid student card) and 60+)
- Schoolchildren (11 – 18 years) £8
- Child under 11 free accompanied by an adult
- Family £36.00 (2 adults and 1 child) £44.00 (2 adults and 2 children)
- Entry for all the above includes a free audio-guide each
Open Hours and Dates
Please check website as times and days vary depending on season and activities at the Abbey.
Getting to the Abbey
St. James Park, Victoria and Westminster are the closest underground stations. The official website has a planner that will help with a variety of methods of getting to the Abbey from various parts of London.