Situated in the heart of London, right next to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey holds the secrets to all the major royal events of the past 1000 years. No visit to the capital would be complete without setting foot in this majestic building.
Most recently known as the venue of the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, Westminster Abbey has witnessed 16 royal marriages and 38 coronations. The first was the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, and the current head of state Queen Elizabeth II was crowned here in 1953.
Stepping through the North Door, you’ll enter a world filled with centuries of rich history. The building as you see it today has grown and changed over time, moulded by the projects and schemes of successive rulers. Its construction began in 1245 on the site of St Peter’s Abbey, on the orders of King Henry III who wished to be buried in this location. Elements of the original Saxon abbey still form part of the current structure, such as the 11th century vaulted undercroft of St. Peter. This houses the Abbey’s museum displaying an interesting collection of royal effigies and historical treasures, including the funeral saddle, helm and shield of King Henry V.
You’ll need to allow at least half a day to discover the burial sites of legendary figures such as Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and William Shakespeare, pay your respects to fallen British soldiers at the poppy-wreathed Grave of the Unknown Warrior, and reflect on the stirring words of Sir Winston Churchill whose memorial can be found near the West Door. Explore the beauty of the art work that decorates the interior of the abbey, from the complexity and subtlety of the Cosmati Pavement in front of the High Altar to the magnificent stained-glass windows, via the 13th and 14th century wall paintings of the Apocalypse and the Last Judgement.
Westminster Abbey is open to the general public from Monday to Saturday, although it will close during the commemoration of national events and on royal occasions. On Sundays, it is open for worship only, and attending a service can be a memorable event. However, popular services will require advance booking. Be aware that you are not permitted to take photos in the abbey.
The nearest Underground stations are St James’s Park and Westminster.