Just a stone’s throw from Big Ben and the Parliament, Westminster Abbey is one of Captain Ulysses’ favorites in London. A must-see for any visitor exploring the English capital!
💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
Want to know more about the history of London? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the capital. It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
Looking for a hotel in London? Be sure to check out the Captain’s article: Where to stay in London? Advice & recommendations
Brief history of Westminster Abbey
The origins of Westminster Abbey
Let’s go back in time to the 7th century, shall we? According to legend, Westminster Abbey (also known as St. Peter’s Collegiate Church) was founded in the year 616 on the very spot where a fisherman was said to have had visions of St. Peter.
Later, in the 10th century, Saint Dustan (also called Dunstan of Canterbury) established here a community of Benedictine monks.
In the following century, King Edward the Confessor had a larger abbey dedicated it to St. Peter built on this very site.
Upon his death, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, invaded England and seized the crown. In 1066, he was the first English king to be crowned in Westminster Abbey.
The construction of Westminster Abbey
In the 13th century, King Henry III decided to give Westminster Abbey a facelift and had it rebuilt in the Gothic style.
During the following centuries, the abbey underwent several renovations and modifications, notably during the Renaissance. The façade, flanked by two Gothic towers, was completed in the 18th century under the direction of architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, a student of Christopher Wren, best known for designing Saint Paul’s Cathedral and Kensington Palace.
Since William the Conqueror, all British monarchs have been crowned at Westminster Abbey, with the exception of Kings Edward V and Edward VIII. The abbey therefore witnessed 38 coronations over the centuries!
Closely linked to the lives of English monarchs, Westminster Abbey also hosted no less than 18 royal weddings!
A royal burial place
Nearly 3,300 renowned personnalities are buried in Westminster Abbey, including many kings and queens, as well as members of the English royal family.
Westminster Abbey also commemorates many historical figures (statesmen, writers, etc.), such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton.
A Unesco World Heritage Site
In 1985, the Abbey was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with the Palace of Westminster and St. Margaret’s Church).
The architecture of Westminster Abbey in a few words
Built in the 13th century in the flamboyant gothic style, Westminster Abbey is a wonderful example of medieval architecture. Although the abbey has been renovated and transformed over the centuries, it has retained an incredible architectural harmony.
The building follows more or less the layout of a cathedral (a central nave and a choir flanked by transepts), to which is added an ambulatory (= a circular corridor) and cloisters.
Visiting Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is one of London’s most iconic landmarks: a must-see in the English capital!
Admission tickets include an audio guide. Captain Ulysses found it quite fascinating (which isn’t always the case with audioguides!)
During your visit, be sure to take some time to admire:
Inside the church
👉 The nave: 10 meters wide and more than 30 meters high, the nave is where the faithful gather during religious ceremonies. It’s also where you’ll find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where was buried an unidentified soldier who died in combat during the First World War.
👉 Henry VII’s Chapel / The Lady Chapel: with its spectacular fan-shaped vault and lace-like ornaments carved in the rock, the Lady Chapel is a 16th century masterpiece. Queen Elizabeth I, as well as her sister, Mary I, are buried in this chapel.
👉 Edward the Confessor’s Chapel: the remains of King Edward the Confessor, as well as 5 other kings and queens who reigned in the Middle Ages, are buried in this chapel. Be sure to have a look at King Edward’s Chair (also called Coronation Chair), a legendary historical artifact on which (almost) all the English sovereigns have sat at their coronation since 1308.
👉 Poets’ Corner: located in the south transept of the abbey, Poets’ Corner contains the graves and memorials of many of the UK’s greatest writers, including Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Jane Austen, William Blake, the Brontë sisters, Lord Byron, William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde.
👉 TheStatesmen’s Corner: Statesmen’s Corner brings together commemorative plaques in honor of some of the United Kingdom’s greatest statesmen, such as Winston Churchill, Benjamin Dirsraeli, William Gladstone, Neville Chamberlain or Clement Attlee.
👉 Scientists’ Corner: Westminster Abbey also honors great British scientists. You will find plaques/monuments in honor of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin or Stephen Hawking.
👉 S t. Peter’s Crypt and Westminster Abbey Museum: St. Peter’s 11th century crypt now houses the Westminster Abbey Museum, which displays vast collections of medieval objects, including artifacts related to the coronation of British monarchs.
Around the church
👉 The chapter house: to the south of the church, the chapter house, built in the 13th century, still displays frescoes dating from the 15th century. Octagonal in shape, it is famous for its medieval paintings and its mosaic floors dating from the 18th century.
👉 The cloisters and gardens of Westminster Abbey: you will find 4 gardens around the church:
– Garth: a garden where monks used to rest
– Little Cloister: a cloister with a fountain reserved for people in convalescence
– College Garden: the oldest garden in England, where the monks grew vegetables as well as medicinal plants
– St Catherine’s Garden: a garden adjacent to the infirmary
📸 Photos prohibited 📸
For your information, taking photos is forbidden inside Westminster Abbey.
Getting to Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is located just a stone’s throw from the Thames, next to Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster.
The nearest subway station is Westminster, served by the Circle, District and Jubilee lines.
Many bus lines also stop near the abbey: 3, 11, 12, 24, 29, 53, 70, 77, 77A, 88, 109, 148, 159, 170 and 211.
Hop-on hop-off tourist buses also stop nearby and are handy to get around the city.
👉 More info: book your hop-on hop-off bus tour + river cruise
Westminster Abbey opening hours
Westminster Abbey is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. between September and April and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. between May and August. It is also open on Saturdays from 9am to 1pm.
On Sundays, the abbey is reserved for religious services and therefore closed to tourists.
Be prepared: visiting Westminster Abbey isn’t exactly cheap, but it is worth every penny!
|Admission rates on site
|Admission rates online
Students & visitors over 60
|Children 6 to 17 years old
1 adult & 1 child
+ £9 per additional child
+ £9 per additional child
FYI #1: as you can see in the table above, tickets booked online are less expensive than those purchased on site. You should therefore definitely consider buing your tickets online.
FYI #2: Westminster Abbey receives more than one million visitors per year. The queue at the entrance of the monument can be endless! All the more reason to book your tickets in advance!
👍 London Pass & London Explorer Pass 👍
Access to Westminster Abbey is also included in the London Pass and London Explorer Pass. Captain Ulysses has a soft spot for the former. It gives access to 80 attractions, including many of London’s most iconic museums and monuments (the Tower of London, the Shard, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Kensington Palace, Tower Bridge, the Churchill War Rooms, Thames river cruise, hop-on hop-off bus tour…).
It’s an investment that will definitely pay off quickly if you spend a few days in the English capital!
👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in advance!
👉 Find the perfect place to stay in London!
👉 Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all the Captain’s suggestions in London!
🛏️ Accommodation: If you haven’t booked your accommodation in London yet, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Expedia. And for more tips and recommendations, check out the Captain’s detailed article: Where to stay in London?
🎟️ Activities: For your visits and activities in London, the Captain recomends checking out GetYourGuide, Civitatis and Tiqets. Skip-the-line tickets, cruises, guided tours, activities off the beaten tracks… You will undoubtedly find what everything you need… and more! Keep in mind that London is a very touristy city: if you want to avoid queuing for hours, skip-the-line tickets are great time savers!
🎫 Citypass : If you’re spending a few days in the capital, Captain Ulysse recommends investing in a city pass which will give you access to the most iconic monuments and attractions in London. There are 2 options: the London Explorer Pass and the London Pass (which also includes a 1-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour.). These passes have 2 major advantages: the discounts and the skip-the-line accesses.
🚐 Transfers: London is a huge city and the airports are quite distant from the city centre. If you want to avoid spending hours in public transports to get to your hotel, you can book a transfer from the airport. A car will be waiting for you at the airport and will take you wherever you want in the city centre. Find out more here.
🚌 Transports: The capital being quite spread out, there’s no avoiding taking public transports. The good news is that they are quite easy to navigate! You can also opt for a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tour, which includes an audioguide and stops at the main attractions and monuments in the city.
✈️ Flights: To get to London, there are plenty of options: planes, buses, trains and even ferries. For your flights, the Captain highly recommends that checking out Skyscanner: you’ll be able to find the best deal for the dates on which you plan on traveling to London. If your dates are flexible, you will even be able to compare prices over several weeks in order to find THE best deal. London is also easily accessible by bus and train. To book your trips, the Captain warmly recommends Omio, which allows you to travel through 44 countries with 207 train and bus companies, including Eurostar.