Westminster Abbey is a large Gothic church in the city of Westminster, England, and is one of the country’s most important religious buildings. Legend has it that a group of Benedictine monks came to this site and established a tradition of daily worship during the times of the Bishop Mellitus. However, Westminster Abbey truly came into the limelight in 1605 when Edward the Confessor set up his throne here, where he was eventually buried along with his wife. Construction of the present day church began on the orders of King Henry III, who was also later buried here.
The Westminster Abbey history runs wide and deep, as all coronations of British and English monarchs took place at at the church, right from that of William the Conqueror. What is even more special about Westminster Abbey is that it is a ‘Royal Peculiar’, which means that, as neither an abbey or a cathedral, it is responsible directly to the sovereign. This iconic monument is a landmark, and a must-visit for all tourists in England.
In a Nutshell
Besides being a treasure trove of historical artefacts and information, as well as an architectural work of art, the Westminster Abbey also plays an important role in British culture. From holding daily worship and services, to being the site of many royal weddings, this English landmark is also the burial and memorial site of writers, actors, scientists, thinkers, and other famous and historically significant figures. The Abbey sees nearly 1 million tourists every year, who not only take part in the special services and prayers, and listen to the world-famous choir, but also view the tombs of Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton and many kings and queens of England alike – it is understandable why this monument holds a special place in the heart of Britain!
Monday to Friday - 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM
Saturday - 9 AM to 1 PM (9 AM - 3 PM between May-Aug)
20 Deans Yd, Westminster, London SW1P 3PA, UK
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Why Visit Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is a very special landmark for several reasons – it is the burial site of over 3,300 significant contributors to world history. These include 17 monarchs, scientists, poets, historians, writers, and even dancers. Will and Kate walked down the aisle at this gorgeous wedding location, as did at least 15 other royal couples, including Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Edward.
Other exclusive sights at Westminster include the Coronation Chair, created for King Edward I in 1296, and Poet’s Corner, the burial site of many famous poets and writers. With its exquisite stained glass and stunning Gothic architecture, and its location next to popular London tourist destinations like Westminster Palace, there’s a very good reason Westminster Abbey is visited by over a million people every year!
Westminster Abbey Architecture
The present-day church was built by King Henry III, supervised by masons Henry of Reyns, John of Gloucester, and Robert of Beverley. Influenced by the cathedrals at Reims, Amiens, and Chartres, the masons borrowed the ideas of an apse with radiating chapels. They also used characteristic Gothic features of pointed arches, awe-inspiring ribbed vaulted ceilings, 100-feet-long cloisters, and flying buttresses to design this astonishing structure. The Abbey also has the highest Gothic vault in England – nearly 102 feet!
The chapter house of Westminster Abbey, described as ‘a structure perfect in itself’ by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (the last architect who worked on the structure in the 1870s), is adorned with beautiful stained glass, tiled medieval flooring, and fascinating wall paintings of angels in the heads of the arches. Though Westminster has undergone several renovations in recent times to allow its glorious structures to survive, the inherent beauty and enigma of this historical site has not diminished in the slightest. If anything, these additions and restorations have allowed it to retain its status as an architectural masterpiece.
Must-see at Westminster Abbey
Made by the order of King Edward I to enclose the mysterious sandstone Stone of Scone, this oaken chair adorned with patterns of foliage, birds and animals has been used in coronation ceremonies since 1308. The Stone of Scone, according to legend, was the one upon which Jacob rested his head at Bethel. After being passed from country to country, it eventually ended up in Perthshire, and has been an object of veneration to the Scots for centuries. Today, the stone can be viewed at Edinburgh Castle. The Coronation chair is viewed and visited by tourists around the world. It even has graffiti at the back, carved in by Westminster schoolboys, and visitors in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Poets’ Corner is the name given to the south transept of Westminster Abbey, in honor of the number of poets, writers, and playwrights buried there. The first poet to be interred here was Geoffrey Chaucer, writer of The Canterbury Tales. Writers buried here include Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and Alfred Tennyson, while those memorialized include Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, and Lewis Carroll. The latest poet to to be commemorated at Westminster Abbey was Philip Larkin, on December 2 2016.
While the Abbey initially constructed in 1065 by Edward the Confessor may have had bells, the first recorded information about the existence of these was found in 1230. Today, there are ten bells, which are generally rung at major church festivals, saints' days, Royal and Abbey anniversaries, civic events, and for special services.
Westminster Abbey Bells
Located in the 11th century vaulted undercroft, this is one of the oldest areas of the Abbey, and can be dated back to the Norman foundations of the structure in 1065. Since the museum’s inception in 1905, the exhibits here have included a unique collection of royal and other funeral effigies, medieval glass panels, 12th-century sculpture fragments, Mary II's coronation chair and replicas of the coronation regalia.
Westminster Abbey - Practical Information
The nearest stations are St. James's Park (District and Circle lines) and Westminster (Circle, District and Jubilee lines).
The nearest train stations are Victoria and Waterloo.
11, 24, 88, 148 and 211 pass the entrance. 3, 12, 53, 53X, 87, 88, 109, 159 and 453 stop close enough for you to walk to the Abbey.
Monday to Friday - 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM
Saturday - 9 AM to 1 PM (9 AM - 3 PM between May-August)
Sunday - Closed.
Please note that the Abbey closes for visiting one hour before the aforementioned times.
- Since Westminster Abbey is located near the parliament buildings and the London Eye, be sure to arrive early, so that you can pay a visit to the surrounding attractions as well.
- The Abbey is not open to visitors on Sundays, but you can join a service instead, or view a concert or special organ recital.
- Comfortable shoes are recommended as much of the floor and steps of the Abbey are uneven.
- While there is no strictly enforced dress code, please note that the Abbey is a place of worship, and it is better to be dressed modestly.
- It is recommended that people using wheelchairs enter through the North Door.
- Guide dogs are allowed at the Abbey.
- Unfortunately, photography and videography are not allowed inside the Abbey.
Westminster Abbey Reviews
This is another extremely popular London attraction. We followed the advice and arrived half an hour before opening time on Wednesday, so we got in before the crowds. It was great inside, though I would have like to be able to take photos (none allowed). Many famous people and lots of history.
Much like the Tower, Westminster Abbey cannot be absorbed in a single visit. And the history itself is fascinating. The Kings and Queens buried there, the Coronation Chair, the extraordinary beauty of the fan vault ceiling, well one can be completely mesmerized as your tour this magnificent church.
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