Westminster Abbey is arguably one of Britain’s most famous places of worship, and an iconic symbol of London. It stands next to Westminster Palace in the heart of London and attracts millions of visitors every year. Its history dates back to the late 10th Century, when the first building blocks of the Abbey were put in place. The story goes that fishermen on the Thames saw a vision of St Peter standing on the very spot at which the Abbey is now built, and began a ritual of presenting freshly caught salmon as an offering. To this day London Fishmongering Company stills gifts a salmon to the Abbey.
The impressive building is designed in Gothic style and easily recognised for its tall, sharp spires and ornate facade. Throughout the year it plays host to concerts, plays and dramatic events, as well as public festivals and artist’s workshops with many gatherings taking places in the green outside its main doors.
It’s seen 16 Royal weddings since 1066, most recently the wedding of Prince William and Kate, and is highly televised for any Royal event. As well as weddings, Westminster Abbey has also been used as the site for burials. It is considered the highest honour to have a burial or cremation at Westminster. Notable figures whose lives have been celebrated here include Sir Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, Oliver Cromwell and members of the Royal Family.
Inside, Westminster Abbey is home to some wonderful ornaments, carvings and relics. One of its most photographed pieces of furniture is the hand-crafted organ. Built in 1937 by master craftsmen Harrison & Harrison, it is an enlargement of the original organs made for the Abbey and contains original parts and features. This newer version is made with 84 speaking tops and was first played at King George VI’s coronation. Another popular feature of Westminster Abbey is its bells, cast in 1971 and used for special occasions. There are ten bells in total, each set to play a different note.
Outside Westminster Abbey, visitors can also visit the old Chapter House as well as the museum, both of which were built separately and can be reached from Westminster Palace. Sights include rooms used by ancient Benedictine monks who held regular meetings here to discuss state and church affairs, as well as a number of exhibits that include coronation chairs and funeral saddles from previous Kings and Queens.
Westminster Abbey is located not far from the River Thames. It’s easiest getting here by London Underground. The closest stops are Westminster Underground Station and St James’s Park.
Visiting Westminster Abbey needs to be planned in advance to make sure nothing gets missed. It’s such a popular attraction in London that it gets busy very early in the day. Arriving early means visitors can avoid most of the rush. The museum has a cafe with a terrace and plenty of seating, so there’s no need to rush around the building. Access to the gardens, St Mary’s church and the cloisters are all free, although entry to the museum and Westminster Abbey itself both need a ticket.