Abdul Muqeet Waheed
Many of the most significant religious buildings in the country is Westminster Abbey, a massive Gothic church located in Westminster, England. Although the current construction of this magnificent cathedral is relatively contemporary, the church’s roots stretch back to 1066 A.D. The majority of people are undoubtedly aware of this monument because it served as the site of three main occasions: Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, Princess Diana’s burial, and Prince William and Kate Middleton’s nuptials.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see location in London. With close links to both the Royal family and the British government, Westminster Abbey is a functioning church. The structure showcases the best of medieval perpendicular Gothic design.
When I was a teenager, I made my first trip to Westminster Abbey. Even though I can still remember my trip, I was eager to return to the Abbey now that I know a little bit more about British history.
There are many sights to see at Westminster Abbey, so I’ve put together this guide to assist you in making travel plans. Discover more about Abbey’s history, and the must-see attractions, and get some helpful advice to make the most of your visit.
The Westminster Abbey Visitor’s Guide
My journey to London’s Westminster Abbey was one of its highlights. Even though it was my 2nd visit seeing this ancient place, I still was overwhelmed by the sheer number of must-see sites there. There are more than 3,000 graves! Not just that. You shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see historical relics and captivating architecture. It has more beauty than your expectations. I made this guide to help you prioritize the attractions you need to see during your visit because I know that you can’t see everything in one trip.
Entrance (North Transept)
The moment you enter the room, the history begins. Before your audio tour starts, you will observe several significant historical individuals from Britain. It demonstrates that Abbey and the government have a close relationship.
Viscount Patterson, Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli, and William Gladstone are among the prominent prime ministers from the 18th and 19th centuries who are commemorated by larger-than-life sculptures (who are buried nearby). Ironically, because Disraeli and Gladstone were sworn enemies, their homages are placed so near together.
Prime Minister William Pitt is honored by the area’s largest memorial. Alongside his son William Pitt the Younger, he is buried close by. Near the west door, there is a plaque honoring the younger.
You will also note that there is one panel of modern stained-glass windows if you take a moment to study the artwork here. The window honors the Queen and features a Yorkshire setting with hawthorn blossoms. It was displayed in 2018 and was created by David Hockney.
North Choir Aisle
The audio tour begins here, although it doesn’t tell what to view along this aisle. The monuments and plaques were interesting to view. We discovered a few intriguing ones:
- Charles Darwin: Given that he developed the theory of evolution, it is somewhat amusing that Darwin is interred in a church, but it is appropriate that he is close to other scientists. But at the other side of the rope, in the Nave, stand Isaac Newton and others.
- William Wilberforce: He promoted the idea of abolishing slavery as a member of Parliament and a close friend of William Pitt. Years before slavery was made illegal in the US, the Abolition Bill was passed into law in 1807.
- Musicians: Since the Abbey is heavily reliant on music, it is only right that there is a place dedicated to honoring various musicians and composers, such as Henry Purcell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Robinson, and William Sterndale Bennett.
The primary public area of the abbey is the nave. If you attended a service, you would probably sit at this location. Spend some time in the nave admiring the chandeliers and medieval ceilings.
You will come across memorials to several significant persons as you stroll the area, including:
- The bimetallic strip thermometer, John Harrison’s most famous invention, is commemorated on a plaque with a meridian line etched with its longitude of 0 degrees, 7 minutes, and 35 seconds West in two metals.
- One of the most well-known British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era, David Livingstone was a Scottish physician, Congregationalist, and African explorer. He is buried here.
- A monument stone honoring the anti-apartheid activist, political figure, and current president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, is carved with the words “Forgiveness Reconciliation.”
Scientists’ Corner is another section of The Nave. Just before we reach the Quire, on the left side of the nave, lies Sir Isaac Newton’s magnificent and towering monument. Nearby memorials honor several other famous scientists. Stephen Hawking, who died recently in 2018, is the newest member of “Scientists’ Corner.” His tombstone features a depiction of a black hole and the words “Here lays what was mortal of Stephen Hawking.” The same message is expressed in Latin on Newton’s grave, and here is its English translation.
Tomb of the Unknown Warrior
The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior is located behind the nave. On Armistice Day in 1920, a British soldier’s grave was brought from France and buried there in Westminster Abbey. Poppies, which stand for both remembering and the desire for a positive future, have been strategically placed to frame the grave. The only grave in the Abbey that is never walked on is this one.
Do not even ignore the framed document that is hanging from the pillar to the north of the tomb. On October 17, 1921, General Pershing presented the Unknown Warrior with the Congressional Medal of Honor on behalf of the United States. The Unknown Warrior received the flag of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in October 2013, and it is also displayed on the pillar.
Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon placed her bridal bouquet on the tomb as a sign of respect when she married the Duke of York (later King George VI) at the Abbey in 1923. She had lost a brother in the war. Since that time, every royal bride who has been married in the Abbey has sent her bouquet back to be placed on the tomb. The same has been done by a few royal brides who got married somewhere else.
A plaque honoring Prime Minister Winston Churchill may be seen next to the Unknown Warrior’s grave. On September 19, 1965, the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II. His wife put a wreath at the ceremony. Along with other members of his family, he is buried in Oxfordshire close to Blenheim Palace.
The monks used to pray every day in the Quire region. It is now utilized by clergy and the Westminster Choir. One of the best choirs in the world, the Westminster Cathedral Choir was established in 1901.
The Quire stalls that exist today were put in place in 1848. When the Monarch, clergy, Abbey officers, and High Commissioners for the Commonwealth nations attend services, they are given stalls that are not used by the Choir. They all have nameplates.
North Ambulatory Chapels
We had trouble identifying the people buried in some of the ornate tombs with detailed sculptures found in these chapels. When we discovered names, we were unable to identify them. This section can be rapidly read if you’re short on time.
Eucharist celebrations take place at the High Altar. Each day, there are four services. For each season, they alter the color and kind of flowers on the altar.
On Henry III’s instruction, artisans from Rome laid the Cosmati Pavement ahead of the altar in 1268. It was refurbished in 2010 and is constructed of marble and colorful glass. Here, during the coronation ritual, the monarch is crowned.
St. Edward the Confessor’s Shrine
The shrine for Edward the Confessor is located behind the high altar. 5 kings (including Henry III, Edward III, and Henry V) & four queens are currently interred here; the shrine is regarded as the abbey’s central focus. Only those who are here for an offering of prayers or a guided tour are allowed inside the Shrine because the floor is so delicate. Visitors can try to sneak a peek through the stairwell or get a high-up view from the Queen’s Gallery.
In 1066, Edward passed away and was laid to rest in the Abbey. He was relocated to a unique shrine in 1163. Then, in 1269, Henry III relocated him to a more magnificent shrine. Edward’s tomb was transferred and its treasures were stolen during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. When Mary I ascended to the throne, she restored the Shrine, relocated the coffin, and presented jewels to replace those that had been robbed.
Tomb of Elizabeth I and Mary I
You may find Elizabeth I and Mary I’s tombs in a little chamber with such an elegant fanned ceiling. Given that they did not get along, I considered it amusing that they may be interred together like sisters. There is hardly any mention of Mary, and the image atop the tomb is Elizabeth.
Although both Mary and Elizabeth are the daughters of Henry VIII, Mary’s mother was a Catholic, and Elizabeth’s mother was Protestant. Because she slaughtered several Protestants, Mary also is called the Bloody Mary.
The Lady Chapel
The Lady Chapel resembles a separate church. It has an altar, font, nave, and quire. One of the outstanding examples of late-medieval English architecture, it was constructed by Henry VII. The complex, finely carved roof and walls nearly appear to be made of glass rather than stone.
The tombs of Henry VII and his queen sit behind the altar. The graves of important members of his family surround him. Charles II and other Stuart dynasty members are buried in a vault under the floor. The only Tudor king not laid at Westminster Abbey is Henry VIII. Instead, his beloved wife, Jane Seymour, and he are buried together at Windsor Castle.
The RAF chapel, which honors the Royal Air Force members who lost their lives in the 1940 Battle of Britain, is located behind the grave of Henry VII in the Lady Chapel. As a remembrance of the time the Abbey was bombed in 1940, a hole in the masonry has been filled with glass. The battle squadrons’ insignia, including those from the US, Canada, Poland, and former Czechoslovakia, is shown in stained glass.
A marker on the ground notes Oliver Cromwell’s temporary resting site. When Charles II ascended to the throne, his body was taken. The head of Cromwell was severed and set on a spike in front of Westminster Hall.
South Ambulatory Aisle
More elaborate graves may be seen in the little chapels of the nave. There are monuments to two queens at this location: Anne of Cleeves, fourth wife of Henry VIII, and Anne Neville, wife of Richard III. Also buried here are several members of the Percy family, owners of Alnwick Castle.
Tomb of Mary Queen of Scots
The grave of Elizabeth I’s cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, is located in the chamber opposite the chapel where Elizabeth I is laid. Mary was initially buried in Peterborough Cathedral following the execution that Elizabeth I had ordered. Her body was transported to Westminster Abbey by her son James, who later succeeded his father as James I of England and VI of Scotland. He wanted to ensure Elizabeth’s tomb was surpassed in size by hers. It is embellished with images from the three nations—England, Scotland, and France—where Mary claimed the crown.
Both Margaret Douglas, the mother-in-law of Mary Queen of Scots, and Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII, are laid to rest in this space. Lord Darnley, the father of James I/VI, and Mary’s husband, Margaret Douglas, were sisters.
The sheer number of individuals honored in Poets’ Corner as memorials shocked me. The first individual buried in this area of the Abbey was Geoffrey Chaucer. Then Poets’ Corner was created because Edmond Spencer wished to be buried close to Chaucer.
William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lord Bryon, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Hardy, CS Lewis, Rudyard Kipling, and Jane Austen are a few of the other illustrious authors honored at Poets’ Corner. Not every one of these heroes is buried in Westminster Abbey; for example, Jane Austen is laid in Winchester Cathedral. There was a memorial for Laurence Olivier, the actor, as well as one for the war poets in addition to the plaques for the eminent authors.
Gallery of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee
The entrance to the Queen’s Galleries, which opened in 2018, is located behind Poets’ Corner. Over 300 items from the collection of the Abbey are shown here, as chosen by the Queen.
We pondered skipping the galleries because we were running a little over schedule. I’m happy we didn’t. I think it was my favorite part of the trip. You may purchase the tickets at the entry to the galleries for an extra £5 per person.
A leaflet with a map and some of the highlights will be handed to you as you enter the galleries. Attempt to browse and discover items not included in the brochure while using it as a guide. Some of the things we observed left us in shock, including:
- One of the 24 surviving copies of the Magna Carta from 1300. We saw a 1215 original copy of it at Salisbury Cathedral.
- Replicas of the Crown Jewels are utilized during practices since the real ones are stored in the Tower of London under stringent security.
- Mary II’s Coronation Chair – Mary and William shared power and required a second coronation chair. The coronation chair, which has been in use for all previous monarchs for about the last 1,000 years, is seen as you leave the Abbey.
- King Edward III, Queen Mary I, Queen Anne, King Charles II, Queen Mary II, King William III, and the head of King Henry VII are among the monarchs and other notable individuals whose funeral effigies are shown.
- The oldest altarpiece in England is the Westminster Retable, which dates to the 13th century.
- A magnificent manuscript used mostly for prayers at the high altar is the Litlyngton Missal. It brought to mind the Book of Kells.
- Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s marriage license This paper is a work of art! Seeing something so significant and intimate to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was exciting.
I liked seeing the abbey from above in addition to the riches on show. We could picture everyone assembling for a royal wedding or coronation. I was also able to have an overhead view of Edward the Confessor’s Shrine from the Queen’s Gallery.
In the past, the Cloisters served as the hub of monastic activity. It was surrounded by the monastery’s most significant structures. Westminster Abbey has two cloisters. Since there is no sign indicating that you should walk there, I believe that many visitors (like us) miss the Little Cloisters. Just after the Pyx Chamber, it may be found down the guarded corridor.
The Little Cloister housed the hospital. They had a garden nearby where they grew therapeutic plants. Some of Abbey’s clergy still reside here. At the southern end of the Palace of Westminster, there is a doorway that you may gaze through to see the remains of Victoria Tower and Chapel St. Catherine.
The gardens are accessible to visitors on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Since we were there on a Saturday, we were unable to tour the gardens.
One of Westminster Abbey’s oldest parts is the Pyx Chamber. The late 11th century saw its construction. It used to be the undercroft beneath the dormitory for monks. Due to its solid walls, iron window bars, and six locks on the entrance, it eventually turned into a valuables storage room.
The term “Pyx” refers to the little boxes used to store official samples of gold and silver coinage. At the Palace of Westminster, a public “Trail of the Pyx” was used to test new coins each year.
Remember to visit the Chapter House. Henry III gave the order for its construction in the middle of the 13th century, and the Abbey has some of my favorite buildings and pieces of art. I was reminded of the cellarium at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire as I walked up the walkway to the Chapter House.
Look up at the historical statues over the entryway as you enter the Chapter House. These are Mary, Christ in Majesty, and the Archangel Gabriel. In reality, the Christ sculpture was placed during the Victorian era. All of these were formerly beautifully painted. The ceiling features additional exquisite masonry.
You are surrounded by stained glass windows at the Chapter House. By the 18th century, the original 13th-century glass was gone. Now, it’s difficult to see from the glass that World War II also destroyed it. In the new panels, which feature coats of arms from individuals connected to the Chapter House throughout the years, they made an effort to use as much of the Victorian glass as they could. Tiny World War II-related photos are displayed in the southwest window.
Even if the paintings on the surrounding walls aren’t in the best shape, you can still see how the space would have appeared at its peak. The monks sat on the stone seats for their regular discussions. They held Parliamentary sessions there and kept official records there during the Monasteries Dissolution.
The room’s central medieval floor tiles are interesting to examine. They are created by stamping patterns into clay, using lighter clay to fill in the imprints, and then glazing. The glaze has disappeared. The tiles include geometric designs, a rose window resembling the one in the Abbey, Henry III’s coat of arms, humans, fish, and other creatures.
Just before you leave Westminster Abbey, you could see the Coronation Chair on exhibit. Unfortunately, you can’t go too near to it, but considering its antiquity and significance, that is acceptable. The chair has only been used for the past 700 years, even though coronations have been held in the Abbey since 1066.
King Edward, I brought the renowned Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny, to the Abbey in Scotland in 1296. To protect it, he had the Coronation Chair built. The Stone of Scone is now on exhibit in Edinburgh Castle alongside the Crown Jewels, but it will be moved to Westminster Abbey for upcoming coronations.
Americans in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey serves as much more than merely a memorial to significant British heroes. People from all across the world are commemorated in this place.
A few Americans even! Although I couldn’t identify any American graves in Westminster Abbey, I did come across these memorials:
- The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who is interred in Massachusetts, is commemorated with a sculpture in Poets’ Corner.
- The American benefactor George Peabody’s grave was initially relocated to Massachusetts but eventually interred in Westminster Abbey. A plaque should be found in the nave.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt – Just to the left of the door as you exit the Abbey is a sizable plaque honoring FDR, the 32nd President of the United States, who is referred to as “a true friend of freedom and Britain.”
- The civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) was named as one of the 10 contemporary martyrs beside the West Door in 1998.
Westminster Abbey Shop
The gift shop is on the left as you exit the abbey. There are many London mementos there, as well as some publications that might tell you more about Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey Opening Hours
The open hours at Westminster Abbey are constrained because it is a working cathedral. It’s recommended that you look up the date of your visit on the website.
Monday to Friday – 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM | Saturday – 9 AM to 1 PM (9 AM – 3 PM between May-Aug)
Remember that Sundays are the only days that the Abbey is not open to tourists. Only the days of Tuesday through Thursday are the Abbey Gardens open.
Adults must pay £21 to enter Westminster Abbey, while kids must pay £9. It costs an extra £7 to take one of the guided tours. An additional £5 is required for access to the Queen’s Galleries.
How to Reach Westminster Abbey
In the heart of London, next to the Houses of Parliament, stands Westminster Abbey. Westminster is the closest tube station, while Victoria and St. James Park stations are also accessible by foot.
You may use Apple Pay, a contactless credit card, or an oyster card to pay for your tube journey. Consider acquiring the Visitor Oyster Card, which may be delivered to you if you are traveling from abroad so that you are prepared to utilize public transit as soon as you arrive.
Things to Know Before You Visit Westminster
A well-known tourist spot and place of worship are Westminster Abbey. Before your visit, there are a few things that must be addressed.
No Heavy Luggage allowed
Bags other than purses are not allowed in, including backpacks. Westminster Abbey does not have a luggage storage area. As a result, you must check your baggage in advance anywhere else.
To keep our bags safe, we chose LuggageHero. Convenient places may be found via the app or website. Because the Victoria Station Hotel offers storage seven days a week, we decided to leave our bags there. Although it’s not the most luxurious hotel, it works well for luggage storage. They are insured and provide locks for your baggage.
Visits to Westminster Abbey are permitted in any attire. Visitors must follow the “respectful way” clothing code, and males must take off their hats. It is important to remember that the Abbey becomes rather chilly inside throughout the winter. Please wear sensible shoes because the floor is uneven in several areas (i.e. no stilettos).
Can We Take Photographs?
In Westminster Abbey, tourists are allowed to take their personal pictures. Try to avoid using tripods, selfie sticks, or flashes. You are not allowed to record videos. You are not allowed to take pictures during services.