About Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and the site of many historic royal and national events, from coronations and royal weddings to burials and even deaths. Centrally located in London, Westminster Abbey was first constructed in the 11th century by King Edward the Confessor, a Saxon king who dedicated this new church to St Peter.
- Monday to Saturday: 9.30am – 4.30pm
- Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 9.30am-4.30pm (last admission 3.30pm)
- Wednesday: 9.30am-7.00pm (last admission 6.00pm)
- Saturday: 9.00am-3.00pm (last admission 1.30pm)
- On Sundays the Abbey is open for worship only.
History of Westminster Abbey
The site on which Westminster Abbey was built was already of religious importance prior to its construction. The earliest record of the site of Westminster Abbey being used for religious purposes dates to the mid 10th century, when St Dunstan arrived at what was then known as Thorny Island to establish a religious house for the Benedictine order. The king built his church near to the existing monastic buildings.
The First Burial, the First Coronation
Westminster Abbey was consecrated in December 1065, a few days before Edward died. Fittingly, the king was the first of a long line of monarchs to be buried there. In 1066, William the Conqueror added to the growing prestige of Westminster Abbey by choosing to be crowned there, becoming King William I on 25th December 1066. From that point onwards, Westminster Abbey would be the site of almost every royal coronation.
By the middle of the 12th century, Edward the Confessor had been canonised and his remains were moved to a magnificent shrine within the Abbey’s sanctuary, where pilgrims would flock to ask for his intercession. They also gave donations to the shrine, making Westminster Abbey rather wealthy. In the 13th century, King Henry III resolved to rebuild Westminster Abbey to make it rival the French Gothic cathedrals of the era. This eventually formed the current incarnation of the Abbey. He also moved the remains of St Edward to an even more magnificent shrine, where he still remains.
Death of Henry IV
One of the most famous events recorded to have taken place in the Abbey was the death of Henry IV in the Jerusalem Chapel in 1413. It had been predicted that he would die in Jerusalem, so, when he collapsed in the Abbey, he knew he was dying when he was taken to the Jerusalem chamber. Shakespeare immortalised the scene with Henry V trying the crown on while his father lay dying.
The 16th century finds the Tudor monarchs influencing the history of the Abbey: Henry VII started to build the Lady Chapel, Henry VIII dissolved the monastery (but spared the Abbey) and Elizabeth I established the Abbey as the foremost cathedral in England (a position it only held briefly).
Following one of the period’s most significant events – Henry VIII’s break with Rome – Westminster Abbey also witnessed the lavish coronation of Anne Boleyn as the new Queen of England, in a symbolic display of the Tudor throne’s growing wealth and power.
Over 3,000 people are buried at Westminster Abbey. There are 600 tombs and monuments to see, many of them Royal and open to visitors. Some of the most famous royals buried there are Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I and Henry III. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in the Abbey and there is a service each Remembrance Sunday. Funeral services for important figures and royalty are also held in the Abbey and over time prominent funerals at the Abbey have included those of Queen Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, George VI, Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth II.
Poets’ corner is one of the main attractions at the Abbey, it being the burial site of many prominent non-royal figures. The first poet to be buried here was Geoffrey Chaucer, and many others have joined him in the succeeding centuries.
The Coronation Chair
In addition to the numerous burial sites and architectural features, one of the most impressive sites at Westminster Abbey is the Coronation Chair, produced in 1300-1301 under the orders of King Edward I (Longshanks). Its purpose was to accommodate the Stone of Scone, which the king had brought from Scotland.
Westminster Abbey today
Queen Elizabeth II‘s state funeral took place in Westminster Abbey on 19 September 2022, after which her coffin was then transported to Windsor Castle. King Charles III still has his coronation to come, which will take place in Westminster Abbey – Charles will be the 40th monarch to be crowned at the Abbey.
To have an informed visit and to see the most interesting parts of Westminster Abbey, take a tour, as just wandering around can be overwhelming. Along with Westminster Palace and Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey is a UNESCO world heritage site.
90 minute verger-led tours, in English only, are available to individuals for a small additional charge. Audio tours (English version narrated by Jeremy Irons) take around an hour and available in seven other languages: German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese. They are available at the Abbey’s Information Desk near the North Door.
Photography and Cellphones
Photography and filming (pictures and/or sound) of any kind is not allowed in any part of the Abbey at any time. Visitors can take pictures in the Cloisters and College Garden for personal use only. Postcards showing the interior of the Abbey are available to buy in the Abbey shop. The use of mobile phones is permitted in the Cloisters and College Garden. Keep mobile phones switched off within the Abbey church.
Main Features at Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey extends for 32,000’ square feet, with towers that reach 225’ ft. high. The interior features the grand hall, or “Nave” and a bordering sanctuary, and from there, the building features unique components that serve as burial sites, cloisters, chambers, and / or all of the above.
Sites of note within the extensive chapel include the Poet’s Corner which is the final resting place of England’s most famous literary minds, Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, The Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor, and The College Garden.
What To See at Westminster Abbey
Even without an audio guide, or guidebooks, I would say you could enjoy a visit to Westminster Abbey as it’s an awe-inspiring building. I was gob-smacked the first time I went inside: at the architecture, the history, the artifacts, the stained glass windows, oh by everything!
Top Tip: The Abbey staff are extremely knowledgeable and always willing to answer questions. I’ve learned much more from speaking to Abbey staff than from guidebooks.
Do try to see the various British royalty tombs and the Coronation Chair near the Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor, plus the additional Coronation paraphernalia in the Abbey Museum. Poet’s Corner has tombs and memorials for such well-known writers as Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, D H Lawrence, and Alfred Lord Tennyson.
The Grave of the Unknown Warrior is a fascinating story of a body brought back from France after the First World War, along with 100 barrels of French soil to bury him. The black marble slab is from Belgium and the gold lettering was made from shell cases collected on the fields in France.
The only Congressional Medal of Honor given outside of the US was presented to the Unknown Warrior on 17 October 1921 and this hangs in a frame on a pillar nearby. College Garden is thought to be oldest garden in England at nearly 1,000 years old. Pick up a leaflet at the garden entrance to learn about the planting. College Garden is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
- Family Top Tip: Children can dress as a monk and have their photo taken in the Cloisters. Go to the Abbey Museum and ask to borrow a costume!
- Christmas Top Tip: St. George’s Chapel has a stunning nativity scene each Christmas which adults and children always adore.
Where to Dine Locally at Westminster Abbey
Opposite the Abbey is the Methodist Central Hall. There is a cafe in the basement which is nothing fancy (plastic chairs and vinyl tablecloths) but does serve decent hot and cold food at reasonable London prices. It’s a huge dining space and I’ve always found it a haven from the hustle and bustle of Parliament Square. The Supreme Court is opposite too and has a great cafe in the basement.
The closest Tube stop to Westminster Abbey is the aptly named Westminster, which is just north of the site, and which can be reached via the Circle, District and Jubilee lines. St. James’s Park Station, which is also on the Circle and District lines, is reasonably close as well.
In the Area
Located on the fringes of Westminster Palace, the Abbey is close to a myriad of must-see attractions. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are located just steps away, as are Churchill’s War Rooms, Westminster Bridge and St. James’s Park. In addition, family friendly attractions including the London Eye and the Sea Life Aquarium are also close by, just across the River Thames.
How old is Westminster Abbey?
Important buildings on the site trace back to the 1000s. In the 1040s, Anglo-Saxon English King Edward the Confessor built his royal palace by the banks of the river Thames, near to a small Benedictine monastery.
This church became known as the “west minster” to distinguish it from St Paul’s Cathedral, or the east minster, a mile away in the City of London. Its monastery origins gave it the other half of its name.
Edward’s abbey stood for two hundred years, until the middle of the 13th century when King Henry III decided to rebuild. Though you can still find traces of the original constructions deep inside and around. The present church as we know it is made in a Gothic style of architecture, with construction beginning in 1245.
Westminster Abbey Highlights
- Visit Westminster Abbey London which is not just a grand church in London but also a fascinating historical museum and the resting place of many famous personalities.
- Visit the Poets’ Corner and Royal tombs to spot the burial remains of renowned poets, writers, British kings and queens like Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, T.S. Eliot and John Keats and several other politicians, industrialists and actors.
- Catch a glimpse of the Oak door near the Chapter House which is the only surviving Anglo-Saxon door in England that dates back to the 11th century.
- Take a stroll through the three gardens in Westminster Abbey – The Garth, The Little Cloister and College Garden and St. Catherine’s Garden. Witness the original stone precinct wall that has been intact for 900 years now.
- Indulge in the choral service and listen to the choir of Westminster Abbey singing from their Choir Stalls in the Quiver.
Best Time To Visit Westminster Abbey
The best time to visit Westminster Abbey is during the morning hours as soon as it opens or on Wednesday evenings when the Abbey is open till dusk to avoid tourist crowds. Westminster Abbey is best visited between March and May when the weather is pleasant and enjoyable.
How To Reach Westminster Abbey
The nearest tube stations to Westminster Abbey are Westminster and St. James’s Park. The Abbey is 0.8 miles from London Victoria and London Waterloo – about a 20 minute walk. A number of bus routes also stop nearby.
You can choose any of the convenient transportation options mentioned below to reach Westminster Abbey from the city center.
– By Bus: You can board a direct bus that departs from Westminster Cathedral and arrives at Westminster Abbey. The bus services depart every after every twenty minutes and operate each day.
– By Car: You can also take a taxi or cab from London city center to Westminster Abbey. From the London station, it takes three minutes to reach Westminster Abbey by taxi.