Westminster Abbey guide
- Best for A slice of British history
- Don’t miss Elizabeth I’s eerie tomb
- Round the corner Parliament Square and Big Ben
Every English coronation since 1066 has taken place at this soaring abbey, along with 16 royal weddings. (Remember when Kate and William audaciously filled the aisle with trees?) It’s also an imposing final resting place for monarchs, poets and great thinkers – including Stephen Hawking, interred alongside Darwin and Newton. To get a sense of the abbey’s daily life, attend Evensong. Held every day but Wednesday, it’s hauntingly beautiful.
More than 100 literary greats are honoured in Poet’s Corner. Some are buried here, including Chaucer and Dickens. Others, such as Byron and the Brontës, have a handsome memorial stone. Among the familiar names, you’ll find a few unknowns and oddities – such as Thomas Parr, who died in 1635 at the ripe old age of 152.
The Lady Chapel
Hung with heraldic banners, this exquisite, fan-vaulted chapel’s a mediaeval masterpiece. Ninety-six statues of saints survey its royal tombs, including Henry VII’s impressive, lion-guarded vault. Look out, too, for Elizabeth I’s marble effigy, still clutching an orb and sceptre and wearing a golden crown.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries
Perched below the abbey’s vaulted roof, this arched attic’s now a museum – opened in 2018, and well worth the £5 entry fee. Take in the bird’s-eye views over the nave, then browse the intriguing exhibits, from Kate and William’s hand-illustrated wedding certificate to a 300-year-old stuffed parrot.
For the kids
It’s not the most obvious family attraction, but kids often warm to the abbey, with its thrillingly spooky statues and endless nooks and crannies to explore. There’s an illustrated family trail to keep them entertained, along with arts-and-crafts sessions during school holidays. Kids eat free with paying adults in the on-site café, where staff also dispense colouring sheets and pens.
Take a break
The Cinnamon Club30–32 Great Smith Street, SW1
Chef Vivek Singh is behind this upscale Indian eatery, set in a wood-panelled former library. It’s indulgent (the game dishes are superb), but the set menus are great value, especially if you drop by for lunch or an early supper.
St Stephen’s Tavern10 Bridge Street, SW1
Rub shoulders with politicos and lobbyists at the closest pub to Parliament. Grade II-listed, it’s a classic London pub, with etched Victorian mirrors and handsome brass lamps. Quaff a half of Tangle Foot and eavesdrop on some Whitehall gossip.
Houses of ParliamentWestminster, SW1
The neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament are one of London’s most iconic sights – though Elizabeth Tower (better known as Big Ben) remains shrouded in scaffolding. Check the online schedule for guided tours and free debates.
St James’s ParkSW1
With its tranquil lake and leafy views of Buckingham Palace, this is one of London’s loveliest parks. Look out for its show-stealing resident pelicans, who hang out on the benches, fish in the lake, and provide endless photo ops.
Churchill War RoomsClive Steps, King Charles Street, SW1A 2AQ
Feel the frisson of history in the underground bunker from which troops were commanded during WWII. As well as strategic maps and vintage equipment in rooms left as they were in 1945, there's a museum dedicated to Churchill's life.
The abbey is open from Monday to Saturday, but opening hours vary week-to-week. Check the website for details. The Abbey Gardens are open Tuesday to Thursday. Closed Sunday, except for services.
The nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park, both four minutes’ walk away.
£23 for adults, with concessions for students and over-60s (£20). Tickets for under-16s are £10, and entry is free for under-sixes. Book online for slightly discounted rates.
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Image credits: © Dean and Chapter of Westminster; © Dean and Chapter of Westminster; © Dean and Chapter of Westminster; © Dean and Chapter of Westminster; © Dean and Chapter of Westminster; © Amy Murrell; © The Cinnamon Club; © Hall Woodhouse; © AdobeStock; © AdobeStock; © Churchill War Rooms; © Alamy; © GETTY; © London Eye