Opposite the Houses of Parliament is Westminster Abbey – a magnificent Gothic structure where countless members of the British Royal Family were baptised, married, crowned and buried. Many famous historical figures are buried or commemorated here, including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Sir Winston Churchill. Consecrated in 1065 under Edward the Confessor, who was buried here a week later, the abbey has only had one coronation, that of King Harold, before the Norman invasion of 1066.
Westminster Abbey is an Anglican church where for over a thousand years the weddings and funerals of British kings and personalities have taken place. Since 1066, the coronation ceremony of the British monarch has taken place here. In 2011, the Abbey hosted the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Every year over a million people visit this historic temple, which is not only a tourist attraction, but also a working church with daily masses and services.
History of Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey was founded as a Benedictine monastery in 960, when the Christian Church of England followed the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. In the 1040’s King Edward established his palace on the banks of the Thames and decided to expand the existing monastery by calling it West Minster, unlike St Paul’s Cathedral which is to the east of the city. The first coronation ceremony at the abbey took place in 1066, when William the Conqueror received the crown. Since then, 26 British monarchs have been crowned in this church, including the present Queen Elizabeth II. The former coronation throne used in all ceremonies can be seen in the church.
In 1946 Queen Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten, also at the Abbey, in 1946.
In the 16th century, King Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church, which today has its own cults and traditions, considering the Scriptures and tradition as an authority. Westminster Abbey has since become an Anglican Christian church, not a Catholic one.
Construction of the church we see today began in 1245 and it is one of the earliest examples of Gothic architecture in England. Together with the British Parliament Building (Palace of Westminster) and St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to see at Westminster Abbey
You will certainly be impressed by the architecture and stained glass windows of the church, and you can also discover the coronation throne and appreciate the various monuments and tombs of kings, queens, writers, poets, scientists, actors and politicians.
About 3,300 people are buried in the church and cloister and more than 600 monuments and memorial plaques are on the walls.
One of the highlights of the graves is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the British people, as well as visitors from other countries, pay tribute to their war heroes.
The Abbey is also the resting place of thirty British monarchs, the first of whom is King Edward, whose remains are laid out in a sanctuary behind the main altar along with those of five other monarchs.
Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries
After 700 years, a medieval space called the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries was opened to the public in 2019.
These galleries stand 16 metres above the ground and display some of the abbey’s treasures, including the effigies of some medieval kings, Prince William’s marriage licence and a rich manuscript of a Latin missal. Access to the gallery is via the Weston Tower, from which there are magnificent views of the exterior of the Abbey and Westminster Palace. There is an additional charge of £5 to visit these galleries.
Guided Tours of Westminster Abbey
The best way to discover the interior of the abbey is to use the audioguide, included in the ticket price. The audio guide in several languages can also be downloaded in the iPhone or Android version (free of charge). The tour lasts approximately 1 hour and includes all the highlights of Westminster Abbey.
A Special Corner
Poet’s Corner is the place where the great names of British literature are celebrated.
Over 100 poets and writers, including Chaucer – the first poet to be buried in the Abbey in 1400 -, Charles Dickens and Tennyson are buried or honoured, and the writers Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, although buried elsewhere in England, have memorials at Poet’s Corner. The great actor Sir Laurence Olivier is also buried here.
How to visit Westminster Abbey free of charge
It is not permitted to photograph or film the interior of the abbey.
The amount collected with the visit tickets is used to cover the high costs of the abbey, but the religious services are open to those who wish to attend, and nothing is charged for them.
In general, from Monday to Friday, there is a prayer at 7.30 am (“Morning Prayer”) followed by communion in one of the chapels, Holy Communion (“Holy Communion”) in the main nave at 12.30 pm and at 5 pm there is the sung prayer in the afternoon. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 5 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. you can hear the abbey choir singing in the “Evensong” (afternoon prayer), in our opinion a wonderful way to get to know the nave of the church. On Sundays, when the abbey does not open the door to tourists, there are services at different times and there is also an organ recital at 5.45 p.m., played by the house organists, or by guests. This recital is also free of charge.
Please note, however, that you will not be going around all the areas of the church, but only the main nave where the services take place.
Please check the Westminster Abbey timetable on the date of your visit, as there may be changes.
Westminster Abbey opening hours
Westminster Abbey is generally open for visitors from Monday to Saturday between 9.30am and 3.30pm.
On Wednesdays, however, it is possible to visit the Abbey between 4.30pm and 6.30pm. Entrance is cheaper but does not include an audio guide and some areas are off limits (the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, the Quire, the Lantern, the High Altar). As Westminster Abbey is an active church, times may be subject to change due to celebrations and special events. It is strongly recommended that you check the time of day when you plan to visit the site.
Queues are shortened in the morning and late afternoon on Wednesdays.
Tickets for Westminster Abbey
From 01/04/2020: £22, US$29 24 € (adults)
20 Deans Yd, Westminster, London SW1P 3PA, United Kingdom
Westminster Abbey is situated near the famous British Parliament and Big Ben. From Westminster Underground Station (Circle, District and Jubilee lines) it is a 5-minute walk. View map :