One of the City of London’s most famous landmarks is the 111m (365 ft)-high St Paul’s Cathedral, which was designed in the English baroque-style by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London destroyed the older cathedral that previously stood on the site.
The Anglican cathedral has dominated the City’s skyline since the 17th century and was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1967. It is taller than a 36-storey building, which is particularly impressive for a 300-year-old building. St Paul’s Cathedral has the world’s highest dome and it is the United Kingdom’s second-largest church building (Liverpool Cathedral is the largest).
Although Westminster Abbey is the site for most royal weddings, in 1981 Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were married at St Paul’s Cathedral.
The funerals of many notable historical figures have taken place at St Paul’s including the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill and, more recently, Margaret Thatcher.
What to see at St Paul’s Cathedral
The cathedral boasts an impressive interior with a nave that is home to the 9m (29 ft)-tall Great West Door and a monument to the Duke of Wellington stands at the northern end of the aisle. Upon entering the cathedral you can look up towards the massive dome where you can see eight paintings by Sir James Thornhill depicting the life of St Paul.
A highlight of a visit to St Paul’s is climbing the staircase to the dome and galleries. The Whispering Gallery is reached after a 259-step climb, the Stone Gallery is another 119 steps and you have to climb a further 152 steps to reach the Golden Gallery.
The Whispering Gallery, 30m (99 ft) above the floor, is so-called because of its acoustic properties. It is said that you can hear a whisper against the wall if you hold your ear to the wall at any point along the gallery. The Whispering Gallery is reached by 259 steps from the ground floor.
The Stone Gallery, 52m (170 ft) above the floor, encircles the outside of the base of the dome and is reached by 376 steps from the ground floor.
The Golden Gallery, 85m (279 ft) above the floor, occupies the highest point of the outer dome. This is the smallest of the galleries and offers panoramic views over London. It is reached by 528 steps from the ground floor.
Although the cathedral boasts an impressive interior and dome, the enormous crypt is a big attraction for many visitors. The crypt holds the tombs of many famous Britons including TE Lawrence, Admiral Nelson, Florence Nightingale, the Duke of Wellington and St Paul’s architect, Christopher Wren. There is also a small cinema in the crypt that screens Oculus: an eye into St Paul’s, a series of three 270º films about the cathedral that showcase its design and history.
St Paul’s Cathedral in art and popular culture
St Paul’s Cathedral has been the subject of many famous artworks including paintings by Canaletto, Antonio Joli and Edward Angelo Goodall. It has also appears in many films including Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Mary Poppins (1964), the Madness of King George (1994), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Sherlock Holmes (2009), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), Thor: The Dark World (2013) and London Has Fallen (2016).
Visiting St Paul’s Cathedral
There are several different ways to visit St Paul’s Cathedral. Most people visit on a standard visitor ticket, which includes an introductory talk followed by a 90-minute guided tour; there is also a more in-depth Triforium tour (which doesn’t run every day) for an additional charge and you can attend a church service free of charge.
The standard admission to St Paul’s includes an introductory talk, a guided tour and an audio tour.
The introductory talk gives you a 15 to 20-minute introduction to the cathedral. These talks take place regularly throughout the day.
The 90-minute guided tours are also included with your admission charge. These tours depart four times per day (10am, 11am, 1pm and 2pm) and take in the main cathedral floor and the crypt plus the Geometric staircase, the Quire and the Chapels of St Michael and St George.
The audio tour is available in ten languages (British Sign Language, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese and Spanish) and comes in a touch screen multimedia device with interactive content including fly-throughs of the dome galleries and historical film footage from the cathedral’s archives.
Visitors with a London Pass get free entry and the National Art Pass gives you half-price admission. Visitors with a London Pass also get fast-track entry.
It is advisable to pre-book your admission tickets online if you don’t have a London Pass, as pre-booked tickets are a couple of pounds cheaper than buying your tickets at the door. Pre-booked tickets also let you skip the queue to buy tickets.
The one-hour Triforium tour costs an additional £8 and takes in the library, the Geometric staircase, the Great Model and you also get a view down the nave from above the Great West Doors. Public Triforium tours only run around once every couple of weeks, although private tours (which require a group of 5–15 people) run three days a week.
Although most people visit St Paul’s with a standard tourist ticket, it is a working church and it is free to attend daily church services. Attending a service means that you get to sit down and enjoy the cathedral’s interior and it is a more authentic experience as you are using the building the way it was intended without tourists spoiling the ambience, but attending a service at St Paul’s does not allow you to explore the church and areas accessible with a visitor’s ticket (such as the dome and the crypt) are out of bounds.
You could spend anywhere from 90 minutes to four hours at St Paul’s Cathedral. It can easily take up half a day if you take advantage of both the introductory talk and a guided tour, watch the Oculus: an eye into St Paul’s show in the crypt and climb to the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome.
Photography is not permitted in the cathedral, although there are a couple of spots on the guided tour where you can take photos and you can take photos of the spectacular views from the Stone Gallery and Golden Gallery.
The crypt and the main ground floor level (where you can find the nave) are both accessible by wheelchair, however, the dome and upper galleries are only accessible by stairs (and lots of them). Wheelchair users should enter via the South Churchyard.
St Paul’s also has a small cafe, Wren’s Pantry (open Mon–Sat 9am–5pm, Sun 10am–4pm), plus Wren’s Tea Room in the crypt, which serves afternoon tea.
For security reasons, large bags cannot be taken into St Paul’s.