Westminster Abbey is one of the most important religious buildings in the United Kingdom is the traditional site for coronations and burials of English and British monarchs.
Westminster Abbey was founded in 960 and it has been the site of every English and British coronation since William the Conqueror was crowned here in 1066. There have been 16 royal weddings here since 1100, although more than half of these occurred within the past 100 years.
Although Westminster Abbey has stood on this site for almost a thousand years, much of the present church dates from the 13th century when St Peter’s Abbey (built by King Edward the Confessor) was replaced by a larger Gothic church commissioned by King Henry III and the two towers at the western end of Westminster Abbey were added in the 18th century.
What to see at Westminster Abbey
When visitors arrive at Westminster Abbey, they will first be struck by the grandeur of the building’s exterior. The Gothic architecture, soaring towers, and intricate carvings are awe-inspiring and set the tone for what lies inside. Upon entering the abbey, visitors will find themselves in the Nave, the central space that runs the length of the building.
One of the most popular areas to see inside the abbey is the Poets’ Corner. This area is named for the many famous writers, poets, and playwrights buried or commemorated there, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, and William Shakespeare.
As well as being an important venue for coronations and royal weddings, Westminster Cathedral is the burial site for many British monarchs including Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots and many of Britain’s most notable politicians, scientists and writers are buried here including Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Samuel Johnson, William Pitt and William Wilberforce. In all, there are over 3,000 famous people buried or commemorated in the Abbey.
Another important area of Westminster Abbey is the Coronation Chair, which was commissioned in 1296 and has been used in every coronation since that date, except for Queen Mary II. The chair is made of oak and is covered in intricate carvings and decorations, although some of those intricate carvings are the result of 700 years of graffiti.
One of the most stunning parts of Westminster Abbey is the Lady Chapel. This area is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is known for its beautiful fan vaulted ceiling, stained glass windows, and ornate carvings.
The Chapter House is home to a coronation exhibition (8 April–30 September 2023) focusing on Westminster Abbey’s role as the nation’s coronation church. Coinciding with the coronation of King Charles III, the exhibition highlights the tradition and symbolism of various aspects of royal coronations and also tells the story of historic coronations that have taken place here.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries is a new museum in the 13th-century eastern triforium above the abbey floor that displays an eclectic collection of the abbey’s most important artefacts. This includes several effigies of medieval kings, the 650-year-old Liber Regalis (the coronation rule book), Mary II’s coronation chair and a replica of the Crown Jewels.
Visitors can access the Queens Galleries via the new steampunk-style Weston Tower, which is the first major addition to the Abbey since the 18th century. Lift access is also available for visitors with restricted mobility.
Visiting Westminster Abbey
Entry is free with a London Pass or if you’re attending a daily church service (in which case you should enter via the West Gate). Fast-track entry is available for holders of the London Pass and also to visitors who book their tickets online. The London Pass does not give you entry to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries.
Verger guided tours cost an additional £10. These 90-minute guided tours include the Royal Tombs, Poet’s Corner (where many of Britain’s leading writers are buried), the Lady Chapel and the Nave. These tours also includes parts of Westminster Abbey that are not accessible to regular visitors (such as the tomb of St Edward the Confessor). Verger tours are limited to 10 people and are only available in English.
Alternatively, you can download a multimedia guide to your mobile for a guided commentary of Westminster Abbey. These guides are available in the following 14 languages: Arabic, British Sign Language (BSL), Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. The English-language guided is narrated by actor, Jeremy Irons. Multimedia tours are available for Apple and Android devices.
It is advisable to allow a little extra time for security checks that are in place for visitors to Westminster Abbey.
Wheelchair access is available via the North Door. Because not all areas of the Abbey are accessible to visitors with wheelchairs, there is no admission charge for wheelchair-bound visitors and their carers.
Braille visitor guides and a touch tour are available to visually impaired visitors.