In the heart of London and a few meters from Parlement, Westminster Abbey is with St Paul's Cathedral and the Cathedral of Canterbury, one of England's most famous religious buildings. A place of worship and eternal rest for many illustrious figures, the Abbey is the United Kingdom's equivalent of the Pantheon and Notre-Dame put together.
Over the centuries, the abbey has undergone many changes and has seen 16 royal weddings and 38 crownings of monarchs.
Here is an overview of one of London's most iconic landmarks which has witnessed great events in British history.
History of Westminster Abbey
In 960, the Benedictine monks founded their monastery on the site of the current abbey. Then in the 1040s, King Edward (future Edward the Confessor) built his royal palace near the monastery and enlarged the latter to transform it into a church in honor of the apostle Saint Peter. It receives the name of Westminster, the "monastery of the west."
Following the death of King Edward the Confessor, William the Conqueror took advantage of a succession crisis to seize the crown and be crowned King of England on December 25, 1066 in Westminster Abbey. Since then, all monarchs (except Edward V and Edward VIII) have been crowned at Westminster Abbey.
In the XNUMXth century, Henri III reworked the work of Edward the Confessor and built a Gothic-style church in the image of French cathedrals such as Chartres and Amiens.
It is this treasure of medieval art that has witnessed great events in British history such as the marriage in 1947 of Princess Elizabeth, not yet queen, to Prince Philippe. But also a few years later in 1953, his crowning achievement.
Since its construction, the Abbey has hosted 17 royal weddings, (the most recent being William and Kate in 2011) and 38 coronations.
In addition, the Abbey is the eternal resting place of more than 3300 illustrious people. The north transept is a pantheon of great statesmen, while the south transept hosts the poets corner.
The funeral of Princess Diana took place in Westminster (1997), as well as that of "Queen Mum", the very popular mother of Elizabeth, who died in 2002 at the age of 101.
Since then, members of the royal family have been buried in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle.
The Nave of Westminster Abbey - The Nave
Flamboyant Gothic in style, the 31m nave is the tallest Gothic vault in England but relatively narrow at only 10m wide.
Westminster Abbey Choir - The quire
The choir is made up of stands in the Victorian Gothic style dating from the XNUMXth century which are allocated during services to the clergy, Abbey officers and high commissioners from Commonwealth countries.
Vitrail by David Hockney
In the north transept, to the right of the choir is the most recent stained glass window in the Abbey. In 2017, the famous painter David Hockney produced a stained glass window to celebrate the reign of Queen Elisabeth II, the longest in the history of the British monarchy.
Coronation Chair - The Coronation Chair
The Coronation Chair in St. George's Chapel is one of the most valuable and famous pieces of furniture in the world. For more than 700 years, it has been the centerpiece of the coronations when it is placed in the center of the Abbey, in front of the great altar.
The Henry VII Chapel - Henry VII's Lady Chapel
The most beautiful part of the abbey is for me the Henri VII chapel. Built at the beginning of the 16th century, it is the most beautiful example of the perpendicular Gothic style (typically British architectural style), which developed during the XNUMXth century from the Flamboyant Gothic.
The most remarkable feature is the magnificent fan vault with a hanging key separated by a network of light ribs.
This chapel is the burial place of fifteen kings and queens including Elisabeth I and Marie Stuart.
Westminster Abbey or the British Pantheon
A veritable necropolis, Westminster Abbey is the last resting place of more than 3300 illustrious personalities of England, including 16 monarchs.
The tomb of Queen Elisabeth I era - Tomb of Queen Elisabeth I
The recumbent figures of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart are located in the chapel of Henry VII.
Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne of Boleyn, Elisabeth I era was buried in 1603 in Westminster Abbey in a common grave with that of her half-sister Marie Stuart.
In 1606, Jacques Ier, son of Marie Stuart had a white marble tomb built to honor Elisabeth I, last sovereign of the Tudor dynasty. The body of the latter placed on the coffin of her half-sister is then transferred.
The Poets 'Corner - Poets' Corner
Dedicated to English poets and writers, the Poets' Corner hosts the graves and mausoleums of over 100 poets and writers such as William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and Charles Dickens.
The grave of the unknown warrior
Surrounded by artificial poppies (poppies), this tomb houses the remains of a British soldier with an unknown identity, who fell during the 1st World War. He was buried in the Abbey on November 11, 1920, it is the only tomb of the Abbey where it is forbidden to walk.
Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries - Queen's Diamond Jubilee
Located in the medieval abbey triforium 20 meters above the church floor, the Queen's Jubilee Galleries have been open to the public since 2018.
Closed for 700 years, these galleries were used for hundreds of years as a storage place.
Today, they offer the public a spectacular view of the nave, "the most beautiful in Europe", according to the British poet John Betjeman.
In addition to the breathtaking view, the galleries host a museum retracing the history of the monument, costumes, replicas of the Queen's jewels as well as a magnificent portrait of Queen Elizabeth II made for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Among the 300 objects on display, there are also the oldest altarpiece in England from the Abbey of Henry III, but also the coronation chair of Mary II (1689) and the official declaration of marriage between Kate Middleton and the prince william.
The visit to the Queen's Jubilee galleries is not included in the entrance fee to the Abbey. If you want to visit them, you will need to buy a ticket at the entrance and pay £ 5 extra.
Personally, I recommend that you discover this grandiose space which offers a unique point of view that is only seen on television during major events.
Westminster Abbey Gardens
Four in number, the gardens of the Abbey each had a different role.
Garth : Garden where the monks met to rest and meditate
Little Cloister : with a fountain in its center, this garden was a peaceful place for people in convalescence.
College Garden : this XNUMXth century garden is the oldest in the Abbey and was originally used by the Benedictine monks as a vegetable garden and for the cultivation of medicinal plants.
St Catherine’s Garden: garden which depended on the infirmary.
Where to buy tickets to visit Westminster Abbey?
If you wish, you can book your visit either on the GetYourGuide website either on the Visit Britain website.
Count around 24 € for an adult, compare between the two sites to see the best offer of the moment.
Booking online saves time and allows you to pay in euros and have no bank charges, unless you have the free card from the bank N26 ou Revolut.
The visit to Westminster Abbey is free for children less than 6 years old.
The ticket includes entry to the Abbey and the audio guide in French.
In addition, the visit is included with the London Pass, London Explorer Pass and theiVenture Pass .
Guided tours of Westminster Abbey
4 to 5 daily guided tours are provided and can be booked on the day of the visit. Only in English.
Tips for visiting Westminster Abbey
First of all, it is possible to visit the Abbey Gardens for free, namely The College Garden and Little Cloister Garden which are open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
On the other hand, the Church of St. Margaret (St Margaret's Church) located near Westminster Abbey is open to the public free of charge.
Visit the Abbey for free
Like the st paul's cathedral, it is possible to enter Westminster Abbey for free during church service. However, you will not be able to walk around freely.
To find out the days and hours of the services, consult the monument site.
Reduced rate on Wednesday afternoon
Every Wednesday from 16 p.m. to 30 p.m. (last entry), reduced rate to visit the monument: £ 18 for an adult and £ 00 for children between the ages of 11 and 5.
During this window, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee galleries, the choir and the altar are not accessible to the public.
Audio guide not included in the price.
Guided tour at reduced price
Guided tours at reduced prices are offered when the abbey is partially open.
Adult: £ 18
Child (6 - 16 years old): £ 7
Tickets are only available at the abbey.
Free entry for City of Westminster residents
Westminster City card holders can visit the Abbey and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries for free.
Westminster City Save is a membership program for residents of Westminster. Registration is free and offers many discounts. After online registration, you will receive a membership card by post within 15 days.
If you know someone who lives in this neighborhood, register them so that they can benefit you from the advantages 😉
- To prepare for your visit, you can download the free application of the abbey on iTunes ou Google Play, whose explanations are succinct. To make your visit rewarding, take a touristic guides of a very high quality.
- In view of the price and to fully enjoy the monument, plan a minimum of 2 hours of visit.
- Photographs are prohibited in the abbey but permitted in the cloisters, the chapter room and the college garden.
- During busy periods (May to September, Easter, Christmas and New Years), the waiting time to enter the Abbey can exceed 1h30.
- To save time, buy an entrance ticket online.
- Audio guide in French included in the entry price. Provide a guide for more information.
- Toilets accessible in the cloisters and the Cellarium café.
- No luggage lockers
- Free entry for people in wheelchairs and their companion.
- Some areas of the Abbey are not accessible to people with reduced mobility or people using a wheelchair.
- Loan of wheelchairs possible by asking the Marshal of the Abbey at the entrance.
What are the opening hours of Westminster Abbey?
Monday Friday : 9:30 p.m. - 12:00 p.m. and 13:00 p.m. - 15:30 p.m.
Saturday : 9 a.m. - 00 p.m. and until 13 p.m. from May to August.
Opening hours may vary depending on the event.
When is Westminster Abbey closed for visits?
The abbey is closed to the public Monday to Friday between 12:00 p.m. and 13:00 p.m. and the Sunday, because of Sunday vespers.
Where is Westminster Abbey located?
Address : 20 Deans Yd, Westminster, London SW1P 3PAMetro