Westminster Abbey is one of London’s most iconic and stunning buildings, a treasure trove of British history where every monarch since 1066 has been crowned.
- See the precious Coronation chair, commissioned in 1296 and used at coronations for the last 700 years.
- Visit the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, the poignant final resting place of a soldier killed in World War One.
- Admire Britain’s oldest surviving door near the Chapter House, which dates back to Anglo-Saxon times.
What to See and Do
The Royal Tombs
Westminster Abbey has been at the heart of British history for centuries and is the burial place of many Kings and Queens. Behind the altar lies the shrine to Edward the Confessor in whose reign the original Westminster Abbey was built. Other monarchs buried in the Abbey include Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Edward VI and Henry V. Their tombs can be seen around the abbey and offer a fascinating connection to the nation’s past.
Poets Corner is a pilgrimage for all lovers of literature. Over 100 of Britain’s finest writers and poets are either buried within the abbey or have a memorial here. This includes William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen. The North aisle of the nave hosts Scientists Corner where Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking are among those interred in this area of the abbey.
This stunning octagonal chapel with its vaulted ceiling dates back to the 13th century. This is where the monks would gather to pray and plan their work for the day ahead. Sculptures, wall paintings and striking stained glass windows make for a lavish feel to this room. The wall paintings include the Last Judgement on the East wall which dates back to 1390. It is in the Chapter House you will also see what is believed to be the oldest door in Britain, dating back to Anglo-Saxon times.
This 11th-century room off the East cloister was once used as a treasury. The low vaulted chamber with its medieval tiled floor is one of the oldest parts of Westminster Abbey. Imposing heavy oak doors dating back to the 14th century mark the entrances to the room, while the large medieval chest within would have been used to store vestments. This room is a medieval must-visit area.
The Lady Chapel
The Lady Chapel is a sight to behold and was understandably once described as ‘the wonder of the world.’ This medieval chapel still takes your breath away today with its magnificent fan-vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows. There are 15 monarchs buried in this chapel, including Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and the possible remains of the famous Princes in the Tower. The building work on the chapel began during the reign of Henry VII and his imposing tomb can be found at the Eastern end.
Did You Know: (5 interesting facts!)
- The abbey’s official name is the Collegiate Church of St Peter and was designated in 1560 as a ‘Royal Peculiar’, meaning it belongs to the monarch.
- Marble paving known as Cosmati can be found in front of the high altar whose brass letters compose a riddle, including a prediction of when the world will end.
- The famous Stone of Scone used to be held in the abbey and was stolen by 4 Glasgow students on Christmas Eve in 1950, before being found and returned back to Westminster.
- Oliver Cromwell was once buried in Westminster Abbey, but the body was removed on the restoration of the monarchy and the head was placed on a spike for all to see.
- The dramatist and poet Ben Jonson is the only person buried in the abbey in a standing up position, as it is said he could afford just two-foot square of space.
- December 1065 Original Westminster Abbey consecrated.
- Christmas Day 1066 Coronation of William the Conqueror.
- October 1269 New abbey built in a Gothic architectural style by Henry III is dedicated.
- February 1515 Lady Chapel built by the Tudor king Henry VII is consecrated.
- 1560 Westminster Abbey given ‘Royal Peculiar’ status, meaning it is not governed by the Church of England.
- 1920 Body of the Unknown Warrior laid to rest in the abbey.
- June 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
- 2010 Pope Benedict XVI becomes the first Pope to visit Westminster Abbey.
Facilities and Accessibility
There are sections of Westminster Abbey which are not accessible in wheelchairs and to those with reduced mobility. Wheelchair access to the abbey is via the North door which has a small ramped step. Guide dogs, hearing dogs and assistance dogs are all welcome in the abbey. Accessible toilets can be found in two locations, in the cloisters and at the Cellarium café.
Multimedia guides are given to visitors to the abbey, with a British Sign Language option available as well as printed transcripts. There is also an audio described tour available. During services a hearing loop system is in place which covers the main building of the abbey.
The Cellarium Café and Terrace at Westminster Abbey is set over two floors, serving meals through the day. For a light bite or a coffee, there is also the option of a kiosk to buy refreshments. Before leaving the abbey take a look in the Westminster Abbey shop where you will find a selection of souvenirs, gifts, books and assorted items from the Abbey Collections.